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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Circassian Means ‘Warrior,’ Popular Russian Website Says


Paul Goble

             Staunton, September 6 – The Circassians are “the most fearless people of the Caucasus,” Yandex’s Etnogeo portal says.  In fact, their own self-designator, Adyg, means “warrior.” And the North Caucasus has “always” been their homeland since at least paleolithic times, centuries earlier than other nations.

            This is interesting not because it is news to anyone who knows anything about the remarkable history of the Circassian people but rather because it is being proclaimed by a website directed at Russian internet users who have often been offered a very different picture (zen.yandex.ru/media/etnogeo/cherkesy–samyi-besstrashnyi-narod-kavkaza-est-fakty-5f5446bd019fb065e725d711).

             The entire way of life and culture of the Circassians, Etnogeo continues, “is based on the cult of military arts, which is easy to explain by where they live: they are surrounded by a multitude of anything but peaceful neighbors. And their land has been seized by many foreign enemies – the Kipchaks, the Mongols, the Turks and many others.”

             The Circassian fighter is governed by a strict code. He will fight to the death rather than surrender but he will not destroy the property or the members of his opponents completely. He respects them even when they have lost. And the worst charge any one can make against any Circassian is “cowardice.”

             For a century, “Russian forces unsuccessfully tried to conquer the Caucasus. All the Caucasian peoples stood up in defense of their lands, but the main nucleus of resistance was formed by the Circassians. Ordinary soldiers and even generals, seeing such passionate fight, were led to respect them. 

             More than any other people, they were celebrated by writers like Lermontov, Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dumas. “And only after 100 years and assembling a force of 200,000 men was Russia able to subjugate this proud and freedom-loving people – and at the price of almost a million of its own soldiers!”

             Not only do the Circassians even today form the royal guard in Jordan, but they have given the world more than 40 generals – three in Syria, nine in Jordan, and the rest in the Ottoman Empire. “No other numerically small people of Russia can take pride in having such a quantity of generals.”

             All of this is true, and of course far more could be said, including about the genocidal expulsion of the Circassians from their lands in 1864 and the repression that the Russian state has visited upon them in the 150 years since. But for such an honest appraisal to appear in a Russian portal directed at the population is remarkable.

             It reflects the fact that in the absence of a clearly defined ideology and total censorship, the Russian government cannot completely control what even its people learn from its own sites; and thus it shows that even when the Kremlin is promoting one image of reality, based on its own needs, its own outlets are promoting a very different one, based on the facts.

             At the very least, these facts will corrode the specific claims the Kremlin makes; more likely, they will add to the distrust that the peoples of Russia feel toward any claims coming from their rulers. And thus by praising the Circassians for their real achievements, Russian websites like this one are setting the stage for next rise of the Circassian nation.

             Circassian historian Adel Bashqawi has called this “the Circassian miracle” in his latest book by that title. It is striking that as so often happens in history, a major contribution to that outcome is now being made by those who think that their actions will produce exactly the opposite outcome.

Window on Eurasia — New Series