One of the biggest nations of the Caucasus – the Circassians (also referred to as Cherkessian) – is approaching to the anniversary of a terrible tragedy this month. May 21, 1864 marked the darkest day in the history of these brave people, who fought, longer than other peoples of the Caucasus, against the Russian Empire for their «freedom.»
On 21, May, 1864, the last battle of Russian-Caucasian war took place on the lands of the Circassians. According to various estimates, this battle, lasted for an average period of time ranging between 50 years to a whole century, and was the longest of its kind in the history of the Russian State.
Until this day, lessons acquired from such enormous battle have not been fully grasped, neither by the Caucasians nor by the Russian authorities.
A striking instance of this is manifested in the recent appeal made by several leaders of the Circassian organizations and directed to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This appeal is dedicated to tackling the most urgent issues facing the Circassians, the causes of which are rooted in the bloody events of the mid-19th century.
Sochi and 2014 Winter Olympics
After a heavy defeat in their war for independence, thousands of Circassians were killed by Tsarist troops. And most of the survivors of the Circassians were forced to migrate to the Muslim East.
After their eviction, Tsarist authorities htransformed the vacated Circassian lands into settlements for the Cossacks — a special military caste of the Russian society. Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic people who played an important role in the historical development of both Ukraine and Russia, with a distinct loyalty to the Tsar.
In Russia’s 2010 Population Census, Cossacks have been recognized as an ethnicity. There are Cossack organizations in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Poland and the US. Today, on the lands, which in the 19th century were taken away from Circassians, Krasnodar region is known for being the richest and largest Russian region in the Muslim Caucasus.
In the same region, on the former Circassian land, the city was abundantly watered with the blood of thousands of Caucasian Muslims; there lies a large resort city of Sochi — a favorite spot for recreation of Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
In this city of Sochi, where the first meeting of Egyptian and Russian presidents — Muhammad Mursi and Vladimir Putin took place, the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held. The city is a symbol of the bloody tragedy of the Circassian people.
The Last Stand of the Circassians
The last stand of the Circassians for their freedom from the imperial troops took place exactly in 21, May, 1864 in Kbaada place (mountains), currently known by Krasnaya Polyana which is an urban locality under the administrative jurisdiction of Adlersky City District of the city of Sochi in Krasnodar Krai, Russia.
It is an hour’s drive from today’s Sochi. After the defeat of the Circassians in the battle, royal troops massacred the survivors with extreme cruelty.
At the end of the bloody war, Cherkessia as a political entity has disappeared from the map of the world, and the Circassian nation was subjected to destruction — it lost nine tenths of its territory, over 90 percent of the surviving population were scattered all over the world.
Special rigidness of Tsarist troops’ treatment to the Circassians was due to the fact that the Circassians have not stopped their resistance to imperial Russia even after the capture by Russian troops of Imam Shamil — the leader of the Caucasian Muslims in their war for independence.
Imam Shamil was captured by the Tsarist forces in August, 1859. The year of 1859 has been declared by Russian Empire as the official date of completion of the century-long war with the Caucasian Muslims.
However, part of the Circassians, especially, Dagestani and Chechen Muslims did not stop fighting because of their exceptional love for freedom, and they continued to fight the Tsarist troops until the year 1864, wherein, the last forces of the Circassians were defeated in the Kbaada place.
Emigrants of Caucasus
The end of the Caucasian War has led to mass emigration of Caucasian Muslims to the countries of the Middle East, as mentioned above. Hundreds of thousands and millions of Caucasians were resettled because of the unwillingness to put up with the new non-Muslim power.
In total, the Caucasian Muslims — Circassians, Abkhazes, Abazins, Chechens, Ingushs, Avars, Dargins, Lezghis, Ossetians, Karachays, Balkars and others — evicted from the conquered lands, according to various estimates, emigrants range from 1.5 million to 3 million people.
There is a difference in the nature of the relocation of eastern and western Caucasians. People of Eastern Caucasus – Chechens and Dagestanis, unlike the Circassians, moved to the East, mostly voluntarily, without being driven out from their homes. As for Circassians, they evicted mostly forcibly.
These tribes fought long and hard for a huge Russian Empire, and under the leadership of the brave sons of the Circassian people like Dzhembulat Bolotoko, Kizbech Sheretluko, Shuruhuko Tuguz, Seferbey Zanoko, Haji Berzegov and later Muhammad Amin – Deputy of Imam Shamil in Circassia.
The Caucasian author Salman Dagir provides evidence for the following data on the number of Circassian tribes in the very beginning of Russian-Caucasian war and after 5 years of its ending:
— From 60 thousands of Bzhedugs, remained 15 thousands;
— From 260 thousands of Abadzekhs, remained 14.5 thousands;
— From 80 thousands of Temirgoys, remained 3 thousands;
— From 300 thousands of Shapsugs, remained 2 thousands;
— From 8 thousands of Mahoshevs, remained 1 thousand;
— From 3 thousands of Adamiys, remained 230 people;
— From 240 thousands of Natuhays, remained 175 people;
— From 74 thousands of Ubykhs, nobody survived;
— From 100 thousands of Zhaneevs, nobody survived;
— From 100 thousands of Hakuches, nobody survived.
As a result of this policy, in 1870 fewer than 2 percent of the pre-war number of Circassians remained in their homeland in the Kuban Region and the Black Sea coast, from Sochi to Anapa. It was an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.
The vast land of Circassians along the Black Sea became completely empty. According to the scientist Ruslan Gozhba, in those years a saying became famous, «Now, even a woman can go through the land of Circassians without fear to meet at least one of the living men.»
In reaction to a huge number of people who died on the Black Sea coast and during immigration, a Circassian proverb «The Road to Istanbul by sea is visible by the corps of dead Circassian» became famous . And since this terrible incident, almost now a century and a half, Circassians still refrain to eat fish from the Black Sea, as a sign of their mourning and deepest tragedy.
In order to solve the “Circassian issue”, Russian General Evdokimov was presented by the Emperor to the order of law. The name of the Russian Emperor was mentioned in it: «The end of the war in the Western Caucasus was crowned with brilliant success … Now, peaceful and totally cleared from the hostile native population, Western Caucasus is already is mostly settled by the Russian population…»
On these desolate lands, Tsarist authorities resettled Cossacks and Russian peasants, and gave to this region a new name.
Today, this land in Russia is called Krasnodar Region. For millions of Russians, these lands saturated with Circassian blood represent a favorite place for recreation and resort.
The Current Situation
At the meantime, millions of Muslims of the Caucasus — the descendants of emigrants who left their homeland in the 19th century — are living overseas, most of which are Circassians.
In the list of the population of modern Russian Federation, the Circassian Diaspora in 52 countries ranked second in the world after the Russian, that number was close to 6 million people.
The Circassian Diaspora community is very active and it holds rallies, pickets and demonstrations to draw the world’s attention to the Circassian tragedy. In addition, the Circassians regularly appeal to Russian authorities — the Parliament, the President, and the Government.
Their requirements have been taking variable degrees of rigidness and stiffness in the tone of their discourse. But, they all relate to the following three main themes:
— Asserting the guiltiness of the Russian Empire in the massacre of the Circassians of the 19th century.
— The removal of obstacles in the returning of the descendants of the Circassian emigrants to their historical homeland.
— Saving hundreds of thousands of Syrian Circassians, which found themselves in a bloody civil war between the millstones of the rebels and the army of Assad’s regime.
The toughest of Circassian organizations demand the recognition of the Circassian tragedy as a genocide and to ban holding the Olympic Games in Sochi — in the land of mass extermination of Circassians in the 19th century.
According to Naima Neflyasheva — one of the best specialists in the Circassian issue – the urgency to this issue is adding the fact that the Sochi Olympics will be held in 2014 — a 150 year anniversary of the bloody denouement of the Circassian tragedy — the Battle of Kbaada.