“Better to die in one’s homeland than to thrive without it.” – A Circassian Proverb
Nowadays we see quite a few genocide claims. Those claims are unfortunately happening to be opportunities to meddle in to internal affairs of targeted countries. After so called hundred years anniversary of Armenian Genocide, Circassians are also putting their claims forward into the international community through commemorations organized in 151th years of big Circassian displacement.
Circassians are originally from the lands of Northern-Caucasia, in which the republics of Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and the southern half of Krasnodar Krai situated in today’s Russia. There are two major tribes called Western-Circassians and Eastern Circassians, and also several branches. Today, other than 3000 Christian Circassians, nearly all of them are Sunni-Muslims.
Circassia was historically used to serve as a buffer zone between the Ottomans and Russians until the 1828-29 Ottoman-Russian war. Also, because of their religious proximity, Circassians were in touch with the Ottomans and this buffer zone was greatly benefited by the Turks. After the aforementioned war, Edirne Treaty was signed and Ottomans were forced the leave the lands of Poti and Kuban to the Russian Empire. Even though those lands did not constitute all Circassia, Russians claimed the whole Circassian lands and annexed all Circassia. This annexation had immediately caused reignite the Russo-Circassian War which had continued to 1864. The war ended by the triumph of Russian Army and from that point Circassians were coerced to organized displacement. Historians argue that 1.5 million Circassians were displaced to Anatolia and during this displacement half million of them were died.
It is believed that 4 million people lived in Circassia before 1864 and nearly 2 million of them were Circassians. According to historian Kemal Karpat, from one and a half million of displaced Circassians only a million of them were able to reached and settle to Anatolia. Additionally, those who were settled to Black Sea region there were also forced to leave to Balkans, Middle East and to hinterland of Anatolia due to the settlement policy of Ottoman Empire. And also, after the deportation, only 150.000 to 200.000 Circassians left in the lands of Northern-Caucasia.
Today, only 720.000 Circassians live in Circassia and only one million Circassians in the whole Russia. They even compose minority in their homeland Adygea and Karachay-Cherkessia whereas in Turkey, between 2.5 million to 3 million Circassians inhabitate.
Nowadays, Circassians tend to publicize their agony through campaigns and propaganda. Those campaigns are seemed to be successful when we consider the boycott of Sochi Olympic Games by several European leaders and few recognitions of 1864 Circassian displacement as genocide. Although the main actor for this success appears to be the Circassian diaspora, the national awakening of the Circassians is also very much in place. Circassian diaspora has been the pioneer for the rights and demands, whereas Circassians live fragmentary in different nations and had been faced to assimilation.
Circassians who live in Turkey, with the help of European Union accession process, gained the right of education in their native language and also to pursue their own culture by establishment couple of Circassians associations. Nevertheless, they manifest some extra demands such as the recognition of Circassian Genocide by the Turkish Government; to be included to reformation period which is happening for Alaouites, Kurds and Roman people; to present themselves in democratization process in Turkey; to legitimize their ethno-cultural identities; to acquire double citizenship from Russian Federation; declaration of dignity for Circassian soldiers who fought during the War of Independence.
Lately, Circassians voice their demands and rights in a very strong manner through campaigns and propagandas which are led by the diaspora. They also tend to gain some extra rights on top of their vested interests in their resident countries while externalize their agonies. It is very much admirable to see that Circassians are building their own national consciousness and liberate themselves from introverted state of mind.
Basri Alp AKINCI