Monthly Archives: June 2013



Material from Samir Hotko’s Book: ”Circassian Gardens”


The ancient Circassian gardens pose one of the greatest mysteries of the North Caucasus. In the vast territory once inhabited by Adyghes – right in the woods – you would come across large areas full of fruit trees – apple, pear, quince, cherry-plum, nut trees… The leading agronomists are saying now that the trees are extremely well grafted and, despite the unbelievable age, they still bear fruit. Who, and (most importantly) why cultivated the marvelous fruit plants in the woods?

In Wilding Eden

After Russia took over the Caucasus many travelers visiting these areas were surprised to see the numerous ancient Adyghe gardens, fully abandoned, yet still yielding rich fruit and reflecting a high level of culture.

Countess Praskovya Uvarova, President of the Moscow Archeological Society, while on her trip around the Caucasus (1886) made a sad comment of this poor view: “In the numerous valleys you will see abandoned Circassian gardens, now gone wild”. And we are talking here not just about a couple of trees but one whole fruit empire…

The former masters of this land had their gardens spread over dozens of miles; they covered huge valleys and even mountain slopes, among virgin woods, thus making a selection Galaxy. In the spring this shined over the northern mountains of the Caucasus casting the scent of its myriads of flowers, while in the autumn it filled the land with a miraculous shower of ripe fruits.

In the XX Century already the great Academician Michurin wrote an article with a title speaking for itself: “The Circassian gardens are waiting for selectionists”. “About the amazing gorgeousness of the so-called ancient Circassian gardens I have known since long ago”, he wrote. “The wild fruit and berry bushes of Adyghea are extremely valuable for horticulturists of the Caucasus”. However, one thing is to be specified here – not just “wild … bushes” but numerous remains of the ancient Adyghe gardens scattered all over the North Caucasus.

Another founder of the Soviet-time selection – Academician Zhukovsky, the teacher to Nikolay Vavilov, spent more than a few years studying the precious heritage left after the Adyghe people and concluded that this was the ancient homeland to all the major fruits now found all over Eurasia.

Here, for instance, is what Zhukovsky wrote about how the common pear came to Europe: “The Mediterranean is not likely to hold the priority in terms of cultivating the pear. Quite the contrary, there is every evidence that it was the Caucasus that served the evolution arena for it, both wild and cultivated … neither the great age of Greece nor its natural pear resources and experience can be ever compared with those of the Caucasus … The Basques of the Mediterranean had known grafting before the Hellenes learnt it and they taught the Iberians. However, the Basques, deep down in their roots, may be related to the Caucasus, which explains their knowledge of grafting. It is the Caucasus that grafting originated from”.

A similar conclusion Academician Zhukovsky gave to apple, quince, cherry-plum, nut, plum, sloe, sweet cherry, cornel, and chestnut trees … His conclusion expressed in a convincing fashion states that all the most common wild and domestic cultures you would come across in Eurasia originated from nowhere else but the Caucasus.

If the ancestors to the North-Caucasus highlanders could teach horticulture even the ancient Greeks then no wonder that up to the XIX Century these people had had almost the most sophisticated selection technology in the world thus gradually turning their fertile ground into one huge beautiful garden …


Secrets of Ancient Caucasian Selection

The remains of the ancient Adyghe gardens still can be seen in the areas once inhabited by Circassians and related to them peoples. In Abkhazia, Adyghea, Circassia and other places around the North Caucasus there are lots with great ancient trees still bearing incredible fruit. The above-mentioned Academician Zhukovsky wrote that the old quince species “found in an old Circassian garden in the Caucasus at the Black Sea bore fruit weighing up to three kilograms each”!

How did the natives develop such a high level of unique cultivation? This could be accounted for by the Adyghe’s commitment to the selection traditions of their ancestors who developed them for centuries.

The multi-ethnic Adyghe people did not just cultivate their gardens in open areas but year after year they also turned the nearest highland forests into the so-called “forest-gardens”.

The Shapsugs for instance had a custom prescribing that when the spring was come every single one living in a village was to go to the woods to engraft a wild tree with a cutting from their garden. Some highlanders left hundreds of new fruit trees behind! The ethnographers in the pre-revolution Russia mentioned that in some Adyghe villages nobody would ever imagine going to the woods without taking along a fruit tree cutting.

These just like many other peculiar features of the North-Caucasus selection were described in detail by the historian Samir Hatko, the author of the two volumes of “The Circassian Gardens”.

Countess Uvarova, too, praised the local gardening civilization and wrote: “Another equally admirable tradition with the highlanders is that all the elderly who could not work and perform any civic responsibility anymore were to engraft a certain number of fruit trees. And the trace of such care can still be seen, particularly on apricot trees, a type of care found in highly civilized peoples alone, reminding of the duty that each single person has to pay to the society and the nation”.

What was behind the Adyghes’ perseverance urging them to cultivating the endless gardens in their lands? This is all about their mythological views the tree being a key element of that. In the myths of the Caucasus all the tangible things found in the Universe, from parts of the human body to parts of our planet, are embodied in the “Tree of Life”. And there is often a special toast proposed to this Tree at Abkhazian parties.

Besides, the Holy Books of the three Abrahamic faiths say that the garden is a symbol of Paradise, both Earthly and Heavenly. The Quran states: “Allah has promised the believing men and believing women gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally, and pleasant dwellings in gardens of perpetual residence” (9:72). In other words, these Adyghes applying their labor for many centuries to fill their homeland with the beauty of gardens reflects the dream shared by the entire mankind – to bring back the Paradise once lost.

This explains the cult of holy groves so common all around the Caucasus. Even before Islam penetrated the area, Circassians, Abkhazs, Ubykhs and other peoples related to the Adyghe came to such groves to make sacrifice and to pray. Standing under these trees they also swore solemnly to enforce their promises.

When the Russian troops came to the North Caucasus they were surprised to see Adyghes fighting for their holy groves so fiercely. When seeing the overwhelming enemy troops they could leave their villages and retreat to the mountains, yet they never did so when it came to fighting for these precious groves. They fought, all of them, till the last drops of blood left their veins, and protected the sacred trees against desecration by the enemy.


Divine Gardener’s Legacy

The cult of holy groves in the Caucasus goes back to the ancient times, just like the sacred art of the Adyghe gardening. The myths of Eurasia hold it that the forefather of all farming and gardening was some divine civilizer, a hero-errant, the first king of the civilized humanity. And ages ago he brought people the knowledge of sowing bread, raising vineyards and turning wild trees into domestic and fruiting ones.

The people of Egypt called him Osiris; in Ancient Greece they called him Dionysus, while he was Bacchus to Romans. Strange as it may seem but all the ancient myths telling about this “divine founder of cultured gardening” mention the North Caucasus anyway. As Greek authors say, during his epic military march from Egypt to India, Dionysus went through the Caucasus where he founded eight cities and planted the first vineyards unveiling the secrets of agriculture to the highlanders of the Caucasus.

Even more surprising is the fact that the mythology of the North Caucasus holds a steady mention of this “divine horticulturist”. The Adyghes called him very similarly to the way Egyptians did – Sozeris. Each year late December Circassians held feasts honoring him. Curious but around the same time Romans celebrated the Dionysian Mysteries while Christians nowadays celebrate Christmas on the same day, decorating the Christmas-tree, which is a Western equivalent of the “holy tree”. The same cult had existed with the Adyghes, yet much before Christianity came to them.

As the historian Tatiana Fadeeva wrote, “The name Se-Oziris still lasts in the memory of the Caucasian peoples. The Circassian, Ossetian, and Svan highland tribes celebrated an annual event honoring Seozeres – a deity not belonging to the aboriginal religions. This, as they said, is a great travelling king who went around the world and taught people useful skills and arts … Circassians granted Seozeres his honors in a very archaic way – his symbol was the trunk of a pear tree, which must have symbolized the “world tree”, decorated with lit candles epitomizing heavenly bodies. This we know owing to the great traveler Dubois de Montpèreux”.

As the pre-revolution ethnographer Dubrovin observed, in the end of December each year Circassians gathered under a sacred pear tree with icon-lamps on it, and said the following ancient prayer:

“Sozeris, we thank you for this year’s harvest, and we are praying for abundant crops in the years to come. We beseech you to keep thieves away from our bread and to keep fire away from our barn”.

Obviously, Adyghes knew the cult of the pear tree at very early times. Besides, the Soviet horticulturist Zhukovsky argued that cultivated pear was first found in the Caucasus to be further taken to Greece and other countries of the ancient Mediterranean. Now, no wonder the ancient Hellenes related the very cult of Dionysus with the Caucasus and mentioned the area as the place that witnessed his archaic “gardening deeds”.

By the way, growing grapes was a feature typical of the ancient Circassian gardening culture. Adyghes had vines growing right in their gardenу twining round fruit trees and yielding extremely rich fruit. The Adyghe tradition of wine-making has its roots far back, and did not disappear after they adopted Islam, which is known not to welcome wine.

Circassians had trees that were planted here, as the legend runs, by Alexander the Great who worshipped Dionysus. As early as in the XVII Century the Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi described an enormous sacred tree that Adyghes had; it took twenty two people to embrace its trunk while a herd of a thousand sheep could find place in the shade cast by its cyclopean crown.

As Evliya wrote, “The ancient legend holds it that Allah gave a sprout of this tree to Iskander Dul Kharnon after the latter erected the wall of Gog and Magog. Iskander only loosened the soil while Khyzer planted the tree”.

Even ancient Greeks mentioned the great age of the marvelous Circassian gardens. This glorious tradition is also related to the epos of ancient Egyptians, the mythology of many the indigenous peoples of Eurasia. In view of the Abrahamic faiths this transformed into the dream of Paradise on Earth, which the hard-working Adyghe people tried to create in their land for centuries, if not millennia.

Unfortunately this saga also narrates about the Lost Paradise because after Circassians and their related peoples were ousted from their home the blossoming galaxy of the Caucasian gardens suffered a sad lot of complete abandonment. The Adyghe culture of gardening has come to the verge of total failure. The concern about its revival is a holy duty for everyone considering himself a patriot of our multinational Russia – a country so rich in unbelievable traditions and yet so careless when it comes to keeping them for descendants…

Material from Samir Hotko’s Book: ”Circassian Gardens”

Article from “Examination of Power”

17, 06, 2013

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Krasnaya Polyana: Breaking the 150 Years of Silence (Part Two)

Krasnaya Polyana: Breaking the 150 Years of Silence (Part Two)
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 113
June 14, 2013 04:41 PM Age: 37 min
The following is the conclusion to the two-part historical series in EDM by Ibragim Gukemukh of the end of the road to Krasnaya Polyana and the last stand of Circassian resistance against Tsarist Russia’s conquest of the Northeast Caucasus. To read Part One, see EDM, May 31.
Photo: Theodor Horschelt – “Circassians in the battle against Russian troops: Episode of the Caucasian War,” 1858-59 (Source:

The Agony

In the beginning of 1863, the new Russian commander-in-chief and the governor to the region, the Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich, arrived in the Caucasus. The Russian Minister of Finance and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergei Witte described him in his memoirs in explicitly scathing overtones: “This man was a fairly narrow-minded person, narrow-minded statesman, unbooked [not learned] statesman…” Mikhail Nikolaevich doubled the efforts of his predecessor Duke Aleksandr Baryatinsky to remove the last of the Circassian resistance from the area.

By the end of 1863, General Nikolai Yevdokimov wrote in his report for the new governor: “…on the northern slopes of the Caucasus Ridge, there is no armed enemy left.” Another “military leader,” General Alexander Kartsov also boastfully wrote to the governor’s headquarters: “Thus, no single mountaineer is left on the northern slopes of the western part of the Caucasus mountains; the southern slopes, including the sea shores, starting from Novorossiysk (Tsemess) Bay to Tuapse has been cleaned out of any population.” It was here, in the valleys of the rivers Sochi, Vardana and Mzymta where the last acts of the tragedy of the dying people unfolded. A. Fonville in his memoirs, The Last Year of Circassia’s War for Independence, described these heartbreaking scenes: “…We had the opportunity to observe the amazing impoverishment of this wretched nation from a close distance; on a daily basis we encountered new groups of mountaineers that were on the move to the areas that were not overtaken by the army, yet…the latest rains and floods killed many of those settlers and we constantly saw corpses on our way. The famine was terrible; many unfortunate people died of it…sometimes people came out to meet us in the villages, but we run away from them, because we were afraid of getting infected with the diseases that were killing off whole villages…”

According to General Yevdokimov’s plan, at the beginning of 1864, the Russian military moved to the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Ridge. The military campaign resumed in the early spring with a single practical purpose that was described in detail in the book, The Last Years of Russians’ Fighting with Mountaineers in the Western Caucasus, by one of the champions of Tsarist Russia’s imperial policy, A. Lilov. According to Lilov, the offensive did not start at the beginning of the year during the winter by chance. The colonizers expected to maximize their success. Since the “destruction of food supplies and settlements has a devastating effect, the mountaineers remain entirely homeless, with fewer means to protect themselves and extremely low on food.”

The so-called Dakhov unit under the command of General Vasily Geiman should have played a pivotal role in the final military actions against the Cherkess and the Ubykhs. The Dakhov unit received its name after the strategic Dakhov Pass, which connects the northern and the southern slopes of the mountains in this part of the Western Caucasus. Several days after the start of the spring campaign, the commander of the Caucasus, Grand Duke Nikolaevich, wrote in his report to the Tsar that Geiman’s unit “having cleaned out…the area between the rivers Tuapse and Psezuape and having exterminated all villages that lay along these rivers, captured Fort Lazarev (now known as Lazarevsky settlement) on March 16; on March 19, the former fortress Golovinskoe was captured (now known as Golovinka settlement).”

The Russian military approached the border of the Ubykh lands, the river of Shakha. Here, General Geiman met the deputies of the Ubykh chiefs that came to his camp for the last time. In response to the proposal for a truce he ironically noted: “Where are your troops in European uniforms that you cried so much about? Where are your rifled cannons and ammunition? Where are your allies?” The mountaineers responded: “We have seen that all our hopes for the help from outside are a dream… But we still remain the Ubykhs, we are still a people and we can enter negotiations for our benefit and state our demands.” The general arrogantly responded to this: “There are no concessions for you and will not be!” After these words the Ubykhs realized that their lot had been decided irreversibly. Semyon Esadze wrote in the book, The Conquest of the Western Caucasus: “In their posture and in their look each Ubykh showed complete self-dignity; not a trace of humiliation or fear. However, it was clear that they were hurt in their weakest spot, their pride…”

The Ubykh deputies decided to fight to the last man. The Akhchipsou, the Aibga and the Pskhu, who belonged to small tribes that received their names according to the mountain gorges where they resided, also stood by the Ubykhs in their fight. However, no resistance could have stopped the advancing Russian armies that covered the strip of land between the sea and the mountains as if they were a flood. Having crossed the river Shakhe, the Russian troops advanced further and soon “all numerous villages of Vardane society were burned down” (see Semyon Esadze, op. cit.)

On March 25, Russian armies captured Sochi—the heart of the Ubykhs’ land. That was the end of the proud and warlike people. On April 8, 1864, the Russian Tsar Alexander II, called the Tsar Liberator by the people of Russia, sent a telegram to the governor of the Caucasus that said: “I sincerely rejoice in the happy turn of events with the Ubykhs. It remains to thank God for the attained result” (Central State Archive of the October Revolution USSR, fund 728, 1862–1881, case #2732, sheet 69). On March 26, after the Ubykhs’ loss, representatives of the Sadz (Jigets)—one of the western Abkhaz tribes—came to Geiman’s camp. They also tried to secure a truce. Their duke, Rashid Gechba, stated: “We are Jigets. We are a free people; we have never been subject to anyone. Now we see that everyone around us is bowing to the Russians and we already consider our land to be the property of the Russian Emperor.” They were “graciously” allowed to leave for Turkey along with the Ubykhs and the Shapsugs, having given them a month to prepare with all their families to come to the shores and embark on the Ottoman ships. The governor who came to Geiman’s camp told them that “if anybody did not comply with this demand, they would be treated as prisoners of war and more troops would arrive to deal with them” (Semyon Esadze, the Conquest of the Western Caucasus and the Ending of the Caucasus War, pp. 166–167). By April 19, the military did not meet any Ubykhs or Jigets in the mountains; they all had gone to Turkey.


The Caucasus War could have been considered over by then. Only a few, numerically small western Abkhaz tribes, such as the Aibga, the Pskhu, the Akhchipsou and the remnants of the Shapsugs who refused to surrender, still resisted, relying on their natural fortresses in the mountains to deter the Russian invaders. The Shapsugs resided on the high plateau in the upper reaches of the rivers Mzymta, Psou and Bzyb. In order to destroy the last stronghold of the mountaineers, the Russian commanders decided to use four lines of offense, in order to “make the disobedient comply immediately with all the requirements and clear the country in the earliest possible time,” in the words of the Russian governor and commander-in-chief, Nikolaevich (Journal Kavkaz, # 44, June 11, 1864).

The first line of offense under the command of General Pavel Shatilov moved from Gagry fortress up the Aibga River, located in the Bzyb Gorge. Having captured it, the unit should have advanced on Akhchipsou from the south. The second line of offense, under the command of General Pyotr Svyatopolk-Mirskoi, landed in the upper reaches of the Mzymta River (where currently the city of Adler is situated) and advanced through the lowlands. The third line of offense under the command of General Geiman advanced from the so-called Kuban outpost that was situated in the upper reaches of the Sochi River. The third military unit should have also reached Akhchipsou at the end. The fourth line of offense was led by General Pavel Grabbe. It advanced from the northern slopes of the Main Caucasus Ridge, the upper reaches of the Laba River. Grabbe’s unit was to join the unit under the command of Svyatopolk-Mirskoi in the Mzymta River valley. Thus, the advancing Russian armies divided the lands of still unconquered peoples into several more parts.

The Russians encountered the fiercest resistance in the gorge of the Psou River, in the lands of the Aibga people. The Psou River currently is an official border between Abkhazia and Russia. The tribe residing there had great hopes for the inaccessibility of its territory, most of which was covered with steep cliffs. Also the Aibga relied on the assistance of neighboring tribes who, according to the Caucasus’ governor, “gathered from the entire Eastern shore…gearing up to fight for the last time.” The Aibga decided to defend their lands to the last man. They fortified the only path to their land that passed along the Psou River with the debris of boulders and felled trees. Firing their flintlock rifles and throwing boulders and logs at the Russian army, the Aibga managed to hold their ground against the unit of General Shatilov for four days. As Grand Duke Nikolaevich admitted, Shatilov’s unit suffered heavy casualties. Women defended their homeland along with the men. One of the eyewitnesses to these clashes, Ivan Averkiev wrote: “When taking over Aibga, two girls came out with rifles on their shoulders that were determined to defend their homes’ ashes” (Journal Kavkaz, # 74, 1866).

But all this resistance was in vain, as another strong unit was moving around Aibga. After a fierce fight, this Russian army emerged on the mountainous plateau where the defenseless villages of the mountaineers were located and destroyed these settlements on May 12. On May 18, Shatilov’s unit joined with the unit that destroyed the villages in Aibga Gorge and passed on to Akhchipsou. The remaining Aibga started their final descent to the shores of the Black Sea where they would embark upon Turkish ships and boats. The defeat of the Aibga disheartened their neighbors. As Abkhaz historian Georgy Dzidzaria wrote: “This military campaign decided the fate of all other mountainous Abkhaz tribes, too. All the Akhchipsu with their families and belongings left their homes and started to move to the shores of the sea, following the Aibga” (Dzidzaria, “Muhajirs and the Problems of Abkhaz History of the 19th Century,” 1975).

By May 20, all four Russian military units joined in the center of the “cleansed” land of the Akhchipsu, called Gubaadvy, currently known as Krasnaya Polyana and sometimes referred to incorrectly as Kbaada or Kbaade. Gubaadvy consists of two plateaus that are connected with each other by a small pass. The plateau is situated at 1,730 meters above sea level and is surrounded by high mountains from all sides. This remote place lost among the high mountains was destined to become the place of the final celebration of the end of Caucasus War. A Russian military parade took place there on May 21, 1864, in the presence of the Caucasus’ governor, Grand Duke Nikolaevich.
Yet, the mountaineer tribes did not stop their resistance even after this. Russian forces invaded the lands of the upper Abkhaz (a.k.a. Abazin) tribes of Pskhu and Kudzh. These small tribes could not hold out against a regular army and an Abkhaz militia under the command of Duke Mikhail Shervashidze, fought alongside the Russians, and advanced from the south. The Pskhu were driven into the Khabyu and Gunurkhva valleys, where some 800 people from the Aibga and Akhchipsu tribes tried to hide. Mostly these were old people, women and children. After they refused to go to Turkey, “their homes, stocks of corn and corn flour were destroyed; for resisting the deportation, their cattle, 220 units, were appropriated by the army” (From the report by the commander of the military in Abkhazia to Kutaisi general-governor, August 20, 1864, Central State Archive of Georgia, case 63, sheets 256–258).

The introduction to A. Fonville’s work, “The Last Year of Circassia’s War for Independence,” notes, “They [the Russian military] had to exterminate half of the Circassians in order to force the other half to put down their arms. But those who fell from deprivation and harsh winters that were spent under the snowstorms in the woods and on the bare rocks hardly comprised a tenth of all who died.” The colonial Russian forces hunted after those Circassians and Abkhaz who refused to relocate to the Ottoman Empire and hid in remote areas. According to a decree issued by Grand Duke Nikolaevich, a special unit was established to clean out remote plateaus between the Tuapse River and the Gagry Ridge of Circassians. The unit consisted of 12 companies and one hundred soldiers. In order to prevent the Circassians from running over to the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, in the upper reaches of the Pshish and Pshekha rivers, two other such units were stationed (Report of the commander of the Russian army in the Caucasus, June 14, 1865, Central State Military History archive, fund 38, inventory 30/286, case 21, sheets 1–2).

“Even if several dozen families or homeless predators (abreks) are able to hide away from our military, we will not need another military expedition for their extermination,” a reporter for the magazine Kavkaz cheerfully wrote in the summer of 1864.

Unable to avoid these final sweeping actions by the Russian forces, the Circassians’ valiant military resistance finally came to a close.  Caught between a hammer and an anvil, deprived of long-awaited military support from Europe, and unable to halt Tsarist Russia’s determination to drive the Circassians into the Black Sea, the final chapter of Circassian resistance came to a close. Ironically, Russia’s earlier defeat in the Crimean war had actually created the reverse effect in the Caucasus and fueled Moscow’s taste for expansion—the Treaty of Paris of 1856 thus became a death warrant for the peoples of the Caucasus as the Western powers were unable to check Russia’s advance in this region. For the Circassians, that chapter in their 150-year struggle ended with their defeat on the fields of Krasnaya Polyana, the same site where the Sochi Winter Olympic Games will take place in February 2014.


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Note:  This is my 16th special Window on Eurasia about the meaning and impact of the planned Olympiad on the nations in the surrounding region.  These WOEs, which will appear each Friday over the coming year, will not aim at being comprehensive but rather will consist of a series bullet points about such developments.  I would like to invite anyone with special knowledge or information about this subject to send me references to the materials involved. My email address is  Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble
Concerns about Possible Terrorist Attacks in Sochi Grow.  Ever more Russian and international news outlets have been discussing the risk of terrorist attacks during the Sochi Olympiad, with many reports suggesting that Moscow may not be in a position to prevent all of them  Moreover, increasingly foreign reports about such problems are being repeated in the Russian media (,
Some Sochi Olympic Package Tours to Cost 20,000 US Dollars a Day.  Those who want to watch the Olympics in Sochi can now purchase packages costing up to  670,000 rubles (20,800 US dollars) a day, excluding he cost of travel to that North Caucasus city, Moscow newspapers say. This is only one of many indications that these games are being organized for the wealthiest, something that is infuriating ever more Russians and raising eyebrows in the West as well (, and
Sochi Games ‘a Curse’ for Daghestani Officials.  The upcoming Olympiad as become “a curse” for officials in Daghestan, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says, noting that Moscow has been moving against officials in that North Caucasus republic for more than six months in the hopes of improving security conditions there (
Pre-Sochi Purge Hits Russian Military… Moscow’s efforts to impose order in the North Caucasus in advance of the Sochi Games has now claimed a senior military commander in the region, with the commander of the 58th Russian Army being charged with illegally using his subordinates as servants ( and
… and Muslims in Moscow. Under orders from President Vladimir Putin to crack down on Islamist groups in Russia in advance of the Sochi Games, Russian officials rounded up 300 Muslims in Moscow last week (
Moscow Bank Says Most Government Loans to Oligarchs for Sochi Work Won’t Be Repaid. Russia’s Vnesekonom Bank says that even if Olympic sites are completed on time, the Russian government is unlikely to get back many of the loans it has made to oligarchs involved in their construction and that as a result the Russian tax payer will have to bear the brunt of the costs (
Moscow Features Chukchis Not Circassians in Pre-Olympic Cultural Spectacle. “To celebrate the Sochi 2014 Cultural Olympiad’s Year of the Museum,” Russian officials say, they are “showcasing the culturreofthe Chukchi, Eskimos,” and other numerically small peoples of the North but not the Circassians or other peoples of the North Caucasus, possibly in the hopes that covering some ethnic communities will lead outsiders to conclude that Moscow is covering all of them  (
Russian Media Outlets Continue Anti-Circassian Campaign.  For another week, Russian outlets in the North Caucasus and elsewhere have continued their attacks on the Circassians, blaming that nation for Islamist terrorism and suggesting that its complaints about the 19th century genocide carried out against them are either false or overblown (,, and
Sochi Journalists Call on Moscow to Drop ‘Fabricated’ Case against Journalist. Nikolay Yarst, a Russian Public Television journalist, who has been accused of drug possession apparently in an effort to silence him, faces new legal problems, something that has prompted journalists in the Olympic city to appeal to Moscow officials to drop what they call “the fabrication of a criminal case” against their colleague (

Russian Officials Seek to Close Crusading Sochi Paper. Russian officials have stepped up their efforts to close the “Mestnaya” paper in Sochi, apparently because its journalists have filed too many critical stories about the local establishment, corruption, and problems with the preparation of the Olympiad. To date, the paper has held out and attracted support from the population and journalists there and elsewhere in Russia. Many Sochi residents say they fear that if the paper is closed, they will not be able to find out about problems in their city (, and

Sochi Residents Say Olympic Construction Has Left Them ‘Like Animals in a Cage.’Sochi residents say that contractors working in Sochi have ignored their property and labor rights and left them “like animals in a cage.” They add that their complaints to local, regional, and central Russian officials have been ignored with no one in the chain of command willing to “offer [them] any help” (
Putin Says He’s Ready for Georgia to Help with Security at Sochi.  Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Moscow is “absolutely ready” for help from Tbilisi on security at the Olympiad even though the two governments do not have diplomatic relations with each other. The Russian leader added that “we wantto repair our relationships” because “we have a very warm attitude to Georgia” and “are very close peoples” (
Shapsugs Seek Circassian Education in North Caucasus.  The Shapsugs, a subgroup of the Circassian nation whose ancestors lived where Sochi now is, are pressing their demands for expanding the use of Circassians in schools in Krasnodar kray and elsewhere ( ).
Circassian Activists Launch New ‘Krasnaya Polyana Genocide 1864’ Site. In order to call attention to what they call “the bitter reality and continued repercussions created and sustained by imperialist arrogance and stubbornness” of Russian governments over the last 150 years, a group of Circassian activists has launchd a special website to call attention to Russian crimes against their nation in Sochi and surrounding areas (

Shoddy Construction Methods Leave Sochi Sites a Mess.  Sochi residents say that “about half” of the streets around apartment blocks in their city are a mess as a result of sloppy construction of Olympic venues and support facilities and that many of the sites themselves may look finished but are little more than facades hiding construction shortcomings ( ). The residents add that contractors have destroyed much of the natural environment in many parts of the city (, and they complain that officials have failed to quickly clean up storm damage to beaches and other facilities ( Some of them have now gone to court to try to force contractors to live within the law but so far without signal successes (

Moscow Roundtable Highlights Problems in Russian-Circassian Relationship. Speaking at an academic roundtable on “The Caucasus in the History of Russia,” Valery Tishkov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, noted that one of the reasons for problems between Russia and the North Caucasus, including its Circassian regions is the fact that “the period of the joint existence in a single state has not been as long” as is the case with other non-Russian portions of the Russian Federation (
Russians Point to Few Post-Soviet Successes –Except Sochi.  According to a VTsIOM poll, “the majority of residents of Russia cannot name [any] successes” over the last two decades. The one most often named by the others is the Sochi Olympiad, an event that has not yet taken place. Seven percent said that it was already a source of pride (
Anti-Sochi Posters, Banned in Perm, Go Viral on Internet.  The satirical posters of the “Welcome to Sochi” exhibition that officials banned in the Russian city of Perm has now spread across the Russian blogosphere (,

Environmental Concerns Spark New Protests in Sochi.  Sochi residents and activists from the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus organized a demonstration in a central square there tocall attention to the destruction of the environment there as a result of Olympic construction (, and Other Sochi residents staged a second protest in the city’s Kudepsta region over construction problems there (

Krasnodar Governor Promises Gastarbeiters Will Be Sent Home After Construction. Aleksandr Tkachev, the governor of Krasnodar kray, said that he would not allow gastarbeiters from Central Asia to remain in Sochi after they finished building the venues of the Sochi gameslest they contribute to “a growth of criminality and social tension” and transform Sochi into a Kosovo, an apparent acknowledgement that that is what they are perceived to be doing (
Moscow TV Shows Open Sale of Illegal Drugs in Sochi.  Moscow’s “Rossiya” channel featured a segment showing the sale of illegal drugs in the Olympic city, noting that local residents are concerned but that the Russian interior ministry has been unwilling to make any comment about what is going on (
Sochi Residents Organize ‘Law and Order’ Movement.  In order to try to force Sochi city officials to stop violating Russian law, residents of the Olympic city are organizing a new movement, called “Law and Order,” to press their case (
Sochi Officials Can’t Identify Any of Their Number as ‘Pride’ of City.  Despite the erection last month of a sign to allow them to honor city officials who are “the pride” of Sochi, the local administration has not been able so far to identify “officials about whom [Sochi residents] can be proud,” the site says (
Will Sochi Follow Kazan and Kill Homeless Animals?  Officials in Kazan in advance of the Universiade there have killed some homeless animals.  Given that many in Sochi say that Kazan is a trial run for the Olympiad next year, some of them are now asking whether Russian officials in Sochi will follow Kazan’s lead in this regard too, despite repeated promises not to (
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The Mid-Nineteenth Century Genocidal “Pacification” of the Circassians in the Russian Caucasus

The destruction of the Circassians – who call themselves “Adyghe” – and other indigenous groups of the Caucasus were part of Tsarist Russia’s conquest of the region during the middle-half of the nineteenth century. Ultimately, the Russians aimed to extend its imperial sovereignty and supplant the mostly tribal-based, Islamic-infused population with Slavic, Russophile settlers. A stringent indigenous resistance was brutally put down by the Russians, especially under Tsar Alexander II, who was Emperor of the Russian Empire from 1855 through the end of the Caucasian War in 1864. By the end, hundreds of thousands of Circassians and other indigenous peoples were forcibly relocated, mostly to the Ottoman Empire but also to the lowland regions of the Caucasus where the Russians would better control them. A significant portion of the Circassian population was killed, as the Russians waged a brutal scorched-earth campaign. Thus removed from their ancestral homeland, the Circassians have been uprooted and scattered ever since.


The Circassian people, self-identified as “Adyghe,” are indigenous to the North Caucasus Mountains near the Black Sea, on the present-day frontier region between Russia and Georgia. At a historic crossroads of the Eurasian landmass, the entire area has been home to many groups coming and going over the centuries, although the Circassians have some of the deepest roots. Sunni Islam was most common to these peoples, although Christian and pre-Christian practices and beliefs were maintained.


Mountaineers leave the Aul, by Pyotr Gruzinsky; courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

By the mid-sixteenth century, Russia began expanding southwards towards the northern steppes of the Caucasus and the Black Sea. This began a long-term geopolitical contest between Russia and the Ottoman Empire that would last for centuries. A more concerted Russian expansionist effort came towards the end of the eighteenth century under the rule of Catherine the Great. She aimed to definitively capture the Caucasus through the forcible assimilation the tribal peoples of the Caucasus by relocating them from the mountains to more accessible valleys where they could be “civilized.”

During the Crimean War (1853-1856), when the Russian Empire faced the united front of the Ottoman, British, and French Empires, the Circassians had managed to achieve a certain celebrity status in the West. They hoped for foreign intervention to advance their cause, and indeed the Russians themselves anticipated British and French landings off the Black Sea, but they never came. Nonetheless, the war made apparent to the Russians the strategic vulnerability of the region and its indigenous inhabitants.

After the Crimean War, Tsar Alexander II aimed to vanquish this threat. Forced assimilation was no longer the goal, but rather mass expulsion and extermination. Through a process of internal colonialism, the Circassians and other tribes were uprooted and forcibly migrated to the Ottoman Empire. They were more or less given an ultimatum to leave or be considered enemy combatants. By 1859, the Russians began a scorched-earth campaign, systematically razing and pillaging entire villages and massacring their inhabitants. Although it is difficult to empirically verify the number of lives taken, perhaps several hundred thousand Circassians were ultimately killed. In 1864, the Russians proclaimed an end to what became known as the Caucasian War.


A Scene from the Caucasian War, by Franz Roubaud; courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons

However, the upheavals did not end. Hundreds of thousands of Circassians and others either fled or were herded to the Black Sea coast where they were shipped to Turkish ports. From there, they were dispersed across the Turkish Empire, from Anatolia to the Middle East to the Balkans. This influx of immigrants would in fact exacerbate the inter-ethnic conflicts of the Ottoman Empire that would culminate in the genocide of Armenians in 1916. The Circassians who remained in the Caucasus were scattered across Russia, leaving their original homeland open to settlement by Russophile Slavs.


Exiles from the Caucasus, ca. 1866; courtesy of Circassian World

Today there are at least one million Circassians, many of whom either live in the Russian Federation or the Middle East and Turkey. A significant minority also lives in the United States and Europe. Across the diaspora, May 21 is honored as a “National Day of Mourning,” commemorating the memory of the genocide.

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by Stephen D. SHENFIELD

Stephen D. Shenfield is an independent researcher and translator living in the USA.

He specializes in Russian and post-Soviet affairs.

Who are (or were) the Circassians?

This is the question I am usually asked if I ever mention my interest in the Circassians. Except for specialists in the Caucasus, there are few people in the Western world (although more people in the Middle East) who remember who the Circassians were, where they came from or what happened to them. They are an almost forgotten people. You will find no place called ‘Circassia’ on any contemporary map. The nearest you will get to it, and then only should you happen to know what the Russian word for ‘Circassian’ (borrowed from the Turkish) is cherkess, will be the Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Province in southern Russia. This area in fact lies somewhat to the north of the historical Circassia: it is where some of the Circassians were resettled following the tsarist conquest of their homeland. Moreover, the name of the territory is now somewhat misleading, inasmuch as the Circassians, who theoretically share it with the Turkic Karachai people, actually account for a mere 10 percent of its roughly half-million population.[1]

Perharps, however, you like poring over old maps, as i do. If so, take a look at a map of Russia dating from the early-nineteenth century, and you will find Circassia clearly marked –

a country in the north-western Caucasus and along the north-eastern shore of the Black Sea, stretching southwards from the banks of the River Kuban, which at that time marked the

southern boundary of the Russian empire. And you can read about Circassia in the old books of nineteenth-century western travellers such as the French consul Gamba (1826), the English adventurer James Bell (1841), the French couple de Hell (1847), the American George Leighton Ditson (1850), and the Dutch consul de Marigny (1887). And if you go back in time a few more decades and inspect a map drawn in the middle of the eighteenth century, then you will see the name ‘Circassia’ boldly straddling both bank of the River Kuban, from the lowlands east of the Sea of Azov, between the Kuban, and the Don, all the way to the borders of Ossetia and Chechnya up in the main Caucasus mountain range and along the Black Sea coast from the isthmus of the Sea of Azov to Abkhazia.[2]

Circassia at that time, prior to tsarist imperal conquest, occupied an area of 55,663 square kilometres – rather greater than the area of Denmark – and possessed an indigenous population in excess of two million.[3]

The origins of the Circassians can be traced back as far as the Bosphoran Kingdom of the eighth century BC, and possibly to the Cimmerian Empire that existed along the shores of the

Azov Sea before 1500 BC. They enjoyed close cultural and trading ties with the ancient Greeks, especially with the Athenians, and even participated in the Olympic Games. Their gods also closely corresponded to the Greek gods: Shi-bla, God of Thunder, was their Zeus, Tlepsh, God of Iron and Fire, their Hephaestos.[4]

For most of their history they were an agricultural people. They had a feudal and patriarchal social structure consisting of princes, nobles, freemen, and serfs. Most accounts describe them as having consisted of ‘tribes’, the exact number and designation of which seem to have varied over time. These tribes were too closely related to be considered separate ethnic or even sub-ethnic groups. Circassians’ identity was defined by a series of overlapping kinship groups, stretching outwards from the individual’s closest kin to the Circassian nation (or proto-nation if one prefers) as a whole.[5]

Circassia was Christianized under Byzantine influence in the fifth and sixth centuries. While Daghestan in the north-eastern Caucasus was Islamized as early as the eighth h century, Circassia long stayed outside the sphere of Arab and Muslim influence.[6]

From the sixteenth century it entered into alliance with Georgia: Georgians and Circassians regarded themselves as constituting a single Christian island in the Muslim sea and jointly appealed to Russia for protection. Tsar Ivan the Terrible had a Circassian wife. Muslim influence among the Circassians dates no earlier than the seventeenth century, and only in the eighteenth century, under the threat of impending Russian invasion, did they accept Islam, with a view to facilitating a defensive alliance with Otoman Turkey and the Crimean Tatar Khanate.

The Circassians fought against Russian conquest for over a century, from 1763 to 1864 – longer than any other people of the Caucasus, even the Chechens. Their final defeat in the 1860s led to massacre and forced deportation, mainly across the Black Sea to Turkey, in the course of which a large proportion of them perished. Many Circassians were also utilized by the Ottomans in the Balkans to suppress the rebellious Serbs, but almost all of these were later relocated to the interior of Anatolia. Since that time, the great majority – about 90 percent – of people of Circassian descent have lived in exile, mostly in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Only isolated remnants, currently about three to four hundred thousand people altogether, remain in Russia and other parts of the post-Soviet region. During the last decades of the tsarist regime, the emptied and devastated Circassian lands were resettled by Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian and other colonists. Later many Georgians also settled in Abkhazia, feeding resentments that culminated in the recent Abkhaz-Georgian war – a conflict which can only be understood against the background of the Circassian trauma of the last century.

Massacre and Deportation

In 1860, having failed to subdue the Circassians in ninety-seven years of warfare, the Russian government decided to enforce their mass migration to other regions of the empire or to Turkey. General Yevdokimov was entrusted with the execution of this policy, and advanced into the stil unconquered parts of Circassia with newly formed mobile columns of riflemen and Cossack cavalry. In the northern areas that he first penetrated, the Circassians submitted to his will: that same year, four thousand families set sail for Turkey from the estuary of the Kuban without offering any resistance.[7]

However, the tribes living further to the south-east did prepare to resist. At the place where now stands the popular Black Sea resort of Sochi, the Abadzekhs, Shapseghs and Ubykhs formed an assembly and appealed – in vain – to the Ottomans and Britain for help. In September 1861, the Emperor himself, Tsar Alexander II, visited Yekaterinodar, the Russian town closest to the scene of the action, and there received a delegation of Circassian chiefs. The chiefs expressed readiness to recognize Russian suzerainty provided that Russian troops and Cossacks were removed from Circassian lands beyond the Rivers Kuban and Laba. Their proposal was rejected.

The Abadzekhs, however, agreed to move to new lands offered them further north (many of the titular people of the Adygei Autonomous Province are their descendants) while the chiefs of the other tribes refused to uproot their people. Subsequent military operations against them began in the spring of 1862.[8]

The Russian soldiers systematically burned the Circassian villages – all the villages of the Shapsegh without exception were burned down – while the crops growing in the fields were trampled under the hooves of the Cossacks’ horses.[9]

Those inhabitants who then declared their submission to the Tsar were marched off, under the control of Russian superintendants, for resettlement on the plain to the north while those who refused to submit were sent down to the seashore to await deportation to Turkey. Many others – men, women and children – fled from their burning villages only to perish of hunger and exposure in the forest and mountains. Having conquered the Shapsegh and Abadzekh, recounts the Circassian historian Shauket, the column of General Babich followed the seashore southwards, destroying villages as it went: They were on the border of the land of the Ubykh. From the side of the Goitkh pass another column came to meet them. Little Ubykhia became the last citadel of Circassian freedom. The Ubykh made a last attempt to prolong the agony, but the Russians compressed the ring ever tighter. From the south, troops were landed in the very heart of the Ubykh land, while from the north three columns advanced through the mountains and along the seashore. The l ast resistance was broken.[10]

Trakho, another Circassian historian, continues the story:

There remained only the small coastal tribes: the Pskhu, the Akhtsipsou, the Aibgo and the Jigit. In the course of May 1864 these tribes were annihilated almost to the last man, woman and child. Seeing this, Circassians gathered from all corners of the country in a frenzy of despair threw themselves into the valley of the Aibgo. For four days (7-11 May) the Russians were repulsed with great losses. Heavy artillery was then brought up and began to belch fire and smoke into the little valley. Not one of the defenders survived. The capture of this little valley, lost in the mountains, was the last act in the long tragedy of the Circassian people. On 21 May the Great Prince Mikhail Nikolaevich gathered his troops in a clearing for a thanksgiving service. [11]

Of this same final battle-pogrom Shauket writes:

The last battle took place in the area of the Black Sea near Maikop, in the Khodz valley [i.e., the valley of the Aibgo] near the town of Akhchip. That rough mountainous area was the last stronghold at which women and children assembled for protection from the Russian advance. The women threw their jewellery into the river, took up arms and joined the men in order to fight the battle of death for the sake of their homeland and honoour, lest they should fall captives in Russian hands. The two parties met in a horrible battle which turned out to be a massacre unprecedented in history. The objective of that battle [for the Circassians] was not to achieve success or victory, but to die honorably and to leave a life which had no honourable hope left. In that battle men and women were slaughtered mercilessly and blood flowed in rivers, so that it was said that ‘‘the bodies of the dead swam in a sea of blood’’. Nevertheless, the Russians were not content with what they had done, but sought to satisfy their instincts by making the surviving children targets for their cannon shells.[12]

The subsequent deportations to Turkey began on 28 May. They took place under horrendous conditions. The Russian historian Berzhe bore witness to the state of the Circassians even as they awaited deportation on the Black Sea shore:

I shall never forget the overwhelming impression made on me by the mountaineers in Novorossiisk [NewRussian] Bay, where about seventeen thousand of them were gathered on the shore. The late, inclement and cold time of year, the almost complete absence of means of subsistence and the epidemic of typhus and smallpox raging among them made their situation desperate. And indeed, whose heart would not be touched on seeing, for example, the already stiff corpse of a young Circassian woman lying in rags on the damp ground under the open sky with two infants, one struggling in his death-throes while the other sought to assuage his hunger at his dead mother’s breast? And I saw not a few such scenes. [13]

Those who had survived this ordeal thus far were now herded by the Russian soldiers en masse on to barges and small Turkish and Greek ships, loaded with several times as many passengers as they could carry. Many of these sank and their passengers drowned in the open sea. For those who survived the voyage, conditions on arrival in Turkey were no less horrific. Arrangements that had been made by the Turkish government for receiving and resettling the migrants were grossly inadequate. Moshnin, the Russian consul in Trabzon on the Turkish coast, reported as follows: About six thousand Circassians were landed in Batum, [and] up to four thousand were sent to Çürüksu on the border [with Turkey]. They came with their emaciated and dying livestock. Average mortality seven people per day. About 240,000 deportees have arrived in Trabzon and its environs, of which 19,000 have died… Average mortality two hundred people per day. Most of them are sent to Samsun; 63,290 remain. In Giresun there are about fifteen thousand people. In Samsun and its environs over 110,000 people. Mortality about two hundred people per day. Typhus is raging.[14]

How many Circassians, then, perished from death in battle, by massacre, drowning, hunger, exposure and disease? Prior to the Russian conquest, the Circassians (including the Abkhaz) numbered about two million. By 1864, the north-western Caucasus had been emptied of its indigenous population almost in entirety. About 120-150,000 Circassians were resettled in places elsewhere in the Empire set aside by the Russian government. (By the time of the 1897 census, there were 217,000 Circassians in Russia). According to Brooks, about 500,000 were deported to Turkey;[15] in addition, thirty thousand families – perhaps 200,000 people – had emigrated voluntarily in 1858, prior to the deportations. That still leaves well over one-half of the original population unaccounted for, to which must be added those who-died at sea or on arrival. The number who died in the Circassian catastrophe of the 1860s could hardly, therefore, have been fewer than one million, and may well have been closer to one-and-a-half million.

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