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? Continue reading

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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

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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.

circassian_map-300x185 Continue reading

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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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