Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Circassian diaspora

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

The Circassian diaspora refers to the resettlement of the Circassian population, especially during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. From 1763 to 1864, the Circassians fought against the Russian Empire in the Russian-Circassian War, finally succumbing to a scorched-earth campaign initiated in 1862 under General Nicholai Yevdokimov. Afterwards, large numbers of Circassians were exiled and deported to the Ottoman Empire and other nearby regions; others were resettled in Russia far from their home territories. Circassians live in more than fifty countries, besides the Republic of Adygea. Total population estimates differ: according to some sources, some two million live in Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq; other sources have between one and four million in Turkey alone.



The Circassians in Turkey number between 130,000 and 2 millions and they are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Turkey.


The diaspora of Circassians in Iran dates back to the end of the 15th century, when Jonayd of the Ak Koyunlu raided regions of Circassia and carried off prisoners. However, the real large influx of Circassians started by the time of Shah Tahmasp I of the Safavid dynasty, who in four campaigns deported some 30,000 Circassians and Georgians back to Iran. Tahmasp's successors, most notably Shah Abbas, all the way till the time of the Qajar Dynasty continued to deport and import hundreds of thousands of Circassians to Iran, while a lesser amount migrated voluntarily. Following the mass expulsion of the native Circassians of the northwest Caucasus in 1864, some of them also migrated to Qajar Iran, where some of these deportees from after 1864 rose to various high ranks such as in the Persian Cossack Brigade, where every member of the army was either Circassian, or any other type of ethnos from the Caucasus. The Circassians in Iran played an important and crucial role in the army, civil administration, and royal harems over the many centuries. Today, they are the second-largest Caucasus derived group in the nation after the Georgians.


The Circassian diaspora may date back to the end of the fourteenth century: the Circassian population in Egypt claims its descendance from the Mamluks who, during the Mamluk Sultanate, ruled Egypt and Syria. One exception to this is the Abazin community in Egypt which conglomerates in the powerful Abaza Family that claims descent from an Abazin "beloved" female "elder." In Egypt, the Abkhazians took — or were given — the last name "Abaza".

Nineteenth-century resettlements

A large number of Circassians began arriving in the Levant in the 1860s and 1870s through resettlement by the Ottoman Empire, in many cases for political or military reasons. The Ottomans settled them in areas with Muslim minorities and populations that were otherwise of concern to the government; moreover, the dispersion of the Circassians, a warrior people, diminished their possible military threat. An estimated 600 Circassian villages are in Central and Western Anatolia. Likewise, Circassians who moved to Jordan were settled there to counter possible Bedouin attacks. There is a sizeable Circassian population in Syria, which has, to a great extent, preserved its original culture and even its language.


Syria is home to approximately 100,000 Circassians (data from 1987), about half of whom live in Hauran province, and many of the Circassians used to live in the Golan Heights. During the time of the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon (1920–1946), Circassians served with the French troops in the "escadron tcherkesse" (Cherkess squadron), earning them enduring distrust from the Syrian Sunni Arabs.

In Quneitra and the Golan Region, there was a numerous Circassian community. Several Circassian leaders wanted in 1938, for the same reasons as their Assyrian, Kurdish and Bedouin counterparts in Al-Jazira province in 1936–1937, a special autonomy status for their region as they feared the prospect of living in an independent Syrian republic under a nationalist Arab government hostile towards the minorities that had collaborated with the colonial power. They also wanted the Golan region to become a national homeland for Circassian refugees from the Caucasus. A Circassian battalion served in the French army and had helped it against the Arab nationalist uprisings. Like in Al-Jazira Province, the French authorities refused to grant any autonomy status to the Golan Circassians.

The Circassians of Syria were actively involved in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Their unit was under the leadership of Jawad Anzor. 200 Circassians were killed in action. They performed well, but the overall failure to stop the founding of Israel led to the special Circassian unit being disbanded. After the Six-Day War of 1967, they withdrew further into Syria, especially to Damascus and Aleppo. They were prevented from returning to the Golan Heights by Israeli occupying forces, but after 1973 some of the returned, now living in two villages, Beer Ajam and Bariqa, where they maintain a traditionally Circassian way of life.

The Circassians in Syria are generally well off. They are strictly secular and supporters of the Assad regime; as such they have tense relations with Syrian Sunni fundamentalist Arabs, and very good relations with minorities like Alawites, Druze, Christians and Jews. Many of them work for the government, in civil service, or for the military. The former Syrian interior minister and director of the military police, Bassam Abdel Majeed, was a Circassian. All Circassians learn Arabic and English in school; many speak Adyghe language, but their numbers are dwindling. One kindergarten in Damascus provides Adyghe language education. However, there are no Circassian newspapers, and few Circassian books are printed in Syria. Cultural events play an important role in maintaining the ethnic identity of the Circassians. During holidays and weddings, they perform folk dances and songs in their traditional dress.


The capital city of Jordan, Amman, previously devastated by natural disasters, was re-settled by Circassians of the Shapsough tribe in 1878. Since then, the Circassians have had a major role in the development of Jordan, holding high positions in the Jordanian government, armed forces, air force and police. In 1921, Circassians were granted the position of the personal trusted royal guards of King Abdullah the First. Since then, the Circassians have been the royal guard, serving all four of the Jordanian Kings, King Abdullah the First, King Talal the First, King Hussein the First and King Abdullah the Second. In 1932, the Circassian Charity Association was established, making it the second oldest charity group in Jordan. In 1944, Al-Ahli Club was founded, which is a Circassian sports club. In 1950, Al-Jeel Al-jadeed club opened, aiming to preserve the Circassian Culture. In 2009, the Circassian Culture Academy was founded, aiming to preserve the Circassian language, which comprises the closely related Adyghe and Kabardian languages (considered to be dialects of Circassian by some linguists). In 1994, the Al-Ahli Club established a Circassian folklore dance troupe. The Circassian Culture Academy also has a Circassian Folklore Dance troupe named the Highlanders.

On 21 May 2011, the Circassian community in Jordan organised a protest in front of the Russian embassy opposing the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics because it is believed that the site of the Games is being built over the site of mass graves of Circassians killed during the Circassian genocide of 1864 at the northeast Black Sea coast under the reign of Russian tsar Alexander II.


Iraq is home to approximately 35,000 Circassians, of mainly West Circassian origin. The Adyghes came to Iraq in two waves: directly from Circassia, and later from the Balkans. They settled in all parts of Iraq – from north to south – but most of all in Iraq's capital Baghdad. It has been reported that there are 30,000 Adyghe families just in Baghdad alone. Many also settled in Kerkuk, Diyala, Fallujah, and other places. Circassians played a major role in different periods throughout Iraq’s history, and made great contributions to political and military institutions in the country, to the Iraqi Army in particular. Several Iraqi Prime Ministers have been of Circassian descent.

The Iraqi Circassians mainly speak Mesopotamian Arabic and West Circassian.


There are several thousand Circassians in Israel, living mostly in Kfar Kama (3,005) and Rehaniya (1,123). These two villages were a part of a larger group of Circassian villages around the Golan Heights. As is the case with Jewish Israelis, and the Druze population living within Israel, Circassian men must complete mandatory military service upon reaching the age of majority. Many Circassians in Israel are employed in the security forces, including in the Israel Border Police, the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Police and the Israel Prison Service..

Eastern Europe

Around 1600, a number of immigrants from the Caucasus region, of somewhat privileged background, settled in the then Principality of Moldavia, and became known by the name "Cerchez" (pronounced [Cherkez] in Romanian). There, they constituted one of the principality's 72 boyar families. In time, they were assimilated into the general population. However, one of the last descendants of this family, Mihail Christodulo Cerchez, was a Romanian national hero in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 (Osman Paşa, the Turkish commander of the Pleven garrison, who was an Adyge himself, surrendered his sword to Cerchez at the end of the siege). One of the main halls of the Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest is named "Sala Cerchez" ("Cerchez Hall") in memory of General Cerchez.

A small minority of Circassians had lived in Kosovo Polje since the late 1880s, as mentioned by Noel Malcolm in his seminal work about that province, but they were repatriated to the Republic of Adygea in southern Russia in the late 1990s.


Some Circassians live in Albania probably after fleeing the conflict in Kosovo. They live in an area called Çerkez-Morinë, in the Eastern part of the country, close to the border with Kosovo.

Current situation

Circassians refer to their diaspora as a genocide; the diaspora is "perhaps the most pressing issue in the region and the most difficult to solve." In 2006, the Russian State Duma refused to accept a petition by the Circassian Congress that would have called the Russian–Circassian War an act of genocide. Hazret Sovmen, President of the Republic of Adygea from 2002 to 2007, referred to the Circassian diaspora as an enduring tragedy and a national catastrophe, claiming the Circassians live in more than fifty countries across the world, most of them far from their "historical homeland". The International Circassian Organization promotes the interests of Circassians, and the advent of the Internet has brought "a sort of virtual Circassian nation" into being.


Circassian diaspora Wikipedia