Circassian Genocide, more than 150 years later

Circassia was a small independent nation on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea. This land, native to peoples known as Caucasians, falls between the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east,Russia to the north, the republics of North Ossetia and Ingushetia to the east, and Abkhazia and Georgia to the south. In the northwest portion of the Caucasus there is an area regarded as the homeland of a group of people known as the Circassians. 

Ethnic hatred, which took shape in of hundreds of raids by the Russians drove out the Circassians from their homeland and deported them to the Ottoman Empire. At least 600,000 people lost their lives to massacre, starvation, and the elements while hundreds of thousands more were forced to leave their homeland. By 1864, three-fourths of the population was annihilated, and the Circassians had become one of the first stateless peoples in modern history.

The strategic importance of the geography of Circassia was revealed during the Crimean War of 1856. There were two current mainstream views at the time: either make a peace truce or drive them to exile. The Circassians were seen as a the biggest barrier to Russian expansion with the first proposal for exile put forward by Russian Caucasus Army Chief of Staff General Milyut in 1857. The deportations began in the late-18th century, in particularly en masse in 1858 to acheive full sovereignty of the land by the Russians.
It did not take long for the Circassians to see the motivation behind the Russian politics. Despite meeting with the Tzzar and presenting him with their conditions, the Circassians  also said that they were prepared to negotiate. The Russians however were determined to send the Circassians into exile and sent more than hundreds of thousands of troops placing the people under siege. Homes and villages were burnt to the ground, forced out of their homes, and tens of thousands were killed in a mass genocide. On the 21st May 1864, the region was under full Russian control, ending hundreds of years of struggle. The Tzar’s brother Grand Duke Michel who was appointed to the Caucasus, made an announcement in August of that year: “In one months time, if the Circassians do not leave the region they will be Russian prisoners of war and deported to different regions of Russia”. This was the beginning of the greatest catastrophe of the Circassians.

The Circassians were driven from their homes by sea into Taman, Tuapse, Anapa, Tsemez, Soci Adler, Soum, Pot, and Batum and various other sea ports. The exiled Circassians disembarked at the Ottoman Empire cities of Trabzon, Samson, Sinop, Istanbul, Varna, Bugaz, and Kostence in camps that were prepared them. As much as the camps were set up for them, the camps became a place of gunger and before long epidemics hit the camps where thousands of people lost their homes in a very short time. 

With the approaching boats, it was very evident to those waiting at the ports, the magnitude of the suffering of the Circassians.

According to the reports at the Russian consulate in Trabzon, those who saw oversaw the exile, wrote to General Katracheff noting that, “There are 70,000 Circassians who have arrived at Batum to depart to Turkey. As a result of the impoverished conditions, nearly 7 a day are dying. Of the 24,700 people who have arrived at Trabzon, 19,000 have died. Amongst the 63,900 people in Trabzon, between 180-250 people die every day. In Samsun, out of 110,000 people nearly 200 are dying because of the poorly conditions. Of the 4,650 people that went to Trabzon, Varna and Istanbul, between 40-69 have died”.
As a result of the exile the total number of Circassians that were exiled has been unable to be determined, although the numbers are to be anywhwere between 700,000 and 2 million people. The famous historian, Kemal Karpat, as determmined the figure to be approximately 2 million people during the 1859-1879 exile, whilst the Ottoman archinves put the number at 1.5 million people. Of these people, many of them were sent to ports in the Ottoman Empire, as well as the Anatolian regions of Thrace, the Balkans, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and other Ottoman cities.
Speaking to the Turkish Yeni Safak newspaper, the Caucasian Foundations Founding President, Prof. Dr Fethi Gungor, said that some parts of the Circassian race were completely wiped out.
Prof. Gungor in particular highlighted some crucial points: the Ubikh people came back from the brink of extinction, and were lost in the depth of history. Some families of the historical Circassia were completely wiped out. The Shapsugs who lived on the north of the Black sea were one of the biggest families. There are only 10,000 pople remaining of the Shapshug family line in Sochi, where the Sochi Olympics were held in February this year. The historian Kabuzan who referenced his material based on Russia archives, “North Caucasian Census (19-20. Century)” tables the works as one of the biggest crimes against humanity, in one sweeping statement. The Adige people of Circassian who were a population of 573,000 people in 1834 were documented to have a population of just 44,000 after 33 years. There population reduced 5 five fold in only 33 years.

The question remains, who wil hold Russia accountable for these crimes? Europe? America? Despite their political rivalry, despite the pull of Russia against the West, and their aggression and threats, when it comes to Muslim populations they unite to achieve the policies against them, putting aside all their disputes. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is the one who can hold Russia accountable. This organisation is governed by a single consitution, like the EU, use a joint currency, have established their only defense system, as well joint science and technology developments, and in doing so, not only seek justice for those in the Caucasus, and Muslim populations, but also those who are oppressed under tyrants.

By remaining close to each other, the Anatolian Circassians have been able to preserve their language and cultures for a long time. I am 50 years old. I was born and have lived in the concentrated Kayseri-Uzunyayla region. I observe with great sadness the loss of language of the younger generation. It has been a very late step in the democratic process. The ease of Circassian pulbications, and having a Circassian Language and Culture department is a very positive development. However for Circassia to be alive in Anatolia, the Circassians need to be able to take further steps in democracy and human rights, and this internal dynamic will assist the Circassians to take actions, and take protect their language and culture.

150 years ago, the Circassians living in Caucasus is not just Circassian or Causcasian issue. In fact, it is not just an issue pertaining to Muslims. Being one of the most ancient living human race, the Tzarist regime and the USSR applied genocide and the crimes against humanity of which they must clean this shame. International and united joint commissions must be established to determine the amount of genocide and the exile, restore the dignity of the oppressed, a statement of apology by the heirs of the unjust tyrants, financial compensation and the right of return to their homeland – humanitarians steps which are not impossible. I have hope for the future of humanity. I believe that the Muslim world will be able to gather the family of humanity under a peaceful roof for all.

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