Monday, May 21, 2018

‘Tlapqghakakwad’ Overcome – Circassians Mark 154th Anniversary of Genocide

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 21 – History, it is often observed, is written by the victors; but those who look like victors at one point may turn out to be the defeated at another and those who appeared to be the vanquished may come back Phoenix-like and win a larger and longer victory than anyone – including themselves – could ever imagine.

            Today, Circassians around the world mark what they call tlapqghakakwad – the Circassian word for “death of the nation” – the anniversary of Russia’s expulsion and killing of their ancestors in 1864 after more than a century of resistance to Russian imperial advance into the Caucasus.   

            That act of genocide by the Russian state reflected the desire of its rulers to have the land the Circassians lived on but without the Circassians, an example of the extrapolation of the infamous comment of a Russian general that “Russia needs Armenia; it doesn’t need Armenians.”

            By that Russian action more than 150 years ago, the Circassian state was destroyed, the Circassian nation decimated, and the Russian empire extended, certainly appearing seeming to appear to justify Russian claims of victory and the Circassian recognition that they had suffered tlapqghakakwad or “death of the nation.”

            But in fact, the Circassians who now number more than five million in the diaspora in the Middle East, Europe and North America and who count more than 500,000 people in their traditional North Caucasus homeland that the Russian state has carved up have come back to life and can look beyond 1864 in which they and not the Russian oppressors will be the victors.

            Mobilized by the contemptible decision of Vladimir Putin to hold the 2014 Olympics on the killing fields of Sochi where the ancestors of today’s Circassians were murdered, brutalized and expelled, the Circassian community both at home and in the diaspora is stronger than it has ever been.

            That can be seen in the demonstrations and commentaries by Circassians this week. (Among the best are  and  But it can be even more clearly observed in the actions of the Circassians chronicled by one of their number in an important new book. 

            In Circassia (Xlibris, 2017), Adel Bashqawi, a retired pilot who was born in Amman, traces the history of his people from antiquity up to the struggles of today. (It is from him that the current author has learned so much about the Circassians and it is from his book that I learned the Circassian word tlapqghakakwad.

            But his book and the history of the Circassian people points to another conclusion: those who have been defeated at one point or another can come back in triumph.  And on this sad anniversary of Russian oppression, I am confident that Bashqawi’s subtitle Born to Be Free captures far better what is going on among the Circassians than anything else.

            A nation that remains committed to freedom cannot be defeated, however many defeats it suffers. And I believe that Circassians will again be victorious and free once again while those who thought they had committed “the death of a nation” 154 years ago will be seen as the ultimate losers. 

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