“the names of peoples are an inexhaustible source of knowledge for the historian.”
They are both self-designations and the designations others give to them, Its continued; and in a long list of such endo- and exo-ethnonyms, he said that “the Adygs are Circassians.” That sent her to the rich library holdings of the northern Russian capital, and she found confirmation of that reality.
As she continued with her studies, Neflyasheva says, she learned that “the ethnonym ‘Adygey’ is an exclusively Soviet construct,” one the Bolsheviks imposed to control the Circassians by trying to set one group of them against another and combining peoples who were and remain dissimilar.
Only in 1922 did the Circassians of the Adygey Autonomous Oblast begin to be called and to call themselves Adygeys. Few made the transition quickly or easily. And at least until 1928, even the local paper was called Cherkesskaya Pravda – the Circassian Pravda. That was true in official documents as well.
But even having made this discovery, Neflyasheva says, she continued to identify as an Adyg because that was the custom. Everything changed when she attended a scholarly conference in Istanbul at the end of the 1990s. There the word “Circassian” was an open sesame to a magical and much bigger world.
“Are you Circassian?” people asked. And they often said “Circassians! Beautiful! Unbelievable!” And during that visit, she read in an English guidebook to the city words that changed her life:
“Istanbul,” the book stated, “is a city of ancient traditions and at the same time a contemporary city. This reflects the wisdom of the Greeks, the entrepreneurial spirit of the Armenians, and the aristocratic spirit of the Circassians.” Neflyasheva says she has never forgotten that sentence even though regrettably she didn’t get the citation.
From them on, she has been a Circassian, not an Adyg. The latter was and is a Soviet term designed to deprive her of her nationhood and personal identity. Adygs are a subgroup of that nation, but one would not label oneself by a part when the whole is available, especially when that nation has such a tragic, dignified and complex history.
The ethnonym “Adyg” played its role, she says; but that role is over. Now, she and all who have been confined within it need to reassert their identity as Circassians. Their time is still ahead.