Friday, March 8, 2019

Call for Circassian Subgroups to Identify as Circassians in Census Sparks Sharp Online Debate

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 8 – A call by Circassian activists to those Moscow has subdivided into Adygs, Kabards, Cherkess and Shapsugs to declare themselves Circassians in the upcoming 2020 Russian census has sparked a sharp debate on social networks, with supporters seeing it as a step to recovering their national patrimony and others feeling that it threatens their current status.

            The appeal has sparked extended reflections by some Circassians who generally favor the proposal (,, and and more numerous shorter posts by both supporters and opponents.

            The Kavkaz Uzel portal, tracking the hashtag #yacherkesAty? has assembled 192 posts on Instagram, 10 publications on Facebook, seven videos, 17 photographs, three publications on Twitter and 38 on Twitter discussing this appeal and reaction to it (
            “One of the most popular” of these publications, the portal says, involves a photograph of a young woman holding a poster on which the words ‘Adygeys?’ ‘Kabardins?’ and Shapsugs?’ are crossed out and below is written ‘We are Circassians.”

            But others objected. Their common self-designator should be Adygs, as it was before 1917. “Circassian” is the term others call them, and many do not think they should defer to outsiders.  At the same time, those who have learned to identify as Kabards or Shapsugs don’t want to make the shift to Adygs, although some are prepared to call themselves Circassians. 

            The greatest objections, however, appear to come from those who live in Kabardiinia or Adygey. If the Kabards do what the activists want, one said, “there won’t be any Karbards in Kabardinia.” Similar sentiments are expressed by someone in Adygeya who says everyone there knows they are part of the Circassian world but at the same time they remain Adygs.

            Backers of the call to have all members of these subgroups identify as Circassians make a different argument: “We lost a hundred-years’ war as a result of divisions. And now I read commentaries which make me sad. One shouts I am a Kabardinka, another says I’m a Shapsug; a third, an Adyg. In truth, we have learned nothing from the times of the Caucasus war.”

            Others who support the idea says that “one need not argue.” It is perfectly all right to retain these subordinate identities, but it is critically important to insist on the broader and larger identity at the same time, something that will boost the numbers of Circassians inside the current borders of Russia and link up such people with Circassians abroad.

            “Is it really so difficult to list oneself as a Circassian? one asks.  “That is how the entire world calls us. This is a census after all, and we should find out how many Circassians there are in the world.” 

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