Thursday, March 14, 2019

Circassians are One Nation and Must have One Name, Scholars and Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 13 – Ever more people are adding their voices to the campaign for those whom the Soviets divided into Adygeys, Kabardins, and Shapsugs to reclaim their common name as Circassians (Adygs) not only to avoid confusion but because the Circassians are one nation, whether they live within the current borders of Russia, or not and must have one name.

            The Kavkaz Uzel news agency today surveys six experts about this situation. Their comments represent the best discussion of these issues in short compass (; cf.

Madina Khakuasheva, a Circassian philologist, says that the Soviet-imposed divisions of the language and people are artificial and confusing. There should be no talk about a separate Kabardin or Adygey literature: there is only a Circassian (Adyg) one.  All that is needed to correct the situation is “political will.”

Martin Kochesoko, president of the Khabze organization, says that there should be no question that “the Circassians are all those who call themselves in their native language ‘Adygs.’”  Dividing them into Kabardins, Cherkess and Adygeys is “the fruit of Soviet nationality policy.” On that basis, “all the administrative structures” in the region are built.

Naima Neflyasheva, a scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Center for Civilizational and Regional Research, says that for her, “the construct ‘Adygeys’ is absolutely artificial.” Adyg, in contrast is very much real: it lives in the consciousness of the people and in the literature of their native language. Those who oppose using the term “Adyg” do not have broad support.

Sergey Arutyunov, head of the sector on the Caucasus at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, says that there is a single Adyg people and a single Adyg land going back centuries and that that term is translated as Circassian by outsiders.

Valery Khatazhukov, head of the Kabaardino-Balkar Human Rights Center, says that regardless of where they live or what they are required to call themselves by officialdom, Circassians “recognize themselves as a single people.”

And Denis Sokolov, now a resident scholar at Washington’s CSIS, says that the assertion of a common ethnonym among the Circassians will not at least immediately translate into a single Circassian republic in the North Caucasus: Moscow is opposed and the ethnic mix in the region is too great for that.

But by calling for people to publicly identify as Circassians, activists are forcing members of that nation to talk about a new agenda for the national movement and its relations to the Adygs/Circassians around the world.  That is possible now thanks to the Internet and social media like Facebook and WhatsApp. 

“If the Russian Federation were a nationally oriented state, then projects like the Circassian movement,” Sokolov says, “could become the moving force for economic and political modernization, structures on which the state could rely in the construction of a new nationality policy.”

But today, “’the Moscow bureaucracy’ has no interest in forming this new nationality policy,” and so making progress will be difficult. “If one speaks about the medium term, then the future of any nationality project on the territory of the Russian Federation is not very bright.” 

However, “if one speaks about the longer term, then it is difficult to imagine any other scenario than the development of such nationality and regional projects. This is the skeleton on which could be constructed a genuine federative political system, entirely different from the criminalized post-impressionism [sic] which we now observe.” 

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