Staunton, August 27 – Zaina el-Said, a Kabardinka whose great-great grandparents were among those Circassians whom the Russian forces expelled to the Ottoman Empire, has become a popular artist in Jordan and says her mission in life is to attract attention to the traditions of Circassia and thus help ensure that they remain alive for future generations.
She tells Marina Bitokova of the Eto Kavkaz portal that when she was growing up, everyone around her in the Jordanian capital had a motherland except for the Circassians who in response to “lost Circassia” have maintained and developed it inside themselves (etokavkaz.ru/kultura/mechty-o-poteryannoi-cherkesii).
“My Circassian family is Karagul, and representatives of it even now live in the Caucasus,” el-Said says. “We know a little about the history of our family on my father’s side: the father of my grandfather Said arrived in the Ottoman Empire in 1870. He settled in Baghdad and played a major role in establishing the Iraqi monarchy.
Later, her father moved to Jordan where he married a Circassian woman whose ancestors came from the Caucasus just before World War I. They were part as she is now of the large Circassian diaspora community in Jordan. Older people speak Circassian well, younger people like herself are learning it, and all maintain their culture.
After attending university in London, el-Said continues, she began working as an artist in order to communicate her feelings about her people and its past. “The image of the motherland – the real Caucasus and the Caucasus which I show in my works are certainly not one and the same place.” But her work is informed by the love for her land she inherited from her ancestors.
“I inherited a link with a place where I never was,” she says, adding that her first visit to the region was in 2004. That visit added “greater depth” to her often-surrealist paintings about the Circassians and their history. And el-Said says she remains committed to representing them because there is so much interest in Circassia among the other peoples of the Middle East.
She has exhibited widely across the region and says that wherever she has gone, people want to know about Circassia. “I think,” el-Said says, “that the word ‘Caucasus’ has kept its magical echo for people. This is an ancient world which remains mysterious and untouched.” People feel that and want to know more, she concludes.