Monday, August 30, 2021

New Survey Shows ‘Adyge Khabze,’ the Code of the Circassians, Still Shapes that Nation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – A new survey by the Adygey Republic Institute of Research on the Humanities finds that 59 percent of Circassians have a detailed understanding of the Adyge Khabze, the code that defines the behavior of their nation, and 39 percent more have at least a partial understanding.

            That means that the traditional code of the Circassians is not some ethnographic curiosity from the past but a vital part of Circassian life to this day, a part that has helped them resist Russianization, Islamization and national decay, Adam Tleush, the director of the Institute says (

            Because few if any other nations have anything analogous, he suggests, many observers don’t know what to make of this code of conduct or how to integrate it into an understanding of Circassians now. Instead, all too often they dismiss it as something traditional that is passing away under conditions of modernity.

            But the new survey, which shows that 98 percent of Circassians, continue to be informed by it shows that it is no historical artefact but a powerful influence on the Circassian nation and that without an understanding of it one cannot grasp what Adel Bashqawi has called “The Circassian Miracle.”

In reporting on the survey his institute conducted, Tleush points out that 54 percent of those queried said they follow at least some of its principles and 42 percent say they try to live up to all of them. Only four percent declare that they don’t do so – and only one percent say that at the present time, they do not identify with the values of Adyge Khabze.

Twenty-four percent of the sample said that following the code’s principles does not present them with any problems, although 50 percent said that they do have problems on occasion because of the views of others, and seven percent say that living according to Adyge Khabze today is “extremely difficult.”

And a comparison of the findings of this survey with those of another his institute conducted in 2000 showed that Circassians show little disposition to give up the code. In 2000, 55 percent said they lived according to Adgye Khabze in their daily live while this year, 42 percent did, a decline of 13 percent over almost a generation.

The real decline may be greater as many now may want to suggest they are following this code especially when they are queried about it by another Circassian as was the case in the survey last spring. But at the same time, Tleush suggests, many Circassians more highly value their national code now than ever before, an attitude that he says is spreading.

One thing that may be limiting that is that many Circassians view the Adgye Khabze as something fixed once and for all rather than a living and evolving set of principles. But in fact both in the past and again now, the scholar says, change is part and parcel of the Circassian code and should not be dismissed out of hand.

“Non-institutionalized norms of morality to which the Circassian code belongs, give way to institutionalized norms of morality and law” in many cases, he continues. “For example, to put one’s mother in an old peoples’ home from the point of view of institutionalized norms is completely legal … but from the point of view of Adygey Khabze, it is blasphemy and a crime.”

There are many such contradictions which a Circassian must navigate today, and finding a balance between the two is not always easy. Simply rejecting the Circassian code is not an option, but acting as if there is nothing in the views of others that should be considered isn’t a workable way forward.

One reason that this is increasingly a difficult challenge is that the manner in which the Adygey Khabze is passed from one generation to another has changed. In the past, young people lived with their parents who insisted on the code. Now, “young families prefer to live apart and no new channels of transmitting habits from one generation to another have been found.”

“The Circassian language as an element of the core of Adygey Khabze itself is on the brink of an analogous crisis,” Tleush says. And to overcome both crises requires “titanic efforts” involving both the reaffirmation of the basic values of the nation and  a willingness to consider modification of some traditional elements that are not central to what it means to be a Circassian.

Making those choices and ensuring that they are accepted not only by Circassians but by the peoples including the Russians they live among will not be easy, but unless an effort is made, the Circassians will find themselves on the defensive rather than being in a position to develop as a modern and flourishing nation guided by their unique code.

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