Staunton, Oct. 14 – In advance of the Russian census in which members of the various subgroups Russian officials have subdivided the Circassians are calling for all of them to declare themselves members of the Circassian nation, the 2010 conclusion of a leading Russian specialist on the North Caucasus that they are all one people is being played up by Circassian activists.
On May 25, 2010, Sergey Arutyunov, who heads the North Caucasus section of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy, made it very clear that he and other Russian scholars view the ethnonym Circassian and the toponym Circassia as historically based.
His words are now being reproduced by Circassian activists to counter Russian efforts to keep the Circassian nation divided (zapravakbr.ru/index.php/30-uncategorised/1747-zaklyuchenie-rossijskoj-akademii-nauk-ran-ob-etnonime-cherkes-i-toponime-cherkesiya and kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/83787/posts/50990).
The designation “Circassian,” Arutyunov says, “became generally used in European and Russian sources of the 15th through the 19th century,” a reflection of the fact that “from the historical-ethnographic point of view,” the various subgroups using other self-designators were “a single Circassian (Adyg) people.”
The Russian advance into their region in the 19th century “led to the formation in the Russian Federation of four territorially divided groups of the Circassian people” and these divisions were strengthened by the use of four ethnographic designations, the Shapsugs, the Adygs, the Cherkess, and the Kabardins.
This “comparatively recent by historical standards territorial division did not lead to the loss in the people of its historical memory about the genetic and cultural commonality among these groups … [and] this testifies that the named groups may be considered sub-ethnoses of a single Circassian (Adyg) people.”
As far as the Ubykhs are concerned, a group that was “almost completely exiled to the Ottoman Empire, the few surviving remnants are also “bearers of a common Circassian self-consciousness and cultural traditions and identify themselves in the main as part of the present-day Circassian (Adyg) people.”
The republication of Arutyunov’s conclusion – and in several cases, it is being done with a photostat of his letter on this subject – undercuts those in Moscow and to a lesser extent in the capitals of the relevant North Caucasus republic who want to keep the Circassians divided. And as such it will make it easier for those on the fence to decide to declare themselves Circassians.