Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Drive to Have Circassians Declare a Common Ethnonym Falls Short, Russian Census Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 20 – The number of citizens of the Russian Federation declaring themselves to be Circassians rose from 73,184 in 2010 to “almost 115,000” in 2021, the results of the 2021 census show, according to Akhmet Yalykapov, a senior scholar at the Center for Eurasian Research at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO).

            That number, he suggests, reflects both high natural growth rates among the Cherkess and the campaign of Circassian activists to get other Circasssian nationalities, including the Kabardins, Adygs, and Shapsugs, to declare not the nationality officials have preferred but rather their common ethnonym (

            That campaign worked among he Adygs, the titular nationality of Adygeya, who saw their number fall from 124,835 in 2010 census to 111,471 in 2021 despite continuing higher than average birth rates and falling death rates. But it didn’t work in Kabardino-Balkaria where Kabardin leaders said changing identity to Circassian would weaken them in that binational republic

            (For background on the Circassian effort, which appears to have fallen short, see,, and

            Yarlykapov mentions three other cases where activists sought to get people to declare a particular ethnicity. In the first, regarding the Cossacks, the effort failed, at least as far as one can tell from the census reports, with the number of Russians declaring themselves to be of Cossack nationality falling from 67,573 in 2010 to 50,490 in 2021.

            “It is possible that Cossack organizations were not able to show people the sense of a particular Cossack identity,” the analyst says. According to Cossack activists, however, more Cossacks did declare themselves to be that nationality but the census takers and processors reduced the numbers to boost the number of ethnic Russians.

            In the second, the Andi-Cesian nationalities of Daghestan were able to boost their numbers by more than their natural increase, rising from 48,646 in 2010 to 61,700 in 2021, by promoting these identities so as to force Makhachkala to devote more attention to their needs as peoples in the highland regions who are often neglected.

            And in the third, the Russian authorities sought to promote a Astrakhan Tatar nationality, something that the Soviets had tried earlier. But they failed, Yarlykapov says, because the subethnic groups that the powers that be wanted to fold into that group retained their identities rather than shifting to the Tatars.

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