The Circassian question and Abkhazia: historical factors and contemporary challenges by Arda Inal-Ipa

This article was written in the framework of International Alert’s ‘Dialogue through Research’ project on the theme of the ‘The North-Caucasus Factor in the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict Dynamic’

The situation in the Russian Caucasus has deteriorated significantly over the last two decades. This is mainly as a result of the events in Chechnya and because the problems of the North-Western Caucasus region, populated by the Circassian (Adyghe) people, have resurfaced to become a key factor. The history of the “Circassian question” in Russia goes back to the conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century. Despite some fairly lengthy periods of peace, the problems of the Russian West Caucasus have never really gone away: to this day, the Circassian people remain scattered across a number of different republics and “territorial-administrative units”; the creation of a standardised literary language remains unresolved; there is still no procedure in place for the return of Circassian refugees from the time of the Caucasian War to their homeland; and much else besides.

The Circassian question has been linked with Abkhazia almost from the start. The Abkhaz and Adyghe peoples have interacted closely at various historical periods, mainly since they are genetically related and have lived in close proximity to one another for thousands of years. Events in the recent past, when brigades from the North Caucasus came to fight in the Abkhaz side  in the 1992–1993 Georgian-Abkhaz war, have again shown that they are close allies. But today, in peacetime, new and more complex aspects of the Circassian question are emerging that concern relations between the Abkhaz and the Adyghe peoples. This article attempts to analyse this aspect of the problem, in order to identify and understand the sources of the challenges concerning the two societies today.

One of the difficulties in writing this article is that it covers  the most  “fresh” trends, which have not yet been subjected to academic theories and research. The problems in Abkhaz-Circassian relations are still at an embryonic stage. Attempts to investigate the origins of some misunderstandings and contradictions  are thus all the more urgently needed if we are to identify the action required to increase understanding between the societies before negative attitudes  can form.

This is important not only for the future of bilateral relations, but also in view of the urgent need for confidence building between the peoples to support stability in the Caucasus, given the fragility of the current period of peace. The Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-South Ossetian wars may no longer be raging, but they did not end completely with the signing of peace treaties and agreements on the non-resumption of hostilities.  

This article focuses on the North-Western Caucasus, on materials connected with the Circassians (Adyghe), and on the Abkhaz and the history of their recent relations as part of the Russian Empire, the USSR and in current conditions. The article does not consider how the situation has been affected by the events in Chechnya and across the North-Eastern Caucasus. These factors, although very important, are too complex to be analysed here. Instead, we examine the historical record from the 19th and 20th centuries and reflect on its consequences and effects on Circassian-Abkhaz relations, as well as a number of problems currently facing relations between Russia, Georgia and Abkhazia.

Historical factors
Public discussions on the historical past – and particularly relations between the peoples of the Caucasus and Russia – ebb and flow under the influence of events in the North Caucasus. Although a century and a half has passed since the end of the Caucasian War, the current situation clearly continues to be dogged by events from that period. Some would go so far as to say that the current “Circassian question” is a continuation of the Caucasian War. But wars need not always cast such a long shadow. This article attempts to come to an understanding of the specific features of Russia’s fight for the Caucasus that make revisiting this dramatic period of history so unavoidable.

1.      The unprecedented ferocity with which the Caucasus War was waged by the Tsarist regime has made it difficult to evaluate the outcome of the war as a natural result of military conflict. To quote a description by a participant in the war, Lieutenant General R.A. Fadeyev: ‘…we had to turn the Eastern shore of the Black Sea into Russian land and to do this we had to purge the entire littoral of the mountain peoples ... We had to annihilate a significant proportion … of the population to force the rest to lay down their weapons unconditionally ... Our plan of war was to deport the mountain peoples and settle the Western Caucasus with Russians.’[1] But the testimony of another participant in the events - the military geographer M. Venyukova describes: "... the war was waged with a relentless, ruthless severity. We advanced step by step, irrevocably cleansing each piece of land on which a soldier’s foot trod of every last highlander down the to last man. Hundreds of mountain villages were razed to the ground, entire crops trampled by horses. The of villages people were immediately led away under escort and sent to the shores of the Black Sea and beyond, to Turkey."[2] The nature of warfare, which Russia waged against the peoples of the western Caucasus, was condemned by many contemporaries, and today they view the descendants of the conquered peoples as the embodiment of genocide.

2.      Another factor that explains why the events of the 19th century remain eternally etched on the memory of the peoples of the Western Caucasus is the calls for the creation of a Circassian state that resounded at the height of resistance to the Tsarist Empire’s policies. These calls were supported by a number of European countries, in particular Great Britain, Russia’s rivals in the Caucasus and the entire Black Sea region. Questions of statehood at another level emerged in 1917, 1918, 1920, 1921 and again later – already from within the Russian Federation (incidentally, Abkhazia was also involved in most of these projects). However, plans for a state or a republican alliance uniting all the Adyghe people were short-lived.[3] 

3.      A third important factor, in our view, was that many contemporary Russian academics and public actors have failed to come to an objective assessment of the Caucasian War. Today, some Russian historians and public figures, in contrast with their predecessors in the 19th century, justify or at least pass over in silence the extremely harsh nature of the conduct of the war in the Western Caucasus. Denying the crimes committed by Tsarist Russia in the Caucasian War effectively makes it impossible to move on from this tragic stage in history. It leaves this highly contentious topic a subject of current public discourse which taints Adygheyan attitudes to the Russian centre.

4.      The most problematic legacy of the Caucasian war is that the default problem-solving paradigm in the North Caucasus is not to search for a compromise or common interests, but to annihilate or deport the enemy. Vestiges of this approach unfortunately seem to occasionally remain to this day and continue to have a negative effect on the situation.

The Circassian question in the present day
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the most serious internal policy challenges facing the Russian state has unquestionably been Moscow’s relations with the North Caucasus republics. The well-known political commentator and diplomat Vladimir Degoyev writes: ‘The time has come to reveal a big secret. Since 1991 Russia has been steadily losing sovereignty in the North Caucasus. The exigencies of everyday life mean that the local population is increasingly failing to comply with Russian laws, which are no longer seen as the exercise of legitimate power but either as a source of income, exploitation or a source of grievance.’[4] Another well-known Russian expert on the modern Caucasus, Sergey Markedonov, describes the features of current Russian policy in the Caucasus in the following terms: ‘Entire republics have been farmed out to outwardly loyal clans who are simply required to ensure that voters in elections produce the “right” results. The country, instead of being strengthened, has been fundamentally weakened.’[5]

As already noted, the interpretation of historical events has an enormous part to play in the genesis of the Circassian problem. This makes assessments of the Caucasian War, and the manner in which these assessments are reflected in current day Russian policy in the Caucasus, of particular significance. We should include here a separate comment on the special position of the former Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Readers may recall that on the 130th anniversary of the end of the Caucasian War, on 21st May 1994, Yeltsin addressed the peoples of the Caucasus. His address contained the following words: ‘In the present day, when Russia is constructing a legal state and recognises the primacy of universal human values, there is an opportunity emerging for an objective interpretation of the events of the Caucasian War as the valiant struggle of the peoples of the Caucasus not only for survival in their native land, but also for the preservation of a distinctive culture, the best features of the national character. The problems we have inherited from the Caucasian War, and particularly the return of the descendants of the Caucasian deportees to their historical homeland, must be resolved at an international level by negotiations attended by all interested parties.’[6] In practice, the approach voiced by Yeltsin to the sensitive questions of the historical past and to contemporary policy in the Caucasus unfortunately came to nothing. In our view, this was a missed opportunity for building relations between the centre and the peoples of the Caucasus on a new, more robust basis.

An important factor in the current political processes in the North-Western Caucasus is the re-emergence of the idea of a resurgence or new version of a unified Circassian nation. This has resulted from global processes such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of new states, along with modern Russia’s not always entirely constructive ethnic policy. Discussions outline a number of ways this could be implemented, ranging from reuniting the people in their historical homeland within a single entity of the Russian Federation to the creation of a dispersed but spiritually and politically united nation. Other, bolder plans are also being voiced.[7]

These processes, which are extremely important in political terms in the North-Western Caucasus, ought to be the subject of intense interest from government at all levels. A reasonable response would be to take public opinion into account. In fact, however, the response is entirely different. Officials in the capitals and the regions ignore the analysis and recommendations of experts on the modern North Caucasus and are out of touch with what is actually happening on the ground. As a result, policy frameworks used in the North Caucasus are outmoded and ineffective. This is allowing a situation to develop in which the North Caucasus is becoming the subject of the foreign policy of other states, whose interest is not always to strengthen ties between the republics of the North Caucasus and the central authorities in Russia. These are certain Arab countries, Georgia, to some extent Turkey and also Western countries.

Georgia’s policy in relation to the North Caucasus
Prior to 2008, it would have been difficult to identify any systematic, consistent Georgian policy on the North Caucasus. However, after the war in South Ossetia, the North Caucasus became one of the important foreign policy “vectors” of the Georgian state. Since the escalation of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict in the late 1980s, the attitudes of the peoples of the North Caucasus towards Georgia have been relatively frosty. The Georgian-Abkhaz war only deepened this mutual hostility. However, the Georgian government has adopted a number of measures on refugees from Chechnya that have made a start on improving Georgia’s relations with the eastern republics of the North Caucasus. The Adyghe are now becoming the principal subject of Georgian policy in the North Caucasus. At the same time, the Circassians’ negative attitude towards Georgia, the foundations of which were laid during the Georgian-Abkhaz war, is gradually transforming. Relations are even extending to a kind of partnership over important questions of interpretation and assessment of the political consequences of the Caucasian War, as well as the search for an acceptable future political configuration in the Caucasus. Generally, Georgia demonstrates quite innovative skills in its foreign policy actions in relation to the North Caucasus. We need only refer to decisions such as: the unilateral introduction of a selective visa-free regime for residents of the republics of the North Caucasus; the establishment of entitlements and quotas for residents of the North Caucasus relating to education or medical assistance within Georgia; the opening of the special television channel ‘First Information Caucasus’ (PIK), which broadcasts to the peoples of the North Caucasus; the recognition by the Georgian Parliament of the Circassian genocide that took place during the Caucasian War in the 19th century; the opening of a Centre of Circassian Culture; and the announcement of a tender for a memorial to the Circassian deportees.   

However, it is clear that the underlying aim of all these measures aimed at improving relations with the peoples of the North Caucasus is anti-Russian: seeking to weaken Moscow’s influence in the North Caucasus. In other words, virtually every action taken to improve Georgia’s relations with the peoples of the North Caucasus is undertaken to ensure that these countries’ relations with the central authorities in Moscow deteriorates. This approach is clearly not designed out of any concern for the Adyghe. Unfortunately, support from some Western circles for this policy by Georgia only renders the situation in the North Caucasus more volatile and provokes Russia to take harsh measures. Such measures in turn strengthen the positions of radical forces in the Caucasus, which are the enemy not only of Russia but also of Europe and the entire democratic world. Georgia’s policy in the North Caucasus is thus not particularly far-sighted or constructive. Its policymakers cannot see the obvious dangers lurking behind the short-term successes. Georgia will have to accept its share of responsibility for the rise in extremism in the North Caucasus and for Moscow’s predictably tough response to the strengthening of anti-Russian feeling there. Over the long term, this is unlikely to be in the interests of the peoples of the North Caucasus.

Georgia’s active policy towards the Circassians will clearly contribute negatively to Abkhaz-Circassian relations. Any action taken by Georgia that demonstrates they recognise the Circassians’ current needs, and that they respect and acknowledge their historical sufferings, will inevitably be accompanied by a warming in the Circassian-Georgian relationship. The Abkhaz take a jaundiced view of this, since in the absence of a resolution of the conflict, any improvement in relations between the republics of the North Caucasus and Georgia is seen by them as an attempt to undermine the Circassian-Abkhaz brotherhood formed during their joint struggle against the Georgians. On the other hand, the Abkhaz, who are highly dependent on Russia, do not support debates initiated by US and Georgian think tanks with an anti-Russian slant -  for example, discussions on the genocide of the Circassians during the Caucasian War, on the inadmissibility of holding the Olympics in Sochi, etc. The position of the Abkhaz is met by blank incomprehension by some in the Circassian community. We should note here that the position adopted by Abkhazia on this does not mean it is entirely uncritical of the dramatic aspects of the Caucasus’ past and present. On the contrary, criticism of Russia’s Caucasian policy is commonly heard in Abkhaz public discourse. However, a clear distinction is made in Abkhazia between the Tsarist  policies and the present. A further distinction is made between the mistakes and omissions of Russia’s current policy in the North-Western Caucasus and the positive steps taken by them. Although they understand all the problems and share the concerns of the Adyghe people, the Abkhaz will never be able to change their view of the Russian Federation’s 2008 recognition of the independence of the Abkhaz state. This decision was taken by Russia even though it was obvious it would have serious consequences for its relations with Western countries, not to mention Georgia. But it is not simply Abkhazia’s high regard for this recognition and gratitude for the enormous economic and financial assistance from Russia that prevent it from joining in with anti-Russian public relations campaigns. People in Abkhazia are clear that historical justice should be achieved  not through undermining relations between the republics of the North Caucasus and Moscow, but by solving  the difficult task of searching for mutual understanding and compromise without jeopardising the fragile stability of the North Caucasus.     

The emergence of thorny issues  in Circassian-Abkhaz relations
Once Abkhazia’s alliance with Russia was strengthened by the recognition of its independence, it could have played a significant role in removing thorny aspects of the relations  between the republics of the North Caucasus and Moscow. However, while Abkhazia was still considering how best to use the available resources to positive effect, the first signs of cracks in Abkhaz-Circassian relations unexpectedly appeared.

The first alarm signals
Warning signs started to emerge following the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to hold the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Abkhaz supported the idea. However, the Circassians, particularly the Circassian diaspora, began to question whether it was acceptable to hold the games on territory which had witnessed the most ferocious battles between Tsarist troops and Circassian divisions. The Abkhaz did not join the protests of some Circassian organisations abroad.[8] Instead, they suggested that the games should be used as an opportunity to draw attention to the historical past and the present-day problems of the peoples who, before the Caucasian War, had lived on the land on which the Olympic Games were due to be held. This was counter to the attitudes of the most radical members of the campaign against the Sochi Olympics. Other highly contentious issues were added to the campaign which had nothing to do with Circassian-Russian relations, but addressed relations between the peoples of the Caucasus themselves. Questions of Circassian and Abkhaz identity unexpectedly cropped up,[9] along with problems of interpretation of certain historical facts, disputes over which territorial unit certain regions should be assigned to – and much more. Issues that should rightly only be the subject of rigorous academic research were disputed publicly over the internet in discussions that were cleverly manipulated by interested parties and not always impartial. Dilettante attempts to conduct “historical investigations” into contentious issues only succeed in aggravating discord and grievances as well as misapplying disagreements over the historical past to current realities.

The question of Abkhaz citizenship
One hotly discussed issue – mainly within the Circassian diaspora, but also on history websites, in social networks and in periodicals – is the Abkhaz citizenship law. This law states that apart from residents permanently residing in Abkhazia, only ethnic Abkhaz, Abaza and (since recently) Ubykhs are entitled by right of birth to be citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia.  This has offended many Circassians, who according to various estimates total seven or even 10 million people, since it means that the Circassians are the only people out of the kindred nations who are denied the right to citizenship of the Abkhaz state (the only state in the Abkhaz/Adyghe space). This is despite the fact that 2,500 Circassians defended the fledgling Abkhaz state on the battlefield and hundreds laid down their lives for Abkhazia’s freedom.

The question of the genocide of the Circassian peoples during the Caucasian War
The essence of the disagreements over the recognition of the genocide of the Circassian people can be summarised as follows. The Resolution of the Parliament of the Republic of Abkhazia on 15th November 1997 on the deportations resulting from the Caucasian War only refers to the Abaza/Abkhaz; the question of recognising the genocide of the Adyghe people was not considered. On the other hand, the Abkhaz public responded negatively to the ecstatic public welcome given by some Circassians to the Georgian Parliament’s Resolution recognising the genocide of the Circassians by the Russian Empire during the Caucasian War, which was passed on 20th May 2011.

We would argue that the emergence of these contentious issues is not merely a coincidence, but the result of serious differences in how the Abkhaz and the Circassians view their national project and divergences in basic understandings of identity. Without an understanding of the origin of these differences, it is impossible to understand and hence overcome the misunderstandings and resentments that have arisen. We attempt here to touch on these questions briefly.

Divergences between the national projects of the Abkhaz and the Adyghe
The launch of the Abkhaz national liberation movement at the end of the 20th century was originally viewed by the peoples of the North Caucasus as providing an impetus towards the construction of a North-West Caucasus state. However, subsequent events – particularly the deterioration of Abkhaz-Circassian relations over the last year – have shown that the national projects that the Abkhaz and the Circassians have been fomenting for years and even decades are fundamentally different. The Abkhaz have never been in any doubt that the purpose of their struggle is to defend their right to an independent Abkhaz state. Conversely, many Circassians saw an independent Abkhazia not so much as an example to follow, but the basis for the creation of a common Circassian state. In this view, the Abkhaz were expected to join in the building of a pan-Circassian state and, as a people related to the Circassians, were seen by many as part of a nascent Circassian (political) nation.[10] Moreover, some Circassian leaders had begun to formulate new ideas of a Western Caucasus community that included not just Circassians and Abkhaz, but also Georgia as the closest country to the Abkhaz-Adyghe in terms of civilisation. This was entirely incomprehensible and unacceptable to the Abkhaz.[11] As long as Georgia promotes its claim to Abkhazia, these tendencies will be seen as a serious threat within Abkhazia.

The question of identity
At this point, we should consider the lack of clarity over some aspects of how Abkhaz and Circassian identity is perceived and defined. In Abkhazia, people have always “known” that the Adyghe (Adygheyans, Circassians and Kabardinians), Ubykhs and Abkhaz form a group of related peoples within an Abkhaz-Adyghe group, and these are peoples with independent languages which could only have formed through prolonged, separate historical development. However, many present-day Circassians have a completely different view. The overwhelming majority of Circassian publications unhesitatingly classify the Ubykhs as Circassians, along with others such as the Abkhaz/Abaza. In other words, the ethnonym “Circassian” is generally used to refer to the Circassians, the Ubykh and the Abaza/Abkhaz. However, although the Abkhaz place a high value on their kinship with the Circassians, Abkhaz identity, which is based also on its independent language and its separate historical path, has never been seen by them as submerged within any other identity, including Circassian. This difference in understanding these terms, which is important both for individual identity and for the ethnos, was bound to lead to a lack of understanding and even resentment.  

Do any resources exist for positive change?
Despite these unexpected difficulties, which cannot be underestimated, we believe that Abkhazia still has the potential to positively influence the situation to overcome conflicts and build confidence between the Circassian North Caucasus and Abkhazia. In our view, the way to counter the destructive processes in relations between the two is not to ignore them, but instead to air these issues through in-depth discussion and interpretation of them at academic research institutions and in civil society. We would recommend that a number of educational initiatives be adopted, involving young people studying the history of the Caucasian War, the Soviet era and the Georgian-Abkhaz war. Academic and practical conferences could have a positive effect. In the present circumstances, efforts to educate societies  could become most effective through civil society , given the greater activeness  of civil society organisations and opportunities for networking.

We believe that Abkhazia could also contribute in some measure towards increasing mutual understanding between Circassian society and the Russian central authorities. It seems essential to us to establish an open dialogue between society and the authorities at various levels in which representatives of Abkhazia could also take part. This process could be developed as part of the general democratisation of political life in the republics of the North Caucasus. It would require the strengthening of civil society institutions and development of forms of civic participation. Here too, Abkhaz experience could be used. Strengthening real democracy would gradually help to replace the currently ineffective authoritarian forms of governance in the Russian Caucasus. Activating civil society and developing civil society dialogue with the authorities would help to stabilise the political situation, which is in the interest of both Russia and Abkhazia. Building the trust of the North Caucasus republics in the central authorities is also in the interests of them both. This is important for Abkhazia, as strengthening links between the republics of the North Caucasus and Abkhazia in this context would not be met with caution and distrust by Moscow. Moscow’s attitude to the patterns of contemporary Abkhaz politics is ambivalent. On the one hand, the Abkhaz elite’s wayward pursuit of “too much” independence creates, from a Russian perspective, an alarming example for the republics of the North Caucasus. On the other hand, the high levels of loyalty shown to Russia not only by the Abkhaz authorities, but by Abkhaz society itself could be a serious resource and a stabilising influence on the situation in the North Caucasus.

The constellation of forces in the North-West Caucasus following the Georgian-Abkhaz war clearly cannot be preserved forever. Despite understandable emotions, Abkhazia needs to realise that the North Caucasus peoples have their own interests, which are not always identical to those of the Abkhaz. It cannot expect its friends to stick by it forever simply because it needs them. Abkhazia needs to come up with compromises and a considered policy towards the peoples of the North Caucasus, who did after all come to its aid in its time of need. It should also devise a formula that would be acceptable to both sides for obtaining Abkhaz citizenship and recognise the harsh consequences of the Caucasian War, not just for the Abkhaz/Abaza but also for the other peoples of the North Caucasus, and much, much more. On the other hand, it is also true that, while they are fully entitled to develop relations with Georgia, the Circassian organisations could have played a more active role in persuading the Georgian authorities to sign with Abkhazia the Agreement on Non-Resumption of Hostilities. At this stage, the Circassians could possibly play a significant and historic peacebuilding role in the Caucasus.

The policies adopted by the various players in the North Caucasus are unfortunately overshadowed in many respects by the past. This is seen most clearly in the outmoded frames of reference used to define their own interests, based as they are on realities that prevailed during the Caucasian and Crimean Wars of the 19th century. Today, the rivalry between Russia and the West in the North Caucasus is having a destructive effect on the situation. Instead of drawing lessons from history, when Western attempts to weaken Russian influence in the region only served to aggravate the situation, Georgia has carried on the tradition by supporting elements of anti-Russian feeling in the North Caucasus. This is a hazardous policy, which could lead to the serious destabilisation of the situation across the region. Opponents of the Russian state are using the Olympics to revive historical trauma and reverse the positive steps that the new Russia has in fact taken. At the same time, Russia is itself squandering the opportunity to correct the mistakes and omissions of the past. Remaining silent or ignoring the new direction that political and public discourses are taking in the North Caucasus prevents these processes from being analysed and interpreted openly. This drastically reduces the scope for the central authorities to make adequate conciliatory steps  that would help to reduce tension and strengthen state institutions.

In some respects, this is a sort of a war for the choice of civilisation in the North Caucasus. Russia and the West could well be allies in this process, given their pressing need to secure regional stability. Unfortunately, Georgia is playing an unconstructive role in the North Caucasus which is merely increasing the discord between the peoples of the North Caucasus and the Russian central authorities by exacerbating mutual distrust, with all the consequences that entails.

Russia must also share some responsibility for these negative trends. Instead of attempting to understand and take into account the emerging interests of the peoples of the North Caucasus, it has chosen an inflexible authoritarian approach to its Caucasus policy which is often outmanoeuvred by the innovative public relations methods adopted by the Georgian government.

Over the last few years, particularly since August 2008, there has thus been a new twist in the geopolitical struggle for influence in the Caucasus. This difficult situation is putting a strain on Abkhaz-Circassian relations. If they are to avoid becoming pawns in this great geopolitical game, the Abkhaz and Circassian peoples need to understand that it is the peoples themselves who bear primary responsibility for maintaining these relations. When considering any new political act or any response to external initiatives, they should avoid anything that might in the short or long term upset the balance of power or destabilise the Caucasus, as this is clearly not in the interests of any and all of the peoples residing in the Caucasus.


[1] R.A. Fadeyev (2003). ‘Kavkazskaya voyna’ [The Caucasian War], Moscow.
[2] M.I. Veniukov . "Kavkazskie vospominaniya" [Memories from the Caucasus] (1861-63). "Russki Archive " [Russin Archive] 1880. 1-4.
[3] Thus, for example, in November 1917 the Union of United Mountain Peoples of the North Caucasus and Dagestan proclaimed the state of a Mountain Republic. However, the parliament of the Mountain Republic rapidly announced its own dissolution after Dagestan was taken by troops under General Denikin. Then, in 1918, when it was already incorporated within the RSFSR, a North Caucasus Soviet Republic was proclaimed, combining seven states: Dagestan, Checheno-Ingushetia, Ossetia, Karachaevo-Balkariya, Kabarda, Adygheya and Abkhazia. The republic lasted just six months. In 1920, the Autonomous Mountain Republic was established, which extended only from Kabarda to Chechnya and which also turned out to be infeasible: it was liquidated in 1924.
[4] V. Degoyev. ‘Kavkazsky vopros i budushcheye Rossii’ [The Caucasus question and the future of Russia]. Available (in Russian) at
[5] S. Markedonov. ‘Kavkazkaya proektsiya vlastnoi rokirovki v Rossii’ [Caucasian projection of castling power in Russia]., 30 September 2011. Available at
[6] Address to the peoples of the Caucasus by the Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the end of the Caucasian War, Moscow, 18th May 1994 (ITAR-TASS).
[7] R. Keshev. ‘Abkhazo-cherkesskie otnosheniya’ [Abkhaz-Circassian relations], Interview, 10th December 2010.
[8] Anti-Russian feeling developed in a number of Caucasian organisations abroad, including some Circassian ones, as a result of the events in Chechnya. These organisations originally provided aid to thousands of Chechen refugees, who fled to Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, but also appealed to international organisations denouncing the harsh methods used to conduct the war in Chechnya. Such organisations have subsequently attracted the special attention of Georgian intelligence, which are attempting to use them as a resource in their anti-Russia policy and to resolve problems with Abkhazia.
[9] The ethnonyms used by the mountain peoples of the North Caucasus themselves do not always coincide with the ethnonyms used by others (exonyms). Thus, the ethnonym “Circassian” in literary sources could often refer not only to a member of the Adyghe people, but also the Ubykh and the Abkhaz and occasionally even a member of other mountain peoples. However, the ethnonym “Circassian” in Russian (“cherkess”) comprises the Adyghe group of peoples – Kabardinians, Adygheyans/Natukhai, Bzhedugs, Shapsugs, etc. This is the definition that is also commonly used in Abkhazia, and so the expression “Circassian history” is understood by the Abkhaz to be the history of the Adyghe and “the Circassian state” as the Adyghe state. In other words, the Abkhaz do not perceive themselves as Circassians at any level of identity. This term in Abkhaz consciousness constitutes a general exonym for the Adyghe peoples. In Adyghe sources, the situation is different again.
[10] Andzor Kabard (2011). ‘Cherkesskaya khronika – optimicheskaya tragediya’ [A Circassian chronicle – an optimistic tragedy], Adyge Kheku. Available (in Russian) at
[11] Ruslan Keshev (2010). ‘Abkhazo-cherkesskie otnosheniya: “bratstvo navek” ili “razvod c kommunal’noy kvartire”?’ [Abkhaz-Circassian relations: ‘eternal brotherhood’ or ‘cohabiting divorcees’?].




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