Monday, 20 October 2008

Window on Eurasia: Circassian Diasporas Expand Ties with Homelands

by Paul Goble

Vienna, October 19 – Circassian diasporas in the Middle East are rapidly expanding their contacts with Circassians in the northern Caucasus, a development that gives the former a new focus for political activism and provides the latter with a political resource they can now deploy in defense of their interests.

This past week in Amman, Circassians from Jordan, Turkey and other countries in the Middle East, met with Circassians from the northern Caucasus to coordinate their activities to promote the survival of their language and culture in the face of globalization and pressures for assimilation (

The selection of the Jordanian capital as the site for the First International Circassian Language Conference may surprise some, but in fact it is entirely appropriate. Jordan has some 125,000 Circassians, the descendents of 3500 Shapsugs who arrived there when it was part of the Ottoman Empire after their expulsion from Russia in 1864.

(They are part of what is now a nearly five-million-strong Circassian diaspora with the same origins living primarily in Turkey and now in Europe and the United States who in recent times have been developing ties with Circassians still in their homelands in the North Caucasus – the Adygey, the Kabards, and Cherkess.)

Moreover, the Circassians of Jordan are both integrated and respected in that country. Jordan has the only Circassian-language school in the Middle East, and their Royal Highnesses Prince Ali and Princess Alia not only served as patrons of the meeting but in a mark of special favor attended the conference opening (

Unfortunately, the integration of Circassians there and elsewhere may be leading to the disappearance of these communities. Circassian is an extremely difficult language – it has almost 70 distinctive consonant sounds – speakers are surrounded by other larger language communities, and as a result, only one in six of the younger generation speak it even in Jordan.

In Jordan, many Circassian speakers now use Arab words, experts say, and in the Caucasus, Russian has so "invaded" the language that "about thirty percent" of their vocabulary consists of Russian words. But Circassians believe that if they lose their language, they will lose their nation.

Attending the two-day meeting in the Jordanian capital were 20 scholars, philologists, and politicians from Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya, the three republics in the northern Caucasus. The delegation was led by Adygeya prime minister Murat Kumilov (

Participants at the conference said that it was "not a tone-time event" but rather the beginning of a series of meetings that will be jointly organized by Circassian groups, the Jordanian government, and Russian diplomats and officials responsible for working with such ethnic communities abroad.

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