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Publisher's Summary

It is believed that the Circassians—the English translation of the Turkish term Cherkess—emerged as a discrete society or entity around the 10th century CE, although there are references to them before this. In fact, the Circassians are believed to be the oldest indigenous people of the North Caucasus and self-identified as Adyghe. Historians believe the first settlers on the Black Sea coastline of the Northwestern Caucasus region appeared some 300,000 years ago. 

Nevertheless, the history and culture of Circassia and the Circassians is largely unknown in the English-speaking and wider world outside Central Asia and the Caucasus. Circassia is sometimes broadly attributed to the geographical area of the North Caucasus, but is more accurately described as a particular part of the region. Circassians themselves, including in today’s widespread diaspora, also refer to each other as Adyghe. Today this area is part of the Russian Federation and the ancestors of Circassians live predominantly in three republics: Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and Adygheya. 

Circassia could be broadly split into a western and eastern region. Eastern Circassia was inhabited by Kabardians who mainly spoke Kabardian, while Western Circassia was made up of Adyghe, who spoke the eponymously named Adyghe. As a result, discussions about the Circassians tend to split the geography of Circassia into two portions: Eastern Circassia, or Kabardia, and Western Circassia, or Adyghe. 

Geographically, Kabardia was situated in the middle segment of the Caucasian peninsula, with steppes to the north, and higher mountains to the south. The two key rivers in the Circassia region are the Kuban River, originating near Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains and flowing from south to north into the Sea of Azov, and the Terek River, originating in the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region of Georgia and flowing from west to east into the Caspian Sea. The Sunzha is another of the major rivers that dissects the region and acts as a tributary of the Terek. These waterways would provide strategic points in the long Russo-Circassian wars. The Caucasus region itself contains a repository of raw materials important in history (and today), including petroleum, natural gas, copper, manganese, and tungsten. It also has fertile soil capable of growing wheat, barley, corn, sunflower, and many fruits and vegetables. It is unsurprising, therefore, that outsiders have coveted the region.

The Circassian people were never united as a single political bloc, which provided a core problem for their survival as larger powers, outsiders, and invaders were able to exploit differences. They were invaded on many occasions during their history in the premodern period, including by the Mongols and the Khazars. As a result, Circassia came under the influence of numerous other larger powers. Many of its people adopted Christianity from around the sixth century CE due to the Georgians and Byzantine Empire more widely. However, this was rolled back in favor of Islam due to the impact of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, the great religions did struggle to completely take hold in Circassia, which continued to practice traditional customs and folk beliefs. It was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that Sunni Islam became completely established among Circassians.

©2022 Charles River Editors (P)2022 Charles River Editors
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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