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Russia's unknown Circassian genocide.

Updated: May 21, 2022

For over 100 years – between 1763 and 1864 – the Circassians fought Russian armies in the mountains of Caucasia, who coveted their lands. Circassia was a small independent nation of around 1.5 million people on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea, which had the unfortunate luck to have the expansionist and brutal Russian empire as its immediate neighbor. Russia had gradually pushed southward into the Caucasus from the 16th through the 19th centuries, making efforts to “pacify” the local inhabitants, forcing them out of their traditional homes in the mountains to more accessible and controllable areas along the coast. As it expanded the Russian Empire wanted to break the connection between the Ottoman Empire and the Circassians. They also wanted to gain full control of the northeastern Black Sea, as the Ottomans controlled the southern Black Sea.

Towards the end of the 101-year war between Russia and the Circassians, the Russian army in the North Caucasus numbered some 300,000 men and was suffering annual losses of 30,000. The Russian state was spending a sixth of its budget on the task of defeating the Circassians and their allies. Russia was willing to defeat the Circassians at any cost. But Following the end of the “Caucasus War” in 1864 between Russia and the Circassians people, in which Russia finally succeeded in destroying the Circassian armed forces, Tsar Alexander the second decided that the Circassians should be forcibly expelled from Russia. The expulsion was launched before the official end of the war in 1864 and it was mostly completed by 1867. The peoples planned for removal were mainly the Circassians (or Adyghe), Ubykhs, and Abaza, but Ingush, Arshtins, Chechens, Ossetians and Abkhaz were also heavily affected. The Russian military began a systematic campaign of destroying Circassian villages and massacring their inhabitants in order to terrorize them so they would flee from Russia.

Circassian refugees fleeing the Russian army. Ivan Drozdov, a Russian officer who witnessed the scene at Qbaada in May 1864 as the other Russians were celebrating their victory remarked: "On the road our eyes were met with a staggering image: corpses of women, children, elderly persons, torn to pieces and half- eaten by dogs; deportees emaciated by hunger and disease, almost too weak to move their legs, collapsing from exhaustion and becoming prey to dogs while still alive." Imperial Russian records claim "more than 400,000 Circassians were killed and 497,000 were forced to flee abroad to Turkey. Only 80,000 were left alive in their native land." But modern day scholers put the figure at Around 600,000 people who lost their lives to massacre, starvation, and the elements while hundreds of thousands more were forced to leave their homeland. By 1867, three-fourths of the population was annihilated, and the Circassians had become one of the first stateless peoples in modern history. Most of the refugees fled to the Ottoman empire, which welcomed the Circassians and resettled them across the empire.

But does the Circassian catastrophe qualifies to be termed a "Genocide"? Under the modern international legal definition, it does. Under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted in 1948, genocide was defined in Article 2 as: "… any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical or racial. " This was Tsar Alexander's and Russia's objective all along, to physically remove and destroy the Circassians. This was an obvious case of genocide, the physical destruction of a people on the basis of its identity alone. Unfortunately, the Russian authorities over the years continue to deny that their predecessors committed a genocide and have gone further by dividing up the Circassian nation into five parts in five different administrative districts. Russia to this day denies the Circassian catastrophe and won’t admit that the expulsion of Circassians by Tsar Alexander the second, which resulted in the deaths of around 600,000 people, was a genocide. They claim this was just war, and that it was a common occurance which happened to a lot of ethnic groups in those times. It's important to note that Russia never recognised any genocides in its history, from the Circassian genocide to the Ukrainian Holodomor, and even well established historical events such as the invasion of Poland in 1939. Bibliography: "The Circassian Genocide.", Walter Richmond.


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