Saturday, March 16, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Circassians Unite in Defense of Their Language, Culture and Nation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 16 – Officials and activists from the three Circassian republics of the North Caucasus (Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Adygeya) and representatives of the Circassian diaspora abroad have agreed on a set of measures to defend their common national language and culture.

            That agreement, announced at the end of a meeting this week in the KBR capital of Nalchik, represents a major breakthrough for a community that has often been rent by political divisions, some from within and others promoted by outsiders, and could lead to broader agreement on other issues in the future.

            To the extent that happens, the half-million Circassians within the Russian Federation, whom the Soviets divided into a series of nationalities including Adygs, Cherkess, Kabards and Shapsugs, would be able to draw on the influence of the more than five million Circassians living in Turkey, the Middle East and Europe and to challenge Moscow in a variety of ways.

            According to a report by the Parallel World News Agency posted on Facebook, Circassian leaders held a conference on “The Enhancement of the Circassian Language and Culture in Circassia and the Diaspora” on March 12-13 and reached broad agreement  (

            Recognizing that “immediate and substantive action must be taken to boost the status of Circassian and halt its deterioration in both the homeland and diaspora,” the conference called on officials and activists within the nation to take the following steps:

            First, to adopt laws making Cirassian “the only official language” along with Balkar in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay in Karachayevo-Cherkessia in the Circassian republics and to “demote” Russian to the status of “a secondary language.”  All official documents and activities should be in Circassian as well.

            Second, Circassian is to become “the principal language in the media,” and “the reach of the media” in the Circassian homeland is to “be extended to the diaspora communities” abroad. Third, “Russified names” are to be dropped and the Circassian originals are to be “restored as the primary personal and status identifiers.”

Fourth, Circassian is to “become the sole language of instruction” at all levels of education in the Circassian republics, with English, French, German and Russian “offered as optional foreign languages” at all levels.  Fifth, the culture ministries in these republics are to promote Circassian culture in ways consistent with this decision.

Sixth, “Circassian customs and traditions, culture and folklore” are to “become the primary sources for the national ethos (and legislation),” are to be disseminated in Circassian, and promoted “at the global level, mainly through translation.” Seventh, diaspora students at Circassian higher schools shall be required to know Circassian prior to enrollment.

Eighth, the Circassian republics are to assist diaspora Circassians to promote the spread of Circassian language and culture in their countries of residence. Ninth, the Circassian nation will setup “Circassian language and cultural centers” in the main diaspora countries, “including Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Libya, Germany, the USA, the Netherland, France and others.”

And tenth, the conference agreed to set up a permanent committee to promote the adoption and implementation of the decisions of the conference by the relevant government and social organizations.

            Obviously, this is more a wish list than an immediately practicable program given the opposition certain to come from Moscow and given the resources available to the Circassian republics in the North Caucasus, but while cast in linguistic terms, this list in fact constitutes a program for the rebirth of a nation and merits attention as such.

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