Earlier this year, on May 21st, the Circassian community in Jordan gathered outside the Russian embassy in Amman to commemorate a little-known genocide. This Circassian memorial day, or day of mourning; marks the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Circassians, who were massacred or expelled from their indigenous homeland in the Northwest Caucasus, after a long period of war with the Russians between 1763-1864.
Before the end of the wars in 1864, the Circassians (or Adyghe in their own language) that survived the massacres began to be rounded up by the Russian army and driven to ports on the Black Sea, where ships provided by the neighbouring Ottoman Empire awaited them. From here the majority of Circassians were expelled, to be resettled away from their homeland to lands within the Ottoman Empire. Historians estimate that around 90% of the Circassian people were killed or exiled during this little-known genocide. Today, the Circassians number around 7 million people spread across the world, with the majority living in exile. Only 750,000 remain in their indigenous regions of the Northern Caucasus.
Many Circassians were resettled to modern-day Jordan, where they played a major role in the history and establishment of the Kingdom, after the break up of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War. In 1878, Amman was first settled by Circassians from the ‘Shabsough’ tribe and since then they have contributed significantly to Jordan’s development. Today they make up approximately 3% of the Jordanian population, with the Circassian community estimated at approximately 200,000 people. Circassians continue to hold high positions in the Jordanian government, armed forces, air force and police; and since 1921 have been entrusted with the position of the Royal Guard, having served all four Hashemite Kings.
As hundreds gathered outside the Russian embassy in Amman in a silent demonstration to mark the Circassian day of mourning, they called for the Russian government to recognise the ethnic cleansing of their people. One protester explained his reasons for the demonstration: “We are here to tell Russia that you must recognise the genocide which the Russian Empire committed in the past. We — elderly, youth, men and women — are here to remember our grandparents who fought for land, honour and religion.” The Circassian people have practised Sunni Islam since the 15th Century when they converted under the influence of Ottoman clerics and the Tatars of the Crimea.
In addition, members of the Circassian community sat in protest to oppose the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi; the previous Circassian capital where the last of the expulsions are believed to have taken place.
They join members of the Circassian diaspora in requesting the halt of construction of Olympic facilities currently being built in Sochi, to prevent the desecration of the mass graves at the site. Iyad Youghar, head of the International Circassian Council, summed up the outrage over an international sporting event being held over the mass graves: “we want the athletes to know that if they compete here they will be skiing on the bones of our relatives.”
Another protester at the Russian Embassy told The Jordan Times: “We say ‘no’ to Sochi 2014, because this was the last Circassian capital and it witnessed bloodshed. We refuse to allow the Olympic flame to go out using the blood of our descendants.”
So as the Circassians struggle to honour the memory of their ancestors and continue to campaign for recognition of these terrible events in their history; we should, at the very least, contemplate the injustices that have contributed to the collective memory loss of this little-known genocide.
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