Coverage of The tragedy of the Circassian
Contemporary Georgian Public Thought (later
half of the 19th century)
professor Niko Javakhishvili
Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University
(< Arab. – "displacement”) has been one of the tragic pages in the history
of the freedom-loving mountaineer peoples of the Caucasus. After the
imprisonment of Imam Shamil (1859), the leader of the national-liberating war
of the Muslim mountaineers, and the end of the war in Chechnya and Dagestan,
Russia’s positions in the North-East Caucasus were finally enhanced. In effect,
the ruling circles of Russia did their best to take over the north-western part
of the Caucasus; however, they regarded the local Muslim population as the principal
obstacle for the fulfillment of their objectives. Therefore, they decided to
expel disobedient mountaineers from their homeland and to deport them to the
Ottoman Empire, and to inhabit their lands by ethnic Slavs. 1
authorities believed that the number of Muslim mountaineers were to be
decreased to the point that they could no longer threaten Russia’s strategic
Ottoman Empire was none-the-less interested in receiving the deportees. Its
leaders presumed that, in case of a war with Russia, Caucasians would be
beneficial for them as a reliable military force. Hence, Muhajirism of
Caucasian mountaineers was conditioned by profound socio-economic, political
and religious factors. The religious factor seemed to be dominant within the
process in point; however, it was prevailed by the political factor –
colonizing goals of the empire.
various periods of time, subjected to the expulsion were both the North
Caucasian peoples: Adyghes (Circassians and Kabardians), Ubykhs, Abaza, Vainakhs
(Chechens and Ingush), Dagestanians, Muslim Ossetians, and South Caucasians,
viz., Abkhaz and Muslim Georgians (inhabiting the south-western part of
Georgia). The core of Muhajirs was representatives of the Adyghe peoples. The
total number of deportees from the Caucasus estimated a million. 3
Muhajirs were settled in various countries and provinces, including the Ottoman
Empire. Thus, their settlements evolved Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Jordan,
and even Bulgaria. Circassians were brought to Bulgaria in 1864, after the
process of their settlement in other areas had been completed.4
too suffered from a twist of bitter fate of Muhajirs. The process of their
organized deportation started when the expulsion of the North Caucasians had in
fact been over, and it lasted for more than ten years (1867-1877). The total
number of Abkhaz deportees estimated 50 000. 5
1 Niko Javakhishvili,
narkvevebi qarTveli da adiReli xalxebis urTierTobis
istoriidan, (Essays in the History of the
Interrelationship of the Georgian and Adyghe Peoples), (Tbilisi, 2005),
2 Р. Фадеев,
Собранные сочинения, т. I, ч. 1, (СПб., 1889), 149-150.
Khorava, afxazTa 1867 wlis muhajiroba, (Muhajirism of Abkhazians in 1867),
(Tbilisi, 2004), 50-62.
Tsertsvadze, Crdilo kavkasiis xalxTa istoria XIX saukunis
qarTul presaSi, (History of the Peoples of the
North Caucasus in the Georgian Press of the 19th Century),
(Tbilisi, 1996), 69.
Khorava, afxazTa 1867 wlis muhajiroba, (Muhajirism of Abkhazians in 1867),
(Tbilisi, 2004), 7.
a result of the process in point, the Abkhaz people appeared on the edge of
extinction. 6 The issue of Muhajirism among Abkhaz has been
substantially studied, 7 and, hence, I will not elaborate here concerning
tragedy of the Circassian people found heartfelt sympathy on the part of
progressive representatives of Georgian public of the time. It should be
noted that Georgians have always deeply respected the Circassian people. This
is why the heroic history and contemporaneity of the Circassian people and,
specifically, Muhajirism and its grave outcomes have been covered rather
extensively both in Georgian print media and fiction. 8 The Georgian
print media of the 1860s-90s was particularly active.
essay consists of two parts. The initial one analyzes the data, occurring in
Georgian print media, and the other one deals with the best pieces of
I. Coverage of the Circassian
tragedy in Georgian print media
stance of Georgian society was overtly stated in the Georgian print media of
the time. Georgian newspapers rather intensively published articles about
freedom-loving Circassians, about the tactics of their heroic struggle,
Muhajirism, and the essence of Russia’s colonizing politics.
reading these articles, one can see how painfully Georgians perceived the
misfortunes of the mountaineers, having been expelled from their native lands.
The newspapers ”Droeba” ("Times”), 9
edited by Sergei Meskhi, ”Iveria”,10
edited by Ilia Chavchavadze, also ”Kvali”
("Footprint”), 11 and others were particularly keen on the problem
of Muhajirism of mountaineers.
territories, deserted after the expulsion if the indigenous population, were
settled by peasants, displaced from central provinces of Russia. However,
Russian settlers could hardly get accustomed to the totally strange natural
conditions for them.
the article "Displacement of Slavs,” the newspaper "Droeba” tells about salient difficulties, associated with the
Russian settlement: "Authorities paid attention to the country, deprived of its
owners, and wanted to populate it. They decided to populate it by the Slavs,
brought from central Russia. The Slavs, who expressed their desire to move,
were given money, agricultural tools, etc. But what happened with them? The
settlers could not accommodate themselves with the local climate, and, as a
result, some of them died, and others went back”. 12
6 Ш. Инал-Ипа, Абхазы. Историко-этнографические
очерки. Второе переработанное, дополненное издание (Сухуми, 1965), 150.
Дзидзария, Махаджирство и проблемы историии Абхазии XIX
столетия, (Сухуми, 1982), 21.
8 Niko Javakhishvili, narkvevebi qarTveli da adiReli xalxebis urTierTobis istoriidan, (Essays in the History of the
Interrelationship of the Georgian and Adyghe Peoples), (Tbilisi, 2005),
9 ”droeba” ("Droeba”), (Tiflis), 1867,
No 23; 1871, No 36; 1876, No 37, No 97; 1877, No 112, No 125; 1878, No 24, No
66; 1879, No 138.
10 ”iveria” ("Iveria”), (Tiflis),
1877, No 48; 1878, No 11; 1886, No 151; 1891, No 8; 1897, No 13.
11 "kvali” ("Kvali”), (Tiflis,
1897), No 13.
12 ”droeba” ("Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1878),
No 24, 1-2.
articles, published in Georgian newspapers, praised brave Circassians as
courageous warriors, the sight of which sowed fear in Russia. It is noteworthy
that, in the Russian Empire of the time, a Circassian was a generalized image
of all the North Caucasian peoples.
September 10, 1871,”Droeba” wrote:
"People in Saint Petersburg and Moscow are afraid of daggers that they escape
them with fear”. 13
newspaper in question published a lot concerning free-loving Circassians,
tactics of their struggle, and the essence of Russia’s colonizing politics.
April 16, 1876, the newspaper wrote: "Ottomans rejected the mountaineers under
their influence. It will take Russians 35 years to subdue them. Imagine that
not a numerous people, not exceeding a million, managed to oppose dozens of
millions of Russians for such a long time. These areas were a precipice for
Russians. They conducted wars all over the Caucasus: in the West – against
Chechens, in the East – against – Adyghe-Circassians. Circassians are
particular as far as they have never united into a single army. Each village
gets involved in the fight against the Russian army. Thus, the war area
comprises all the settlements.
defeated, Russians accused the English and Turks, allegedly having supported
Caucasians by providing them with weapons and ammunition. However, Russia made
a mistake. She took the example of mountaineers and sent smaller troops. Eventually,
she understood her mistake and sent numerous troops against these peoples. As
soon as they realized that it was impossible to assimilate Circassians, Russia
decided to deport them to Turkey, Bulgaria, and Serbia, and to inhabit their
lands by ethnic Russians”. 14
September 10, 1876,”Droeba” wrote
that the mass deportation of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire took place in
1863: "In December, 1863, Circassians rushed to the Black Sea coast. Men,
women, children – everyone is going to the new homeland.
on July 10, 1864, Circassians, estimating 236 718, appeared at the Black Sea
coast, only in Asia Minor. In the Ottoman Empire, their number estimated 200
000… Their guest was hunger, their brother was death, their songs were a
is known, a certain part of mountaineers took part in the 1877-78 Russia-Turkey
May 4, 1877, the newspaper ,”Iveria”
wrote: "After Gudauta was fired from cannons and was burnt, the enemy landed.
The landed detachment consisted of 200 men. They were the displaced from these
places (Circassians). Their participation in the hostilities was a great
support for Ottomans and their government”. 16
Georgian press observed the return of a part of the deportees from Turkey to
the North Caucasus, aiming at provoking of an uprising of the indigenous
13 ”droeba” ("Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1871),
No 36, 3.
14 ”droeba” ("Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1876),
No 37, 1-3.
15 ”droeba” ("Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1876),
No 97, 3.
16 ”iveria” ("Iveria”), (Tiflis, 1877), No 48, 1.
On August 3, 1877, the newspaper ”Droeba” wrote: "Recently, a company of
soldiers (135 men) were sent to cut the forest near Grozny as far as visitors,
together with the rebellious Chechens, hide themselves in them. People also
told them that a detachment was sent to Baksan Gorge (Greater Kabarda) in order
to protect the bridge across the river Terek as far as they feared the
Circassians, having come from the Ottoman Empire, who could easily provoke an
uprising of local Muslims”. 17
journalists learnt about the controversies between a Circassian commander and
the Turkish leadership. On August 20, 1877, ”Droeba”
wrote: "Some controversies evoked between Mukhtar Pasha and the commander of
Circassians, a son of Shamil, concerning domestic problems, allegedly resulting
in the fact that the Chechens abandoned the Ottoman troops”. 18
Ottoman authorities settled a part of mountaineers on the territories adjacent
January 10, 1878, ”Iveria” reported:
"The Sublime Porte (government of the Ottoman Empire) issued a decree to
displace all the Circassians from Europe to Asia Minor (Anatolia). The Smolny
informed that, in late February, several thousands of Circassians passed those
areas, being settled in the border villages, assigned by the government”. 19
March 31, 1878, ”Droeba” published
the following information: "The correspondent from Istanbul reports the
following sensation: "The local English ambassador Layard frequently visits
Circassians, deported to the Ottoman Empire, and conducts negotiations with
them. He agreed with Mussa Pasha, Qazi Muhammad (son of Shamil), Ibrahim Pasha
and others, who promised him that, when needed, they would collect warriors
among their compatriots and support them in the war against Russia… I was
assured that an army, consisting of fifty thousand Circassian and Abkhaz
soldiers, was being collected for England’s money”. 20
should be noted that even in Russia itself there were controversies concerning
the settlement of Russians and Cossacks in the places where mountaineers were
July 4, 1879, ”Droeba” wrote: "Mr.
Vasiliev says that the territories, earlier inhabited by Shapsougs and
Ubykhs, were populated by Cossacks and Russians from central Russia. When in
1878 he visited these settlements, he noted that "albeit the Cossacks were
economically in better conditions than indigenous Circassians (Shapsougs), they
could not foster the improvement, rather they even destroyed what had been
article was written to oppose those who ascertained that the state interests of
Russia required that mountaineers be deported to Russia and the Ottoman Empire,
and people from Russia to be settled in the Caucasus”. 21
17 ”droeba” ("Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1877),
No 112, 3.
18 ”droeba” ("Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1877),
No 125, 1.
19 ”iveria” ("Iveria”), (Tiflis,
1878), No 11, 1.
20 ”droeba” ("Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1878),
No 66, 3.
21 ”droeba” ("Droeba”), (Tiflis, 1879),
No 138, 1-2.
Georgian press also paid attention to Muridism, one of the branches of Islam,
widespread in the North Caucasus.
July, 1886, ”Iveria” wrote: "Qazi
Mullah Hamzat-beg and Shamil, the disciples of Mansour, followed and
extended Muridism. It took Russia 60 years to eradicate that doctrine”. 22
January 11, 1891, ”Iveria” wrote that
the Russification policy faced serious obstacles in the Caucasus. ”Iveria” re-published the article from
the magazine Severnyi vestnik
(‘Northern Messenger’) in which we read: "Already settled Cossacks are unable
to acquire all of these places. Authorities allocated both money and tools but in vain. It is no use
saying that the area cannot be developed without colonization, there will be no
success if hard-working people are not brought to this deserted area from
internal provinces of Russia, and, thus, Russia will not expand if she does not
acquire new lands”. 23
dealing with Muhajirism and written by Georgian journalists, sometimes appeared
in the Russian press.
July 20, 1877, in his article, published in the newspaper "Golos” ("Voice”), K. Machavariani wrote that, in that period, a
great number of Circassians and Abkhaz – the Muhajirs, longing for their
homeland, landed the eastern coast of the Black Sea from Ottoman ships.
article reads: "Together with the pasha, there were a lot of Abkhaz and
Circassians, deported from Abkhazia to Turkey in 1864 and 1866. If Circassians
and Abkhaz agreed to go to Abkhazia, they were lured by Abkhazia itself – their
homeland; they flattered themselves with hope that they would stay forever in
the beloved home land”. 24
Muhajirism has been associated with another
historical fact, repeatedly proving how profound have the common historical
roots been linking the Georgian and North Caucasian (Circassian, among them)
In his book From
the History of Writing in Abkhazia, the Abkhaz scholar Khukhuti Bgazhba
wrote: "For centuries, Abkhaz have used the Georgian writing as a standard
language. It was also spread among other peoples of the Caucasus (Ossetians,
While visiting his Muhajir brother in Turkey, one
Abkhaz nobleman told the following. In one of the Caucasian restaurants of
Istanbul, Circassians (this is how all Caucasians were referred to) used to get
together to have a word with each other. Once, a Circassian and a Turk engaged
in a hot dispute; each of them ascertained the advantage of his nation. The
Circassian said: "We are far from our native land, we live in a foreign
country, but even here we conduct our affairs quite well. Have we been in our
homeland…” The Turk hinted: "What were you there while you did not even have
your own alphabet, your writing?” The Circassian replied: "Our common alphabet
was Georgian”. 25
22 ”iveria” ("Iveria”), (Tiflis,
1886), No 151,
23 ”iveria” ("Iveria”), (Tiflis,
1891), No 8, 2-3.
("Golos”), (СПб., 1877), No 199.
25 Х. Бгажба,
Из истории письменности в Абхазии (Тбилиси, 1967), 34-35.
In his book Reise auf dem Caspischen Meere und in den
Caucasus, published in Stuttgart in 1837, the German scholar Eduard von
Eichwald (1795-1876) wrote: "Abkhaz, Ossetian, and Circassian do not have their
own alphabets and use Georgian in writing. As far as Abkhaz and Circassian use
guttural sounds and pronounce them with particular sibilation, Russian letters
meet the requirements of this language to a lesser degree, however, local
scholars suggested using of Russian letters for their languages”. 26
the process of Muhajirism of Caucasian mountaineers and its consequences were
rather comprehensively covered by the Georgian press of the later half of the
19th century. The articles, published by Georgian newspapers in that
period, overtly demonstrate that the tragedy of the Circassian people was
conceived of by progressive Georgian public of the time with great pain and
II. Image of a Circassian in
already mentioned above, Georgian public have always greatly respected
Circassians, being famous for their chivalry and beauty; these circumstances
found coverage in the best pieces of the Georgian literature of the 19th
diary My Travel from Tiflis to Saint Petersburg
by the famous Georgian poet and military figure Grigol Orbeliani (1804-1883)
has been regarded one of the best pieces of the Georgian documentary prose. The
diary was written in 1831-1832, when the poet, on his way to Saint Petersburg,
visited Kabarda. The diary contains noteworthy data about the way of life of
Karbardians of the time, that is, of Circassians. 27 The author praises the freedom-loving
and chivalrous character of the people.
excited by braveness of Circassians, G. Orbeliani wrote that they were "a
freedom-loving people and fought Russia for their freedom for many years, who
suppressed, humiliated and conquered all Kabarda but was unable to kill the
love to freedom in them. They are always ready for a war and always look for a
chance to liberate their homeland from Russians”. 28
on the author, the drastic decrease of the earlier numerous populations of
Circassians was, to a significant degree, an effect of their persistent
struggle against the Russian invaders. G. Orbeliani provides a detailed
description of the traditions of Circassians, among them, their hospitality,
wedding ceremony and the custom of blood feud. He emphasizes their fighting
efficiency, being inherited genetically, and having empowered them to subdue
neighboring peoples: Abaza, Karachays, Balkars, Ossetians, a part of Vainakhs
(Ingush), and to make them tributaries. 29
26 eduard aixvaldi saqarTvelos Sesaxeb (XIX saukunis
pirveli mesamedi), Targmna, Sesavali da saZiebeli daurTo gia gelaSvilma
(Tbilisi, 2005), 191; Eduard
Eichwald about Georgia (initial third of the 19th century). Translation,
introduction and indices by Gia Gelahsvili (Tbilisi, 2005), 191.
27 Grigol Orbeliani, TxzulebaTa
sruli krebuli, akaki gawereliasa da
jumber WumburiZis Sesavali weriliT,
redaqciiTa da SeniSvnebiT (Introduction, edited and indices by Akaki
Gatserelia and Jumber Chumburidze),
28 Ibid., 164.
29 Ibid., 165-166.
should not spare the data, provided in the diary, about customs of the feudal
social structure and children’s upbringing.
Orbeliani notes that Circassians "are stately and nimble, Waists of their women
and legs of their men are well-known all over the world”. 30
of Circassian women has been particularly praised both in Georgian literature
and folklore. With respect to this, Elguja,
a story by the prominent Georgian writer Alexander Kazbegi (real name –
Chopikashvili, 1848-1893), has been rather noteworthy; initially, it was
published by the newspaper "Droeba” (No 125-251) in 1881. The story
depicts an image of a devoted Georgian young man Elguja being in love with "a
beautiful, 16-year-old” Circassian girl Mzago who was "slim like an arrow and
her lips resembled an unfolded rose”. 31
his highly artistic and diverse creative work, the great Georgian writer
Vazha-Pshavela (real name – Luka Razikashvili, 1861- 1915) provides plenty of
space for the themes associated with the North Caucasian peoples. One of his poems
is Blood Feud (From the Life of
Circassians). Written in 1897, the poem tells about the freedom-loving
character of Circassians, about their chivalrous features. The writer praises
the Circassian people, having suffered from great casualties during their
long-lasting and bloody war against Russian invaders. 32
portrayed the staunch character of the real Circassian knight Kichir-bey, being
strong both physically and spiritually. Meanwhile, the poet presented an image
of the Circassian prince Aslan-bey who was a traitor, having secret links with
Russian invaders. His duplicity, perfidy, ruthlesssness and greed are in no
way characteristic of Circassians, traditionally having a chivalrous nature.
Being treacherously captured by Aslan-bey and sentenced to death, Kichir-bey
says: "I love the country of Circassians with a pure Circassian heart”. 33
poem saliently demonstrates that Vazha-Pshavela, one of the leading
representatives of progressive Georgian public, totally sympathized with
Circassians, selflessly fighting for their freedom.
and publicist Alexandre Proneli (real name – Kipshidze, 1862-1916) wrote:
"Circassians behaved in a chivalrous way, as befits this brave and courageous
people. Circassians did not spare their lives while fighting Russians, fighting
for freedom till the end, and, eventually, when defeated, they however did not
resign to fate, did not bow to the enemy, and left for a foreign country”. 34
memoirs of the political and public figure Giorgi Laskhishvili (1866-1931), one
of the prominent representatives of the Socialist-Federalist Party, later a
minister of education of Democratic Republic of Georgia, contain rather
interesting information about his encounter with a Kabardian prisoner in the late
30 Ibid., 165.
31 Alexandre Kazbegi, moTxrobebi, wgn.: "qarTuli proza”, (In Georgian Prose), XI, (Tbilisi, 1986), 10-11.
poemebi, (Tbilisi, 1990), 312-324.
33 Ibid., 339.
34 Alexandre Proneli
(Kipshidze), mTiuleTi 1804 wels, istoriuli ambavi, (Tiflis, 1896), 232-233.
he was a student at the Faculty of Law, Odessa University, G. Laskhishvili got
actively involved in the student movement, for what, in 1887, he was arrested and,
together with other Georgian prisoners Vasili Tsereteli and Kote Meskhi, was
sent to Georgia under the police supervision.
the description of the convoyed trip through the North Caucasus, G. Laskishvili
wrote: "Two more prisoners were brought into the prison carriage. One of them
immediately attracted my attention: a tall, good-looking, slender, dressed in
our way old man who we thought was an Imeretian prince. Soldiers seated him beside us. That old man
appeared to be a Kabardian… He was
fluent in Russian, almost no accent… I started a conversation hinting on the
situation in the Caucasus. He answered my questions without any enthusiasm and
I left him alone. Later, he started asking us about who we were. When he learnt
that we were Georgians, he was glad.
he took a deep breath and said: "When the sun of the Caucasus went down, our
thought that he meant Imam Shamil and asked him about it.
young man, -- answered the old man, -- I did not mean Shamil. Georgia was the
sun of the Caucasus. Georgia killed herself and pulled the Caucasus”. 35
Georgian public always particularly respected and loved the Circassian people.
This is visible both in the Georgian press of the later half of the 19th
century and in the writings by the prominent Georgian authors: Grigol
Orbeliani, Alexandre Kazbegi, Vazha-Pshavela; besides, in the studies by the
historian and publicist Alexandre Kipshidze and in the memoirs by the political
and public figure Giorgi Laskhishvili.
35 Giorgi Laskhishvili, memuarebi, uSangi sidamoniZis winasityvaobiT, (Introduction by Ushangi Sidamonidze), (Tbilisi,