Background:

The Circassians, also known as Cherkess, are a single ethnic group with one language and similar traditions, who historically lived in the North Caucasus between the Black Sea in the West to the borders of the Chechen Republic in the East. During the early period of the Communist domination, the Circassians were arbitrarily divided (geographically and politically) into three separate political administrations through the creation of artificial borders and through the annexation and redistribution of lands. The three main Circassian groups were lumped together administratively with different ethnic groups  (Like the Balkars, the Karachay and the Cossacks) to help in the dilution of their ethnic identity according to the specific Stalinist Nationalities Policy. Therefore today they are found in three separate republics and some scattered villages within the Russian administrations of Krasnodar and Stavropol.

The language of the Circassians is known as Adigha, and it varies in dialects according to geography. The estimated total population of Circassians in the North Caucasus is 600,000. A far greater number of Circassians live in the Diaspora (principally in Turkey) as a result of the mass migrations following their defeat and consequent occupation of their country by Tsarist Russia in 1864. Figures for Diaspora Circassians is inconclusive for lack of proper census, but an average number is around 3 million.

History:

To understand the present problems that the Circassian language is in today, we have to understand and examine the Soviet Nationalities Policy in theory and in practice. This policy evolved not out of any Leninist thinking or concepts but from the Stalinist criteria for nationhood.

These criteria were:

A. Unity of territory

B. Language

C. History

D. Psychological make-up.

 

The Moslem nations of the USSR did not meet these four criteria for nationhood and they held on to a strong religious tie. Therefore the Soviet leaders embarked on an attempt to alter the internal structure of these peoples to make them meet the four criteria. In effect they set about to create stable nationalities that would satisfy Stalin’s definition of a nation. According to Benningson and Lemercier-Quelquejay “The policy involved breaking up the large mass of Moslem and Turkic populace into fragments and then putting the pieces together into required number of units, each of them having an exact territorial demarcation.” 1.Alexander Benningson and Chantal Lemercier-quelquejay- Islam in the Soviet Union: (London, Pall Mall Press, 1967). P.126).

To accomplish this aim, borders of political units were redrawn along ethnic lines, thereby creating national territories. Like-wise languages were then established based on spoken language dialects to be used by these peoples. Language Institutes were opened for them and the ethnic languages were taught in schools as foreign languages with Russian instruction materials.

Certain groups that already existed as specific nationalities, or that had formed one ethnic group, were divided (examples in the North Caucasus were those of the Chechen and Ingush; Adiyghe, Cherkess and Kabardians; Balkars and Karachay) and assimilated or consolidated into the superficial units. This led to ethnic fragmentation and the resulting multi-standard languages for Circassians. The Kabardians were taught to believe that they are a different people from the Cherkess of the Karachay Cherkess Republic or from the Circassians of the Adiyghe Republic.

What is incomprehensible is that the policy of the Stalinist era, the so-called ‘Nationalities Policy’, was drawn and executed with the participation and full co-operation of the leadership of the ethnic Caucasians themselves. The objective of that policy was to eventually destroy their own identities, their languages and their cultures. It succeeded to such a degree that today many of the ethnic national languages of the North Caucasians has been diluted to nearly 40% or more by Russian vocabulary. Intermarriage of Caucasian nationals with Russian women was not only encouraged but also made a prerequisite for career advancement or higher level employment. The ultimate goal was full Russification of the ethnic minorities and the disappearance of their cultures and languages.

Although the events of 1991 put an official end to those policies, the policy systems and methods established for Russification, nearly fifty years ago, continue unchanged to this day, with little or no encouragement to national literature, language or culture.

The educational system and materials in schools and universities remain unchanged. The reference works and dictionaries used are the same as fifty years ago. Local ethnic languages are taught in schools like a foreign language with all instruction and manuals in Russian. Therefore academic interpretation of events and nearly all-intellectual endeavours remain unfortunately the same; with tight blinkers and propagandist in nature.

Some serious efforts have started to correct the mistakes of the past and to restore the Circassian language to its original status, as a rich literary language. Such an effort is exemplified in the activities and programs of the Cherkess Fund of Nalchik.  Another is in the works of the prominent Professor/Academician Mohadeen Komakhov of the Moscow Language institute.

The Problem:

A.The Circassians do not have a single uniform written language. The problem is historical and has lately (during the Soviet period in the Caucasus) become political. Several dialects existed

prior to the Communist period. Since the language did not accomplish a literary status (written form) until the latter part of the 19th Century, no attempt was made to create one classical written language due to the ensuing political upheavals.

The communists divided the Circassians geographically into several regions or oblasts for political reasons resulting in the arbitrary creation of separate languages from the existing dialects to conform to politico-geographic objectives. The Communist Party policy of Russification of the ethnic minorities of the Soviet Union proceeded unheeded, resulting in the adoption of Russian as the principal language of all ethnic groups, and the gradual disappearance of the native languages. After Glaznost and Perestroika, the same policy continued unchanged until this day because the problem did not figure highly in the political priorities of the current Caucasian administrations.

The academics realised recently the enormous problems created for education and publishing as a result of the Communist policy. A book (literary or educational) published in Kabardian would have to be published again in the two other dialects for it to be read by the other Circassians living in the western Caucasus. The result is that the lingua franca (Russian) has to be used continuously and the Circassian language suffers possible privation and eventual disappearance. The task of revitalising the language and encouraging its use in Circassian culture becomes ever more difficult.

We feel that the only secure way to save this rich cultural heritage is to create a single uniform written language that could be used in education for all written materials. This would be similar to the experiences of many other old languages such as Arabic. A Moroccan may not be understood when he speaks to a Syrian because of the extreme dialect; but they both read the same classical written Arabic. Therefore a book of poetry published in Morocco is read and appreciated everywhere in the Arab World.

B.There are two other equally difficult problems related to the present day use of the Circassian language:

  1. The Circassian alphabet used by Eastern and Western Circassians is so complex in its structure as to make it near impossible for children under ten years to comprehend and learn.

    Many sounds are reproduced with two, three and sometimes four Russian alphabet letters (characters) making the learning process extremely difficult. This alphabet has to be

    restructured with use of special accents, or some Latin characters in order to simplify it.

  2. The Circassian language has no proper grammar. Several linguists from the three republics have done work on producing a grammar, but all these works are individual efforts without

    scientific support or co-ordination. It is imperative that the question of formalising a Circassian grammar be addressed and properly compiled/produced for schools and learning

    institutions.

It would be a difficult task to impose one of the dialects, say Kabardian, on the remaining dialect groups as the classical written form, regardless of its suitability. The long communist rule has made this an impossible option because of the identification of the other Circassian tribes with a nationalist attitude towards their own dialect (language). This attitude became obvious in the Conference that was held in Meikop in 1994 to deal with this issue of multi-standard language. The Conference was a total failure, and no further attempts were made to discuss the problem. It now appears that no official efforts will be undertaken to tackle this serious issue unless some Diaspora Circassians and academics take it on in conjunction with some international organisations such as UNESCO or the European Union.

The official governments’ attitude is open to consideration of a well-structured proposal for a final arbitrary solution, especially if backed by an international organisation. They have expressed this specific support by requesting the State University and the State Institute to co-operate with/and to support The Cherkess Fund Organisation on this project.

Proposed Solution:

The solutions proposed below are based on discussions and ‘negotiations’ over a period of two years with leading academicians and educational specialists from the three republics of Kabardina Balkaria, Karachay Cherkask and the Adighey Republic.  Every educated Circassian is aware of the enormity of the problem and the need to find practical and workable solutions.

We can define the parameters of the project and the solutions as follows:

A. Restructuring of the Circassian Alphabet based on the Cyrillic (Russian) form because of its long-term common use, to simplify it in reproducing the Circassian sounds, and to produce a

detailed instruction material for making it easier for school children to adopt.

B. Compilation of a single classical grammar standard for the Circassian language.

C. Creation and publication of a new Circassian dictionary encompassing all the terminology and classical words for the established written language standard. The present dictionary used as

the classical reference work in Kabardina Balkaria is one written by Professor Abuba Kardanov in the 1950s. Nearly a third of the Circassian words used in this dictionary have their origins in the

Russian language. It is a well-known fact now that all these Russian words have an original Circassian equivalent. The same can be said about the dictionaries used by the remaining Western

Circassians. The latest published dictionary (1999, Institute of Humanitarian Research, KBR Scientific Center, RF Academy of Sciences) which was compiled in the 50s and 60s has an even

higher content of Russian vocabulary, possibly as much as 45%

How to Proceed:

Since none of the existing dialects would be acceptable as a solution on its own, we propose the creation of a written language that combines elements of all the dialects.

We propose to accomplish this task as follows:

1.       We propose the creation of a task force consisting of several Circassian language specialists (Linguists) and Western specialists in Caucasian languages from outstanding Western universities to proceed with the execution of the above mentioned solutions. This is to be done with the full co-operation and support of the Ministry of Education and the relevant Circassian national Institutions and universities.

2.       We propose the creation of a support administrative staff equipped with the latest technology hardware and software for information gathering and processing.

3.       We estimate this project to require a five-year program from beginning to end under the auspices of the International Cherkess Fund. Project Funding The Cherkess Fund has limited financial resources for such an ambitious project. But the Fund can play an active role in the co-ordination and execution of the project by acting as the principal promoter, organiser and employer for the project. The Fund is registered and has offices in the Russian Federation (KBR-Nalchik), in Turkey and in Jordan. It is in the process of establishing a European base in England. Therefore this project is mostly viable if funding can be acquired from International organisations which have specific educational programs supporting such ethnic minority projects. We look forward to your input and your ideas for making this project a reality. Without it we believe our Circassian culture could slowly become an endangered species and vanish in the next fifty to a hundred years. Write to us at the address below and give us ideas how to create a reasonable fund for starting this project. Proposed plans, participants in the proposed ‘task force’, administrative staff and an estimated annual budget proposal for the funding requirements are available to all serious enquiries.

4.       Project Consultants:

  • Prof. Rieks Smeets. Lieden University, Holland

  • Prof. George Hewitt. University of London (SOAS)

  • Prof. Mohadeen Komakhov. Institute of Linguistics, Moscow

  • Dr. M.I. Quandour. Author, Historian, Specialist on Caucasian history and problems.

  • Prof. Hatali Urusov. KBR University, Nalchik

  • Prof. Z. I. Kirasheva. University of Maikop&Krasnodar, Maikop

  • Prof. Mohamed Apazhev. University of Kabardina Blkaria, Nalchik

5.       Project Director:

  • Dr. Luba H. Balagova

  • The Cherkess Fund International Organization Address: Moscow Kvartal Yugozapada 38, Korp. 5. Kv. 83

  • Telephone: 7.095.735.8047

  • Mobile: 7.903.546.0744

  • E-Mail: Balagova@go.com.jo

  • Middle East:

  • P.O.Box 404 Khilda, Amman 118-21, Jordan

  • Telephone: 009626.533.4551,  533.4552

  • Mobile: 00962.795.932.593

  • E-Mail: Cherkess@go.com.jo