PhD Thesis

'Dissemination of Circassian Culture and Folklore as a Catalyst for Convergence of

Disparate Visions for Circassia and as a Precursor to Reunification' 


Amjad M. Jaimoukha


Rationale and methodology:

There is so much obscurity and misconception engulfing Circassian culture as a result of a number of factors that militate against its wide-spread dissemination amongst the Circassians themselves and non-Circassians. Chief culprits are apathy (the global underminers), linguistic barriers, less-than-forceful cultural institutions in the Caucasus (Circassia = the three Circassian republics in the Northwest Caucasus + the Shapsugh region + parts of the Stavropol and Krasnodar Krais with significant Circassian populations) and in the diaspora. These opposing forces shall be analyzed and rationalized and means of circumscribing their deleterious effects shall be suggested and tested.

'Apathy' and 'reticence' shall be explored as possible national characteristics that are the antipodes to 'flair' and 'zeal' (at the collective level) required for a 'bubbly' cultural life. Of course, there has always been extraordinary figures who propagated and enriched Circassian culture throughout the ages. Perhaps it is safe to state that most Circassians (in both the Caucasus and diaspora, but to a lesser extent in the former) are not completely aware of the full 'glory' of their native culture. It is possible that only a small number of individuals and groups are (and have always been) responsible for the maintenance and propagation of Circassian culture. Up until the 19th century the roving bards (I, jegwak'we) had been the active propagators and developers of this culture. Starting from the 19th century Circassian intellectuals and culturalists began to document the orally transmitted forms of culture. Shora B. Negwme (Nogmov) lit the torch early in the century with his seminal work History of the Circassian Nation [published posthumously in Tbilisi in 1961]. A trickle (waning and waxing according to the diktats of the times and regimes)  of cultural works has been appearing since that time.

Linguistic obstacles are most apparent at the original homeland/diaspora interface. The overwhelming majority (almost all) of the Circassians in the diaspora are illiterate in both Circassian and Russian, the languages in which (almost all) primary sources and references on Circassian culture are written and held. Many misconceptions stem from this illiteracy. It is not possible to comprehend something that you cannot sense. The works of Circassian writers and culturalists (which span three centuries) are effectively inaccessible for the Circassian diaspora. The only forms of (mass) culture that can flourish in the diaspora are those that are non-verbal and non-literal (dance, for example).

The cultural apparatus (cultural institutions and the political bodies that control them) in Circassia has its hands full with the struggle to keep the culture (and language) alive in the native land, and the attention granted to the (desperate) needs of the diaspora is mostly lacking (but not totally absent). It is gratifying that the linguistic situation with regards to (the status of) Circassian in two areas of Circassia (the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic and the Karachai-Cherkess Republic) has not only been stabilized but there are strong indications that Circassian in these areas is expanding and gaining ground (many children of non-Circassian nationalities are learning Circassian in schools in Kabardino-Balkaria, where the Circassians make almost 2/3 of the population). This puts paid to the popular (and bleak) misconception that Circassian is fast losing ground to Russian in Circassia (although the situation in the Adigean Republic, where the Circassians make about a third of the population, is still bleak by all accounts).

A holistic account of Circassian culture shall be presented. All attempts shall be made to make this comprehensive. The principal assumption concerning Circassian (indigenous) culture (in this thesis) is that it is one of the seminal cultures of the world (albeit that it is almost totally obscure beyond the borders of Circassia). The onus of proof is the principal 'task' of this thesis. Since there are very few works on Circassian culture in English, extensive translation work (by the author) is called for. The attitudes of 'cynics' amongst the Circassians and non-Circassians regarding the status of Circassian culture (some even doubt the existence of such a thing) shall also be addressed, since they are the 'toughest customers' to convince of the veracity of the principal themes of the thesis.

The following anecdote perhaps captures in a nutshell the situation with regard to the perception of Circassian culture (by both Circassians and non-Circassians) and the (mainly) cumbersome ways of the cultural apparatus in Circassia. In the period 1971-1976, the (Kabardian Circassian) musicologist and musical folklorist Vladimir Bereghwn (; , Baragunov) and the (Kabardian Circassian) (classical) composer Zhebreiyl Hewpe (I; , Khaupov) worked on the documentation and writing the notations of the musical materials that had been collected by Circassian musicologists since the early 1940s in a number of expeditions that covered the Circassian areas in the Caucasus and the rich store in the diaspora (Turkey, Jordan, and Syria). Bereghwn and Hewpe were simply flabbergasted by the thousands of collected pieces. Hewpe wrote, Our nation does not fully realize the richness of its culture. Yet, despite the startling treasure-trove, it took the cultural machinery in Circassia almost three decades to put it on public display (600 musical pieces in book format: Bereghwn (Baragunov), V. H. and Hewpe, Zh., Narodnaya instrumental'naya muzika adigov (cherkesov) [National Instrumental Music of the Circassians], Nalchik: El-Fa, 2005).


Methods of dissemination of Circassian culture:

Several methods could be used to communicate (my understanding and interpretation of) the essence of Circassian culture and folklore. The 'classical' method (and perhaps of most lasting effects) is publication in book format (including e-format editions) by 'respectable' publishers. In this method, the format (and thus the price) of the book is an important factor in the extent of its penetration. Undoubtedly, the quality of the content and presentation is also a crucial motive force. Fortunately, a number of publishing houses in the West are interested in North Caucasian affairs, and are open to (some even welcome) book suggestions in this area. The language of choice in this regard is English, but perhaps Circassian and Russian could be used at later stages to reorient the campaign towards the Caucasus.

Articles and papers published in periodicals and compilations (including encyclopædias) target, in the main, the scholarly and intellectual communities across the world.

The internet has enabled purveyors of 'obscure' (on the mainstream scale) cultures to display their work to a world readership. This is the easiest and most direct and democratic means of dissemination of culture. However, the material available on the world wide web is mostly not subject to rigorous editing (not to say censorship) in content and style. This is perhaps a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. To gain and maintain credibility, a cultural webmaster must maintain the highest and most rigorous standards of veracity and scholarship. Any chink in the works would cast serious doubt on the whole thesis. There is no limit to the languages that could be utilized in this area. However, at the initial stage English and Circassian shall be used.

Television and radio are mass means of communication that are most accessible to the general public. Fortunately, a Circassian satellite TV channel, NART TV, is in the phase of being officially launched in the Middle East, where a considerable Circassian diaspora is found. The principal language of the channel is Circassian, but other complementary languages could also be ustilized. Cultural programmes can be configured to reach the Circassian community in the Middle East.

Lectures and presentations to targeted audiences and at conferences shall also be considered and utilized to spread the word about cultural issues.