Circassian genocide

19th century genocide of Circassians by the Russian Empire

The Circassian genocide was a systematic mass-murder, ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Circassian and other people in the Caucasus. It was done by the Russian Empire, during the Russo-Circassian War. It started in 1863 and lasted until 1878. Estimates are that between 1 million and 1.5 million people were killed. This was between 95 and 97 percent of all Circassians. The ones that were able to run away mostly went to the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East, and the Balkans. Killing methods included impaling, and ripping open the bellies of pregnant women. This was mainly done to intimidate the surrounding population.

Painting showing Circassians trying to run away from the killers.

The Circassian genocide was also the deadliest ethnic cleansing campaign of the 19th century.[1] Calculations have estimated a loss of 94–97%[2][3][4] of the Circassian population. The Circassians were either mass murdered or forcibly kicked out during the genocide. The people who were kicked out mainly moved to the Ottoman Empire.[5] Most sources state that as many as 1 to 1.5 million Circassians were forced to run away from their homes in total, but only around half of them survived.[6][7] Ottoman archives show more than one million migrants entering their land from the Caucasus by 1879, with nearly half of them dying on the shores as a result of disease.[8] If Ottoman archives are correct, it would make the genocide biggest genocide of the 19th century.[9] In confirmation of Ottoman archives, Russian records documented only the presence of 106,798 Circassians in the region, following the events of the genocide. Other estimates by Russian historians are even lower, with figures between 40,400 and 65,900.[10] The Russian census of 1897 recorded 150,000 Circassians still remaining in the now-conquered region.[11][12]

As of 2023, Georgia is the only country to recognize the Circassian genocide.[13] Russia actively denies the Circassian genocide,[14][15][16] and classifies the events as a migration (Russian: Черкесское мухаджирство, lit.'Circassian migrationism'). Some Russian nationalists in the Caucasus region continue to celebrate the day when the Circassian deportation was launched, 21 May (O.S), each year as a "holy conquest day". Circassians commemorate 21 May every year as the Circassian Day of Mourning commemorating the Circassian genocide.[17] On 21 May, Circassians all over the world protest against the Russian government, especially in cities with large Circassian populations such as Kayseri and Amman, as well as other large cities such as Istanbul.[18][19]


  1. "Remembering the Circassian Deportations and Massacres". TCA. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013.
  2. Grassi 2018; Shenfield 1999, p. 154
  3. Richmond 2013, p. 132: "If we assume that Berzhe's middle figure of 50,000 was close to the number who survived to settle in the lowlands, then between 95 percent and 97 percent of all Circassians were killed outright, died during Evdokimov's campaign, or were deported."
  4. Rosser-Owen 2007, p. 16: "with one estimate showing that the indigenous population of the entire north-western Caucasus was reduced by a massive 94 percent."
  5. Richmond 2013, back cover.
  6. Karpat 1985, p. 69.
  7. Levene, Mark (2005). "6: Declining Powers". Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State Volume II: The Rise of the West and the Coming of Genocide. 175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010. pp. 300, 301. ISBN 1-84511-057-9.
  8. Neumann, Karl Friedrich (1840). Russland und die Tscherkessen [Russia and the Circassians] (in German).
  9. Leitzinger, Antero (October 2000). "The Circassian Genocide". The Eurasian Politician. No. 2. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  10. Richmond 2013, p. 132.
  11. Abzakh, Edris (1996). "Circassian History". University of Pennsylvania, School of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 11 March 2007.
  12. "The Circassian Genocide". Unrepresented Nations and People Organisation (UNPO) (14 December 2004). Retrieved April 4, 2007
  13. Barry, Ellen (20 May 2011). "Georgia Says Russia Committed Genocide in 19th Century". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 14 March 2017. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  14. "Georgia Recognizes Russian 'Genocide' Of Ethnic Circassians". Radio Free Europe. May 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  15. "Georgia Recognizes Circassian Genocide". Eurasianet. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  16. Bodio, Tadeusz; Sieradzan, Przemysław J. (2012-12-15). "Źródła nacjonalizmu czerkieskiego i jego konsekwencje polityczne" [Sources of Circassian nationalism and its political consequences]. Środkowoeuropejskie Studia Polityczne (in Polish) (4): 47–74. doi:10.14746/ssp.2012.4.03. ISSN 1731-7517.
  17. "145th Anniversary of the Circassian Genocide and the Sochi Olympics Issue". Reuters. 22 May 2009. Archived from the original on 8 September 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2009.
  18. "Çerkesler soykırım yürüyüşü yaptı" [Circassians marched on genocide]. Denizhaber (in Turkish). May 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  19. Kayseri, DHA (May 2017). "Çerkeslerden anma yürüyüşü" [Circassian memorial march]. Sözcü (in Turkish). Retrieved 15 January 2021.