Irina Babich, D.Sc. (Hist.), Leading Research Fellow at the Department of the Caucasus, Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, RAS (Moscow, the Russian Federation)


When in Europe, I am often asked about my occupation at home. My answer, I study the ethnography of the peoples of the Northern Caucasus, baffles people; most of them do not know where to look for the Caucasus on the map, however everyone recognizes the word Chechens, an echo of the Chechen wars of the 1990s.

At the turn of the 2010s, the world learned about another North Caucasian ethnicity, known abroad as the Circassians; the new ethnic name came with the decision of the IOC to organize the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the historical home of the Adighe peoples.

Who are the Adighes or Circassians? The latter term was used by the first European travelers who reached the Caucasus several centuries ago. Ethnographers use the blanket term Adighes to refer to several kindred ethnic sub-groups and sub-ethnicities who speak the Adighe languages. They are the Kabardins, who live in Kabardino-Balkaria; the Circassians, who live in Karachaevo-Cherkessia; and the Western Adighes (known in Soviet times as the Adighes from the name of their autonomous region called Adigey). The Adighes are divided into smaller ethnic groupsShapsugs, Natukhays, Abadzekhs, Temirgoys, Bjedugs, etc. Some of the Western Adighes live along the Black Sea coast, in the Lazarevskoe and Tuapse districts of the Krasnodar Territory, between the cities of Sochi and Tuapse.

What is Behind the Mounting Interest in the Past of the Adighes?

The Adighes have lived in the Northern Caucasus for many centuries; their history abounds in squabbles among the Adighe ethnic groups and with other Caucasian ethnicities. By the time the Russians appeared in these lands, some of the local ethnicities (Kabardins) had reached a fairly high level of statehood (radical historians write about the state of Kabarda), while others (Western Adighes) still lingered at the stage of early feudal relations and barely developed statehood.

Early in the 1990s, the academic community and public at large developed a great interest in the history of the Adighes for several reasons:

  • Perestroika freed the academic community from the fetters of the Soviet period; many facts and events in the common history of Russia and the Caucasus were reinterpreted.
  • In many respects, Soviet ideological pressure limited historians, and the science of history for that matter: the colonial policy of the Russian Empire was invariably treated as a civilizational mission. History as a science has survived, at least partially: some of the aspects existed on the ideological fringes and were thus more or less free from ideological pressure (I have in mind the history of primitive society and feudal relations); there were those who, in defiance of.

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