The birth of modern Circassian nationalism by Sufian Zhemukhov

This article focuses on problems of the national movement of the Circassians – a small nation in the Caucasus, most of whose population is dispersed all over the world. The paper researches the development of the Circassian movement from 1989–2000 and its contemporary structure since 2005. 

The modern Circassian movement as a whole has never been approached from a political science viewpoint. This research aims to answer several core questions: What are the different strands of the movement? What principles are they based on? Who are the participants? What political forces
support them? How do these political forces interact with each other?

Keywords: nationalism; nationalist movement; Russia; Caucasus; Circassians

Sufian Zhemukhov
The Elliot School of International Affairs, Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Nationalities Papers
Vol. 40, No. 4, July 2012, 503 –524

Ethnonationalism is one of the central factors influencing the perennially tense political and social situation in the North Caucasus, an important but understudied region of the world. Study of the modern Circassian movement is important, given the seeming centrality of nationalism in the region and the gap in Western knowledge of the region generally and Circassian-related issues in particular. It is also very timely, considering the context of current problems facing the North Caucasus, the upcoming Sochi Olympics, and issues of nationalism in the Russian Federation.

The modern Circassian movement started after the end of Cold War. As Karl Renner once described such movements, it is “the birthday of the political idea of the nation,” when after the end of the Cold War, the linguistic and cultural community of the Circassian people “emerges from the world of passive existence as people. They become conscious of themselves as a force with a historical destiny” (89). The movement developed nationalist content in the sense defined by Ernest Gellner as “primarily a principle which holds that the political and national unit should be congruent” (1). The Circassian movement clearly has features that E.J. Hobsbawm identified as “proto-national” bonds, which are able to “mobilize certain variants of feelings of collective belonging which already existed and which could operate ... potentially on the macro-political scale which could fit in with modern states and nations” (46).

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