Introduction / History
Once part of a large, important people group who lived in the northwest Caucasus, the Circassians of Syria have experienced much difficulty since leaving their homeland. Having lived in the Caucasus region for hundreds of years, they had contact with the many peoples who passed through the plains to their north. During that time, the Circassians knew almost constant warfare with these neighbors. By the mid-1860's, roughly 90% of the Circassian population had been either killed or forced to flee to various parts of the Ottoman Empire.
In Syria, many of the Circassians lived in five villages in the Golan Heights. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, these Circassians withdrew further into Syria, specifically to the slum districts of Damascus. Finding their settlement unsatisfactory, they petitioned the United States in the mid-1970's to be granted asylum. The U.S. allowed many of them to immigrate to America, where they settled in New Jersey and New York City.
What are their lives like?
Despite recent difficulties, the Circassians who remained in Syria have done fairly well economically. Many now work in various levels of government, civil service, or the military. They have managed to preserve their lifestyle from Palestinian influence and have avoided persecution for their somewhat conservative religious views.
Most Circassians are multi-lingual. They learn Arabic in school, speak Adygey (their native language) among themselves, and study English. Students in junior high school often study written Circassian, a language that uses the Cyrillic script but is not related to Russian. However, there are no Circassian newspapers and very few Circassian books printed in Syria.
Cultural events play an important role in maintaining the ethnic identity of the Circassians. Traditionally, a Circassian was never without his dagger, and few things were more important to him than his weapons. During holidays and weddings, they perform folk dances and songs in their traditional dress. The men wear long coats to their knees and black wool hats, and the women wear embroidered silk dresses. The dancing is in a squatting Cossack style, and the main musical instrument is the accordion.
Historically, the Circassians were organized into four castes: pshi (princes), warq (nobles), tlfaquat'l (freemen), and pshit'l (slaves). The princes organized the overall wealth and external relations of the villages. The freemen were farmers, herdsmen, or worked in plants. The slaves served the princes and nobles as servants and laborers. Today, this system survives merely as a tradition of origin for Circassian families.
In the family, the wife has authority over many of the household matters, but the husband has the ultimate decision in cases of dispute. The extended family unit is set in the context of the tlapq, or the clan, which consists of male relatives who descended from a particular ancestor. Members of a tlapq all share the same family name.
Marriages are traditionally based on love or an interest on the part of both man and woman. The Circassians generally marry late; usually in their early thirties.
What are their beliefs?
Christianity was introduced to the Circassians between the sixth and twelfth centuries by Byzantine missionaries. However, they have been Sunni Muslims for the past three or four hundred years. Nevertheless, many pagan relics and some forms of Eastern Orthodox Christianity still exist in their oral traditions and religious practices. They are viewed by many of the orthodox Middle Eastern Muslims as being very liberal.
What are their needs?
Currently, the Circassians of Syria have only one missions agency working among them. Although the New Testament and the Jesus film are available in their language, the number of Circassian believers is extremely small.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to open the doors of Syria to Christian missionaries.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agency that is focusing on the Circassians of Syria.
* Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Circassians.
* Pray that God will give the few Circassian believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Syria through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to save key Circassian leaders in Syria who will boldly declare the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Circassians of Syria.