Introduction / History
There are two main groups of Circassian: the West, or Lower Circassian, who speak Adyghey; and the East, or Upper Circassian, who speak Kabardian.
Having lived in their original homeland in the northwestern Caucasus for thousands of years, the Circassian had contact with the many peoples who passed the steppes to the north. During that time, they knew almost constant warfare with these neighbors. The Circassian seem to have been conquered three times during their history: first by the Kok Turks; second, by the Mongols; and last, by the Russians.
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. Today, they can be found not only in their own homeland, but also in scattered groups in Syria, Jordan, Iran, and Iraq.
What are their lives like?
The Circassian are largely a rural people. Their traditional economy is based on herding and farming, supplemented by growing fruit. They also raise chickens, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and especially horses. They grow a variety of grains, and in the highlands, they also hunt. They eat bread, milk, cheese, broth, fruit and vegetable dishes, and occasionally, a meat dish with a spicy nut sauce.
The traditional Circassian dwelling, called a wuna, was a long rectangular house with a porch extending along its front. It was made of twigs coated with mud and had a thatch roof. There were several rooms, including at least one for the women. The house usually had a large tree planted in front of its door to symbolize the growth and strength of the family. A vegetable garden and several other houses (for sons and their families), as well as buildings for livestock and food storage were located behind the main house. The entire compound was enclosed in a stockade.
Cultural events still play an important role in maintaining the ethnic identity of the Circassian. Traditionally, a man was never without his dagger, and few things were more important to him than his weapons. During holidays and weddings, they wear their traditional dress and perform folk dances and songs. The men wear long knee-length coats and black wool hats, and the women wear embroidered silk dresses. The dancing is in a squatting Cossack-style and is accompanied by an accordion.
Historically, the Circassian were organized into four levels: 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 worked as farmers, herdsmen, and workers in small industries. The slaves (usually prisoners of war) served the princes and nobles as servants and workers. Today, the system survives merely to signify a family's origin.
The extended family is the most common unit of Circassian social structure. Members of a tlapq (clan) are descended from the same male ancestors and share a common name. Marriages are based on love or mutual interest, and occur when the couple is in their early thirties. The wife has authority over many of the household matters, but the husband has the final say in disputes.
What are their beliefs?
Although Christianity was introduced to the Circassians between the sixth and twelfth centuries by Byzantine missionaries, they have been Sunni Muslims for the past three or four hundred years. Nevertheless, many traditional relics and some forms of Eastern Orthodox Christianity can be found in their oral traditions and religious practices. They are viewed by many of the orthodox Middle Eastern Muslims as being very liberal and have often come under persecution.
What are their needs?
The East Circassian need Christian laborers to live and work among them. Like many ethnic groups, they are searching for national identity. Prayer is the first step towards seeing them find their true identity in Jesus Christ.
* Ask the Lord to send forth laborers to live and work among the East Circassian.
* Ask the Lord to soften the hearts of the East Circassian so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the East Circassian who will boldly declare the Gospel.
* Pray that God will give the East Circassian believers opportunities to share Christ with their families and friends.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.
* Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the East Circassian.