Circassians (Circassian: Адыгэ) (Russian: Черкесы) (Arabic: الشركس) are a North Caucasian ethnic group native to Circassia who were displaced in the course of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century, especially after the Russian–Circassian War of 1862. The term "Circassian" includes the Adyghe (Circassian: Адыгэ Adyge) and Kabardian people.

The Adyghe mainly speak the Adyghe language, a Northwest Caucasian language with numerous dialects. The Adyghe also speak Turkish and Arabic in large numbers, having been exiled by Russia to lands of the Ottoman Empire, where the majority of them today live. The predominant religion amongst Circassians is Sunni Islam.

There remain about 700,000 Circassians in historical Circassia (the republics of Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and the southern half of Krasnodar Krai), as well as a number in the Russian Federation outside these republics. The 2010 Russian Census recorded 718,727 Circassians, of which 516,826 are Kabardians, 124,835 are Adyghe proper, 73,184 are Cherkess and 3,882 Shapsugs.


In their own language the Circassians refer to themselves as Adyghe (also transliterated as Adyga, Adyge, Adygei, Adyghe, Attéghéi). The name is believed to derive from atté "height" to signify a mountaineer or a highlander, and ghéi "sea", signifying "a people dwelling and inhabiting a mountainous country near the sea coast", or "between two seas".[1][2]

A common name for the Adyghe is Circassians, a name which is occasionally applied to Adyghe and Abaza from the North Caucasus.[3] The name Circassian represents a Latinization of Cherkess, the [Turkic name for the Adyghe, and originated in the 15th century with Genoese merchants and travellers to Circassia.[3][4] But the earliest known form of the name "Cherkess" dates from the time of the Mongols who invaded the North Caucasus in medieval times, and who called the Adyghe "Serkesut" - that term appears in Mongol texts from the 12th century.

The Turkic peoples[5] and Russians call the Adyghe Cherkess,.[6] Folk etymology usually explains the name Cherkess as "warrior cutter" or "soldier cutter", from the Turkic words cheri (soldier) and kesmek (to cut), so that Cherkess would mean "soldier-cutter".

Despite a common self-designation and a common Russian name,[7] Soviet authorities applied four designations to Circassians:

  • Kabardians, Circassians of Kabardino-Balkaria (Circassians speaking the Kabardian language[8]), one of two indigenous peoples of the republic.
  • Cherkess (Template:Lang-ady Šărdžăs), Circassians of Karachay–Cherkessia (Circassians speaking the Cherkess, i.e. Circassian, language[8]), one of two indigenous peoples of the republic who are mostly Baslaney Kabardians. This name is the Russian form of "Circassian" and was used for all Circassians before Soviet times.
  • Adygeys, the indigenous population of the Kuban including Adygea and Krasnodar Krai.[9]
  • Shapsugs, the indigenous historical inhabitants of Shapsugia. They live in the Tuapse District and the Lazarevsky City District (formerly the Shapsug National Raion) of Sochi, both in Krasnodar Krai, as well as in Adygea.

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