The Circassians in Jordan

» The incredible fate of Jordan’s Circassians
Photo Press Agency © 2004 Maher Attar / MGA PRODUCTION

Forced out of their homeland by the Russians in awful conditions, thousands of Caucasians emigrated to Turkey in 1864. Refugees then scattered to the four corners of the Ottoman Empire, from Turkey to the Suez Canal, from Syria to Palestine and Transjordan.


» Circassians at the service of the king of Jordan

They are Circassians, originate from the Caucasus and have been guarding the safety of Hachemite sovereigns with the utmost devotion and faithfulness for more than a century. This report will take you on an exceptional journey to the heart of the royal guard of Jordan.


» Prince Ali of Jordan supporting the Circassians

The Circassians are an anciant race, compsed of twelve tribes, who have been dwelling in the mountains if the North Caucasus and along the Black Sea coast since time immemorial. Many would be invaders had found them a terrible foe.


The Circassians in Jordan (A Brief Introduction)

by Amjad Jaimoukha

1. Historical Background

1.1 PRE-WAR GEOGRAPHY.

The original homeland of the Circassians, or Khakuzh (the Old Country) as it is referred to by them, is Northwest Caucasia between the Black Sea to the west and the Urukh river to the east, and between the Caucasus Mountains to the south and the Kuban, Bakhsan and Terek rivers to the north (map 1). Historical Circassia, a term used to designate Circassian lands prior to commencement of the catastrophic Russian war in the Caucasus at the beginning of the 19th century, had an area of approximately 100,000 square kilometres, roughly a quarter of the size of the whole Caucasus, which made it the largest country in the region.

The main feature of Circassia is the Caucasus Range which extends from the northwest to the southeast for almost 1,300 km (map 2). It is regarded as the boundary between Asia and Europe. The Caucasus is endowed with fertile soil and mild climate. Its natural beauty has been legendary since the time of the Ancient Greeks, and it was immortalized in the works of the Russian literary giants, like Tolstoy, Pushkin and Lermontov.

Before the War, the main economical activities were pastoral and agricultural in nature. There were some mercantile activities. The area was famous for horse breeding. A sizeable equine export trade thrived with Russia and Persia. The most renowned pedigree was the Kabarda, which is still considered the best mountain horse. It is known for its fair speed and remarkable endurance. Gold- and silversmiths and personal arms manufacturers were held in high esteem.

1.2 NATIONAL AND TRIBAL STRUCTURE. (Please refer to maps 3 and 4 and to appendix 1 for the following discussion)

The Circassians were divided into three national groups: the Ubykh, the Apsua, or Abkhaz-Abazians, and the Adygha. Though ethnically related and closely allied, they spoke mutually unintelligible languages that belong to the North-western group of Caucasian languages, the other groups being North-eastern (Chechen, Ingush, Bats, Avar, Lezgian, Dargwa, etc.), and Kartvelian (Georgian, Mingrelian, Svan, Adjar, Laz, etc.). Some linguistic research suggests that about six thousand years ago all Northwest Caucasians spoke the same proto-Circassian language [Chirikba, A 27], much the same way as Semites conversed in proto-Semitic. However, because of geographical separation, the original language was differentiated into three distinct entities, and even these were further divided into divergent dialects.

The Ubykh used to inhabit the south mid-western portion of Circassia on the Black Sea coast. Their territory stretched between the rivers Khosta and Shakhe to the north of Abkhazia. Though relatively small in size, Ubykhia was known for the war-like character and tenacity of its people. It was principally these attributes that caused its downfall. The Ubykh as a nation have ceased to exist. Their language became absolutely extinct in the autumn of 1992, by the death of the last speaker in Turkey.

The Apsua were made up of the Abkhaz and Abaza. The former occupied the south-western part of Circassia between the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains from west to east, and between the Bzyp and Ingur rivers from north to south — the historic Colchis of the Argonauts. The land of the Abaza lay at the foothills of the main Caucasus Range at the upper reaches of the Great and Little Zelenchuk, Kuban and Kuma rivers. Each group was divided into several tribes that spoke mutually intelligible dialects. The main Abkhaz tribes were the Bzyp, Abzhwa, Sadz and Samurzakan. The Abaza were divided into the Tapanta and Shkharawa.

The Adygha were by far the largest nation. They were made up of two groups: Eastern and Western Adygha. These were further divided into several tribes and clans.

The eastern branch was made up of two main nation tribes. The Kabardians, who occupied the strategic central region of the North Caucasus, were the most numerous and mightiest in Circassia and their land was the richest. They maintained a thriving trade with the Genoese mercantile colonies on the Black Sea coast and with Astrakhan. At its zenith Kabarda was so dominant that all powers with vested interests in the area, namely Moscovy and the Ottoman Port, sought to court and bestow honours upon its princes in order to further their interests. This culminated in the betrothal of Tsar Ivan the Terrible to the daughter of prince Temriuk, Kucheney Gwashcha, later Princess Maria, in 1561 A.D. to cement the so-called “Union” between Russia and Kabarda. However, as will be explained later, the authority of Temriuk over the other Kabardian princes was very tenuous and many of these declined to “ratify” the alliance, which was at best symbolic.

The other eastern nation tribe was the Beslanay who lived to the west of, and were closely allied to, the Kabardians. In fact, Kabardian and Beslanay are so close that it is suggested that the latter is just a divergent dialect of the former.

The western Adygha or the Kiakh were made up of many tribes: the Abzakh who lived in the middle of Circassia; the Shapsugh in the west on the Black Sea coast; the Bzhadugh in the north-west; the Natukhuaj in the extreme north-west and the Kemirgoi and Hatuquay in the north. It is worthy of note that the Plains Western Adygha were socially differentiated from the Mountain Western Adygha, mainly in Abzakhia, in that the latter had no social hierarchy, where all men were considered equal. This followed an upheaval in the 18th century in which all the princes and nobility of the mountain Kiakh were banished.

1.3 SOCIAL STRUCTURE.

The social structure of Circassian society was very complex and was based on hierarchical feudalism, except for a few egalitarian tribes. The classical Kabardian hierarchical system is shown in fig. 1, as an example. Each tribe was divided into princedoms, which were effectively independent, although there was a council of princes, which met at times of national crises. At the apex of each principality stood the prince who wielded almost absolute power over his subjects. Land and serfs were owned collectively. The clan was not divided into nuclear families and all obeyed the eldest member of the clan. Inheritance was not devolved from father to son but from brother to brother.

Next to the prince came the nobles, who were divided into the proper and lesser nobility, and the vassals who were given a free hand in their fiefdoms in return for their allegiance. A peculiar custom, the Ataliqate, whereby the children of the princes were entrusted at an early age to the vassals to be raised and trained in a military fashion, played a major role in strengthening the relationship between the prince and his nobles. Below the nobility came the freemen and free peasants, then the bond peasants and finally the slaves and villeins who performed the menial tasks and were mainly taken from war captives.

This pyramidal structure ensured the existence of many social units internally cohesive, but whose inter-cohesion was at best suspect. No one prince was ever powerful enough to subdue the others in order to establish a central authority. The case of prince Temriuk and his courting of the favour of the Russian Tsar by betrothing his daughter to him is illustrative of this point. It is safe to assume that the majority of Kabardian princes refused to accept this unholy alliance as it brought no advantage to them. It is in fact this very same structure that rendered Russian policy of co-opting the Kabardian elite so futile (Lemercier-Quelquejay, B 9). Russian policy makers had never been able to understand the nature of Kabardian society, which was diametrically different from the centralized autocratic organization of Russia. The only immediate beneficiaries were the sons and relatives of Prince Temriuk and their progeny, some of whom went into service in the imperial court and established the powerful Cherkassky princely dynasty whose descendants still survive to this day.

The behavioural and social norms were regulated by an orally transmitted codex called Adiga Khabza, or Circassian Etiquette, which was very rigid and complex and its contravention was severely punished. It had evolved to ensure that strict militaristic discipline was maintained at all times to defend the country against the many invaders who coveted Circassian lands.

Notwithstanding the feudalistic nature of Circassian society, there were strong indications that by the end of the 18th century, a major societal transformation was beginning to unfold and that a new phase of stability and prosperity was about to ensue. The rudiments of civil society were slowly but surely taking root. Through mercantile contacts with the Europeans, especially the Genoese, some Circassian intellectuals began to realize that modernity and progress were the beacons to guide society to the next stage of evolution beyond feudalism. Paul B. Henze states in his work Circassian Resistance to Russia (B 4):

After the Georgians and the Armenians, the Circassians came closest of all the Caucasian peoples to developing the prerequisites for nationhood. They had traditions of roots extending back to the dawn of recorded history..

Circassian civilization was at its most crucial phase of development. It needed the goodwill of Fate. Moira turned her head. It is one of the harshest ironies of Circassian history that, as this realization was dawning on the Circassians, Russia launched its ruinous war that pushed the nation to the brink of extinction.

2. The Russo-Circassian War

From the middle ages up to the 17th century, Circassia remained mainly peaceful and quiet. After the demise of the Golden Horde, the Tartar Kipchak Empire founded by Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, on the banks of the Volga River, at the end of the 16th century, Russia began to push south towards the northern steppes of the Caucasus in a process of gradual encroachments. By 1700, the Cossacks were firmly established in the Stavropol Region. The Plains Circassians were gradually pushed south between 1763 and 1793. The Russians built a string of fortresses that were used as springboards for further expansion. By the end of the century most of Kabarda was under Russian control. Some Kabardians, later dubbed as Hajarat, immigrant or fugitive Circassians, who refused to accept Russian hegemony, moved west to what are now known as the Karachai-Cherkess Republic and the Adighey Republic.

During the first quarter of the 19th century, the Russians made no lasting gains in Circassia. In 1829, Turkey gave Russia a free hand in the Caucasus in the treaty of Adrianople, despite the fact that the Ottomans had no claim whatsoever over Circassia. Thereafter, Russia embarked on a vicious war of attrition, which met with fierce resistance for 35 years. The odds were heavily stacked against the Circassians, whose limited manpower and resources were no matches to the continuous stream of cannon fodder unleashed at them. One is tempted to say that the Circassians, to their mortal detriment, had never really grasped the full extent of the might and ruthlessness of the Russian war machine.

The Circassians, up until the very last moment, entertained the hope that the western powers, especially England, would intervene on their behalf and deliver them from the vicious claws of Russia. That expectation reached a crescendo after the defeat of the Russians in the Crimean War in 1857. But the allies neglected to address the Caucasian Issue, which fact engendered in the Caucasians feelings of resentment and betrayal. Thereafter, relieved of a costly and humiliating defeat, the Russians wreaked their vengeance on the hapless highlanders, whose morale was at its nadir. It was a matter of time before the inevitable would happen. The lamb was set for slaughter.

  After the surrender of Shamil, the legendary Daghestani war-lord of the eastern Caucasian front, and cessation of war in Chechnya in 1859, the Russian bear turned westwards to the Kiakh (Circassians), who held on for five more years, until the last battle was fought and lost in 1864.

3. The Aftermath

In this long war of attrition, the Circassians suffered heavy losses in terms of human life, as much as 800,000 dead, and their country was utterly destroyed. Many tribes were wiped out, notably the Ubykh, some Abkhazian clans, like the Sadzians, and the Abzakh who are at present represented by only two villages in the Caucasus.

After the war, the Russians expelled the majority of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire by pursuing a policy of organized and systematic terror. Whole villages were pillaged and then burnt down to the ground. Thousands of people were massacred in cold blood. Those horrific acts, together with the collusion of the Ottomans, resulted in a mass exodus that irreparably compromised the demographic balance in Circassia. It is estimated that more than a million people were forced to immigrate and only 800,000 were eventually settled in the Ottoman Empire, the difference being the victims of hunger, disease, shipping accidents and the chaotic Ottoman administrative system.

Those who remained in the Caucasus, about 150,000, were compelled to resettle in the northern plains of the Caucasus where they were easier to control. The mass expulsion of the Abzakh and Beslanays, who, as was mentioned earlier, occupied the central part of Circassia (map 3), meant that the Circassians were effectively separated into three main entities with huge geographical chasms in between: The Kabardians in the east of Circassia, the Abkhazians in the southwest, and the dessimated Kiakh in the northwest. It was a classic and evil practice of the Machiavellian maxim divide et impera (divide and rule). It is worthy of note at this stage that during Soviet rule, four Circassian entities were to be established along these self-same territorial divisions. Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose. The north-eastern coast of the Black Sea was totally cleared of Circassian presence. The Old Country was ripe for Slavic colonization.

It is markworthy that before the onset of Russian aggression, the Circassian Nation used to be the largest in the whole of the Caucasus. Using retro-projection, it is possible to calculate the number of Circassians that would have been living in the Caucasus today, had the Russians not embarked on their devastating war. This comes up to 10 million, using the most conservative estimates. If this number is compared to that of Northwest Caucasians actually living in the Caucasus at present, which is about a million, then one can begin to appreciate the full extent of the disaster that befell them.

4. Settlement in Jordan

The first wave of Circassian immigrants, who were mainly of Shapsugh extraction, arrived in Jordan in 1878 and took refuge in the old ruins of Amman. These were followed by the Kabardians who settled in Amman, Jerash (1885), Sweileh (1905), and Russeifa (1909) and the Abzakh and Bzhadugh who established settlements in Wadi-Sseer (1880), and Na’ur (1900) [Peake, B 1]. All in all, about 3,500 people found a new homeland in the area.

The motive behind the Turkish move to settle the Circassians in Jordan is still a subject of speculation. G. H. Weightman [D 18], believes that this was done for strategic reasons and out of religious piety and charity. This view is also shared by Raphael Patai [A 23], who is also of the opinion that the Sultan placed them in this area as a buffer against Bedouin attacks. Satanay Shami and Karpat [B 42], maintain that they were mobilized mainly for agricultural reasons after the loss of the Balkans, the breadbasket of the Ottoman Empire. The deployment of loyal subjects to turbulent regions of the Empire seems to be a convincing motive for the connivance of the Ottomans with the Russian expulsion of the Circassians and their resettlement.

The early settlers were presented with tremendous challenges and difficulties by the new and alien environment. A substantial number succumbed to the many diseases to which they had never been exposed before. Also, the fact that they inhabited the best areas of the region (some say the worst) put them at loggerheads with the native population, especially the Bedouins, who considered these lands as the traditional grazing ground for their cattle. Many skirmishes were fought out, but eventually reason prevailed and many alliances and treaties of friendship were struck up between them definitely helped by the mutual respect with which they held each other and the common characteristics that they shared, notably chivalry, hospitality and courage.

In this respect, it is worthwhile to mention that the local people realized that the Circassians came not as colonists but rather as co-religionists who escaped the hell of Russian persecution.

The Ottoman Authorities distributed arable government land among the immigrants who were mainly of peasant stock. Lands designated as Ard Al-Sawafi, which were the personal property of the Sultan and thus were not liable for taxation, were also allotted on the basis that it was his duty to bestow money or lands on the needy.

5. The Early Years

Life in Amman and its neighbouring villages was simple and slow-paced. The Circassians introduced settled agriculture into an area previously used for pasture. They applied their imported know-how to establish large and well kept farms. They used large-wheeled carts, another novel introduction, for transport and commerce. Mary C. Wilson [B 26] writes:

Granted land and tax concessions by the sultan to facilitate their settlement, these hardy and self-sufficient peasants held their own against the beduin and even introduced large-wheeled carts and a system of dirt roads into the area..

Though mainly farmers, there were many artisans among them, like carpenters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, silversmiths, saddle makers, leather tanners, dagger and sword craftsmen and carriage makers. A high level of co-operation existed among them and a good standard of living was achieved. In the guest houses (Hesch’esch) of neighbourhood leaders(Themade), community affairs were managed, defence plans were devised and folk tales (‘ueri’uatexe, Psisexe) were recounted. Circassian was the principal language of communication and exogamous marriages were rare.

Because of the Circassians’ deeply entrenched traditions and the good neighbourly relations they maintained with other people, their society was very stable and their villages were relatively secure, despite the threat of raids posed by some bedouin tribes not in alliance with them. In fact they succeeded in establishing a rudimentary administrative system and a gendarmerie. Weightman states that “For almost twenty years their tribal organization constituted the only political and police institutional agencies in Jordan.” (The Circassians in Jordan). All these factors made their settlements quite attractive for other people who started to flock to them in large numbers. Soon these became substantial social and commercial centres.

6. Winds of Change

In the early years of the twentieth century work on the extension of the Hijaz Railway, which was planned to pass through Amman, started. This had a significant effect on the Circassian community. Many of its members were hired to work in the various projects and to protect it from Bedouin attacks. Mary C. Wilson [B 26] writes:

The [Hijaz] railway brought increased employment, trade and security, along with greater contact with the central [Ottoman] government. Circassians at Amman were employed as laborers on the line and in positions of lower management. Goods bought in Damascus for resale in Transjordan were sent south by train and transported in Circassiancarts from the station to their point of sale.

The Railway drew Circassians from other countries, especially Syria, to work in the building process.

A new class of regular wage earners emerged, some of who bought more land to augment their wealth. Many of those ‘nouveau riches’ were able to send their offspring to Damascene and Cairene schools for the best education money could buy. Those were some of the roots of disparity and social differentiation in the Circassian community.

At this point, it may be useful to mention that very few of the Circassian upper castes ended up as immigrants in Jordan. Most of those found the cosmopolitan scenes of the larger Ottoman cities more alluring. Many of them were catapulted to high positions in the Sublime Porte. Therefore, at least initially, Circassian society in Jordan was largely egalitarian. Of course, one could always find the odd family that traces its roots to some princely patronym. But, to strike a note of societal levelling, no person of sublime status would have chosen to be transported to the back of beyond, as this part of the world was considered at the time, to find a new life. Hopefully, this would be a sobering thought to any person entertaining unjustified and, definitely, unhealthful, claim to exalted lineage.

   

Sir Herbert Samuel’s second visit to Transjordan, etc. Britishers, Bedouins and Circassians with airplane. 1921 Apr. 17

 

Sir Herbert Samuel’s second visit to Transjordan, etc. Circassian horsemanship. 1921 April 
Sir Herbert Samuel”s second visit to Transjordan, etc. H.M. King Hussein at Amman.  (Source: Library of Congress Archives, US)


6.1 WASFI PASHA MIRZA.

Mirza Pasha was a brigadier in the Ottoman army. Heading the Voluntary Circassian Cavalry, which he founded in 1905, he started on a mission to maintain stability and peace among the various peoples in Jordan, to draft his people into the army and protect the farmers and their lands.

During the First World War, Mirza Pasha and his demi-legion of 1200 soldiers were commissioned to protect the strategic Hijaz Railway that connected the Centre of the Empire to its sources of vital supplies as well as with the German headquarters in Aleppo. They fought on the side of the Ottomans in the Suez War in 1918 and in Gaza against the British troops.

After Al-Salt battle with the British in 1918, the British commander warned the Circassian leaders against attacking the British forces while they were withdrawing. The Circassians paid no heed and eight of them fell in battle. Six months later, the British attacked again and the Turkish troops pulled out of Jordan in 1919.

When the Turks left Jordan, the Circassians made a collective decision to stay in Jordan. They saw in the future Emir a true and noble leader. They were among the first Jordanians to receive the Founder and pledge their allegiance to him. Salibi [B 73] offers the following factor as playing some role in augmenting the Circassians’ enthusiasm in welcoming the Emir:

The Circassian farmers of Amman and its vicinity, for example, had long been weary of living, year after year, under the threat of bedouin raids.

The prospect of a strong government curbing unchecked lawlessness had been a powerful motivating force for some sedentary segments of Transjordanian society to back the Shereefian progeny.

6.2 EMIR ABDULLAH (THE FOUNDER).

In 1915, The British contacted Shereef Hussain of Mecca promising him recognition of Arab independence in return for his support against the Turks. After the First World War, the allies broke their promise and Syria was occupied by the French and Palestine by the British. Transjordan was put under British Mandate. The Arabs retaliated by proclaiming Faisal King of Syria and Jordan. The Jordanian tribes, together with the Circassians, who were headed by Mirza Pasha and Sa’id Pasha Al-Mufti, joined the Arab revolt and sent a force to aid King Faisal in Damascus. On its way, it was learned that the Battle of Maysaloon between the Arabs and the French had ended in favour of the French. The force turned back.

The British army did not occupy Jordan. Under the supervision of the British, local governments were formed. The Salt government, which included Amman, was formed with two Circassian members in it. However, the situation in Syria remained volatile. The people of Horan, a province in Syria, sent a cable to Shereef Hussain imploring him to send one of his sons to become their leader. The Shereef responded by sending Emir Abdulla, who arrived in Ma’an. The tribal leaders and notables, including the Circassian representative Sa’id Pasha, went to Ma’an to receive the Prince and to swear allegiance to him. Despite British threats, the Nationalists met in Amman and decided to call on the Emir to proceed there. After meeting with Winston Churchill in Jordan, an agreement was reached in March 1921 in which the Emirate of Transjordan was declared with its capital Amman.

9. Circassians Today

The Circassian community in Jordan has been undergoing tremendous changes in the past one hundred years. It has transformed from a compact, mainly agrarian society into a fully integrated modern one.

At the establishment of Modern Jordan in 1921, Amman was mainly a Circassian town with Circassian still heard in the streets. However, there followed a huge influx of people into it after its designation as the Capital of the new Emirate. Mary C. Wilson [B 26] states:

Circassians lived in exclusively Circassian settlements, except for Amman which had begun to attract a more diverse population.

As the years went by, the relative number of Circassians gradually decreased and at present they constitute 5% of the population of Greater Amman at best.

The rapid modernization of young Circassians and their participation in the socio-economic development in Jordan has led to rapid assimilation. The spread of higher education shifted the emphasis from stereotypical careers as landlords, army officers and government employees to new fields such as engineering, medicine, private enterprise and industry. A new dynamic and highly motivated generation has overtaken the old traditional elite. It is quite significant that none of the recent parliamentary deputies or ministers belong to the elite whose hold on political and economical inter-communal affairs is presently non-existent. The important landlords are to be found outside Old Amman in the western and southern approaches of the Capital. The astronomical rise in land prices has resulted in the emergence of a new breed of millionaires who seem to have more business sense and investment acumen than their predecessors.

The Circassians and Chechens are reserved a quota of three deputies in the Lower House of Parliament and two senators in the Upper House. Traditionally a minister is chosen from them. This undoubtedly reflects the positive role that they have been playing in recent Jordanian history.

Over the years, the Circassians dispersed to various locations in the expanding city of Amman. At present, there are no compact Circassian communities, although they mainly reside in the 3rd and 5th electoral districts of Greater Amman, in each of which they are represented by one parliamentary deputy. As a result of such dispersion, Circassian has ceased to be the principal language of communication among the Circassians. Only a small percentage of parents choose to teach their children the language. In many cases the option is not even there, as when one or both parents are not familiar with the language. It is estimated that only 17% of Circassian youth are familiar with their mother tongue. What is true of language is also true of other aspects of culture, such as traditions, which have been eroded to such an extent that what remains merely serve symbolic functions.

Although it could be claimed that the Circassian community in Jordan forms an ethnic minority from theoretical and practical viewpoints, the Jordanian Constitution considers them as full citizens with equal rights and duties and guarantees them freedom of cultural expression. It is quite paradoxical that, despite these privileges and their considerable wealth, the Circassians failed to preserve their language and culture. It is perhaps this liberality that precipitated acculturation, in the absence of strong cultural institutions that could preserve Circassian heritage. It would seem that the Circassians lack the collective will and vision to effect a cultural revival, not to mention the technical know-how. It is wholly to the detriment of the present and future generations that they have been divorced from their mother culture. History will point her accusing finger at the Circassians who are flippantly and wilfully abandoning their heritage.

10. Circassian Institutions

10.1 THE CIRCASSIAN CHARITY ASSOCIATION

The Circassian Charity Association was established in 1932, which makes it the second oldest charity organization in Jordan. It is mainly concerned with the welfare of indigent Circassians. However, Its role extends far beyond distribution of alms, for it purports to organize the affairs of Circassians in some social and cultural spheres. It also maintains contacts with other Circassian communities, especially in the Caucasus. There are about 15 scholarships offered every year to the progeny of its members in the Circassian universities and colleges in Kabardino-Balkaria and the Adyghey Republic in the Caucasus. It issues a magazine (Nart — the singular generic designation of the heroes of the Circassian Nart Sagas), and a periodical leaflet (Family Matters), both of which deal with Circassian matters. Recently, an Internet site was created to disseminate information and as a point of contact. The Association is a member of the International Circassian Organization (Duney-pso Adige Xase).

The Association is made up of the Centre, 6 branches in towns and cities of considerable Circassian concentrations — Zarqa, Jerash, Wadi-Sseer, Na’ur, Sweileh and Russeifa — and the Ladies’ Branch.

The Ladies’ Branch runs a school (Emir Hamza) which aims is to preserve Circassian language and culture. The Circassian language teachers are native speakers who hail from the Caucasus. However, Circassian is not a compulsory subject and many of the students choose not to put too much effort into learning it because its scope of use is very limited. Many projects are currently under way to improve the standards of the school. The Friends of the Emir Hamza Schools Club, whose members are mainly graduates of the school, supports fund-raising activities and functions.

The Wadi-Sseer Branch has recently inaugurated Prince Ali Ibn Al-Hussein Kindergarten within its premises to teach the young their mother tongue and inculcate Circassian culture upon them.

10.2 AL-AHLI CLUB.

Al-Ahli Club, which is one of the oldest Clubs in Jordan, was established in 1944 with the aim of furthering the needs, ambitions and aspirations of its members and to participate fully in the social, cultural, sporting and artistic scenes in Jordan and abroad. It has become a household name, intimately associated with sporting success and achievement. It excels in basketball, handball, swimming and the martial arts. Its records in these games are very impressive. The respective teams take part in national championships and in regional and Asian tournaments. Many members of the national squads are regularly chosen from them.

The Folklore Committee was set up in 1993 by a group of dedicated people whose vision was to preserve and develop Circassian culture. It runs a Dance and Song Troupe that is considered to be one of the best outside the Caucasus. Besides its celebrated Annual Festival and participation in local celebrations, to which it is invited regularly, the Ensemble staged its spectacular show The Kingdom of Peace which tells the story of how the Circassians found refuge in Jordan after they were subjected to brutal Russian persecution and expulsion, in the United States and Bahrain. It has become one of the major attractions in the annual Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts.

10.3 OTHER INSTITUTIONS.

Al-Jeel Al-Jadeed Club was established in 1950 as a backlash against cultural assimilation. Its cultural activities were at their peak in the late fifties and the sixties. Many productions of Circassian plays were staged during that period, initially under the guiding hand of Csaban Kube, the renowned émigré scholar who penned many books and plays and who devised and disseminated a Circassian alphabet based on Roman characters. However, after Kube and his disciples left the scene, there followed a long period of cultural stagnation, which lasted until the early eighties.

In 1982, a new interest in culture, mainly dance, was evidenced. Nevertheless, Al-Jeel is at present mainly known for its Annual Summer Dance Festival. Its basketball team was promoted to the premier division in 1997.

The Tribal Council was set up to manage tribal affairs and resolve disputes that might disrupt harmony with other sections of society. Its work is invaluable in maintaining social stability. It is composed of Circassian notables with substantial experience and knowledge in tribal issues.

The Friends of the Circassians in the Caucasus is a new organization whose principal aim is to maintain and strengthen relationships with the fatherland. Its charter allows it to deal in political matters. It is supposed to complement the work of the Association, which is barred from delving into politics.

Conclusion

The Circassians have fared really well in their new homeland. Although cognizant of their ethnic and cultural identities, the Circassians look upon themselves as full members of society and they actually engage in all walks of life.

The Circassians played a major and positive role in recent Jordanian history. Prior to the establishment of the Emirate, they managed to set up stable and secure centres that attracted many people. The rudiments of civil society were slowly taking root. When Amman was chosen as the capital of Jordan, it was transformed from a small town into a sprawling metropolis. The Circassians benefited greatly as they were the major landlords. Many of them became very rich.

However, there was a steep price to pay. Circassian language and culture have suffered immensely. The language is irrevocably lost and traditions have been largely discarded. The new generation must be given an identity that is in harmony with the past and in line with the present. The task is immense.

Amjad JAIMOUKHA, The Folklore Committee, Al-Ahli Club, Amman – JORDAN

 

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