There’s an interesting article in the Guardian today about a delegation of Circassians returning to the Caucasus in advance of the Sochi Olympics. It’s light on text, but has a number of interesting photos.
The Circassians (proper name: the Adyghe) were the original Muslim inhabitants of the Caucasus and the Kuban region. Much of their land was expropriated and given to the remnants of Zaporozhian Cossacks, after Catherine the Great destroyed their Ukrainian strongholds and resettled them on the borderlands of the Russian Empire. From their mountainous strongholds, the remaining Circassians fought a bitter war of resistance. Eventually, after the Russian Empire finally subdued them, the majority were deported to the Ottoman Empire.
The Cossacks at that time looked like this:
The image of Cossacks that we have today:
comes from the fact that the newly-planted Cossacks adopted an awful lot from their Circassian neighbours. The cherkesska coat, the shashka sabre, the kindjal dagger – all came from the Circassians. Lots of dances were also borrowed as well – though they were rather wilder in the Cossack versions!
Tolstoy’s short story, The Cossacks – which was based on his own experience of military service in the region – shows that the Cossacks had a close, love-hate relationship with their nominal enemies. Many of his Cossack characters speak the “Tatar” language, even amongst themselves, and the two cultures shared a love of horses – and of horse-raiding!
Anyway, if you are interested at all in Russian martial arts, or the Cossack in general, it’s interesting to learn about where a lot of their roots actually were…
Image credits: all from Wikipedia. Used under a Creative Commons license.