The Circassians, who are predominantly Muslim, suffered greatly under the Russian Empire and were banished from their homelands in 1864.

Circassians in Istanbul, Turkey, commemorate the banishment of their ancestors from their homeland by Russia on May 21, 2011.
Circassians in Istanbul, Turkey, commemorate the banishment of their ancestors from their homeland by Russia on May 21, 2011. (Reuters)

Turkey on Tuesday remembered the deportation of the Circassians 155 years ago from their homeland in the Caucasus by the Russian Empire.

The Circassians, a predominantly Muslim people, suffered greatly under the Russians and were subjected to ethnic cleansing.

A war in 1864 near the Black Sea port city of Sochi resulted in a defeat for the Circassians and saw the empire invade all of Caucasia, a region extending from the eastern Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.

Nearly 1.5 million Circassians were expelled from the region to the east of the Black Sea when it was overrun by Russia in 1864. Some 400,000-500,000 are believed to have died.

Most of the Circassian exiles were absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, settling as far away as present-day Jordan.

Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun commemorated those who lost their lives in this painful incident.

Altun stressed that Turkey shares the pain of their Circassian brothers.

"The suffering of the Circassian exiles, a black mark on human history, has not been forgotten, even though it has been 155 years," Altun said.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy also marked the date of May 21, 1864, and said: "the pain of this tragedy is still alive, even today."

"We share the pain of our kinsmen, the Crimean Tatars, as well as brotherly peoples of the Caucasus and respectfully honour the memory of those who lost their lives during these exiles," Aksoy said in a written statement.

'We still feel the pain'

The Turkey-based Federation of the Caucasian Associations, also known as Kaffed, organised a memorial event on Saturday for the 155th anniversary of exile.

"Perhaps we have experienced the most suffering genocide in the world. We still feel the pain of exile 155 years after the deportation," Kaffed’s general director, Yildiz Sekerci, told journalists.

"Despite genocide, exile and assimilation, we will exist forever," Kaffed said Tuesday on Twitter.

"One of the biggest massacres and ethnic cleanings in human history was carried out in the Caucasus," it said on Facebook.

Kaffed urged all states and institutions in the world to recognise this genocide, which it described as "a crime against humanity."

It also called on the Russian Federation to confront what was done during the Tsarist Russia period and to take the necessary political, institutional and legal measures to eliminate its consequences.

The Russian Federation continues to block the way back for banished Circassians, while Circassians want to start legal proceedings to return home.

They also want dual citizenship from Russia and May 21 to be recognised as the day of the "Circassian genocide and exile."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies