The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide?, by Stephen D. Shenfield

The massacre of the Circassians, a forgotten people, serves as the subject of Stephen D. Shenfield’s essay. The Circassians were forced to resettle after the tsarist conquest of their territory. Their homeland rested in the northwestern Caucasus and on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea--along the southern border of the Russian empire. Before the Russian invasion, Circassia possessed two million people and an area of 55,663 square kilometers. They fought against Russian invasions from 1763-1864 and ultimately were defeated, with many Circassians being deported to Turkey. The decision to deport the Circassians came in 1860; the Russians invaded from the north, accompanied by mobile columns of riflemen and Cossack cavalry; four thousand Circassian families left for Turkey. In 1862, Russian soldiers burned Circassian villages and trampled the crops; those who fled died in the forests and mountains of hunger and exposure. The Russian General Babich took his soldiers south, burning Circassian villages along the way. In May 1864, the remaining Circassians bonded together in a frenzied battle and emerged triumphant over the Russian invaders; the victory, however, proved to be short-lived because the Russians returned with more artillery and soundly defeated the Circassian men and women; dissatisfied by only killing the Circassian adults, the triumphant Russian soldiers sought out the children and shot cannon shells at them.

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The text by Stephen D. Shenfield is taken from the book ‘The Massacre in History’, edited by Mark Levene and Penny Roberts, published by Berghahn Books (, Oxford and New York.
© 1999 + 2009 Stephen D. Shenfield and Berghahn Books, Oxford.