Circassians in Syria

Following the mass deportation from Circassia in 1860s, groups of Circassians settled parts of the Ottoman Syria. Further emigration from the Russian controlled Caucasus into the region continued well into the 1920s. Before the start in 2012 of the Syrian Civil War, there thought to be around one hundred thousand Circassians in the country. The current numbers are difficult to obtain. Additionally, Syria is home smaller groups of Chechen, Karachay, Dagestani and Abkhaz.

Those Circassians who settled in the country around and after 1864 arrived by land via Turkey while a larger group that arrived by sea after the end of the Russo-Ottoman Wars of 1877-78 setting sail from the Ottoman ports in the Balkans where they had settled in 1864.

The Circassians of Syria are generally considered to be the diaspora that suffered most due to the instability and turmoil in the region and ensuing waves of emigration out of the country. And yet, it is also the Circassian diaspora that has been in close contact with the homeland since the 1950s, even during the Soviet times, and produced the largest number of returnees in the Circassian republics.

The first Circassian settlements in Syria were set up in and around Damascus, Aleppo, Hums and on the Golan Heights in Quneitra region. Having obtained independence after World War II, Syria partook in Arab-Israeli Wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars which resulted in Circassians’ having to abandon their settlements in the Golan Heights; becoming IDPs, and moving to large urban centers. And of those IDPs from Golan, about four or five thousand later emigrated to the US which resulted giving the Circassian diaspora in the US its current form. Furthermore, around fifteen to twenty thousand Circassians from Syria are thought to have fled the country since the beginning of the Civil War in 2012 emigrating to Circassian republics in Russia, Turkey as well as various parts of the World.

When Syria was under French mandate in the 1930s, there were a Circassian language school, community centers, and a journal published in Circassian and Arabic in what was the heart of the diaspora in Syria, Quneitra, all of which were then closed down once the current Syrian regime was established. Nevertheless, Circassians have founded community centers in other parts of the country later on where the culture, language and national dances have been taught and where important decisions affecting the whole community were made and relations with the Syrian state were conducted.