Staunton, December 14 – Two new reports suggest the Circassian language is now at risk of extinction in the coming decades and the North Caucasian nation of those who speak it has entered into a period of demographic decline and could also disappear in the future, prompting their supporters to consider new defenses.
UNESCO has identified Circassian as one of the languages in the North Caucasus at risk of “completely disappearing in the next few decades” given the already low number of people who speak it in that region, the division of the community, and the absence of the use of Circassian in schools and other public spaces (caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=21525).
Activists in Adygeya have called on the republic’s leaders to adopt a special law to preserve the Circassian language. Such a law would reverse a 2007 measure that ended the obligatory study of the language in republic schools. That measure by itself would not necessarily help the far larger number of Circassians living in Turkey and the Middle East.
The Circassians in Turkey are urbanizing and assimilating; those in the Middle East except in Israel are doing the same. As a result, they are rapidly ceasing to speak their native language and thus may cease to identify with the nation that has spoken it for centuries. Adding to the language’s problems are fights over alphabets.
Most in Turkey favor the Latin script while officials in the North Caucasus favor Cyrillic. The Russian Cyrillic is inadequate for the sound system of Circassian, but most textbooks now available are in Cyrillic; and the Turkish government has done very little to develop educational materials in Circassian in the Latin script.
One Georgian expert on the Circasssian language says that there is a way out of this difficult situation in which the Circassian language now finds itself: repatriation to a united homeland in the North Caucasus, something Moscow opposes, and intensified study of Circassian by all, “on the model of the Israeli diaspora.”
A second report notes that the Circassians, “once one of the largest peoples of the North Caucasus” no longer have that status but instead are divided internally and between the small population in the homeland and a much larger diaspora abroad (onkavkaz.com/news/1405-krest-cherkesskoi-demografii-v-chem-prichina-ugasanija-odnogo-iz-samyh-muzhestvennyh-narodov-ka.html
The group has already called for a special law on their status. What makes this intriguing is that the Circassians of Iraq who are outnumbered by both the Chechens and Daghestanis – the three groups as a whole total about 15,000 -- are seeking to use the larger numbers of the others to leverage their position with the state.