Minorities in Israel: Circassians (in Rihania and Kfar-Kama)
The term Circassians is a term derived from the Turkic Cherkess.
There are two main groups of Circassians:
- The Adyghians (Circassians proper, or Lower Circassians), live mostly in the republics of Adygea and Karachay-Cherkessia in Russia.
- The Kabardians (or Upper Circassians) live mostly in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, Russia.
Circassian communities also exist in Anatolian Turkey (150.000) and Syria (35.000), with smaller groups in Jordan, Iraq, and Iran.
Most specifically, the term Circassians can apply only to the Adyghe. Among them - almost the entire population - was forced deportation to the Ottoman Empire: only 5% of the Adyge remained in their historical homeland.
By 1785 the northern Caucasus had been designated a Russian province. In the great territorial wars that ensued between Russia, Persia, and Turkey, the Caucasus region was in a big fight. The Circassians carried out a prolonged resistance to Russian domination, and when they were finally defeated in 1864, some 400.000 were killed. More than 1.000.000 Circassians had to leave the land of their ancestors and go to Turkey with the only hope that sometime they would be able to return. Concerning the assertions of many historians only a half of this number could reach Turkey.
The Israeli Circassians arrived from the Balkans after 10 years of residence at border of Greece and Bulgaria; they migrated to Palestine in 1880.
The Circassians, comprising some 3.000 people concentrated in two Galilean villages, are Sunni Muslims, although they share neither the Arab origin nor the cultural background of the larger Islamic community. While maintaining a distinct ethnic identity, they participate in Israel's economic and national affairs without assimilating either into Jewish society or into the Muslim community.
About 1000 Abedzah Circassians live in Rihania (Reyhaniye), about 2000 Shapsıg Circassians live in Kfar-Kama, and scores of families live in various Israeli cities and towns near their jobs.
Kfar-Kama (founded in 1876) the larger village has Jewish settlements as neighbors. Children graduate from village school and continue their education at Jewish schools. They learn Hebrew, English and Circassian at school; The National Circassian Alphabet of Caucasus is used in teaching Circassian. Rihania (Reyhaniye) is closer to Arab settlements as neighbors and children are able to go both Arab and Jewish schools.
Circassians serve in the army and are employed in the border and regular police force. Municipal and public services are wide open to the Circassians. Circassians living in these two villages communicate in own Circassian language.
The Circassian Law (Khabza) regulates the conduct of the Circassians and settles all matters among themselves.
An Annual Circassian festival is traditionally held in August at Reyhaniye. Circassian dancers from all over the world come here for the celebration. Many non-Circassian guests are invited to the celebration to expand the knowledge of the Circassian culture.