İHD Statement on the Circassian Day of Mourning

Circassian Day of Mourning

20 May 2024

May 21 is the anniversary of the genocide and exile of Circassians in 1864. Genocide is a crime against humanity. Genocide targets an entire people or community. The effects of the crime of genocide can be mitigated through facing the past, recognition, apology, and reparation.

Circassians, an indigenous people of the Caucasus Region, have resisted Tsarist Russia’s attempts to occupy their lands for nearly 300 years. On 21 May 1864, the resistance of the Circassians was broken and Tsarist Russia destroyed all of the resistance by committing the crime of genocide. The following years continued with forced exile, which was a continuation of the crime of genocide. According to historical records, nearly 2 million Circassians were subjected to forced exile from their homeland, the North Caucasus. Those who wanted to stay in their homeland were forced to change their language, culture and beliefs, faced assimilation and exile within the Tsarist lands.

While Circassians subjected to forced exile were trying to reach the Ottoman lands of Samsun and Trabzon with primitive sea vessels, tens of thousands of them drowned in the Black Sea and lost their lives. Thousands of those who managed to reach Samsun and Trabzon died due to epidemics.

The Circassian Genocide and exile was the first ethnic cleansing and genocide in modern European history. It is possible to see the traces of the Circassian Genocide and exile in the Armenian Genocide and exile, Kurdish Genocide and exile and the Holocaust and Jewish exile.

Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as meaning: “[A]ny of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

According to the norms defined and accepted by the United Nations, what the Circassian people faced 160 years ago is genocide. There is no statute of limitations for crimes of genocide.

İHD asks that the genocide the Circassian people faced be recognized by the world, that memory centers be established, and that the process of restorative justice, i.e. recognition, apology and compensation for losses, be initiated as soon as possible as in the case of all peoples who have been subjected to genocide. Due to genocidal policies and practices, the cultural rights of the Circassian people have also been grossly violated.

On the occasion of the Circassian Day of Mourning, İHD calls out to the whole world, especially to the Government of the Republic of Turkey to:

  • Recognize the “Circassian Genocide and Exile,”
  • Compensate the losses of the Circassian people due to the genocide,
  • Recognize all collective rights of Circassians, along with all different identities living in Turkey for the building of peace and reconciliation,
  • Remove legal obstacles before their ability to live and maintain their language, culture and identity,
  • Take special measures for the development of Circassian language and culture.

İHD commemorates with respect those who lost their lives in the Circassian Genocide and exile.

Human Rights Association