Circassia is an ancient country on the Black Sea coast between Crimea and Georgia, in the heart of the Caucasus. We’ve all heard of Armenia and Georgia and Ukraine; but Circassia has been integrated into Russia following the Russian/Circassian war during which 90% of the local population was killed. The Russians loved the Caucasus – they do to this day. Maybe its the dramatic geography; the extraordinary antiquity of the tribes, an antiquity that predates their own; the privileged weather – the wild places full of adventure and promise. Sure, geopolitically also the Caucasus have always been a buffer area between Moscow and Constantinople – where successive generations of Russian soldiers made a name for themselves fighting in the endless wars of the tribes. Wars that have continued to this day, in places we all know like Chechnya.
Mission To Circassia is about the Russian-Circassian war, about a British man who leaves England to try and fight with the tribes, and his experiences living in that most remote of places. Slavery, the Ottomans – the most committed slavers in history who took the girls, famous for their beauty, to their harems. Violence, clan-on-clan and against the oppressors. Strange, syncretistic religion which is not really Christian, or Muslim, or even pagan but a mixture of the three. All against the backdrop of the Black Sea basin’s dramatic natural beauty.
I have grown enamored by this part of the world. The world of Jason’s Argonauts; of Prometheus and Noah. The wilderness which is untamable and the indominable spirits of the people who continue to strive for self-determination. I spent a season in Armenia, a land which features heavily in all the stories of the Black Sea, due to the transient and merchant nature of the Armenians – and their ongoing struggle to build for themselves a place free of oppression and violence. My time in the South Caucasus was an enchantment of sorts, where all else can be forgotten, time and the petty maneuverings of men, as you walk the leafy streets of Yerevan beneath the indomitable presence of Ararat.
The Black Sea – magical and mysterious – its no wonder the Russians fight so over its control; and no wonder either that those who have always called it home are never fully defeated.