The Circassians in Jordan and Syria0

from the book: 'Heroes and Emperors in Circassian History' by Shawket Mufti (Habjoka), Beirut, 1972


The Circassians in Jordan and Syria

from the book: 'Heroes and Emperors in Circassian History' by Shawket Mufti (Habjoka), Beirut, 1972

The Circassians who had gone to the Balkans as emigrees sub­sequently left those regions owing to the Russian penetration of the Ottoman lands in 1877, and re-settled in Anatolia. A small part of them came to Syria and Jordan where the Ottoman State gave them agricultural land on which to live. The Shapsughs were the first tribe to leave Turkey on board a ship which caught fire while at sea. About seven hundred were burnt to death, and the survivors landed in Acre, then moved to Nablus where they stayed for a year before crossing the Jordan and settling in Amman. In 1880 groups of Kabardians and Bzadughs migrated to Jordan. Others migrated at other times and founded seven villages in Trans-Jordan, including Amman, which later became the capital of Jordan. In 1905 a small number of Chechens and some Daghestani families also migrated to Trans-Jordan.

Until 1882 the Ottoman State had not carried out any noticea­ble activity in Trans-Jordan, although it used the citadel of Salt, which had been repaired by Bibars, one of the Mamluk Sultans in Egypt, as an administrative center and as a garrison for Turkish and other soldiers. From that citadel the Turks went out to collect taxes from the Beduins living in the Balqa and Karak districts. The Karak district had been given by Khalil el-Majali to the Ottoman State in 1892 and consequently it became attached directly to Damascus. Later the Ottomans appointed a governor for Karak district. The first governor was Hussein Hilmi Pasha, who occupied the Karak province without fighting and was able to establish peace and security in that area, after he had stationed a garrison composed of 200 Circassian cavalry and three units of Turkish soldiers comprising about 1500 men there.

However, the peace did not last long, for the inhabitants of Karak revolted in 1910 in reaction to a law enacted by the Ottoman state stipulating that the people of Karak had to surrender their weapons to the government and be subject to conscription- The movement was headed by Kadar el-Majali who unified the mutinous tribes in order to harass the state before it could put the law into effect. Circassian volunteers took part in the Kurak campaign and assisted the State in suppressing the rebellion and restoring security. These volunteers did their duly towards the government, fought bravely, and returned with a lot of spoils.

Before the First World War life was insecure in Trans-Jordan, for the Beduin tribes living there used to disturb the peace when­ever they had the chance to do so. However, with the passage of time, the Circassian villages became strong centers in which security and calm prevailed among the tempests provoked at intervals by the Beduin tribes which had no other occupation except mounting raids against one another. In these secure centers numbers of Arabs, both townsmen and farmers, gathered. In time, they joined the Circassian inhabitants and Iived together in peace and security free from the aggressions of the Beduins.

The Arab villages in northern Jordan, in which groups of farmers lived, such as the villages of Irbid, Huran and Jolan, were under the control of the Beduin chiefs whose orders people obeyed and to whom they paid a tax in May of every year. This meant that the beduins were the masters and the owners of lands which they did not farm by themselves, while the villagers were the farmers who had to work hard to give to the Beduin chiefs the fruits of their toil. All that took place with the cognizance of the Ottoman rulers who had no influence or power over these lands.

Under such circumstances the life of the Circassians who had migrated into Trans-Jordan was greatly similar in its first stages to that of the first American settlers who had, some centuries before, migrated from Europe to the New World. As those sett­lers were obliged to migrate for political, religious, and social reasons, the Circassians also left their homeland, for the same reasons. Similarly, as the first settlers on the American continent had to combat the elements, epidemics, and the Red Indian inhabitants who were continuously hostile, the Circassians had to face the difficulties arising from the sudden change of environ­ment, to fight epidemics, and to stand in the face of the invading Beduin tribes seeking spoils.

The first thing the Circassians did when they came into Trans-Jordan was to settle the lands adjacent to wadis and streams despite the contagious diseases such as malaria and typhoid caused by these waters. As the Circassians were ignorant of modern hygienic and disease prevention measures, they were mercilessly struck down by those epidemics. Life in their new desert environment was totally different from that in which they had previously lived, where there were rivers, dense forests, and high mountains. The lack of adequate preparation for this change forced upon them all the basic horrors of natures cruelty. Yet the Circassians were able to withstand these natural obst­acles, the calamities and the scourge of the Beduin tribes, owing to their moral strength, their fortitude, and the characteristics they had acquired in their long struggle against the Russians, Cossacks, Tartars, Mongols and others. They obtained their meager livelihood through the various handicrafts which they had mastered until they were able to cultivate the lands which the Ottoman government had allotted to them.

On this occasion it is worth mentioning that the Circassians introduced a number of civilized commodities and handicrafts into trans-jordan such as tea, carts drawn by horses and oxen (which they had used during their migration from Caucasia, Anatolia and the Balkans) agricultural implements, leather shoes, and some crafts such as black smithy, carpentry, jewellery, leather and saddle work, water-mills, mechanical implements, and others.

In 1900 a clash called the ‘‘Balqawiyeh War’’ took place in Trans-Jordan- In it the Balqawi tribe living around Amman clashed with the Circassians of Amman at a location called ‘‘Quweismeh’’. A number of victims fell on each side. It was of historic importance and is considered as a turning point in the history of civilization of modern Jordan. The reason for this bloody clash was that some Beduins from the Balqawi tribe seized a Circassian maiden from Ras-el-Ein Quarter (Amman) in order to kidnap her, whereupon the Circassians hurried to rescue her and clashed with the Balqawi group which was prepared to fight, fortunately the clash ended with the victory of the Circassians who were assisted by the Bani Sakhr Beduin tribe. The Circassians of Amman had entered into an agreement with that famous, noble tribe. The agreement stipulated that each party had to assist the other in case of aggression or war and the agree­ment is still observed by both parties. The result of that clash, was to the benefit of Jordan generally, for it opened a long period of peace and security. It also consolidated the bases of the developing city of Amman and laid the foundation stone for the new civilization of the coming generations in Jordan. Among the results of that victory was that a number of Arabs from Damascus, Nablus, and elsewhere moved into Trans-Jordan to settle permanently in order to work and trade. Similarly, the inhabitants of a number of Christian villages such as Madaba were encouraged to remain and stand against Beduin aggressions.

Apart from the Beduin tribes there was a second restless element which caused disturbances. This was the Druze who periodically revolted against the state. The Ottoman leaders used strong and warlike elements such as the Circassians, the Albanians, and the Kurds to put down the rebellions of the Druzes. One of the most important rebellions of the Druze was that which took place at the time of Sami Pasha el Uthmani (The Ottoman), The Druze were inclined to attack their neighbours for various reasons, and as the Circassians who lived in the Jolan area were the nearest people to them, they were thus often exposed to their assault as well as to the attacks of the Beduin tribes of Syria such as the Ruwala, the Anaza and others. The Circassians of Jordan frequently had to assist their kinsmen with men and arms.

It is well-known that the Druze are composed of two sections; one of which lives around Busra-Aski-Sham and is led by the El-Atrash family, while the other is the Druze of Medjdel-Shams whose leader was Emir Kenj. It was the latter who harassed the Circassians of Qunaitra and Jolan, When these Druze attacked one of the Circassian villages in Jolan, many Circassian volun­teers along with the Kurdish soldiers, under the leadership of Muhammad el-Mufti and Mirza Bey hastened to Jolan and clashed with the Druze at Ein-Ziwan. The Circassians defeated the Druze in that campaign, plundered their villages, and returned with the spoils. The Circassians were assisted by the Arabs of Huran who had long been harassed by the Druze. However, Khusrew Pasha, a Circassian, who was commanding officer of the gendarmery in Damascus, was displeased with their actions for it was undertaken without the government’s know­ledge or approval. As the Circassians and their comrades, the Arabs of Huran, had killed a number of Druze in their rage, it was found necessary lo punish some of those who formed that expedition and took part in it. Anyhow, the Druze, were forced to render obedience and submission to the Ottoman state, after that battle which ended in the occupation of their capital (Suweida).

One of the most important development projects that was carried out in Trans-Jordan at that time was the construction of the Hijaz Railway, which joined Damascus and Medina (in Hijaz), passing near Amman. It is about 1400 kms in length. The protection of the railway was the occupation and the chief duty of the Circassians of Jordan and Syria who were employed to repel the assaults of the neighbouring Beduin tribes. They disapproved of its construction for economic and political reasons. They did not look with satisfaction on it, for the railroad dis­placed to a great extent their camel caravans, while it disturbed them to be so near to the governmental authority on which they did not look favourably.

Though the importance of that railway was purely religious al first, it became clear later on, i.e., during the First World War, that it had military and strategic importance. It was defended throughout the war which lasted for a period of four years by a large Turkish regular army assisted by an army of Circassian volunteers. Its destruction was the objective of the attacks launched by Colonel T.E. Lawrence and the armies of Prince Feisal. These continuous attacks were to disrupt the railway which was a vital artery for the Ottoman armies stationed in Hijaz and Palestine. I Is disruption meant the separation of these armies, the interruption of reinforcements from the north, and isolation from the main supply centers and the German-Turkish Command in Aleppo.

It is worth mentioning here that the operation of that railway throughout the war years cost Jordan dearly and inflicted on it irreparable loss, for it consumed most of the dense natural forests which covered and adorned Ajloun, Balqa, and other areas. Their wood was used as fuel for the locomotives after the coal and petroleum reserves which the Ottoman State had at the beginn­ing of the war had been consumed.

The Circassians, as loyal subjects of their Ottoman rulers who gave them shelter and allowed them to settle in the various regions after they had been expelled by Tsarist Russia from their homelands, took part in all the political and military events that occurred in those lands. As the Ottoman state was then weak and its influence in many Arab countries, especially in the areas which were far from the centers of administration and civiliza­tion, It urgently needed the services of the Circassians in those lands. This was what led the Turks to allow the Circassians to settle in the Arab countries and to encourage them to set up villages and settlements near the Hijaz Railway at various im­portant posts such tarmman and Zerka.

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