Interview with John Colarusso

Tuck Magazine | February 6, 2014

Dr. John Colarusso is a world renowned Professor of Linguistics and Mythology whose long standing area of interest has been the Caucasus. When acting as an adviser to the Bill Clinton administration on the wars in the Caucasus, he was instrumental in starting a plastic surgery programme for women who were injured from both sides of the Abkhazian – Georgian War. In an interview with Saida Panesh, Dr. Colarusso discussed his scientific research into the language of the Circassians, a mysterious group of people aboriginal to Sochi, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Circassians (self-designation Adyghe) are the oldest indigenous people of North Caucasus. They were displaced in the course of the Russian conquest of the North Caucasus after the Russian–Caucasian War of 1763-1864. The main language is that of Circassian, a Northwest Caucasian language with numerous dialects; the primary ones being Adyghe (West Circassian) and Kabardian (East Circassian). The Circassians also speak Turkish and Arabic in large numbers, having been exiled by Russia to lands of the Ottoman Empire, where the majority of them today live. There remain roughly 700,000 Circassians in historical Circassia (the Republics of Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and the Southern half of Krasnodar Krai), as well as a number in the Russian Federation outside these republics. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) estimates that there are as many as 3.7 million “ethnic Circassians” in the diaspora outside the Circassian republics (meaning that only one in seven “ethnic Circassians” live in the homeland), of whom about 2 million live in Turkey, 700,000 in the Russian Federation, 150,000 in the Levant and Mesopotamia, and approximately 50,000 in Europe and the United States.