Circassia (sərkăshˈēə) [key], historic region, encompassing roughly the area between the Black Sea, the Kuban River, and the Caucasus, now largely the Krasnodar Territory of SE European Russia. The Circassians are a Muslim people, whose Russian name is Cherkess and whose native name is Adygey. They are now officially classified in Russia as three peoples: the Kabards, in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic; the Circassians or Cherkess, in the Karachay-Cherkess Republic; and the Adygey, in the Adygey Republic. The term Circassian has sometimes been incorrectly applied to all the mountain peoples of the N Caucasus.
Known in antiquity, they inhabited the western side of the Caucasus and the Crimea and were known to the Greeks as the Zyukhoy. They were Christianized in the 6th cent. A.D. but adopted Islam in the 17th cent. after coming under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. In 1829 the Ottoman Turks were forced to cede Circassia to Russia. At this time the Circassians occupied almost the entire area between the main Caucasian range, the Kuban River, and the Black Sea. In the many Russo-Turkish wars in the first half of the 19th cent., the Circassians bitterly fought the Russians. After the Russian conquest of the area, hundreds of thousands of Circassians were deported or fled to Turkey (1861–64). Circassian women were reputed to be great beauties, and many were sold into slavery in Turkey. The vast majority of Circassians now live in Turkey. In addition to the Turkish and Russian Circassians, there are smaller populations in Syria, Jordan, Germany, and elsewhere.