The Circassians began arriving in Anatolia and the Middle East in the 14th century as a result of gradual and sporadic contacts with various kingdoms and dynasties in the region. After the conquest of Istanbul (Constantinople) by the Ottomans in 1453, the population of the Circassians tended to increase in the Ottoman Empire, especially in the ruling circles in Istanbul.
The Circassians did not exist as a distinct community in Anatolia and the Middle East until the mid 19th century. The Circassian Mamluks in Egypt, who ruled the country more than a century, constituted an exception.
The current Circassian diasporas are the outcome of the mass deportation of the Circassians from their homeland in the mid 19th century. They were settled in Ottoman lands, in Rumeli, Anatolia, and the Middle East. Those who were settled in Rumeli (the Balkans), were forced to re-settle in Anatolia and the Middle East following the 1877-78 war. Today, significant communities of Circassians live in Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Israel. New diasporas have emerged in Europe (the largest one in Germany) and the US (in New Jersey and California) since the late-1960s as a result of migration of Circassians from Turkey and the Middle Eastern countries. The small community of Circassians in Kosovo was repatriated to Adygea in 1998.
The number of Circassians in Turkey is estimated to be around 6-7 million people. The estimate is based on the number of Circassians migrated to the Ottoman Empire. There were about one million Circassians survived after the exodus in the Ottoman Empire, and the proportion of the Circassians in the Ottoman Muslim population in 1893 is estimated around 8-10 percent. If the population of the Circassians remained the same in Anatolia, there would be about 6-7 million Circassians in Turkey (Turkey’s current population is 71.5 million). This figure could be taken as the upper bound for the Circassian population.* Although the Circassian population living in Turkey is substantial, their rights to exercise and develop their culture are rather limited. The first broadcast in Circassian language was aired on television by state broadcasting corporation TRT in June 2004. The Circassian-language broadcast, 20 minutes a week, consists of news headlines, documentary, music and sports programs.
The small Circassian population in Jordan enjoys an essentially privileged position, having long been closely connected to the Crown, whereas Syrian–Circassians have had to cope with oppressive Arab nationalism. The Circassians in Israel have also been quite privileged in that they could enjoy their culture as freely as possible, and also that the Adygei language is used there as the language of instruction after the sixth grade in primary school.
* The European Commission’s 2004 Regular Report on Turkey’s Progress towards Accession (published on 6 October 2004) stated that the Circassian population in Turkey is estimated at 3 million.