Around the turn of the 18th century the German physiologist, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, invented the term “Caucasian” as a synonym for the white race. He claimed that the Caucasus was its origin and that the Circassians in particular were the most beautiful racial type, being white, primeval, and supposedly close to God’s image for humankind. This legendary beauty of the Circassians was already ‘a thing’ at the time. Circassia itself doesn’t exist anymore, it has been wiped off the face of the Earth, but it was once a mountainous country between Russia and the northern coast of the Black Sea. This scenario would later be replaced during the following centuries by the Aryan Race concept.
For sixty or so years after the Caucasian invention, a huge propaganda campaign developed regarding the plight of Circassia and its beautiful white people. Alexandre Dumas began his 1859 book, “Adventures in Caucasia,” with the declaration, “I have no doubt that my readers know of the region as well as I do,” because the campaign had been relentless. Maturin Murray Ballou wrote, “a fair and rosy-cheeked race…with a form of ravishing loveliness, large and lustrous eyes and every belonging that might go to make up a Venus.” Henry Lindlahr claimed, “Circassian beauties are admired for their abundant and luxuriant yellow hair and blue eyes.” Bayard Taylor said, “so far as female beauty is concerned, the Circassian women have no superiors [and] have preserved in their mountain home the purity of the Grecian models”.
Other noteworthy contributors to the propaganda were;
In both the 18th and 19th centuries, advertisements for many feminine beauty products promised to deliver the famous good looks of Circassian beauties.
In the 1850s Max Müller elaborated upon the Caucasian myth. He was working for Rothschild in the East India Company and was employed to ‘translate’ i.e. destroy, the Indian Vedas and Indian culture. He introduced the notion of two Aryan races, a western and an eastern one, who migrated from the Caucasus into Europe and India respectively thus giving white people a prior claim to India. That’s another story entirely, but it goes to show how this same racial myth was used to manipulate situations and justify atrocities on a worldwide basis. (See this article.)
Circassian women were and apparently had been for centuries, sold into what was called ‘white slavery’, i.e. sexual slavery in the harems and seraglios of the Russian Empire, the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Safavid Empire and elsewhere. Every rich and powerful man, it seemed, had a Circassian concubine. To make matters worse the Russians were determined to wipe out Circassia and its inhabitants. The Caucasian War ran from 1817 until 1864, but they had already begun infiltrating the area back in the 1760s. Under Tsar Alexander II, they took the upper hand and began a brutal program of ethnic cleansing that pushed most of the Circassians toward Turkey, the Middle East and to a lesser extent, Europe.
This situation created intense interest from abolitionists across America and Europe:
“Horrible Traffic in Circassian Women—Infanticide in Turkey," New York Daily Times, August 6, 1856 (From the Correspondence of the London Post)
“There has been lately an unusually large number of Circassians going about the streets of Constantinople. Many of them no doubt belonged to the deputation which came to petition the Porte that their country might be taken under the suzerainty of the Sultan. A considerable portion, however, of the Circassians now in the capital have quite another mission than a political one to fulfill. They are here as slave dealers, charged with the disposal of the numerous parcels of Circassian girls that have been for some time pouring into this market. Perceiving that when the Russians shall have reoccupied the coast of the Caucasus this traffic in white slaves will be over, the Circassian dealers have redoubled their efforts ever since the commencement of the peace conferences to introduce into Turkey the greatest possible number of women while the opportunity of doing so lasted. They have been so successful, notwithstanding the prohibition of the trade by the Porte, and the presence of so many of Her Majesty’s ships in the Black Sea, that never, perhaps, at any former period, was white human flesh so cheap as it is at this moment. There is an absolute glut in the market, and dealers are obliged to throw away their goods, owing to the extent of the supply, which in many instances has been brought by steam under the British flag. In former times a “good middling” Circassian girl was thought very cheap at 100 pounds, but at the present moment the same description of goods may be had for 5 pounds! In fact, the creatures are eating their heads off, and must be disposed of at any sacrifice, however alarming. Independently of all political, humane and Christian objections to this abominable state of things, there are several practical ones which have even forced themselves on the attention of the Turks. With low prices a low class of purchasers come into the market. Formerly a Circassian slave girl was pretty sure of being bought into a good family, where not only good treatment, but often rank and fortune awaited her; but at present low rates she may be taken by any huxter who never thought of keeping a slave before. Another evil is that the temptation to possess a Circassian girl at such low prices is so great in the minds of the Turks that many who cannot afford to keep several slaves have been sending their blacks to market, in order to make room for a newly-purchased white girl. The consequence is that numbers of black women, after being as many as eight or ten years in the same hands, have lately been consigned to the broker for disposal. Not a few of t hose wretched creatures are in a state quite unfit for being sold. I have it on the authority of a respectable slave-broker that at the present moment there have been thrown on the market unusually large numbers of negresses in the family way, some of them even slaves of pashas and men of rank. He finds them so unsalable that he has been obliged to decline receiving any more. A single observation will explain the reason of this, which might appear strange when compared with the value that is attached even to an unborn black baby in some slave countries. In Constantinople it is evident that there is a very large number of negresses living and having habitual intercourse with their Turkish masters—yet it is a rare thing to see a mulatto. What becomes of the progeny of such intercourse? I have no hesitation in saying that it is got rid of by infanticide, and that there is hardly a family in Stanboul where infanticide is not practiced in such cases as a mere matter of course, and without the least remorse or dread. Source
I apologise for reprinting the entire article, but it’s quite revealing and of course sickening, to observe the same kind of sensational manipulative journalistic style we are so accustomed to today in action 164 years ago. It sounds like an analysis of the used car market.
In spite of the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) during the eighteen-sixties, it was hard to read the news and not see a mention of the Caucasus Mountains. For some reason the image of the manufactured plight of the oh-so-pure and white Circassians was kept front and centre in the minds of the colonial Americans. They were given the symbol of the Caucasian Mountains as justification for whatever was happening in the Civil War. We are led to believe that the conflict consisted of the Northern Union forces fighting against the Southern Confederacy due to differences over black slavery. If this is true, why use a symbol of white racial supremacy to justify the conflict?
Furthermore, it can be seen from the 1863 Russian Involvement in the US Civil War that Tsar Alexander II was also helping the Union forces do whatever it is they were doing in America whilst simultaneously exterminating the supposedly pure white Circassians back home. Does this make any sense?
The Circassian’s last stand took place in Soch in 1864, (where the 2014 Winter Olympics were held and where Russian President Vladimir Putin lavished $51 billion obliterating the sites of mass graves and covering them over with concrete and facilities for curling, figure skating, hockey, alpine skiing, snowboarding etc.) The leader of the Caucasus resistance, Schamyl, was referred to as the region’s Jefferson Davis. Circassia became an analogy for Southern Confederate striving. Reports emerged about the Circassian plight during the Civil War with visions of mass death, suffering, and national upheaval. By 1865, approximately six hundred and twenty thousand soldiers had died in the American Civil War. By 1864, more than five hundred thousand Circassians had died in the last phase of the Caucasian War, in the fight against the invading Russian forces. Many accounts in American newspapers described Circassian bodies being “thrown out,” cast overboard with a frequency that recalled slaving practices, and “washing on shore” on the Black Sea coast.
Near the end of the Civil War, newspapers in the U.S. were focussed on the demise of Circassia as if it were a stand-in for the end of America’s Confederate South. “Circassia is blotted from the map,” said a headline out of Newport, Rhode Island, on June 4, 1864. “The last hope of Circassia has vanished,” The Deseret News reported on July 6, 1864, “so has come the end of a brave and heroic people.” The Circassian warriors seemed to vanish. Decimated, the Circassians were regarded as an “extinct race.”
So, what we have here is a very strong mental fusion of the pure white Circassians who are being abused, exploited and exterminated by non-whites and Russians, with the Southern Confederacy who are abusers, exploiters and exterminators of the black race and who themselves are being hunted down by white Americans and Russians. Both sets apparently “a brave and heroic people.”
...this is crazy. Did the American Civil War even actually take place or was it simply transplanted into the American consciousness in the guise of the Circassian Genocide?
If the situation wasn’t bad enough, in September of 1864, apparently a time of fraught racial tensions in New York City, the consummate trickster and arsehole, P. T. Barnum saw a chance to cash-in. He sent one of his agents to Constantinople to purchase one of these beautiful Circassian ladies in the slave market. Though Barnum claimed his agent, dressed in full Turkish costume, had seen a large number of beautiful Circassian girls and women, for one reason or another he failed to return with one. Not to be denied his harem slave, Barnum hired a frizzy-haired local woman, put her in a Turkish costume and dubbed her Zaluma Agra, Star of the East. She was said to be the daughter of a prince and to have been rescued from a slave matket, although she was surprisingly proficient in English and mysteriously deficient in her knowledge of Circassia. Her hairstyle looked a bit like an ‘Afro’ or finger-in-the-electric-socket style. It was done up “in a great mass, like the boll of a ripened dandelion,” one journalist wrote, and was large enough to “just about fit a bushel basket.” More Circassian Beauties (or “Moss-haired Girls” as they were sometimes known) followed, all local girls and all with an enigmatic letter Z figuring prominently in their names. At least one performer, “Zumigo”, was of African descent. They became a mainstay of dime museums and side shows until the end of the nineteenth century, attracting white audiences fascinated by the “exotic East" and preoccupied by issues of race.
Here we have yet another anomaly. How come Barnam was promoting the essence of white racial purity with a display of black racial features – such as the afro hairstyle and even an African performer? Was he just an idiot or was there more to it?
When the public began to lose interest, Circassian beauties were frequently cast in the role of snake charmers in order to try and milk a bit more erotic appeal out of the act. This coincided with the release of more information about the Caucasian War and gradually the whole house-of-cards began to fall apart. It soon became apparent that the Caucasus was nothing like the pure-white image put forth by racial science. Nearly all of the assertions that Blumenbach had made about Caucasians were contested - from their supposed exemplary whiteness and laudable beauty to their antiquity-rooted heritage. The bastion of white racial purity came to be seen for what it really was: an area sandwiched between what were, at the time, considered to be opposites - Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam - with a mixture of racial groups huddled between the White Mountains and the southern Black Mountain.
George Kennan, an American traveller to the Caucasus in 1870, tried to explain the confusion to the American Geographical Society soon after he returned: “In thinking of the Caucasians we must remember that the Caucasian mountaineers as a whole are made up of fragments of almost every race and people in Europe and Western Asia,” he said. “How such a heterogeneous collection of the tatters, ends, and odd bits of humanity ever blended into one coherent and consistent whole I don’t know, but there they are, offering problems to ethnologists and comparative philologists which will be hard to solve.”
In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson requested “a report on the legendary beauty of the Caucasus women” which was obviously a reaction to the 1913 reports and photographs that had emerged of villages in Circassia being somehow made up entirely of “Negroes.” The Russian newspaper Kavkaz had published a story about the discovery of nearly five hundred “Black Russians living in the Caucasus,” in the Sukhumi district of Abkhasia, the heartland Circassia. In 1927, the Russian writer Maxim Gorky even went to Adzyubzha to discern the origins of these black Caucasians. Five years later, Langston Hughes travelled to the southern Soviet Republics, just east of the Caucasus, and noted in his diaries that he was surprised to find himself around people who would be considered “colored” in America. He thought some were “brown as russet pears” or “dark as chocolate.”
Questions about the look of Caucasians continue today. In Russia, some now describe “peoples with Caucasian features” as “black.” During the Chechen wars in the nineteen-nineties, the darker-skinned men and women of the Caucasus were called “black” in Russia. It is not uncommon to see a standard Black Sea atlas mark where the Circassians lived from 1800 until 1860 and in a map of the region after 1860 to find that they are simply gone, as if they were a mythical, invisible group.
Putting all the propaganda aside, what the Circassian and Civil War situations have in common is the conflict itself. To the Russians the Circassian ‘label’ represented something to be annihilated. To the American Union (and the Russians) the Southern Confederacy ‘label’ also represented something to be annihilated. All of the other bizarre associations were just a cover for whatever those labels really represented... perhaps (however, transferring this article to the website in 2021, I'm still not convinced that's the correct explanation.)
With regard to the Circassian Beauties and their obvious black features, I am reminded of an old pop song from 1969 called “Melting Pot” by Blue Mink. Perhaps today’s immigration agenda began back then, which is fine until you remember there’s someone throwing you in and stirring the pot who will never get in it with you.
Barnum's Circassian Beauties
(I think some of them were in the ELO.)
After having compiled all of this information and written it down, I find that the bigger picture eludes me even more than when I started...
The Hidden Past of Sochi
The Circassians - Richard Pennington
Go Back to Russia! Go Back to Africa!: Circassian Beauties and American Racial Formation | The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition
Circassian Beauty Exhibit
Zalumma Agra Portrait
Easiest Website Builder