August 11, 2004

My grandfather, the whatsit.

When you're really truly Caucasian, it's very difficult to research your forebears. My grandfather was a North Caucasian Muslim, which more or less put him in a camp with the Abkhazians (you know, those <sarcasm>troublemakers</sarcasm> in Northern Georgia -- the Abkhazian Autonomous Region is Georgia's Chechnya). But my grandmother always called his people the "Adigay."

I figured this was a reasonable corruption from "Abaza" (more or less ethnically the same as the Abkhazians, but on the Russian side of the border), since I wasn't finding anything using that spelling. (It doesn't help that Russian transliterates in such varied ways.) I tried Adygay, which turned up one page in German; since my grandparents met in an Austrian work camp during WWII, it seemed reasonable to assume that was the German version of "Abaza."

Reasonable, but wrong. It turns out she had a cookbook (in Cyrillic) of "Adigay" recipes. Obviously someone besides the Germans used the name. Well, finally I tried a -- duh! -- direct transliteration of the Cyrillic, and succeeded:
  • This is an interesting Adyghe music site, with a couple links.
  • This is an interesting looking handbook to the Circassians/Cherkess (aka the Adyghe, who include the Abaza and the Abkhazians, among others).
  • Here's the Adyghe alphabet.
If you look at the photos at that first link, you'll see that they have REALLY COOL uniforms. I wish we could get married in the clothes these couples are wearing, eh, Diane?

I remembered being told about five years ago why they were called the Cherkess (which means "head-cutters") -- that they had this habit of resisting in very bloody fashion Turkish incursions in the old Ottoman days. Apparently, though, this isn't quite true:
    The word cherkess means "head cutter" which refers 

to military procedure of cutting heads of comrades who
died in the battle and taking them home.

Caucasian tradition prevents warriors from leaving dead
comrades in the battle field. This scary-sounding
procedure was caused by practical reasons - it's
difficult to transport the whole bodies while the
head itself can be transported home easily and
buried properly.

Cool -- they're pragmatists, just like me!

I'm listening to Adyghe internet radio at the moment -- they're doing some kind of special on al-Sadr (though I can't tell their feelings on him). This is an amazing world we live in.


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