Wednesday 5 February 2014

Report on the Circassian Cultural Programme in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

Prepared by the Centre for Circassian Studies

The Circassians in the Shapsugh Region and the Republic of Adigea will take an active part in the cultural programme of the Sochi Winter Olympics. The Shapsugh Circassians will be able to showcase their culture in their ethnographic museums and through the "Shapsughia" National Dance Ensemble.

For the authorities and cultural institutions in Adigea it is difficult to overestimate the significance of the Circassian component in the programme of the Cultural Olympiad, for they consider that the international event is a great opportunity to showcase Circassian culture and folklore, and to raise the profile of the Republic at the global level. Therefore, the Republic is in full gear in preparation for the mega event. From February 5 to March 17, more than 150 representatives of the Republic of Adigea will be involved in the Cultural Olympiad. The historical and intellectual components will be supplied by the National Museum of the Republic of Adigea and the National Library of the Republic of Adigea.
The President of the Republic of Adigea Aslhan Thak’wshine [ТхьакIущынэ Аслъан] 
and the administrators and principal participants in the Circassian Cultural Programme
of the Sochi Winter Olympics on the eve of the mega event.

The Circassians of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic and the Karachai-Cherkess Republic will not be taking part in the Circassian Cultural Programme of the Sochi Olympic Games.

Circassian Cultural Complex inaugurated 
at the Sochi Olympic Park

The “Circassian House” [«Адыгэ Унэ»], the Circassian Cultural Centre in the Sochi Olympic Park, has been inaugurated and opened to the public on Saturday (1st February), days before the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics this Friday. The Circassian Cultural Centre shall remain open to the public throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The "Circassian House" is one of 25 pavilions of the “Hospitality House” complex, located in the Sochi Olympic Park, by the Adler Black Sea coast, near the landmark Fisht Stadium. The “Hospitality House” has been configured to create a festive cultural ambience in the Sochi Olympic Park, so that not only can the guests from all over the world follow the Olympic competitions themselves, but they can also fully immerse themselves in the local culture and folklore in a celebratory and salubrious atmosphere. The "Circassian House" will provide visitors with full information on the Circassian Cultural Programme, including venues and dates of concerts and shows. Visitors can take part in and enjoy many interesting events: performances of the best music and dance, fun competitions, master classes in traditional Circassian dancing, savouring the dishes of national cuisines, and photo opportunities with the Olympic Torch "Sochi 2014". Pavilions and houses of hospitality include those of the partners and sponsors of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee. The complex can welcome up to 120,000 visitors, and is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Admission is for free.

The pavilion of the “Circassian House” [«Адыгэ Унэ»], 
the Circassian Cultural Centre in the Sochi Olympic Park, 
has been inaugurated and opened to the public. 
[Photo by Helena Rebello]

The setting up of the "Circassian House" has been overseen by the Circassian politician and social figure Mugdin Chermit, Deputy Head of the Department of Internal Policy of the Krasnodar Territory (former MP in Adigea). The Centre is housed in a big pavilion decorated in traditional Circassian style, to give visitors the chance to get acquainted with the Circassian culture, customs & traditions, and to sample the national cuisine. Folk dance and song concerts by Circassian ensembles, including the Adigean State University Folk Dance Ensemble "Nart", will be on show daily. In the traditional "Circassian Guest-House" (ХьакIэщ; Hach’esh) visitors will have the chance to meet Circassian elders and be informed about Circassian history, culture, and customs from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Numerous exhibits from the National Museum of the Republic of Adigea will also be on display, in addition to a collection of dresses designed by the famous designer Yuri Stash. Chermit has been specifically charged with overseeing a substantive Circassian cultural programme to be featured during the Olympics, mainly to appease the Circassians and allay their fear that Russia intends to divest Sochi of its “Circassianness”.

The Sochi Olympic Park, Adler, Sochi Region. 
The “Hospitality House” complex, which houses the "Circassian House", 
the Circassian Cultural Centre, is located within the Park.
[Reuters photographer Maxim Shemetov] 

Olympic Torch Relay in Adigea

On the 3rd of February the Olympic Torch arrived from the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic and was received in Maikop, the capital of the Republic of Adigea, at the Hippodrome. Flags of Circassia and the Republic and banners with symbols of the Sochi Games decorated the sites of celebration, including the Lenin Square in the town centre. About two thousand people were directly involved in the event, and some 40 thousand people are estimated to have watched the ceremonies. The leading creative ensembles and troupes and famous artists of Adigea took part in the cultural programme in the Republic in celebration of the Olympic Torch relay. The 10-km route of the relay started from the Hippodrome to the Republican Stadium “Druzhba” in City Park, through the Lenin Square. The President of the Republic Aslhan Thak’wshine [ТхьакIущынэ Аслъан] started off the relay run carrying the Olympic Torch, accompanied by 12 horsemen, symbolizing the 12 Circassian tribes, who kept vigil over the Torch throughout the relay run. Then 60 people (15 Circassians) from the Republic took turns carrying the torch. The Flame Bowl in the Republican Stadium was lit by the President with the Olympic Torch. Three places of celebration have been designated: Welcome Ceremonies (Hippodrome); Intermediate Celebrations (Lenin Square); Final Celebrations (Republican Stadium). Large-scale theatrical performances were staged at each of these venues.

The President of the Republic of Adigea Aslhan Thak’wshine [ТхьакIущынэ Аслъан] 
starts off the relay run from the Hippodrome in Maikop, 
carrying the Sochi Olympic Torch, accompanied by 12 horsemen, 
symbolizing the 12 Circassian tribes.

Circassian culture in Sochi during the Olympics
The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Adigea will actively participate in the project "Exposition of the Russian Regions in the Olympic Park" in Sochi. At the Circassian booth in the "Exposition" information will be presented on the attractions of the Republic (archæological sites, ethnographical materials, natural resources), the achievements and progress in sport, culture, tourism opportunities, etc. 

The Art of Circassian Dance
Dancing will be a major component of the Circassian cultural programme in the Sochi Winter Olympics. Four Circassian folk dance troupes will take part in the cultural programme of the Olympics and Paralympics:

1. The State Academic Ensemble of Folk Dance of Adigea "Nalmes": [];
2. The Adigean State Folk Song Ensemble "Yislhamiy": [];
3. The National Ensemble of the Black Sea Shapsugh Circassians "Shapsughia": [];
4. The Adigean State University Folk Dance Ensemble "Nart".

According to the approved plan of the cultural programme, ensembles "Nalmes" and "Yislhamiy" will perform at the principal concert venues in the Olympic Park, Roza Khutor, and the Mountain Park. Students of Maikop School of Arts will participate in the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games as part of the Consolidated Children's Choir of Russia. "Yislhamiy" and "Oshten" are scheduled to perform at the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. No Circassian ensembles will take part in the Opening Ceremony of the main Olympic Games!  

Introductory account on Circassian dance: 

The famous folk troupes the Adigean State Dance Ensemble "Nalmes" and the Adigean State Folk Song Ensemble "Yislhamiy" will stage a number of performances. “Nalmes”, for example, will stage four shows during the Olympics. "Yislhamiy" will perform during the Paralympics.

The celebrated Adigean State Dance Ensemble "Nalmes" 
will stage four shows during the cultural programme
of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

The Adigean State Folk Song Ensemble "Yislhamiy" 
will perform at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
"Yislhamiy" is one of a number of Circassian folk song groups
that keep the old bard traditions alive. It boasts of a varied
 and rich repertoire of ancient and traditional songs.

The "Shapsughia" National Dance Ensemble, which is based in the town of Lazarev, the Centre of the Shapsugh Region, will also take part in the cultural programme of the Sochi Winter Olympics, as representatives of the Shapsugh Circassians, the native people of the Sochi Region, and will have a unique opportunity to display the creativity of the Circassian nation at the Olympic Games to a global audience. The Ensemble will present 10 dances from the traditional Circassian repertoire. According to the artistic director of “Shapsughia” Ruslan Xeyshxwe, this is the first time in 150 years that the autochthonous people of the Sochi Region have been able to tell their story to the world. Since 2007, the Ensemble has participated in all the cultural events related to the preparation for the Winter Olympics. In addition, the Shapsugh Region has been transformed in terms of infrastructure upgrades, and has significantly developed economically. Closer cultural ties have been established with the Circassian republics, especially nearby Adigea.

The "Shapsughia" National Dance Ensemble was established in 1972 by  
Aslan Xeyshxwe, father of the present artistic director Ruslan Xeyshxwe. 
It is based in the Circassian Culture Centre in Lazarev. 
Although the majority of the Ensemble members are (Shapsugh) 
Circassians, there are also representatives from other nationalities. 

The Adigean State University Folk Dance Ensemble "Nart" will stage performances throughout the Sochi Winter Olympics at the Circassian Cultural Centre "Circassian House" in Sochi Olympic Park, in the framework of the Circassian Cultural Programme of the Olympics and Paralympics. The student ensemble will show the guests of the global sports festival the beauty and uniqueness of the choreographic art of the Circassians.

The Adigean State University Folk Dance Ensemble "Nart" 
at a festival in Italy.

Circassian Songs & Music

Oshten Variety Ensemble
The Oshten Variety Ensemble will take part in the Circassian Cultural Programme during the Sochi Winter Olympics. Oshten is a folk-pop-rock band (Ошъутэн=Hail, in Circassian; Оштен, in Russian; name of one of the mountains of the western part of the Greater Caucasus mountain range of peak in Adigea, 2,804 m, in the southwest, near the border with Abkhazia). It is associated with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Adigea, and is a member of the State Philharmonic of the Republic []. It was established in 1996 upon the initiative of the composer and musician Aslhen Ghwet (Гъот Аслъэн; Gotov; enjoy the sublime art of Ghwet on his website:, who had served as artistic director until 2004.

The present artistic director of the Ensemble (since 2004; took over from Ghwet) is singer and composer Aliy Hech'ekwe (ХьэкIэко Алий; Khachak), Honoured Artist of the Republic of Adigea. The music of the Ensemble is a fusion of the traditional and modern (including “Hard Rock”), where traditional instruments are played alongside modern ones (lead guitar and electric bass guitar). The range of the repertoire is quite wide: jazz, rock, pop music, contemporary songs of Circassian composers, and Russian and international pop songs. Up until 2004, the most characteristic feature of the band had been transforming Circassian folk music into traditional jazz styles, with ample funk infusions. Oshten rendered their special treatment upon such Circassian song classics as “Shirt’im”, “Qweleni”, “Qesey”, “Yistambilak’we”, and “Adiyif”, and Circassian folk dance melodies, such as “Lheperischw”, “Sheshen”, “Qaschwe Qwanche”, “Zighelhat”, and “Yislhamiy". However, since 2004 the Band have “hardened” their songs, with full-fledged “Heavy Metal” pieces included in their concert repertoire.

Listen to the music of Oshten (21 songs and melodies): []

Enjoy Oshen’s performances on Aslan Gotov’s YouTube Channel: []

Solo Singers
The singer of traditional and popular songs Tamara Nekhay, Honoured Artist of the Russian Federation and Abkhazia, and People's Artist of the Republic of Adigea, will sing. The pop singer Sima Kuysokova, People's Artist of the Republic of Adigea, will sing (in Russian!) “Fire of Love” («Огонь любви») (words and music by A. Nekrasov) [].

The Circassian singer Tamara Nekhay
will perform at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

The Circassian pop singer Sima Kuysokova, 
People's Artist of the Republic of Adigea, 
will sing “Fire of Love” at the Sochi Olympics.

The Circassian pop singer Sati Kazanova (Къэзан Сэтэней; Qezan Seteney) is also taking part in the Sochi Olympics cultural programme. The 31-year-old Kazanova, who was a member of the Russian pop girl-trio Fabrika, is famous all over the Russian Federation. Honoured Artist of both Kabardino-Balkaria and Adigea, Seteney sings in both Circassian and Russian. 

Circassian superstar singer Sati Kazanova is taking part in the 
cultural programme of the Sochi Olympics.

Circassian Crafts & Fashion
Traditional Circassian crafts of Adigea will be featured, in particular gold embroidery, wood carving and marquetry, weaving reed-mace mats [], and Circassian national costumes [], etc. 

Reed-mace mat designs crafted by Circassian master Zamudin Guchev. 
In the corner is the weaving mounted-frame, with the threads and cross-bar.

Traditional Circassian male costume.

In addition, the art of Circassian artists and fashion designers will be on display in the “Circassian House”. The veteran fashion designer Yuri Stash (82) will reveal his “Fisht” costumes at the inauguration ceremonies of the Olympics. The collection is named after the Fisht Mountain in Adigea (after which the principal Sochi stadium in the Sochi Park was also named), and is influenced by traditional Circassian costumes, with Olympic motifs and themes. Sussana Makerova, who, besides being a well-known fashion designer, is Head of the Department of English Philology at Adigea State University, will present the fashion collections “Circassian Lady” and “Ashemez”, which were inspired by the history and folklore of the Circassians [].

Veteran Circassian fashion designer Yuri Stash (left) 
will present his “Fischt” costumes at the Sochi Olympics, 
based on traditional Circassian designs and Olympic motifs.

Costumes of both traditional and mythical character
by the Circassian fashion designer Yuri Stash.

Circassian fashion designer Sussana Makerova will present
 the fashion collections “Circassian Lady” and “Ashemez” 
at the Sochi Olympics, which were inspired
 by the history and folklore of the Circassians.

Sochi Art Exhibition
In the framework of the cultural programme of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the exhibition of fine arts "Sports. Art. Sochi" was inaugurated last week in the Hall of the Sochi Art Museum, dedicated to the sporting life of the Russian Federation. Among the exhibited works are paintings and portraits by the distinguished artists from Adigea Aslan Kuanov (Circassian) and Vitaly Barkin (Russian). Aslan Kuanov presented the panoramic work "Sambo in Adigea", centred on engaged fighters surrounded by a large group of people – spectators, judges, and athletes [see photo]. This multi-figure painting fully reveals the artist's mastery of composition and painting. Sambo, a martial art and combat sport, is one of the most popular sports in Adigea.

"Sambo in Adigea", a painting by the Circassian artist Aslan Kuanov 
displayed at the Sochi Museum of Arts at the Exhibition "Sports. Art. Sochi", 
which celebrates the sporting life in the Russian Federation. 
The Exhibition, which is mounted in the framework of the Sochi Winter Olympics 
cultural programme, will run until the end of the Olympics.

Barkin showcased the portraits of two mega sports stars of Adigea: the legendary 11-time World Champion in sambo Murat Hasan (Circassian), and the shooting Olympic Champion Sergei Alifirenko (Slav). He worked more than three years (2008-2010) on “The King of Sambo Murat Hasan (11-time World Champion)". It was only after the work was finished that the artist had the idea of "crowning" the outstanding athlete. So the head of the champion was graced with a symbolic crown, worn "askew" to reflect the attitude of one of the greatest sambo fighters of all time.

“The King of Sambo Murat Hasan (11-time World Champion)", 
a portrait of the Circassian martial arts legend by Vitaly Barkin. 
The portrait shall remain at the Exhibition "Sports. Art. Sochi" 
until the end of the Olympics.

The Exposition will last until the end of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Aslan Kuanov was born in 1943 in the village of Jambechiy in Adigea. He graduated from the Krasnodar College of Arts. In 1978 he became a member of the Union of Artists of the Russian Federation.

Aslan Kuanov, Circassian artist from Adigea.
His painting "Sambo in Adigea" was chosen for the arts exhibition "Sports. Art. Sochi".

Vitaly Fomich Barkin (b. 1938) is a member of the Union of Artists of the Russian Federation and is Honored Artist of the Republic of Adigea.

Museums in Sochi showcasing Circassian history & culture

The Sochi Ethnographic Museum in the town of Lazarev: The exhibition reflects the milestones in the cultural development of the Circassian people. It highlights the traditional religion and ancient beliefs of the Circassians, their customs and rituals, and the unique Circassian social system/structure (in the case of the Shapsugh, mediæval feudalism [roughly: princes, nobility of various ranks, free men, freedmen, menials, slaves] gave way to democracy towards the end of the 18th century, when the people threw off the ruling princes and nobility).

For further details:

The Sochi Ethnographic Museum in the town of Lazarev.

The Black Sea Shapsugh Manor Museum: Cultural and educational institution in the village of Ligotkh (Lighwetx; Лыгъуэтх) on the left bank of the Ashe River, in the Lazarev District of the City of Sochi (see location map). It is a branch of the Museum of the History of the City-Resort of Sochi, and one of the museums designated as an official historical/cultural site of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

For further details:

Hand-mill (шъхьалы), and large wooden spoon for stirring (бэлагъ). 
Black Sea Shapsugh Manor Museum.

Thagapsh Museum “Manor of the Shapsugh-Circassians: Culture and Way of Life”: A number of Shapsugh hamlets have established “manor” museums that showcase the Circassian culture and way of life in traditional settings. The Museum in Thagapsh, which is housed in an old manor, boasts of traditional objects that date back to the mid-19th century and earlier periods. The items, mainly the heirlooms and heritage of the Chachukh [Чачыху] and L’if [ЛIыф] families, include household items, national costumes, cottage industry devices, tools, and weapons. There are items displayed in the main house and in the out-buildings and yard.

For further details:

Thagapsh Museum “Manor of the Shapsugh-Circassians: Culture and Way of Life”

The Museum of the History of the City-Resort of Sochi: Circassian culture at the Museum is showcased by exhibits of weapons, military equipment, traditional and ancient costumes and clothing items, and kitchen utensils, reflecting the history and life of the indigenous population of the Sochi Region.  In the framework of the cultural programme of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the exhibition "Ancient Gold of the Kuban and Black Sea" has been opened in the Museum in early October 2013, and will run during the Games, for the benefit of the Olympic visitors, until 2 October 2014. This is a joint project/event with the Krasnodar State Historical and Archæological Museum. There are more than 900 unique ancient items made from precious metals, found during excavations of ancient burial mounds in the Krasnodar Region [part of historical Circassia], specifically in the Kuban basin. 

For further details:

The Museum of the History of the City-Resort of Sochi.

The flip side
Circassian performers and artists (some 150 in total) will be part of some 5,000 artists from the seventy regions of Russia “demonstrating the diversity of the multinational traditions of the Russian regions”. In the published schedule of the cultural programmes of the Olympic Games [], there is no specific mention of any Circassian act or artist, the assumption being that they are lumped with the acts and artists to perform at the Medals Plaza and Live Sites throughout the fortnight of the games. Even in the introduction to the cultural programme [], specific reference is made to Russian, Cossack, Daghestani, Chechen, and even Udmurt troupes and acts, but Circassian ensembles are assigned to “and many others”. It is not clear whether this omission is intentional or not. It is perhaps that we are not looking in the right place, or missed something. Be that as it may, it seems that although a substantive Circassian cultural component is scheduled during the games, at the meta-level the Circassians are being ignored.

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