Several indigenous peoples of the northwest of the Caucasus were forced into exodus at the end of the Caucasian War by victorious Russia. The exodus was launched even before the end of the war in 1864 and it continued into the 1870s, although it was mostly completed by 1867. The peoples involved, mainly the Circassians (Adyghe in their own language), Ubykhs, Abkhaz, and Abaza, were majority or even predominantly Muslim; hence the use in some Russian language historiography of the word mukhadzhirstvo/%D0%9C%D1%83%D1%85%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B6%D0%B8%D1%80%D1%8B (or makhadzhirstvo/махаджирство), deriving from the Arabic term muhajir, meaning literally "departee" and by extension "emigrant", to describe this exodus. This exodus involved an unknown number of people, many hundred thousands. The Russians had come to refer to them as mountaineers (gortsy) (meaning, not "mountain climbers", but "mountain dwellers"). The Russian army rounded up people, driving them from their villages to ports on the Black Sea, where they awaited ships provided by the neighboring Ottoman Empire. The explicit Russian goal was to expel the groups in question from their lands. They were given a choice as to where to be resettled: in the Ottoman Empire or in Russia far from their old lands. Only a small percentage (the numbers are unknown) accepted resettlement within the Russian Empire.
An unknown number of deportees in the hundreds of thousands perished during the process. Some died from epidemics among crowds of deportees both while awaiting departure and while languishing in their Ottoman Black Sea ports of arrival. Others perished when ships under way sank during storms. Two other Muslim peoples in the northwest Caucasus, the Karachay and the Balkars, were not deported. According to the Russian government's own figures at the time, about 90 percent of the affected peoples were deported.
"In this year of 1864 a deed has been accomplished almost without precedent in history: not one of the mountaineer inhabitants remains on their former places of residence, and measures are being taken to cleanse the region in order to prepare it for the new Russian population." - Main Staff of the Caucasian ArmyAfter the surrender of Imam Shamil (Chechnya and Dagestan) in 1859, Russia's war of conquest in the north Caucasus narrowed down to Circassia. Following the conquest of the north Caucasus by the Russian Empire, the Russian Empire implemented a policy of evicting the Circassians from their ancestral territories. It was General Nikolai Yevdokimov who first came up with the idea of resettling mountaineers of the western Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire. He wrote that "resettlement of intractable mountaineers" to Turkey would be the easiest way to bring the prolonged Caucasian War to an end, while giving freedom to those who "prefer death to allegiance to the Russian government". On the other hand, the Tsarist command was very much aware of the possibility of the migrants being used by Turkey as a strike force against Christian populations during the impending Russo-Turkish War. The Circassian resettlement plan was eventually agreed upon at a meeting of the Russian Caucasus commanders in October 1860 in Vladikavkaz and officially approved on May 10 1862 by Tsar Alexander II.
The Ottomans sent emissaries, including mullahs that called for leaving the dar al-Kufr and moving to the dar al-Islam. Ottomans hoped to increase the proportion of the Muslim population in areas of the empire with restive non-Turkish populations. "Mountaineers" were invited to "go to Turkey, where the Ottoman government would accept them with open arms and where their life would be incomparably better". Local mullahs and chiefs favoured resettlement, because they felt oppressed by the Russian administration. They warned their people that in order to gain full Russian citizenship they would have to convert to Christianity. Additionally, local chieftains were keen to preserve their ancient privileges and feudal rights that had been abolished throughout the Russian Empire by the Emancipation Manifesto in 1861. Russia's obligatory conscription was also among the factors that worried these populations, although in fact they would never be subject to military draft.
Among the peoples that moved to Turkey were Adyghe, Ubykhs, Muslim Abkhazians (especially Sadz branch). Small numbers of Muslim Ossetians, Ingush, Chechens, Lezgins and Karachays were also swept up in the expulsion.. After the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), the Ottoman Empire ceded to Russia the largely Muslim Georgian provinces (Adjara, Lower Guria, former Tao-Klarjeti) and Lazistan. Thereupon thousands of Muslim Georgians (Chveneburi) became muhajirs (the Georgians were predominantly Christian); the Muslim Laz people (ethnically similar to the Georgians and whose language is similar to the Georgian language) also emigrated.
Shamil's son Muhamed Shafi was appalled by the conditions the migrants had faced upon their arrival to Anatolia and went to investigate the situation: "I will write to Abdülmecid that he should stop fooling mountaineers... The government's cynicism could not be more pronounced. The Turks triggered the resettlement by their proclamations, probably hoping to use the refugees for military ends... but after facing the avalanche of refugees, they turned turtle and shamefully condemned to slow death those people who were ready to die for Turkey's glory".
During the year of 1864 alone about 220,000 muhajirs disembarked in Anatolia. Between March 6 and May 21 1864, the entire Ubykh people had departed the Caucasus for Turkey. By the end of the resettlement, more than 400,000 Circassians, as well as 200,000 Abkhazians and Ajars, fled to Turkey. The term Çerkes, "Circassians", became the blanket term for them in Turkey because the majority were Adyghe.
The expulsion resulted in the depopulation of vast swaths of the Western Caucasus, specifically the fertile Pontic littoral near Sochi. The Tsarist government was so alarmed by the resulting decline in the regional economy that in 1867 it banned emigration with the exception of "isolated exceptional cases". Nevertheless, a large number of households later managed to leave Russia when they went on the hajj to Mecca and remained with their relatives in Turkey, as the Russian embassy in İstanbul would often report.
The overall resettlement was accompanied by hardship for most people. A significant part died of starvation — many Turks of Adyghe descent still do not eat fish in modern times in memory of the tremendous numbers of their kinsfolk they lost during the passage of the Black Sea.
All nationals of Turkey are considered Turkish for official purposes. However, there are several hundreds of villages considered purely 'Circassian', with estimates of the total population of 'Circassians' going as high as 1,000,000, although there is no official data in this respect, and the estimates are based on informal surveys. The 'Circassians' in question may not always speak the languages of their ancestors, and Turkey's centre right parties, often with varying degrees of Turkish nationalism, generally do well in regions where Circassians constitute a sizable fraction of the population (such as in Akyazı).
Ethnic minorities fared better in those countries of the Middle East that were subsequently created from the dismembered Ottoman Empire and were initially under British protectorate. The Al Jeish al Arabi (Arab Legion), created in Trans-Jordan under the influence of the British agent T. E. Lawrence had a significant contingent of Chechens — arguably because the Bedouin were reluctant to serve under a centralized command. In addition, the modern city of Amman was born after Circassians settled there in 1887.
Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's May 1994 statement admitted that resistance to the tsarist forces was legitimate, but he did not recognize "the guilt of the tsarist government for the genocide. In 1997 and 1998, the leaders of Kabardino-Balkaria and of Adygea sent appeals to the Duma to reconsider the situation and to issue the needed apology; to date, there has been no response from Moscow. In October 2006, the Adygeyan public organizations of Russia, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Syria, the USA, Belgium, Canada and Germany sent the president of the European Parliament a letter with a request to recognize the genocide against Adygean (Circassian) people.
Although there is no legal continuity between the Russian Empire and the modern Russian Federation and the concept of genocide has been adopted in international law only in the 20th century (ex post facto law), on 5 July, 2005 the Circassian Congress, an organisation that unites representatives of the various Circassian peoples in the Russian Federation, has called on Moscow first to acknowledge and then to apologize for tsarist policies that Circassians say constituted a genocide. Their appeal pointed out that, "according to the official tsarist documents more than 400,000 Circassians were killed, 497,000 were forced to flee abroad to Turkey, and only 80,000 were left alive in their native area.