The flag of Circassia, speech of David Urquhart, Glasgow, May 23, 1838
Speech of Mr. Urquhart, Glasgow, May 23, 1838.
Publisher: The Circassian Committee, 1863
As, in some sort, representative of Circassia in this country, I beg to acknowledge the honour you have done that new-born state, and to thank you for the sympathy you have expressed for its welfare and growth.
It has been just told you, that until very recently the name of Circassia would only have called forth "thoughts of fable and romance, or visions of manly beauty or female grace."
Circassia is still the land of poetry and romance, but it has ceased to be that of mystery or of fable; and though the fame of its loveliness has alone hitherto reached the shores of Western Europe, the disciplined thousands and hundreds of thousands of the CZAR have learned to appreciate its manly virtues and heroic deeds.
If you have hailed with enthusiasm the rising of this new star of the East because it is bright, lovely, and poetic, what would not be your calmer satisfaction if, when contemplating this new emblem rising from the Caspian, and shining over Elbrouz, you could but have beheld a real representative of that people, and a sample of the garrison of the Caucasus - of the defenders of your Indian Empire - comely in aspect, vigorous of frame, with the eye of the eagle, and the limb of the roe, and combining the sternness of the clansman with the suavity of the courtier and the simplicity of the child? It is utterly impossible for me by words to convey the sentiment of admiration, and the feeling of attachment with which that people has inspired me; but it is not on me alone that such impressions have been made. Two English vessels have touched their shores, and from the captain to the cabin-boy, every Briton who has landed on the coast, has been seized by the fascination of this land of romance, and been filled with enthusiasm for a race, the representatives , in these heartless days, of the moral existence and poetic intercourse of the primeval ages of man. Two of your fellow-countrymen have for a year been resident among these - as Russia informs us - savage bandits and stealers of men; one of these a townsman of your own, and the friend of many who now listen to me. His affection for the Circassians, his estimate of their chatracter as men - of their value to us as a people - has grown with every month of residence among them.
Although the Circassians amount to between three and four millions, still only a fraction of those more exposed by their position have borne the brunt of the war. No combination has existed among them; they had no watchword, no rallying-point, no common representation or supreme authority; they have had no connexion with foreign powers, no diplomatic system, no stores or arsenals, no discipline, no flag.
How, therefore, have they been able to maintain their independence, to foil the diplomacy, and to resist the discipline, of their aggressors? How have they been enabled to oppose a barrier against the southward outbreak of the nomade and teeming North?
They have been enabled to do so by the value of individual worth, by the strength of single heroism. The child there, like the nursling of Sparta, is considered the property of the community, and educated for the common good, by a discipline alike of the mind and of the frame, giving fortitude and sobriety to the first, endurance and dexterity to the second. The child, placed under the care of a foster-father, returns not to his home until he has won his rights of manhood by some martial deed.
I was first led to conceive the design of visiting Circassia by the conclusion that the resistance that was there opposed to Russia was connected with high moral character, and with associations of honour and of glory. I conceived that the secret of Russia was to be read in the Caucasus, and that there resided elements for a combination most essential to the greatness of England, most important to the well being of mankind.
Under these convictions, I resolved to penetrate the fable of mysteries that environed the shore of Colchis, or to perish in the attempt.
I did land on that shore unarmed and alone - I did read that mystery, and within four-and-twenty hours did I find myself seated on the summit of a knoll, the Kuban running at my feet, and before me rolled out the interminable vistas of the plains of Muscovy, traced with Kalmuck lines, and dotted with Cossack pulcks, while around me were assembled, in all the splendour of their antique array, thousands of breasts sheathed in warrior mail, the proud representatives of national majesty.
Here I beheld the only people from Nova Zembla to Tangier - from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean - prepared to avenge an insult, or resist an injury from the Czar of MUSCOVY. Then it was that the involuntary oracle burst from my lips, "You are no longer tribes, but a people; you are Circassians, and this is Circassia."
But in "Circassia," a press - a common language - was wanting. The new conception could not be conveyed by syllogism, or enforced by reasoning; a simpler vehicle was necessary, and a common, a national emblem presented itself to my mind as at once the only herald of publicity and the only rhetoric by which national sympathies could be awakened, and common conviction established.
But a flag or a colour acquires its power from the past - from association with great men - or with useful principles in times gone by - whose fame or whose memory, as they float down the stream of time, are linked with the feelings of men's infantine years, and become the expression of admiration for what is great, of love for what is good. Circassia, with an ancestry of five thousand years, presented no such associations; no hero had repelled a conqueror - no legislator had given freedom and prosperity by institutes and laws - the arms of no family could be selected as the emblem of noble devotion - the symbol of no institution be adopted as the expression of national unity - from the naked necessities of the moment, therefore, was the colour to be derived - according to the circumstances of the feelings of the day were the devices to be selected.
Green, the colour that robes their mountains, and that indicates the faith of Mecca, was that which I chose. On it I placed a bundle of arrows, their peculiar arms and a crown of stars, that in the nightly bivouac they might associate their freedom with the works of their Creator, and the glories of the heavens.
This language, speaking through the eye to the heart, was understood; a cry of union rose on the Euxine, and spread to the Caspian - a new nation was called into existence. If a new world was not called into life, a new people was created, calculated to change the destinies of the old. That people are the door-keepers of Asia, and the champions of Europe. On either side of the rampart of the Caucasus spreads a moat of 6000 miles, while beyond these, to the east, stretches the Indian bulkwark of the Himalaya, and to the west the European defences of the Carpathians. An impassable belt of 3000 miles is thus drawn between the warlike hordes of the north, and the wild people of the south, and the only breaks in the link are the two passes of the Caucasus, open only while the Circassians are disunited. The Roman and the Persian empires in their strength found it necessary to close these gates. In their rivalry they combined to defend the Caucasus. That barrier necessary to your defence is now at your disposal, and that people, in self-defence, call on you for protection.
Yet it was on that coast, and before the eyes of this people, that an outrage unheard of was perpetrated on the British flag, and that - I blush as a man, and I tremble as a Briton to record it - England submitted to the outrage, and justified it by a falsehood. An English vessel, the Vixen, was captured by a Russian cruiser while peaceably trading with the independent people, and now bears along these coasts weapons of death and the pennant of Russia.
Had Circassia from time immemorial been a dependancy of Russia, the seizure of the Vixen would have equally been an outrage on England, and a violation not only of international law but of peace; but England and Russia have reciprocally bound themselves by the Treaty of the 6th July, entered into for "the pacification of the East," to seek no accession of territory or any exclusive commercial or political advantages. The plea put forward by Russia, and eagerly grasped by England, of the occupation of the coast in question by a Russian force, an assertion which itself is false, is a violation of compact and of treaty; yet this violation is admitted - nay, invented, to justify, the seizure of a vessel which went to that coast under the sanction and patronage of the British Government itself - exhibiting a complication of infamy unheard of amongst mankind, and which must doom the perpetrator to enduring execration. You ask what can be done to maintain the independence of Circassia.
I reply in the words of the toast you have just drunk, "Maintain your rights as secured by treaty" - cease to strengthen Russia in your dishonour - cease to humiliate Circassia in your disgrace - avenge the piratical seizure of a British vessel before the eyes of the Circassians - maintain that position in the world which will overawe their ruthless aggressor - repay, as men, the sympathy which they offer and the admiration which they feel, and you will do for their independence as much as warlike triumphs can effect - and obtain for yourselves that security which fleets and armies may not restore, when Circassia is lost.
It was on the shores of Circasssia that I first learned to appreciate the strength of England in the union of the interests of mankind with her prosperity. It was there, too, that I learned to appreciate the effect of English commerce on the integrity of her principles, and on the destinies of the minor states. As conducive, therefore, no less to the greatness of England than to the independence of every threatened people, as to that of the struggling Circassians, I beg to propose "The Union of the Commercial Interests of Great Britain, for the defence of their rights."