Sultan Khan Girey (1808-1841)

Sultan Khan Girey, Султан Хан-Гирей

Sultan Khan Girey (1808-1841) was a Circassian (Adyghe) historian and writer of the 19th century. Being a comtemporary of Shora Nogmo (Nogmov), another pioneering Circassian historian and folklorist, Girey made significant contributions to Circassian culture and national consciousness during his short life. Girey was a leading Circassian writer, historian,  ethnographer, folklorist, artist, and linguist who prepared an alphabet for the Circassian language. He was also a thinker interested in the social order and problems of the Circassian society.[1] 

Politically, Girey was on the side of the Russian rule in Circassia and Caucasus in general. After graduting from the Russian Cadet Corps Military School in St. Petersburg and serving in various military positions in the tsarist Russian army, Girey became the commander of the Caucasus highland half-squadron when he was 29. Soon, he became a colonel and obtained the court title of adjutant. He also entered Russia’s leading circles of artists, scientists and writers including Grech, Karamzin, Pushkin, Lermontov, V. A. Zhukovsky, P. A. Vyazemsky, A. A. Pletnev, J. P. Shulgin and A. A. Plushar. He was known as the “Karamzin of the Circassians” in Moscow’s intellectual circles. Girey’s works were published in famous periodicals in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the Caucasus and they drew attention to the Caucasian studies. Russian scientist V. S. Miller and British John Bell used his findings. Girey’s work on the Circassian traditions were translated into German. Girey’s works became a very valuable source of information for many researchers studied Caucasus and the Circassians.[2] 

Girey criticized the position of the uneducated and cruel nobles and feudalism in the Circassian society for being exploitative and oppressive. He defended the rights of the ordinary people and lower classes in the Circassian society. According to him, widespread education and public awareness could end unjustice practices of the nobles on the ordinary people. Girey’s ideas were influenced by the Russian Englightenment which invited the Russian nobles to obey higher ethnical standards for the good of the motherland. Additionally, Giray was proposing the leadership of an “enlightened monarch” to transform the Circassian society again in line with the liberal wing of the Russian Enlightenment tradition. Reluctance of the tsarist Russian government to use peaceful means of education instead of classical military tactics and the repression of the Russian army on the Caucasian peoples led him to a disappointment about his romantic ideals.[3] 

He focused on studying the cultural aspects of the European societies as useful examples to transform the Circassian society. But he also stated that best features of the Circassian culture should be preserved at the same time. He was a supporter of the peaceful incorporation of Circassia into the Tsarist Russian Empire and he believed in the educational mission of the advanced Russian culture on the Caucasian nations. However, his optimistic ideals about the Russian advance contradicted with the brutal practices of the Russian army. He predicted the tragic end of the Russo-Caucasian War for the Caucasian nations, especially Circassians, in the coming decades. He fought in the Russian Army’s campaigns in Persia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire but he did not fight in the battles in the Caucasus. As the Russian Tsar’s special envoy, he took part in a pro-Russian peaceful propaganda campaign to persuade the Circassian leaders to accept Russian rule but both he and his Russian superiors were dissatistified about the result of this initiative. After his return to St. Petersburg, he was forced to resign from the Russian Army. Contradictions between his ideals and the actual policies of the Russian administration in the Caucasus ended his military career. A few years later, he passed away and his complex personal search for coherence between Russia and the Circassians ended. Girey’s works inspired coming generation of Circassian intellectuals and served as a valuable source of information about the Circassian society of the 19th century and before for many researchers.[4] 

Writings by Sultan Khan Girey 

1)      Историко-этнографическое сочинение «Записки о Черкесии». Завершены в 1836 г., в дооктябрьский период оставались в рукописи.

2)      Повесть «Черкесские предания» (Русский вестник. 1841. Т. 2).

3)      Нравоописательный очерк «Вера, нравы, обычаи, образ жизни черкесов» (Там же. 1842. Т. 5.).

4)      Повесть «Князь Канбулат» (Там же. 1844. № 10-11).

5)      Повесть «Наезд Кунчука» (Кавказ. 1846; перепеча тана в «Русском инвалиде», 1846 г:, в сборнике газеты «Кавказ» за II полугодие 1846 г., в журнале «На Кавказе». 1909, т. 1).

6)      Мифология черкесских народов - отрывок из очерка «Вера, нравы, обычаи, образ жизни черкесов» (Кавказ, ; 1846; перепечатан в сборнике газеты «Кавказ» за II полугодие 1846 г.).

7)      Нравоописательно-биографический очерк «Бесльний Абат» (Кавказ. 1847. № 42-48; перепечатан в сборнике! газеты «Кавказ» за II полугодие 1847 г.).

8)      «Князь Пшьской Аходягоко» (Сборник материалов для описания местностей и племен Кавказа. 1893. № 17).

Further reading

1)      Бурнашев В. Из воспоминаний петербургского старожила // Заря. СПб., 1871.

2)      Кумыков Т. X. Хан-Гирей. Жизнь и деятельность. Нальчик, 1968.

3)      Хашхожева Р. Хан-Гирей. Жизнь и деятельность // Избранные произведения Хан-Гирея / Подг. текстов и вступ. ст. Р. Хашхожевой. Нальчик, 1974. С. 3-54. Второе изд. Нальчик, 1989. С. 3-52.

4)      Хашхожева Р. Античные традиции в творчестве Хан-Гирея // Филологические труды. Нальчик, 1977. С. 85-95.

5)      Хашхожева Р. Адыгские просветители XIX- начала XX в. Нальчик, 1993. С. 25-39.

6)      Р.Х. Хашхожева. Избранные статьи. Нальчик «Эльбрус» 2004.


[1] Султан Хан-Гирей (1808-1841), Культура КБР Website,

[2] Султан Хан-Гирей (1808-1841), Культура КБР Website,

[3] Султан Хан-Гирей (1808-1841), Культура КБР Website,

[4] Султан Хан-Гирей (1808-1841), Культура КБР Website,