Circassians - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Upon settlement, the Circassians were mainly engaged in agriculture, although they gradually became drawn into the network of internal trade controlled by merchants from nearby towns and cities. In Bilād ash-Sham, although Circassians were engaged in transporting goods such as barley cultivated by Bedouins, they remained essentially suppliers of agricultural goods and did not control trade. The construction of the Hejaz railway to Mecca provided wage-labor opportunities. A few Circassians were also employed in the Ottoman administration.

The changes wrought in the geopolitics of the region in the early twentieth century, with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire into present-day Turkey and several mandate governments (the French in Syria and the British in Jordan and Palestine), changed the economy and nature of Circassian settlements. New opportunities, notably in the armies and bureaucracies, became available to them and their settlements become more heterogeneous. Amman, for example, became the capital of the new Jordanian state. Later, with the transformation of the peasant economy, Circassians, as others, participated in the new avenues for wage labor in industry, agro-business and so on, although the military and bureaucracy remain the main occupations for the communities in Syria and Jordan.

Industrial Arts. Circassian traditional crafts included agricultural implements, especially their distinctive two-wheeled carts, silversmithing and other metalwork, and leatherwork. Very few are still involved in crafts production today, except in the form of "folkloric" items and attempts at the revival of traditional arts.

Trade. The Circassians in the Middle East have largely not engaged in trade and attribute this to national character, saying that Circassians make good military personnel but bad traders. More likely it has to do with the nature of the opportunities that were available to them in their new environments. The Anatolian Circassians were engaged in some horse breeding and cattle trading, and some continue to work as truckers of meat and animals. Furthermore, in some places, such as Jordan, they are heavily engaged in real estate because their lands have gained in value as urban residential areas continue to expand into formerly agricultural land. The new opportunities opened up by the possibility of commercial links with the Caucasus have led some, especially in Turkey, to establish import-export companies as well as travel agencies.

Division of Labor. Previously, the division of labor reflected the nature of agriculture in the areas of settlement. Women do not seem to have worked in the fields, although they cultivated orchards and gardens and raised animals. Where herding was an important activity, women also played a role in managing herds. Young men and women had well-defined duties serving elders at formal gatherings and ceremonies. Where a more urban economy is in place, such as in Syria and Jordan, the former peasant households have been transformed; men work mostly in the military and the bureaucracy. Within the sectors made available to them by the wider economy, women have also entered the urban workforce.

Land Tenure. At the time of settlement, land was allotted to each household according to its size. In Jordan, this amount of land was 60 donums (6 hectares) for households of up to five people and 80 donums (8 hectares) for larger ones. Land was registered in the name of the head of the household. Later, each state undertook different types of land registration and distribution. In Jordan, land is generally privately owned, and until the 1980s, and especially in rural settlements, land was often held by the father until his death, whereupon it was divided among the children, according to Islamic inheritance rules. In those areas where land became valuable commercial property, younger family members pressured elders to divide the property among them. In a rather widespread phenomenon, many elderly women who own vast tracts of land inherited from their fathers are refusing to divide or sell them.


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