Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday commemorated the deportation of Circassians 156 years ago from their homeland. 

“In the 156th year of their exile from their homeland, I share the pain of our Circassian brothers and once again wish God’s mercy on those who lost their lives,” Erdogan said on Twitter.

The Circassians, a predominantly Muslim people, suffered greatly under the Russians and were subjected to ethnic cleansing.

A war in 1864 near the Black Sea port city of Sochi resulted in defeat for the Circassians and saw the Russian Empire invade all of Caucasia, a region extending east from the eastern Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.

Nearly 1.5 million Circassians were expelled from the region to the east of the Black Sea when it was overrun by Russia in 1864. Some 400,000-500,000 are believed to have died.

Most of the Circassian exiles were absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, settling as far away as present-day Jordan.

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