Draft, 4 July 2010 The Formation of a Circassian Diaspora in Turkey Sevda Alankuş Faculty of CommunicationIzmir University of EconomicsIzmir [email protected]
Erol Taymaz Department of EconomicsMiddle East Technical UniversityAnkara [email protected]
Abstract The Circassians are a native, autochthonous, people of the North-west Caucasus wherethey had lived as independent until the 18th century. They resisted against the TsaristEmpire without any organized army and without any significant external support for morethan a century, but were deported en masse into foreign lands following the conquest of their homeland in the mid-19th century. The deportation of the Circassian people wasamong the largest exodus in modern times. Almost 90 percent of the population wasdeported, and a third of them perished during the exodus from disease and starvation.Those who survived were dispersed into various countries. The Circassians in theCaucasus, in spite of their small population, have established autonomous republics withinthe Russian Federation, and have preserved their culture and language. Today, the largestcommunities of Circassians live in Turkey. This paper studies the construction of theCircassian diaspora in Turkey with a special emphasis on the discourse of Circassianintellectuals from different generations in different political contexts. 2 1. Introduction The Circassians 1 are a native, autochthonous, people of the North-west Caucasus wherethey have lived since the ancient times. They speak a unique language that includes almostall sounds a human can pronounce. They have developed a unique culture that reflects theirnatural habitat, the mysterious Caucasian mountains, and the long standing relations withneighboring and distant peoples.The Circassians protected their freedom against many aggressors in their history. Havingnever been conquered, they have managed to preserve their ancient culture until the time of the Russian invasion which began in the 18th century. They resisted for more than acentury against the Tsarist Empire without any organized army and without any significantexternal support, but they were deported en masse into foreign lands following theconquest of their land in the mid-19th century. The deportation of the Circassian peoplewas among the largest exodus in modern times. Almost 90 percent of the population wasdeported, and a third of them perished during the exodus from disease and starvation.Those who survived were dispersed into various countries.The Circassians in the Caucasus, in spite of their small population, have establishedautonomous republics within the Russian Federation, and have preserved their culture andlanguage. Today, the largest communities of Circassians, about 5-7 million, live in Turkey,and about 200,000 Circassians live in the Middle Eastern countries (Jordan, Syria, Egyptand Israel). The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a new wave of migration from diasporacountries to Europe and the United States. It is estimated that there are now more than100,000 Circassian living in the European Union countries. The community in Kosovoexpatriated to Adygea after the war in 1998.This paper studies the formation of the Circassian diaspora in Turkey with a specialemphasis on the discourse of Circassians intellectuals. The paper is organized as follows.The second section provides a brief account of the exile of the Circassians from theCaucasus and their subsequent settlement in the Ottoman Empire. The third, fourth andfifth sections analyze the characteristics of the Circassian diaspora in three time periods:1923-1950 (Section 3), 1950-1980 (Section 4) and 1980-Present (Section 5). The paperconcludes with a summary of main arguments. 2. War, exodus and exile: Settlements in the Ottoman Empire The Circassians began arriving in Anatolia and the Middle East in the 14th century as aresult of gradual and sporadic contacts with various kingdoms and dynasties in the region.After the conquest of Istanbul (Constantinople) by the Ottomans in 1453, the population of the Circassians tended to increase in the Ottoman Empire, especially in the ruling circles inIstanbul. 1 The term “Circassian” in English is derived from the Turkic Cherkess (Çerkes). Originially, it refers to the Adygea people, but has been applied to the North-western Caucasian peoples (Adygea, Ubykh, andAbkhaz-Abazin), and even sometimes all the Northern Caucasian peoples. In this paper, we use the term “Circassian” to identify the indigenous peoples of the North -western Caucasus (Adygea, Ubykh, andAbkhaz-Abazin) who share a common history and cultural featurs, and live under similar conditions inTurkey. 3The Circassians did not exist as a distinct community in Anatolia and the Middle East untilthe mid 19th century. 2 During the long war of resistance against the Tsarist invasion thatstarted in the early 18th century, the Circassians gradually withdrawn towards thehighlands, and a large number of them had been forced to migrate to the Ottoman lands.Following the Crimean War in 1856 and the fall of the North-eastern Caucasus in 1859, theRussian army concentrated its forces in Circassia for the final conquest. The 21 of May1864 marks the end of the resistance, and the beginning of the Circassian Exodus, theforced migration of Circassians. As a result of a systematic policy of clearing the Circassiaof its indigenous peoples, most of the Circassians (about 90 percent of the population atthat time) were expelled from the Caucasus in a short time period under extremely adverseconditions.The Circassians were settled in Rumeli (the European part of the Ottoman Empire,currently Bulgaria and Romania) and Anatolia. However, those who were located inRumeli (about 200,000 Circassians) experienced a new exodus following the Russian-Ottoman War of 1877-78, and were resettled in Anatolia, Syria, Jordan and Palestine (seePinson, 1972).The Circassians in Anatolia were settled in the Southern Marmara region, from Istanbul toIzmit, Adapazari, Duzce, Bursa, Balikesir and Canakkale. Another line of settlementextends from Sinop-Samsun on the Blacks Sea coast down till Amman, with sizeable concentrations in Samsun, Amasya, Tokat, Yozgat, Çorum, Sivas, Kayseri, Maraş, Adana and Hatay (see Figure 1 for the Circassian settlements in Turkey).The number of Circassians deported to the Ottoman Empire is not known, but the estimatesvary from 500 thousands to 2 million. The most reliable studies based on archival materialindicate that the number of people deported is about 1.5 million, but a large number of them (about one third of the people) had lost their lives during exodus and as a result of poor living conditions in new settlements (Karpat 1985; for British observes on thedesperation of new migrants, see Tutum 1993 and Rosser-Owen 2007; for the Ottomanpolicy, see Zürcher 2008).The Ottoman population, after the retreat following the 1877-78 war, was about 17.4million in 1893 (Karpat, 1978). The share of Muslim population was about 70 percent(12.6 million), and the rest included Greeks (2.3 million), Armenians (1 million), andothers. Thus, the Circassians, about 1 million survived, accounted for almost 10 percent of the Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century.The Circassians in the Ottoman Empire struggled to survive in unfamiliar and sometimeshostile locations of settlement, and to adopt new conditions in the second half of the 19thcentury. The era of Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) imposed restrictions of national andcultural resurgence of the Circassians, as exemplified by the demolition of the Gedikpasha Theater in 1884 after a play called the “Circassian Nobles” ( Çerkes Özdenleri ).The Young Turk Revolution in 1908 and the restoration of the 1876 Constitution started anew, relatively democratic era (the so-called Second Constitutional Era, İkinci Meşrûtiyet ).The Circassians responded rapidly by establishing a number of associations ( Çerkes İttihad ve Teavün Cemiyeti in 1908, Şimali Kafkasya Cemiyeti in 1911, Kafkasyalılar Arasında 2 The Circassian Mamluks in Egypt, who ruled the country more than a century, constituted anexception. 4 Neşr -i Maarif Cemiyeti in 1914 and Ç erkes Kadınları Teavün Cemiyeti in 1918). Amongthese associations, the Şimali Kafkasya Cemiyeti was closed down by the British Army thatoccupied Istanbul after the Armistice of Moudros in 1918. The rest of the associations hadto cease their activities in 1923 after the establishment of the new republic.All these associations were established in Istanbul where a sizeable and active urban andintellectual Circassian community was established. They had been very successful incultural activities, developed Circassian alphabets based on Arabic and Latin scripts,published a newspaper in Adygea language ( Ghuaze ), established schools that taught inCircassian (in Istanbul and in the Caucasus), published a large number of textbooks inCircassian. They had been instrumental in establishing contacts with the Caucasus andnurturing the idea of return to the homeland. 3. A muted people: 1923-1950 The Republic of Turkey was established in 1923 following the War of Liberation (1919-23). There were many Circassians among the leaders of the Liberation War who supportedthe fight against a common enemy of all Muslim peoples. There had been three dynamicsthat shaped the mind- set of Circassians in this period. First, “the republican political elite were highly engaged in a strong ideology of majority nationalism, which promoted the formation of an ethnically and culturally homogenous nation. … The defining distinctiveness of the early Republic was Turkification policies, which sought thedominance of Turkishness and Isl am as the defining elements in every walk of life,” (Kaya, 2005: 136) These policies were personified in Çerkes Ethem the traitor , who wasamong the first guerilla leaders fought against the Greek Army occupying the WesternAnatolia. Although Çerkes Ethem never idenfied himself as a Circassian during the War of Independence, and he was never called as such, he was labeled as the “traitor” and the“Circassian” as a reminder for those who would not accept new nationalist policies. Second, 14 Circassian villages were deported from Manyas ve Gönen to the provinces inthe Eastern Anatolia in 1923. A leading Circassian intellectual of that time period, Mehmet Şoenu, was alone to defend their rights and published calls to the Grand Assembly and the public opinion to reverse the deportation decision (Şoenu, 1923/1979). Although the deported people were later allowed to return back to their srcinal villages, these policieshad a profound impact on the collective memory of the Circassians.Finally, political refugees that migrated to Turkey after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russiahad played an important role. The refugees who came to Turkey were kindly sent forward to the European countries as a result of “good neighborly relations” between Turkey and the Soviet Union in the late 1930s. After the Second World War, these refugees wereorganized by the US, and some of them were settled in Turkey. They changed graduallytheir pre-war anti-Russian rhetoric to anti-Soviet one, and those in Turkey adopted theTurkish natio nalist policy and discourse by presenting themselves as the “CaucasianTurks”. As a result of these three factors, the Circassian urban elite and intellectuals incorporatedthemselves into the dominant nationalist discourse, avoided their ethnic identity andbackground in the public life while preserving, to some extent, a (weakening) memory of their ethnic culture in their private lives. The rural areas, where most of the Circassians 5lived at that time, had been a refuge for the preservation of the Circassian culture, thanks totheir economic and social isolation. 4. Nostalgia, homeland and cultural rights: 1950-1980 1950 marks a new era of democratization (multi-party system) and modernization forTurkey. These two processes had opposite effects on Circassians in Turkey. Democracypaved the way for cultural activities whereas modernization (mass migration from ruralareas to urban centers, mass education, and mass media) rapidly eliminated rural isolationthat preserved the Circassian culture for almost a century.The first Caucasian association in modern Turkey was established by the urban elite, firstgeneration migrants from rural regions, and students in Istanbul in 1953. The association, Dosteli Yardımlaşma Derneği , was renamed as Kafkas Kültür Derneği , and it is still one of the most active associations in Turkey. The political refugees established anotherassociation in Istanbul, Kuzey Kafkas Türk Kültür Derneği , to distance themselves fromnational-cultural activities of the former association and to focus on mainstream anti-Soviet policies (see Taymaz 2001 and Hersant and Toumarkine 2005).The number of Circassian associations increased rapidly after 1960 (the Ankaraassociation, that played a leading role since the mid-1970s, was established in 1961) undera more democratic political environment created by the new 1960 Constitution. TheCaucasian associations were established in almost all major town centers that had asignificant Circassian hinterland. The founders of these associations were usually firstgeneration migrants and educated people who could feel and observe rapid loss of theCircassian culture. As a reaction, the nostalgia for an idealized culture had been thedominant motivating factor for the Caucasian associations and the protection andpreservation of the idealized Circassian culture had been the focus of their activities in the1960s and early 1970s.The leading members of the Caucasian associations, frustrated by rapid loss of theCircassian culture, searched for conditions for the long term survival of their cultural andethnic identity, and developed a new discourse after the early 1970s. The new discoursewas based on five concepts: the homeland ( anayurt ) as the cradle and protector of thecultural and ethnic identity; exodus ( sürgün ), the forced separation from the homeland, asthe source of all problems; exile ( muhaceret ) as a temporary and unsustainable dispersionoutside of the homeland; assimilation ( asimilasyon ) as the unavoidable outcome of exodusand exile; and return ( dönüş ) as a solution for survival and being a nation in the homeland.Thus, the new emerging urban intellectuals tended to abandon the nostalgia, and developedan “identity politics ” by emphasizing the right to return and the right for self -determination in the homeland within the changed political context of Turkey‟s. While some of them were considering the struggle for cultural rights in the exile as necessary step to preservethe cultural and ethnic identity, took part actively in left wing political movements of alldifferent kind estimating that assimilation will be stopped in a prospective moredemocratic Turkey. Instead, the agenda of others, who believed that assimilation cannot be stopped even by recognition of the cultural rights and known as “pro - returns”(“Dönüşçüler”), was developing a “return policy” to the homeland.