Society, Politics, and Economy in Modern Turkey: Sociology of Turkey - Maintained by Tugrul Keskin
We are at a point in our work when we can no longer ignore empires and the imperial context in our studies. (p. 5)
― Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

INTERVIEW: Circassian identity a ‘hidden germ’ in Turkish politics

William Armstrong -

HURRIYET DAILY - Tuesday,May 12 2015

In Turkey and elsewhere, identity politics have defined the last 30 years. Across the spectrum - from Islamist to secularist politics, from Kurdish nationalism to Turkish nationalism - cultural identity has become the key conduit for political expression.

Circassians, who migrated to the Ottoman Empire after being driven from their homeland in the North Caucasus by the advancing Russian Empire in the 19th century, have typically had a fairly low public profile in Turkey. But as Turkish scholar Zeynel Abidin Besleney describes in a new book (reviewed here), Circassian political activism in Turkey actually has a lively heritage stretching back to the Ottoman Empire. While their identity is still largely seen as a private concern, today Circassians have a rising “consciousness” and activism has become increasingly sophisticated.

Hürriyet Daily News spoke to Besleney to explore this little-known “hidden germ” in Turkish politics.

What made you want to research this subject? What piqued your interest?

I was born in Turkey, though I’ve been living in the U.K. for 18 years. I myself am Circassian from Turkey, and I had first-hand experience of the issue in the 1990s. I always thought that this was a kind of “hidden germ” in Turkish political history. There is a lively platform for Circassian diaspora activism, which goes back almost a century, but most people who study Turkish political history don’t have much of an idea what this platform actually is. Every now and then Circassians pop up in the news: Sometimes they hijack a ferry or an airplane, sometimes they come out onto the street demanding linguistic rights, which is usually thought of as an exclusively Kurdish domain. I wanted to explore the roots of this activism.


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