Circassians are needed in Turkey’s parliament
In my article last week, I mentioned the "Literature and the National Struggle Symposium" that I had attended. Firstly, I would like to mention that Zeytinburnu Municipality Culture and Arts made all sessions of the symposium available for viewing. The recording of the first session that I attended is available here.
On the first day of the session, historian Caner Yelbasi gave a presentation on the portrayal of Circassians in some novels about the War of Independence. Yelbasi is the author of an important book titled "Turkish Circassians: War, Violence, Nationalism from the Ottoman Empire to Turkey." He is also a Circassian like me, and displeased with the image of the "Traitorous Circassian" associated with Cerkes Ethem (“Ethem the Circassian”), which is often portrayed in novels about the War of Independence. He calmly brought up this issue in his speech.
The "Traitorous Circassian" image is a topic that I have written about many times as well. I have a folder titled "Circassians" on my Academia.edu page, and the articles here are generally about the development of this image in novels. This is an image created by the dissatisfied and oppressive discourse towards existing ethnic and cultural identities in Turkey. At the time, Ethem Bey, who first operated in the name of the National Struggle and then sought refuge with the Greeks after a disagreement with Ankara, is directly referred to as a traitor in Ataturk's "Nutuk" speech, and has since been known as "Cerkes Ethem." Thus, the Circassian identity has been associated with treachery through Ethem, and has been used as a threat against anyone who does not hide their Circassian identity. Every Circassian in Turkey knows that someone has wagged a finger at them at least once and warned, "Be careful! Don't make your Circassian identity too visible, or you'll become a traitor like Cerkes Ethem, God forbid."
AN INCESSANT TALK OF BETRAYAL
Regardless of whether one is Circassian, many scholars have addressed the issue of Circassians. For an important and recent work that deals with this and many other topics related to Circassians, one can refer to the book titled "Thinking about the 21st Century of Circassians and the Future of Circassians" edited by Merih Cemal Taymaz and Sevda Alankus and published by Dipnot Publishing. In my own work included in the first volume, I addressed the exhausting presence of the talk of betrayal through a striking literary example.
In Turkey, not only ethnic and religious identities but all kinds of different identities are subject to oppressive othering processes. For example, we were subjected to this after Caner Yelbasi's speech as well. The historical chairperson of the session, forgetting that Yelbasi is a historian and assuming he was a scholar of literature (as a literary researcher working on the interaction between history and literature, this is a situation I am used to: historians who think they are the only ones who know and understand history), defended the aptness of Nutuk's approach to the subject and the indisputability of this betrayal issue in a long and confrontational manner.
In the above example, Yelbasi expressed with patience and maturity that he would not engage in this unwarranted argument. This is a situation that Turkish Circassians and especially researchers face so often. From the crudest to the most subtle, you come across this intolerable talk of betrayal which you have spoken, discussed, and written about many times, but then you encounter it again: "But Circassians betrayed [us]."
Millions of North Caucasus immigrants live in Turkey, and not all of them are Circassians. Some are Chechen, Ossetian, Dagestani, Abkhazian, or many other different ethnic identities. However, since millions of Circassians took refuge in the Ottoman Empire after the great deportation of 1864 and were scattered all over the imperial geography, all North Caucasians are referred to as Circassians in the popular discourse. The "treacherous Circassian" label ignores these nuances, of course. Any North Caucasian who emphasizes an identity other than Turkishness is easily turned into a potential traitor.
CIRCASSIAN CANDIDATES FOR PARLIAMENT WHO DO NOT EMPHASIZE THEIR CIRCASSIAN IDENTITY IN TURKEY
In this election, there are many Circassian candidates who could be elected, regardless of their political party. Circassian candidates are visible in every party and are spread throughout Turkey. This is a result of the Ottoman Empire's resettlement policy towards Circassian refugees. During the 1864 Circassian Genocide and Exile, those who came were distributed throughout the imperial geography from Rumelia to Palestine. On the one hand, this was certainly due to the empire's weak economic conditions. It seemed impossible to keep such a large immigrant population together. On the other hand, the Empire’s demographic engineering had a role in their distribution, as they were reorganizing themselves in a Western sense. The Ottoman Empire wanted to use this loyal and warrior population in line with its own management understanding and was creating Circassian villages in every region it considered problematic.
The story is long, but as a result of this population policy, an ethno-cultural identity that was weak in political unity but bound together by language and tradition, nearly vanished until the end of the 20th century. That's why we see that many Circassian candidates who have now become parliamentary candidates do not express their identity. But of course, there are some exceptions. For example, Mutlu Akkaya, an independent candidate in Kayseri, who became a candidate due to the parties' lack of attention to the significant Circassian identity in the area, and Mehmet Aslantug, a famous actor who is a candidate for the Workers' Party of Turkey in Mugla.
I hope many Circassians will be elected as members of parliament. I am not writing this with any ethnic discrimination or nationalist motive. I wish for every identity in Turkey to be present in parliament by expressing both their uniqueness and by contributing to the development of our mutual existence and a democratic republic. This is crucial. The visibility of the Circassian identity in the political field by freely expressing their issues without being subject to absurd accusations of betrayal will develop a democratic culture in Turkey. I do not think we need to talk about how much we need this today, considering the present state of affairs.
METIN KILIC IS NEEDED IN PARLIAMENT
In this regard, I want to express my particular support for a candidate: Metin Kilic, the first candidate for the third district of Ankara for the Green Left Party. Metin Kilic is a socialist who comes from the HDP. He highlights his Circassian identity in all of his election campaigns and explains in detail how he will defend this identity in parliament. His statements can be accessed on the internet and through various channels. However, I also want to emphasize that he emphasizes his Circassian identity within the context of fraternity and solidarity among peoples.
I especially want to mention two people in Metin Kilic's family: his wife Ferdane Kilic and his son Nartan Kilic. We lost these two wonderful people in the Suruc bombing on July 20, 2015. They were among 300 enlightened individuals who set out to build a kindergarten and a children's park in Kobane, which had been attacked by ISIS, and to plant a forest. They were among the 33 people killed by the ISIS bomber. After their deaths, they have become everlasting examples to us all, emphasizing the importance of fraternity among peoples and contributing to peace.
We lost them to Suruc one of the many bloody and not fully illuminated events that occurred between the June 7, 2015, and November 1, 2015, elections, in which the government tried to portray the victims as terrorists. Many lives were lost during that period. At Suruc, at the bombing on the HDP Diyarbakir rally on June 5, at the Ankara Station Massacre on October 10…
As a Circassian, Metin Kilic is coming to parliament to bring the call for peace and brotherhood for both Ferdane and Nartan and for all the losses suffered during this period. He asks for our votes to express that our differences will not prevent us from standing together and building a common, fair, equal, and freedom-loving future.
I am not voting in his constituency, but I value and support his candidacy. We need a Circassian in parliament, we need Metin Kilic in parliament, in order to establish peace and to work towards change together.
* Erol Koroglu: Koroglu is a faculty member at Bogazici University, Department of Turkish Language and Literature. He is a historian of literary culture who tries to understand literature in terms of material production conditions as well as material forms of reading and reception. His main areas of interest are the Turkish novel, narrative theories, theories of nationalism and history-literature interaction. Many of his works can be accessed at Academia.edu.