Jade Cemre Erciyes

Abkhazia’s Diaspora

On the 14th of August 1992, in Inegol [Turkey], a group of musicians from Abkhazia were performing at a concert in a culture festival when the word of ‘war’ fell into the scene like a bomb. There was war in the homeland. As the elderly were discussing what action to take, youngsters were already packing up to leave, collecting money and valuables to get passports and tickets to go and fight with their people.

The concert was no coincidence. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, lots of people from the Inegol-Eskisehir region had gone to visit their homeland - to see the conditions for their and their families’ return, to find long lost relatives, or just to be ‘home’ once in a life time. With the connections they and Abkhazians of other regions of Turkey (mainly Adapazari and Duzce) had established; cultural, social and academic visits to the diaspora settlements from the homeland were already taking place in 1991-1992.

The myth of the homeland was turning into a real place of tranquillity in the eyes of the Diaspora through this movement of people. Homeland was where Abkhazian language was spoken in daily life, thought in school, songs in the native style were sang, dances in traditional costumes were performed.

The war changed it all.

The images of war, buildings on fire, women in black clothes representing their grief for their losses, the pictures of boys who went to fight in the war from the Diaspora- becoming martyrs, the words of hunger and suffering replaced the images of the beautiful sea coast and forests of the homeland, with happy smiles on traditional tables of hospitality.

Abkhazia’s Diaspora, proved to be not only made of Abkhazians on that day. All North Caucasian Diaspora - mainly the Adyghe, living in Turkey, or the Middle East- united to help the Abkhazians. Some Adyghe went to fight in the war with their brethren, many organized activities to collect money or wheat, or meetings to increase the media awareness of the situation.

Girls followed their brothers and cousins to help as nurses or care takers, and some even found guns and followed the boys to the frontiers.

The Diaspora in Turkey, were organized around ‘non-political’ cultural associations named first as ‘Turkish Solidarity Organizations’ in the 60s, and then as ‘Caucasian Cultural Associations’ and after the 1980 coup d’état as they were re-opening as ‘North Caucasian Cultural Associations’. The association in Inegol was first established as ‘North Caucasian Culture and Solidarity Association’ in 1976. It was officially reopened in 1991 after the 1980 coup d’état. When the war started the Adyghe and Abkhaz taking active role in the organization renamed it as  ‘Inegol Abkhaz-Caucasus Cultural Association’ so that it could directly relate to the suffering homeland, during the war time when it was important to publicise Abkhazia’s cause and suffering as well as the fact that there were people living in Inegol who were originally from Abkhazia.

How much influence did the Diaspora had on Abkhazia winning the war and gaining independence is not clear. However, the first president Vladimir Ardzynba knew that it was not possible for Abkhazia to survive without its people, a majority of which was living abroad. He took lots of action to encourage return and repatriation of the Abkhazian Diaspora to the homeland and to increase communications and linkages with the Diaspora.

After the war finished, the Adyghe of the Inegol Association asked to change the name back to its previous name where all north-Caucasians were equally represented. However, the Abkhazians thought, to support the independent Abkhazia, which was by 1995 put under a severe embargo, they needed to keep the name ‘Abkhaz’. This resulted in the establishment of Caucasian-Adyghe Cultural Association in 1995 (As of 2010 Inegol Cherkess Adyghe Cultural Association). However, the Adyghe-Abkhaz united activities continued to take place. The necessity to have separate organizations, today, finds their reasoning in the inability to communicate in mother languages within the organizations and different political realities of the homeland.

In the 21st century, with cheaper telecommunication technologies and cheaper and faster transportation, the Diaspora started a constant back and forth movement, establishing lots of new links and networks, re-learning their homeland as a place of beauty and a place of constant change for better.

The recognition of Abkhazia’s independence in 2008 was a breath of relief in the Diaspora (not only for the Abkhazians but for all north-Caucasians) as marking the end of one of the conflicts in the homeland ‘Caucasus’. The Diaspora associations started making different projects to strengthen their ties with the independent Abkhazian state.

Though the natural right of citizenship stays as a privilege only for those whose ancestors are Abkhazians and given to Ubykhs due to the fact that they don’t have a home-country no more, it is not only the Abkhaz-Ubykh diaspora establishing links with Abkhazia. The Adyghe and the Osetians, and others originally from the north Caucasus - as wives, husbands, sons and daughters, or cousins of Abkhazians or just as friends- pay visits to Abkhazia establishing business, social, cultural and political connections. Many take active discussions ‘online’ to support the united diaspora organizations’ activities and networks, as well as to support Abkhazia’s causes in the international arena. Some choose to claim themselves as an ethnic group relative to the Abkhazians, some as brethren, others as separate groups who should support each other.

2012 is witnessing severe separation within the Diaspora on identities and relations with the homeland. Every word that rises from Abkhazia is reflected in the Diasporic discussions on unity and separation. What is next, or which definition is right, will not be obvious today. However, Abkhazia, needs the power of the wider north-Caucasian diaspora at her back in the international arena as much as she needs the return of ethnic Abkhazians to have a stronger state.

The information presented here about the Adyghe and Abkhaz of Inegol is based on in-debth interviews from my fieldwork in Turkey, Adyghea and Abkhazia in 2011-2012.

Jade Cemre Erciyes
Researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Abkhazia; Dphil Student at the University of Sussex Centre for Migration Research. UK

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