Sunday, April 28, 2019

Circassian Center Opens in Istanbul as Link Between Homeland and Diaspora

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Some 500 people came to the opening of a Circassian Cultural Center in Istanbul, a center that intends to play a role linking the more than three million Circassians in Turkey with the three-quarters of a million of their fellow ethnics in the North Caucasus homeland.

            Even though there are questions as to how freely the Turkish government and the Russian government will allow it to operate given that each has concerns about Circassians as minorities, this is an important symbolic “embassy” of the Circassian communities in both countries and elsewhere as well (

            Indeed, if one can judge by the impact the Circassian Cultural Center in Tbilisi has had – for its remarkable activities, see its portal at -- the opening and existence of this institution will encourage the Circassian national movement both in Turkey and in the North Caucasus as well as elsewhere even if Ankara and Moscow do restrict it.  

            Attending the opening were, among others, the head of the Adygey Republic, the Russian consul general in Istanbul, officials from the Turkish government, representatives of the Circassian intelligentsia, as well as delegations from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a list that suggests both the breadth of representation and problems ahead because of it.

            The current building on land provided by the Turks is viewed as a temporary one, especially since it is not on a finished road and those who want to visit it must walk 30 minutes through a park. But that challenge did not dampen the enthusiasm of those in attendance, the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency reported.

            The Russian embassy arranged for the visit of the delegation from Adygeya, Asker Sokht, the head of the Adyge Khase of Krasnodar Kray, said, as part of plans by Moscow and Ankara to have cultural exchanges.  He said he is especially pleased at a symbolic level because there haven’t been any Circassian centers in Turkey since the 1920s.

            At the same time, Sokht cautioned against expecting too much too soon: Turkey and Russia are on different sides of many divides. Nevertheless, the establishment of a cultural center gives real hopes to Circassians in both countries. He noted also that a Turkish university is now preparing instructors in Circassian.

            Turkey is in the process of overcoming a long history of hostility to national minorities, Sokht continued. And the existence of this center will help the Circassians of Turkey overcome suspicions many Turks still have about ethnic groups. As such, the new center will help Circassians in both places, not just in the North Caucasus homeland.

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