Publishing the Diaspora: North Caucasian Periodicals in Turkey

Black and white hand drawn map of the Caucasus inside a double-ruled square frame, with the shores and the mountain range highlighted with shading. Major cities, borders, and countries' names are all included.
A map of the Caucasus from Birleşik Kafkasya (Issue 1, 1964, back cover).

In June 2020, I wrote about the life and times of Balo Bilatti, an Ossetian exile engaged in diaspora politics and publishing across Europe and the US. The blog focused primarily on various periodicals published in Warsaw in the inter-War period. These works, and the groups that contributed to them, were clearly linked to the Promethean Union, a collection of anti-Soviet, nationalist associations aimed at national liberation. The Second World War caused great upheaval in the politics and fortunes of many exile groups. As explained in the Bilatti post, a number of individuals and activities migrated westward, to West Germany and the US. But considerable exile and diasporic communities of North Caucasians remained in Turkey as well, and it is some of the publications produced by these groups that I’m going to turn to in this piece, exploring their evolution in the latter part of the 20th century. I’m going to do this through both a review of scholarly literature, and a look at some of the publications I was lucky enough to acquire for the British Library through the online mega-sahaf NadirKitap.

North Caucasian exile and diasporic communities resident in Turkey are anything but small. Still, it can be difficult to estimate the exact number of Turkish citizens and residents who claim descent from migrants from the North Caucasus, in part because of the state’s long-standing insistence on the unity of Turkish identity. Egbert Wessenlink’s overview of the diaspora in Turkey places the maximum number at 6 million (1996), while Dr. Mitat Çelikpala’s examination of the evolution of the community’s political activities places this upper bound at 7 million (2006). Identification is further hampered by the unfortunate use of exonyms and endonyms in Turkey. In Turkish, the name Çerkes (related to Circassian) is frequently used to refer to all North Caucasian peoples, including Abkhazians, Ossetians, Chechens, Ingush, Karaçay, Malkars (Balkars), and Lezgins. It’s also applied the twelve family-based groups often referred to by the endonyms Adyghe (pan-tribal) and Kabardian (tribal), and the exonym Cherkess. On top of this, political or social engagement on North Caucasian issues can result in transnational alliances that obscure national, linguistic, or ethnic divisions. Indeed, Çelikpala’s piece in particular provides an excellent overview of the ways in which organizations can act, and indeed have acted, in supra-national ways, as well as instances of division among the North Caucasian communities in Turkey along ethnic, national, linguistic and political lines.

Back for a moment to that concept of “the unity of Turkish identity”. For those who are familiar with the scholarship on the Republic’s formation and its ideology, such a statement is, perhaps, not all that surprising. Dr. Söner Çağaptay’s work from the noughties has explored how ethnicity, race, religion and (perceived) loyalty were all melded together in the state’s pursuit of a cohesive definition of citizenship and belonging. The papers “Population Resettlement and Immigration Policies of Interwar Turkey: A Study of Turkish Nationalism” (2002) and “Race, Assimilation and Kemalism: Turkish Nationalism and the Minorities in the 1930s” (2004), as well as the monograph Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk? (2009) all deal with these topics, albeit tangentially when it comes to peoples of North Caucasian origin. Luckily for us, Dr. Caner Yelbaşı’s recent (2018) book The Circassians of Turkey: War, Violence and Nationalism from the Ottomans to Atatürk provides a view of the political, social and military events of this period from a Circassian perspective.

Black and white printed cover page of magazine featuring large header in bold Latin script, tag line  cut out of black background, and an image imitating a lithograph of men on horseback with weapons and traditional North Caucasian attire, carrying a flag and riding against the backdrop of distant mountains.
The front cover of the Birleşik Kafkasya (Number 10-11-12, 1966-67), featuring imagery that harkens back to the resistance of the 1860s and the aesthetics of inter-War periodicals.

Others, too, have taken up the nexus of forced migration, ethnicity, and assimilation in the late Ottoman or early Republican period, usually looking at one period or another, but rarely the two together. Dr. Çakır Ceyhan Suvari, for example, has explored conceptual and practical frameworks of ethnicity and belonging throughout the 20th century. Among those who has looked to span periods, Dr. Nesim Şeker stands out, although his particular study focuses on theoretical and conceptual frameworks, rather than the experiences of the North Caucasians in particular. His work is especially interesting given that it breaks the traditional division enforced between late Ottoman and early Republican policy periods, demonstrating that suspicion, assimilation, and control of Muslim ethnic minority communities was a feature of both regimes.

Dr. Özel Oktay’s paper “Migration and Power Politics: The Settlement of Georgian Immigrants in Turkey (1878-1908)” is also enlightening as a means of tying theory to practice, particularly as regards what we found above. While clearly about a South Caucasian grouping, Oktay draws parallels to North Caucasian (“Circassian”) communities that arrived in the 1860s. More importantly, he also helps demonstrate a clear pattern of negotiation, alliance, and distrust between Caucasian exile and migrant communities, local Turkic groups, and the Turkish-dominated Imperial (and later Republican) governments.

But what about the North Caucasians in particular? A lot of research on these communities is ethnographic in nature, perhaps conducted by people from the communities themselves, or by those outside of them. Decades of official displeasure at too boisterous a distinct ethnic identity among minorities means that information about authors’ self-identification isn’t always available.

When we look at Turkish-language scholarship, the playing field obviously widens, both in terms of topics of interest and authors. Many of those engaged in with North Caucasian communities in Turkey are concerned with bringing forth the voices, concerns, worldviews, and intergenerational knowledge networks contained within their own groupings or those that have agreed to engage in their research projects. Among the most rigorous in terms of the authors’ attachment to theory is “Sosyal Kimlik Kuramı Bağlamında Bireylerin Kimlik Tanımlamaları: Kocaeli Kafkas Kültür Derneği Örneklemi” by Elvan Aydemir Dadak and Dr. Nilüfer Özcan Demir of Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi. The two authors seek to situate Circassian identity formation and expression within theoretical and historical contexts particular to Turkey, and to the development of Circassians as distinct communities. While the term community is often amorphous, in the case of many North Caucasian groups it is given a more structured, legalistic sense thanks to the creation and proliferation of federations. The importance of the federations, and formalized organization as a whole, in the bridging of diasporic identity to active citizenship in the Republic, is exactly the topic of Dr. Eylem Akdeniz Göker’s piece “‘Nereye aitiz?’ Diasporik Kimlik ve Türk Vatandaşlığı Kıskacında Çerkes Kimliği”. Göker provides a long view to evolving attitudes and approaches to Adyghe identity within and across borders, and its importance in staking a claim to citizen-defined citizenship within the nation-state. Similar interest in the federations from a Caucasian perspective can also be found in the work of Southern Federal University’s Dr. Veronika Vitalievna Tsibenko.  

Dr. Elif Sakut too has looked at diaspora culture among the “Circassians” of Turkey in “Türkiye’de Çerkezlerin Diaspora Kültürü”. Sakut provides us with detailed information on the self-image of North Caucasians participating in her focus group, particularly as regards their attachment to history, language, culture, and community. Among the most pressing concerns that she identifies is that of mother-tongue education; unsurprising, given the lack of state support for language retention pre-2013. Similar findings are echoed in Bahar Ayça Okçuoğlu’s 2019 paper “Türkiye’de Çerkes Diasporası: Kimlik İnşası ve Referansları”, in which Okçuoğlu makes direct comparisons between the Kurdish and Circassian communities.

A page of text in Latin script printed in black and white, divided into two columns and surrounded by a stylized border.
“Kafkaslı” (“The Caucasian”) a patriotic poem by Batıray Özbek taken from Kafkasya Kültürel Dergisi (Number 26, 1969).

Language really is one of the crucial components of understanding Circassian communities in Turkey today. The plethora of work about Circassian languages and their retention is thus largely unsurprising. Consider Dr. Medine Yıldız’s “Türkiye’deki Çerkesler ve Kaybolmakta Olan Dilleri: Ertuğrul Mahallesi Örneği”, which specifically addresses the issue of language loss in a neighbourhood of Konya. Although not explicit, linguistic identity is also core to the work of Sine Yalçınkaya. In her “Kafkasya’dan Türkiye’ye: Devamlılık, Entegrasyon ve Direnç Süreçleri Bağlamında Adiğeler”, Yalçınkaya explores the violence wreaked by linguistic assimilation over the course of the 20th century, and the power that linguistic reclamation can have in completing and nourishing Circassian identities in the Republic today.  

While much scholarly interest is devoted to larger linguistic groupings such as Adyghe, Kabardian, or Abkhaz speakers, smaller communities are also represented in the academic literature. Sometimes, this might be in the forms of broader histories encompassing the entirety of the Ottoman realm, such as a Russian-language article by Dr. Georgii Chochiev on Ossetians in the Middle East, «Осетины на Ближнем Востоке: Поселение, адаптация, этносоциальная эволюция» (available here in Turkish). Building on Chochiev’s work, Dr. Tekin Aycan Taşcı of Erciyes Üniversitesi has gathered for us a resume of literature in both Turkish and Russian about Ossetians, whether in the homeland or in diaspora, recognizing the importance of both scholarly traditions in the collation of Ossetian history.

A black and white photograph of a man in traditional North Caucasian dress, looking directly into the camera, with a large sheep skin hat and bandoliers.
A reproduction of an old photograph of a North Caucasian fighter from the back cover of Birleşik Kafkasya (Number 8-9, 1966).

While I could probably go on much longer about ethnographic or historical research, it’s time to come back to the issue at hand: periodicals. In exploring Bilatti’s activities and connections, I touched upon, briefly, another group of exiles, domiciled in Paris and Turkey and gathered around either the Ossetian Alihan Kantemir or Haydar Bammat (a known Japanese spy; he also has an entry in the Türk Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi). The outcome of the Second World War, and Turkey’s clear alignment with the NATO block and anti-Soviet politics, radically altered Bammat’s legacy, and the continued presence of North Caucasian diasporic politics in the country. Bilatti and the other exiles associated with the Promethean Movement tended to head west from Poland after the establishment of the Soviet sphere: first to West Germany, and then to the US. A magazine under the title of Kafkasya/Kavkas/Der Kaukasus appeared briefly in Munich during the 1950s, but this appears to have been linked to Kantemir, who remained in West Germany, rather than Bilatti.

Bammat, in some ways, is a bit more of an fascinating character. Despite his interest in the community in Turkey, and the support of Turkish political circles, he did not actually remain in the new Republic. Rather, he received Afghan citizenship in the 1920s, and resided in Paris and in Switzerland. He promoted North Caucasian causes up to the end of the Second World War, but then opted for a shift in tactics, retaining Afghan support by focusing more on Islamic history and culture than on anti-Soviet or nationalist agitation. A number of his works were published in French, and some translated into Turkish, but it doesn’t seem as though Bammat ever entered into the development and enunciation of North Caucasian political and cultural positions in the Turkish Republic post-1945. So, with Bilatti, Kantemir and Bammat all out of the picture, just who was driving community organization and politics in Anatolia?

The black and white cover of a magazine featuring a highly stylized image of rolling hills fading into distant mountains, with the title of the work in Cyrillic and Latin script at the bottom of the page.
The cover of Kafkasya Dağlılar, one of the publications of the inter-War North Caucasian exiles in Poland.

For my own understanding of the names and faces of North Caucasian exile politics, I am immensely indebted to the Kuzey Kafkasya Cumhuriyeti 100 Yaşında! Twitter profile and particularly for their wonderful tweet from 18 November 2017 on the history of exile politicians and their publications. Bilatti, Aytek Kundukh, Ahmet Canbek Havjoko, and Barasbi Baytugan were certainly busy promoting the North Caucasian cause in Europe, but they were also particularly concerned with rallying the diaspora in Turkey. Their organizations soon fell afoul of the CHP’s strict rules on censorship and political activity in the 1930s, and were thus forced to closed. Havjoko, however, was not one to be deterred, and it is thanks to his persistence that he and Baytugan were able to participate in the founding of Birleşik Kafkasya (not related to Kantemir’s work) in Munich in 1964.

It can be quite difficult to track down publication histories from the 1960s onwards, as metadata gets a lot less reliable, at least in terms of what’s available through systems such as OCLC. This is partly because the Milli Kütüphane in Ankara – the authority responsible for legal deposit of such materials – doesn’t share its records with OCLC. Beyond that, though, there is a clear trend in many countries in which minority groups, whether linguistic, religious, ethnic, sexual, gender, or otherwise, do not participate in legal deposit at the same rate, or with the same consistency, as publishers and creatives from majority populations. This is not based on any hard statistics, but rather my own personal observation, based on both my work with Turkic and Kurdish publications at the British Library, and my personal research in Russia and Iran with minority language works. This is understandable, given both minority communities’ spotty (to put it mildly) track record in collaborating with hegemonic institutions on cultural, political, and socio-economic development; and statal institutions attempts at cataloguing and controlling minority groups in the hopes of accelerating assimilation. It is an enduring issue inherent in the institution of legal deposit, and one for which there are few easy solutions, if any.

By and large, though, the Milli Kütüphane does appear to have a good catalogue of the titles, publishers, and dates of Turkish-language North Caucasian diasporic periodicals from the 1960s onwards. This is a good start, but we soon fall off a cliff when digging a bit deeper. The names of contributors and editors; full runs of issues and volumes; languages and subjects: these are all routinely missing from the record. There’s a bit of analysis that you can do from the Milli Kütüphane’s metadata, including tracking waves of publications, their locations, and the relative frequency and periodicity with which North Caucasian diasporic publishing occurred in Turkey. But the lack of more detailed metadata means that many, many questions remain unanswered. Some of these, such as the languages included in the periodicals, are likely partially politically motivated. After all, it would be especially sensitive to reveal the continued publication of materials in languages other than Turkish when the state was mercilessly repressing the production of written materials in Kurdish or Turoyo. In other cases, this might be a simple product of the work that would be involved in creating such information. When you have to log imagery, topics, authors, and formats for all of the works collected through legal deposit, some are bound to fall through the cracks. Especially when you’re doing it without a computer, or retroconverting card catalogue sources.

WorldCat works well when one of the big American libraries has collected these periodicals, but even then there isn’t much more information than would be found in the Milli Kütüphane records. Luckily for me, NadirKitap and a corporate card have allowed me to beef up the British Library’s holdings, bringing them closer in line with what the Milli Kütüphane holds. The additional time for cataloguing during various lockdowns also made detailed metadata creation much more feasible. Over the autumn of 2020, I managed to purchase copies of the aforementioned Birleşik Kafkasya from the 1960s, as well as its revival from the 1990s (but not its re-emergence from the early 2000s); Kafkasya: Kültürel Dergi from the late 60s; and Kafkasya Gerçeği from the early 90s. These are far from the majority of works that appeared in Turkey during the last 60 years, but they do provide a good overview of publishing activities. They are all linked to the main cultural activists of their respective time periods, and the geographical breadth of the advertisements they carried points to them have a national circulation, rather than being localized phenomena. While not quantitatively significant, perhaps, they might – qualitatively – provide us with greater insight into the ebbs and flows of North Caucasian exile and diasporic publishing and activism in the Turkish Republic.  

The first two magazines are Birleşik Kafkasya and Kafkasya: Kültürel Dergi, both of which appeared in 1964-65. Both publications belong to the period of Turkish socio-political history between the bloody coup of 1960 – when the military was still held to be a progressive, secularist force by many leftists – and the coup by memorandum of 1971, when the armed forces proved their reactionary, albeit still staunchly secularist, credos. The Turkish state was clearly within the American-led North Atlantic camp, having been a member of NATO for a good decade. While it didn’t seek to antagonize the Soviet Union, or to sound off on any sort of irredentist claims, it’s clear that anti-Soviet politics were still permissible. That much is evident from the first issue of Birleşik Kafkasya, in which the articles feature a mix of both memory politics about Russian colonization and ethnic cleansing in the 19th century, and contemporary nationalist agitation. The editors’ statement clearly identifies the “prisoner nations” as being close allies of the “Democratic bloc”, struggling together for their own liberation from the “colonial Communist bloc” (“sömürgeci Komünist blok”). The language is an interesting, if slightly bizarre, mixture of standard Euro-Atlantic and Soviet speak: “prisoner nations” (“esir milletleri”) seems to take its inspiration from V. I. Lenin’s description of the Tsarist Empire as a Prison of Nations, but the juxtaposition of Democracy and Communism is clearly taken from the American playbook.

In reality, none of this is surprising, given that the editor, Mustafa Beştoy, and the publisher, Yılmaz Nevruz, took direct inspiration from the Munich-based publication of the same name, as well as from the Promethean-linked publications of the 1930s. Yılmaz Nevruz says as much in an interview that he gave to Kafkas Ajansı about the Birleşik Kafkasya movement in June of this year. The creators of the publication were clearly influenced by a milieu that had, at one point, engaged with Soviet authorities on their own terms, making use of the language of nationality and nation-states prevalent among Wilsonian circles and Soviet cadres alike. Their first issue of the magazine, moreover, features a few familiar names, such as Ahmet Canbek Havjoko (who wrote on 19th-century relations between the North Caucasians and the English); Barasbi Baytugan (on forced migration to Turkey in the 1860s); and Haydar Bammat (eulogizing Ali Han Kantemir). Havjoko has an article in Issue 2 as well, but by and large, it is new names, many of them bearing Turkish or Turkified surnames, who take over the reins of content-provision by the second appearance.

This shift in focus, and in generation, is fully explained in the interview with Yılmaz Nevruz, where the former publisher clarifies, in detail, the process by which the magazine was started. Nevruz, Beştoy, and others had originally wished to subscribe to the Munich-based magazine, but weren’t sure that their command of Russian would allow for them to translate its content into Turkish. Baytugan, who was running the magazine by this point, got in touch with them and explained that he was closing up shop. In his view, it made more sense for a periodical of this nature to be published in Turkey than in West Germany. The young Nevruz, Beştoy, and their friends eagerly took up the mantle of North Caucasian activism. With the support of Havjoko and the Caucasian exile organizations, they created a platform for a new generation of Turkey-based diasporic intellectuals and activists to air their views, and, in doing so, to shape the expression of North Caucasian identity.

Birleşik Kafkasya lasted for 15 issues. I was only able to source up to the combined Issue 10-11-12 (1966-67), but a fairly consistent picture does emerge from the six volumes in my possession. The vast majority of authors were Turkey-based, although there are a number of translations from English and Russian as well (usually from well-known personalities, such as Lermontov, Petöfi Sándor, or Harry Truman). The themes of the articles are political or historical, similar to the lines of Issue 1, with a few current events or world news stories thrown in. As time went on, however, the periodical appears to have taken on more and more of a cultural flavour, carrying poetry and short stories by members of the diaspora. Issue 10-11-12 features one by Rezzan Dincer that is accompanied by a translation into English, highlighting the nationalistic or political undertones common to many of these pieces.

The final and – to my mind – most interesting aspect of Birleşik Kafkasya that I’m going to highlight here is its focus on community events. While not present in a big way in the earlier magazines, later issues carried stories about meetings of North Caucasians in Turkey, their organizations, and their aspirations (in the form of announcements and advertisements). Together with photographs, Birleşik Kafkasya gives us a clear and vivid portrayal of North Caucasian diasporic life in the country. It connects this to diasporic elements in other countries too (see an article in Issue 1 about publications in West Germany), although such concerns appeared to have faded in later issues. It also makes evident the persistent presence of language – another crucial marker of ethnicity and cohesion – as a pillar of identity. Right from the beginning of the publication, many of the issues feature poetry or stories in North Caucasian Turkic languages, often accompanied by glossaries of obscure or difficult words. Despite a clear focus in terms of content on other North Caucasian nationalities – including Adyghe, Chechen and Ingush communities – it is only Turkic examples that I’ve found so far. Perhaps this is an indication of a bargain with the authorities about the acceptable bounds of Otherness among the diaspora, or a Realpolitik play for Turkist support of North Caucasian independence. It’s hard to tell, as Nevruz doesn’t address this in his interview.

Magazine cover with Latin-script text in black and white, above a black and white photograph of women in traditional North Caucasian dress dancing on stage. The page has a dark orange pattern surrounding the text, and a cursive title in the same coloured ink.
The cover of Kafkasya Kültürel Dergisi (Number 21, 1969).

Birleşik Kafkasya was based in İstanbul (printed in Çağaloğlu). If we move across the country to Ankara, we find the base of Kafkasya: Kültürel Dergi. Its publisher and editor was İzzet Aydemir, an Adyghe intellectual who was one of the core members of the KAFDAV movement. He was at the helm of the publication for its full run of 11 years. Not only did Kafkasya span a pivotal moment in contemporary Turkish political history, but Aydemir himself acted as a sort of bridge between Kabardian communities across West Asia and the Caucasus. While the Birleşik Kafkasya crew linked the older generation of exiles with the new one, Kafkasya’s editor visited diaspora communities in Jordan and Syria in 1972, three years after traveling to the Kabardino-Balkar ASSR, as described in the biographical snapshot from KAFDAV hyperlinked above. Aydemir and Kafkasya, therefore, bring together another aspect of the diasporic experience for Turkey’s North Caucasian communities. Their story helps fill in quite a different part of the gaps currently in existence with respect to publishing culture and political activism across borders, as well as within them.

A page of black and white text in the Latin script. After a masthead, the main body is divided into two columns, with the one on the left inside a thick black-bordered box.
The table of contents for Issue 21 of Kafkasya (1969).

Although the magazine appeared every two months – implying a maximum of 66 issues – numerous outputs contained multiple issues. I was only able to get my hands on one of them, No. 21 of Year 5 (December 1968, January-February 1969). The item therefore predates Aydemir’s trip to the North Caucasus, but nonetheless does provide an interesting view on the general direction of the magazine, and on his interests. Here we find quite a bit of poetry (some of it by poets whose names are not provided in full), short stories, and ethnographic appraisals of popular North Caucasian culture. Other pieces, of a historical bent, were authored by Dr. Vasfi Güsar, a well-known Adyghe intellectual who was not only familiar with West Asian Adyghe communities, but also the activities of inter-War North Caucasian exiles in Europe. The issue on hand also contains a mixture of works by contemporary members of the North Caucasian movement in Turkey (Şeref Terim, Ömer Beygua, B. Batırhan, Uğur Dipşov, and Yediç Batıray Özbek) and intellectuals from the inter-War diaspora and from the homeland (İbrahim Tsey, Aşın Hazret). Even the famed Ahmet Mithat is listed here with the name of his Adyghe family, Haghur, provided. Although there are articles listed in the table of contents that have a clear political bent, it is obvious that the general theme of the journal is cultural and literary, with pronounced emphasis on Adyghe creative expression.

The vast majority of the material in this issue is in Turkish, although there is one bilingual snapshot of shepherd’s prayer in both Adyghe and Turkish. Given the presence of one article under the title “Ülkücü bir Adige” (“An Idealist [Nationalist] Adyghe”), it seems clear that a delicate line was toed, one that demanded an unequivocal commitment to the Turkish nationalist cause (for which some of the authors in this issue had, indeed, gone to war), and a celebration and exaltation of Adyghe culture and nationhood. Issue No. 5 presents a fascinating look at the complex, imbricated identity forged by many of the North Caucasian activists during the period: an identity that incorporated two nations, two languages, two cultures, and the singular experience of the exile or diasporic individual yearning to express themselves.

It’s not clear to me what happened to these yearnings during the 1970s and 80s. These two decades were among the most turbulent in contemporary Turkish politics. The 1970s, nestled between the coup by memorandum of 1971, and the bloody military coup of 12 September 1980, saw rapid changes of government; political violence in the street; the emergence of armed insurgent groups; and economic unravelling. The 1980s saw further violence, this time committed by the state in a blunt attempt to quell political unrest through the muzzling of democratic forces, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings, usually of leftists. I’ve already written about this period in a blog earlier this year about the encyclopedia Eşim ve Ben, so I won’t dwell on it too much here. It suffices to say that it’s not all that surprising that the next burst of exile magazines we see starts in the 1990s, during the disintegration of the bipolar geopolitical order.

A blue sheet of paper that is water stained and crumpled featuring a black ink drawing of three standing men in traditional North Caucasian dress, each one with weapons, beneath the magazine header of text cut out of a dark blue background.
The water damaged cover of Kafkasya Gerçeği (Number 1, 1990).

The first magazine of interest is Kafkasya Gerçeği, which appeared in 1990. I was only able to acquire the first issue, published in July 1990. The Milli Kütüphane has 12 issues (some volumes, however, are clearly multiple issues), indicating that the periodical appeared sporadically until 1993. The single copy that I was able to purchase got wet en route to London, which is why it looks worse for wear. The paper is cheaper and flimsier than that of many of the other magazines, and it clearly soaked up quite a bit of water. While it’s hard to tell if the editorial and contributor pool of the magazine grew over the three years it was published, it does appear that the periodical was the fruit of the efforts of a select group of individuals. The driving force behind it was Sefer E. Berzeg, a lawyer and amateur historian who authored a considerable number of works about North Caucasian causes. His piece on the exile of North Caucasians fits in well with his later writings and interviews touching on similar issues of exile and diasporic politics. Berzeg is also the translator of Aşın Hazret’s short story Babam, which follows on from Ömer Beygua’s analysis of similarities between the North Caucasian and Cypriot situations. The final contributor, Hasan Yediç, is another name from the first generation of Turkish North Caucasian activists, a member of the leadership committee of the Çerkes Derneği in 1966-67.

In all, the first issue of Kafkasya Gerçeği doesn’t give much away until the very end. The historical and literary pieces are par for the course when compared to earlier publications. But in the “Olaylar – Düşünceler” (“Situations – Thoughts”) section we start to get a bit more of a feel about the change in context. Here, Berzeg reports on a myriad of topics: Crimean Tatar return to the homeland; recognition of a distinct Circassian (Adyghe) identity; and historic research on the Great Terror. There is a sense that a change is at hand: not only has the imminent collapse of Soviet power opened up new possibilities (as showcased by the return of the Crimean Tatars), but decades of integration and assimilation have clearly also impacted self-identification and group cohesion. The lack of material in Adyghe, or another North Caucasian language, might be a feature of the political climate at the time (non-Turkish publishing was, at this point, banned), but it might also have been a hallmark of a community in which language had lost its discursive value as a marker of difference.

A black and white printed magazine cover on glossy hard paper, with the name of the magazine in stylized cursive at the top, followed by the tag line in white on a black background, and then an image. The image is a mock lithograph of men in traditional North Caucasian dress, mounted and armed, carrying a flag, and riding against a backdrop of high mountains.
The cover of Birleşik Kafkasya (Number 3, 1995) from its second appearance.

Such ruminations are, perhaps, better left to the magazine I was much more successful in collecting. Like a phoenix from the ashes, Birleşik Kafkasya rose once again in 1995. Milli Kütüphane’s metadata is exceptionally scant on this publication, but from what is provided, it is easy to see that the magazine lasted until at least 1998. Published in Eskişehir, the reprise of the magazine came about after a conference on the idea of a unified Caucasian polity in Istanbul in 1995, as explained by Yılmaz Nevruz in this article. While Nevruz was the éminence grise behind the project, it was largely run out of the Kuzey Kafkasya Karaçay-Balkarlılar Kültür ve Yardımlaşma Derneği, with Hacı Murat Berk and Mehmet Karaçay’s labour. The full list of contributors to the magazine is formidable, and probably a bit too long for me to provide in this (already quite wordy) piece. But it is worth noting here that a number of the people involved were not just members of the community or North Caucasian activists. In addition to these, and to the usual listing of translated works, we now see pieces by Turkish authors and academics, complete with bibliographies, indicating a marriage of community organization and formalized scholarly interest on North Caucasian communities.

A quick run through a number of the issues I was able to purchase demonstrates an interesting twist of fate in the content of this new iteration of Birleşik Kafkasya. In addition to the works about North Caucasian issues (political, social, literary, cultural, and economic), we also find a clear focus on Turkey-centric topics. Number 11 of Year 3 (June/July/August 1997), for example, carries a piece on religion in the Caucasus, as well as religion in Turkey, and the relationship between Turkey and the European Union. In the same issue that Mahmut Dudalani discusses Karaçay folk literature, former MHP deputy Dr. Mustafa Erdem explores religious questions in the Turkic world. Indeed, it appears that there is a marked uptick in articles that highlight both a new-found nationalist bent on Turkish foreign policy, and an interest in essentialist aspects of identity, whether Turkish or North Caucasian. This is combined with an exceptionally positive view of North Caucasian political figures (see, for example the large portrait of Dzhokhar Dudayev, former President of Chechnya, on the cover of Issue 7, Year 2). Together, these developments only further stress the enhanced assertiveness that some North Caucasians felt in advocating for what they perceived to be their own causes in the 1990s (as explained in some of the research at the outset of this piece). They might also point to a courting of North Caucasian communities by the MHP and other ultra-nationalist groups.

Before wrapping up, there are two social or cultural aspects of Birleşik Kafkasya redux that I think are worth mentioning. The first is the presence of poetry in Karaçay throughout all of the issues I was able to purchase. It’s clear from this that language was, indeed, a core component of identity and identification among some Karaçay-Malkars in Turkey and their descendants. It’s interesting, though, that the only poetry we find is in Karaçay, not in Chechen or, as we saw in Kafkasya Gerçeği, Adyghe. The question that comes to my mind, then, is whether the segmentation of the North Caucasian community in Turkey – already evident in the self-selection of magazines and activist organizations – was further exacerbated by official Turkish language policy. The preservation and development of Karaçay and Malkar, similar to Azeri, Nogai, Crimean Tatar, and a host of other Turkic languages, allowed the state to prop up its credentials with respect to tolerance and minority rights without really challenging Turkist nationalist ideals and policy. The relative lack of space for Adyghe, Chechen, Ingush, Ossetian, or other non-Turkic languages, then, provides a useful counterpoint to the situation of Lazuri, as I explored last year.

The second issue is the plethora of advertising, clearly a means of supporting the periodical financially. The ads found in Issue 4 of Year 1 are all benign reminders of the reach of the North Caucasian community in Turkey, and the general spread of its members into all aspects of Turkish life and society. But they are also a hallmark of the new post-1980 official approach to economic life and capitalism. Gone are the days of the idealist publications supported by community support and goodwill alone. Clearly, integration with the marketplace was a crucial aspect of community organization and expression by the mid-1990s; a trend that would only grow with the start of the new millennium, and the AKP’s grip on power.

Unfortunately, I was not farsighted enough to see the value of purchasing examples of the third iteration of Birleşik Kafkasya, which reappeared in 2005, this time in Ankara. Perhaps that is a topic for another post. Even without it, however, we’re left with an overview of half a century of North Caucasian creative expression in Turkey. These magazines provide us with a view onto the organization of a community, or a series of communities, and the process of identity formation and reformation over generations. In many ways, the periodicals only serve to confirm what scholars have already teased out: the instrumentalization of North Caucasian aspirations towards Turkish official policy; the split of the community into rival organizations along ethnic and linguistic lines (see in particular Tsibenko for this); and a gradual merging of North Caucasian politics into that of the major, majority political parties.

To this, however, we might add a few observations from the magazines themselves. One is that language was often just a passing topic of concern for the contributors or editors. Most works are in Turkish, and little space is devoted to the preservation and development of non-Turkic languages among the diaspora. Another is the gradual morphing of the relationship between exile, diaspora, and homeland alongside changes in the geopolitical situation. Distinct from the nostalgia of the early period, with its focus on historical events and ethnography, the publishing culture of the 1990s marked a clear watershed in which North Caucasian political and social struggles were taken as contemporary but distinct from the very Turkish concerns of the diaspora. 1864 continued to loom large, but it is obvious that the Turkish grappling with laicism was perceived to be just as important for the community as the ongoing political and military struggles north of the Caucasian range.

This has hopefully proven to be an interesting and insightful ride for those of you who have stuck it out to the end. It is unclear to me where exactly one might find a complete and accessible collection of the entire run of these and other North Caucasian periodicals from the Turkish diaspora. Instead, this fascinating mosaic of memory, identity, and activism can be pieced together one issue at a time, preserving, in this way, another component of Türkiyeli political and social history beyond the majority experience.  

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