SUKHUM / AQW'A — This year, on the 159th anniversary of the historical genocide and exile events, Circassians and Abkhazians in Turkey will stand in unity to declare, "This is genocide." They will articulate their demands concerning the tragic circumstances they endured. The significant anniversary, falling on May 21st, will be marked with various activities and events.
As this pivotal date approaches, Turkish Circassian associations and federations, representing the most extensive Circassian diaspora globally, are accelerating their preparations for May 21st.
According to Akanda Taştekin from Jineps newspaper, provincial associations are busily making preparations for memorial day activities. Meanwhile, KAFFED (The Federation of Caucasian Associations), representing the largest North Caucasian community in Turkey, is set to participate in a panel discussion titled 'Circassian Genocide and Exile' at the European Parliament, thereby bolstering its international presence.
Furthermore, the 'Caucasian Exile Memorial and Culture Area Introduction' program, principally organised by the Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality and featuring participation from ABHAZFED (Federation of Abkhazian Associations), will take place on Kefken coast – a symbolic location tied to the exile.
On May 21st, at 9 PM, ÇERKESFED (Federation of Circassian Associations) will convene behind the Odakule Business Center on İstiklal Avenue, noted for its proximity to the Russian Consulate. Similar to last year, the Federation of Caucasian Associations (KAFFED) is planning an outdoor meeting in Ankara, using this opportunity to assert to the world, "This is Genocide!" Amid the election process, this powerful statement resonates strongly.
In the realm of cinematic arts, "The Voice of Memory: May 21 Documentary" will premiere on May 20th.
KAFFED Heads to European Parliament to Raise Awareness About the Genocide
The Federation of Caucasian Associations (KAFFED) is organising a memorial event scheduled for May 22 in Brussels. Hosted by the Greens/European Free Alliance Group at the European Parliament, the event's theme will revolve around "The Ongoing Effects of Circassian Genocide and Exile in the Context of Current Political Situation." The discussion, expected to last around an hour and a half, will commence with a panel discussion.
Key contributors to this significant event include Dr. Sergey Lagodinsky, a member of the Greens/European Parliament and Chairman of the European Union-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Commission, and Dr. Zeynel Abidin Besleney, Director of the Circassian Studies Center. Other participants are journalist and author Fehim Taştekin, KAFFED President Ümit Dinçer, and Vice President Yasemin Oral. Invitations will be extended to associations, activists, and relevant academics across Europe. Vice President Oral has informed Jineps that due to the strict entry procedures to the European Parliament, the guest list was finalised on May 8, and unfortunately, last-minute entries will not be accommodated."
Ankara's Anıtpark to Witness March as Part of KAFFED's Two-Day Commemoration Plan"
The Federation of Caucasian Associations (KAFFED) has outlined a two-day plan for the commemoration of May 21st, set to occur in Ankara, Turkey. The ambitious program, arranged in conjunction with the Ankara Circassian Association, includes an indoor academic event on May 20th.
An essential part of the agenda is the panel discussion, "Circassians' New Century: Identity, Vision, and Political Rights." It will take place at the Tes-İş Conference Hall in Ankara between 13:00 and 17:00. The panel will consist of two sessions. In the initial session, esteemed academics Prof. Dr. Sırrı Hakan Kırımlı, Dr. Erdoğan Boz, and Dr. Zeynel Abidin Besleney will delve into topics such as the diaspora and homeland, the role of genocide activism in current Circassian politics, and the potential future of Circassians. The second session will feature Prof. Dr. Madina Tlostanova and Prof. Dr. Lidia Zhigunova, and translation from English to Turkish will be available. The session will examine the topics "Decoloniality and the Futures of Circassians" and "New Approaches to Teaching and Learning the Circassian Language in the 21st Century."
+ UNPO Resolution on the Issue of the Repatriation of Deported Abkhaz during the Russian Caucasian War and the Legitimacy of the regime Sanctions against Abkhazia
The second day, May 21st, will see a march to Anıtpark in Ankara, followed by an open-air gathering. In addition to KAFFED's program, created in partnership with the Ankara Circassian Association, other federation-associated associations continue planning various commemorative events in different Turkish cities.
Unveiling of the Exile Monument Set for Babalı
In Babalı, the Exile Monument, an undertaking of the Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality with technical support from Assoc. Dr. Ceyhun Konak and lecturer Oğuz Polatel of Kocaeli University, is due for inauguration on May 21st. The completion of this 8-metre-long, 5-ton monument was accomplished this month. Situated on a 200-square-metre space at Babalı beach in Kefken, the monument stands proudly on a 2-metre-high platform. The grand unveiling of the monument is expected to be attended by federations and affiliated associations on May 21st.
'Nart Fire' to Illuminate Kefken Once More This Year
Known as one of the first points of exile for the Circassians during the genocide, the Black Sea coastal town of Kefken holds significant historical resonance. The 'Caucasian Exile Commemoration and Culture Area Promotion' program, chiefly organised by the Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality and aided by the Federation of Abkhazian Associations (ABHAZFED), is slated to commence at 16:00 on May 21. The event will begin in the historic cemetery in Karaağaç, a region tied to the Kandıra district of Kocaeli. Post the introduction of the Babalı cultural area, the ceremony in Kefken will kick-off at 19:00. The commemoration will progress with the casting of wreaths and carnations into the sea in remembrance of those lost in exile, a march, and the kindling of the 'Nart Fire', a symbol of significant importance to the Circassians.
Russian Consulate Bars Permission for Press Release
For over five years, Circassians have been denied permission to deliver a press statement or place a black wreath in front of the Russian Consulate. The previous practice of convening at the Galatasaray High School before proceeding to the consulate to deliver a press release is now also prohibited. Citing reasons such as "safeguarding security, peace, and public order," the Governorship has prohibited actions on Istiklal Street. For several years, the Federation of Circassian Associations (ÇERKESFED) has been assembling behind the Odakule Business Center, which is close to the Russian Consulate, to deliver their press statement. They have announced via their social media platforms that they will convene at Odakule at 21:00 on May 21 for the commemoration event and press release.
The May 21 Exile Immortalised in Documentary Format
The unveiling of the independent documentary, "The Voice of Memory: May 21 Documentary," produced by Fatih Ekim, is scheduled for 19:00 on Saturday, May 20 at the Yıldız Technical University Davutpaşa Congress Center. Directed by Aybüke Pehlivan and under the academic guidance of Prof. Dr. Mehmet Hacısalihoğlu and Dr. Emir Fatih Akbulat, the film provides a poignant exploration of the Circassian experience.
The documentary navigates the myriad challenges faced by the Circassians, exiled to the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Caucasian Wars, while simultaneously shedding light on the vital memory spaces that have underpinned their struggle for identity construction and survival in the diaspora. The film analyses the collective memory of social practices connected to the history of genocide, symbolically commemorating and protesting May 21, and the locations where these practices take place. It explores themes of memory and tradition; the significance of the Black Sea for the Circassians; and how social heritages like exile laments, fairy tales, lullabies, music, and handicrafts have transformed into spaces of memory. Numerous speakers, including faculty members, artists, writers, and representatives from different non-governmental organisations, contribute their voices to this comprehensive exploration of the concept of memory space.
The Russian-Caucasian War came to an end on May 21, 1864, forcing thousands of Abkhazian and Circassian people forced to leave their ancestral lands and relocate to the Ottoman Empire, eventually moving on to other countries. The Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Russian-Caucasian War is observed annually by Abkhazian and Circassian communities worldwide. Today, descendants of the mukhadzhirs (exiles) reside in numerous countries, with Turkey hosting the largest diaspora.
At a gathering in Sukhum, Abkhazia, on May 31, 1990, 30,000 representatives of the Caucasian mountain peoples unanimously passed a resolution. This resolution acknowledged May 21, 1864, the day marking the end of the Caucasus War, as a day of remembrance for the war's victims and those who endured forced deportation.