Ethnic Identity Features: Creation, Loss and Revival Dynamics (The case of Turkish Meskhetians)

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Ethnic Identity Features: Creation, Loss and Revival Dynamics (The case of Turkish Meskhetians)

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Publication Article, other scientific
Title Ethnic Identity Features: Creation, Loss and Revival Dynamics (The case of Turkish Meskhetians)
Author(s) Beridze, Marine ; Kock Kobaidze, Manana
Date 2008
English abstract
The process of ethnic changes, that started in southern Georgia (Meskheti/ Samtskhe-Javakheti) in the 16th -17th centuries, was aimed at forming a new ethnic group out of the local population (Georgians, in particular, Meskhetians) and the immigrant population (Turks and Kurds). This was a complex and long process and was going on under the control of two powerful states: Turkey and, later, Russia. To create a new ethnic group and use it as a “tool” for mastering this strategically important territory was a policy of these states and has remained unchanged during three to four centuries. The gradual development of the features, unifying these groups, is documented in the historical sources: 1. Change of confession (encouraged by economic and other means); 2. Language shift (first within some domains and within high social classes and later in all domains and even among lower classes of the population), 3. Change of surnames (as a result of or final step of identity change), 4. New perception of own identity. Changing of the group name has reflected the group's development dynamics: Georgians who remained Christians retained their name Kartveli (Georgian in Georgian), Georgians who became Muslims in the 17-18th centuries were called Jerli (local in Turkish), and immigrated Muslims, who where ethnic Turks and Kurds, were called Tarakama. The next step was a unification of Jerli and Tarakama by the confessional feature and the naming of these two groups as Tatari (resp. Muslim). In the Russian censuses since the 19th century the unifying name of these groups, indicating confession (Tatari), has been changed with the unifying name indicating ethnicity (Turk) (regardless of the fact that ethnical composition of "Turks" was diverse). The Muslim population of this area also obtained an economic advantage. After the power change in Georgia in 1918, fear of losing the property strengthened the loyalty of this group to Turkey. In the 1920s Georgian schools were closed and Turkish schools were opened for the Georgian Muslims in Samtskhe-Javakheti. When the political climate changed, during the census before the Second World War, it was suggested that they should be registered as Georgians but this attempt failed. In the 1939 census they were called Azerbaijanis by officials and, thus, avoided the term Turk in the census. The group was deported to Central Asia in 1944. The group has retained and strengthened its unity after the deportation. Later, all Muslims deported to Central Asia from Samtskhe-Javakheti (Meskheti) irrespective of their ethnic diversity (Georgians, in particular, Meskhetians, as well as non-Georgians: Turks, Kurds) received the new shared name Turkish Meskhetians where two different names denoting the different ethnic origin are presented on the same level which is quite confusing. Nowadays people named as "Turkish Meskhetians" protest this name and demand to be called "Meskhetians" (Such a change, in turn, can cause new misunderstandings). It is noteworthy that Muslim Georgians try to avoid the term Turkish as a name of the Turkish language spoken by them and regularly call it "Our language". This seems to be a way to differentiate "our language" as a language obtained through the new confession and indicating the confessional loyalty, on the one hand, and the Turkish language that is spoken by ethnic Turks as a part of their ethnic identity and an indicator of their ethnic belonging, on the other hand. At the same time, it emphasises "our language" as a distinctive feature from the Georgian speaking Georgians. The group strives and acts for repatriation. The history of this group is an obvious case of the attempt to form one ethnic group out of different ethnic groups in the process of interaction between internal and external forces. It also confirms that the identity features function as an entire complex. Strive to reconstruct the whole complex of the features and overcome the lack of the missing feature (language, ideology, territory…) may exhibit vitality of the group. It is another matter that this strive may be employed for different goals by different political forces.
Publisher Chikobava Institute of Linguistics, Georgia
Host/Issue Iberiul-Kavkasiuri Enatmecniereba;36
ISSN 1987-6572
Pages 58-80
Language geo (iso)
Subject(s) Ethnic identity
Religious identity
linguistic identity
Humanities/Social Sciences
Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION::Languages and linguistics
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