The Circassian Revival: A Quest for Recognition – University of Copenhagen

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The Circassian Revival: A Quest for Recognition

Mediated transnational mobilisation and memorialisation among a geographically dispersed people from the Caucasus

PhD thesis by Lars Funch Hansen, 2014

The work on the thesis was financed by the collective research project Alternative Spaces  headed by Professor Esther Fihl, Centre for Comparative Cultural Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

The project was funded by The Strategic Research Council, Denmark.   

On the PhD defense, read more

 Assessment Committee

  • Associate professor Ildiko Beller-Hann (University of Copenhagen)
  • Professor Karina Vamling (Malmö University)
  • Professor Wulf Köpke (Museum für Völkerkunde, Hamburg)

 

English Summary

Danish Resumé

 

English Summary

This thesis is an investigation into key aspects of an ongoing revival of the Circassians, who live geographically dispersed as minorities and diaspora groups in many countries of the world. Their original historical homeland was in the Caucasus and their dispersal was the result of a lost war against the expanding Russian Empire in the nineteenth century. The war ended in 1864.

The contemporary Circassian revival, as it has unfolded since 2005, is the second post-Soviet Circassian revival, but now with a much stronger element of transnational civil society cooperation that includes a significant use of the Internet. As such the ongoing Circassian revival represents an example of a late-modern (Eurasian) trajectory as affected by key elements of contemporary globalisation such as Internet-based mobilisation, cross-border civil society networking, minority rights and mobilisation etc. It fosters new possibilities for civil society mobilisation - particularly in the two dominant Eurasian states of Russia and Turkey - where the rights of minorities are often still a field of conflict. This is for instance reflected in Circassian claims for revision of official history-writing, which are in line with similar developments among other minority groups.

I apply the term ‘frontier-zones (of globalisation)’ developed by Saskia Sassen to analyse and discuss how the Circassian civil society mobilisation has created new transnational public spheres that have resulted in a more successful lobbying on behalf of Circassian issues than before. The main focus and the target of many of the new post-2005 Circassian diaspora organisations and their activities have been the Russian authorities in an attempt to attain recognition of their forced exile in the nineteenth century as an act of genocide. Assessing different aspects of the transnational Circassian revival, I conclude that the search for ‘recognition’ in a broader understanding can be assigned as the key aim of the efforts of many of the Circassian actors. The use of the term frontier-zones also points at new ways of becoming geopolitical actors in the Caucasus context during the era of globalisation.

I have chosen to employ the term ‘digital capitalism’ as an extension of Benedict Anderson’s term print capitalism and Arjun Appadurai’s electronic capitalism, in order to analyse and discuss how the new conditions for minority mobilisation have changed and have increased the outcome of this mobilisation, where the use of the Internet plays an important role. One of these results could be regarded as a form of virtual re-territorialisation of the Circassian homeland that was lost in the nineteenth century. This at the same time represents a new form of community building and identity building. Prominent features of Web 2.0 such as Facebook and YouTube with their interactive elements function as important tools in these processes.

I argue that the three issues of a) the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, b) the pursuance of genocide recognition, and c) the annual May 21 commemorations of the 1864 exile, together can be seen as constituting a triangle of Circassian revival, where mobilisation on one issue immediately activates the other two issues.  

 

Dansk Resumé

Denne afhandling udgør en undersøgelse af centrale aspekter af den igangværende fornyede revival blandt tjerkessere, som lever som geografisk spredte minoriteter og diasporagrupper i en række lande verden over. Deres oprindelige historiske hjemland var i Kaukasus, og deres fordrivelse var resultatet af en tabt krig mod det ekspanderende russiske imperium i det nittende århundrede, som sluttede i 1864. Den nuværende tjerkessiske mobilisering, som tog sin begyndelse i 2005, er den anden post-sovjetiske tjerkessiske revival. Den er præget af et betydelig stærkere tværnationalt samarbejde mellem civilsamfunds-organisationer og en signifikant brug af internettet. Som sådan er den igangværende tjerkessiske revival et eksempel på en senmoderne (euro-asiatisk) udviklingsretning - under påvirkning af centrale træk af globaliseringen som f.eks. Internet-baseret mobilisering, grænseoverskridende civilsamfunds-netværk, mindretals-rettigheder og -mobilisering etc. De nye muligheder for civilsamfunds-mobilisering - især i de to dominerende Euro-asiatiske stater Rusland og Tyrkiet - hvor minoritetsrettigheder stadig ofte udgør et politisk konfliktfelt. Dette kommer bl.a. til udtryk i de tjerkessiske krav om revision af officiel Russisk historieskrivning, som er et emne, der også er rejst af andre minoritetsgrupper.

Jeg anvender begrebet ’frontier-zones (of globalisation)’, som er udviklet af Saskia Sassen, til at analysere og diskutere, hvordan den tjerkessiske civilsamfunds-mobilisering har skabt nye transnationale ’public spheres’, hvilket har resulteret i, at tjerkessiske spørgsmål er kommet højere op på ’dagsordenen’ end tidligere. I et forsøg på at opnå anerkendelse af deres tvungne eksil i 1800-tallet som et folkedrab er de russiske myndigheder blevet den primære målgruppe for mange af aktiviteterne blandt de tjerkessiske organisationer, især de nyere etableret efter 2005. Jeg konkluderer efter at have undersøgt og iagttaget den tjerkessiske revival på flere niveauer, at opnåelse af anerkendelse - som del af et folk med en distinkt historie - kan betegnes som et overordnet mål for stort set alle aktiviteter. Betegnelsen ’frontier-zones’ kan også bruges til at diskutere nye måder at blive geopolitiske aktører på, bl.a. for civilsamfunds-organisationer.

Jeg har valgt, at anvende betegnelsen ’digital capitalism’ som en forlængelse af Benedict Andersons ’print capitalism’ og Arjun Appadurais ’electronic capitalism’. Dette er med henblik på at analysere og diskutere, hvordan de nye betingelser for organisering blandt minoritetsgrupper har resulteret i øget mobilisering, hvor anvendelse af internettet spiller en vigtig rolle, og hvor ’medieret erindring’ ligeledes spiller en signifikant rolle. Et af disse resultater er en form for virtuel ’re-territorialisering’ af det tjerkessiske hjemland, der forsvandt med den endelige russiske kolonisering. Dette repræsenterer samtidig en ny måde at etablere fællesskaber og identitet på. Fremtrædende eksempler fra Web 2.0 som Facebook og YouTube, bl.a. pga. deres interaktive funktioner, fungerer som vigtige redskaber i disse processer.

Jeg argumenterer for, at de tre emner, a) 2014 Vinter-OL i Sochi, b) kravet of anerkendelse det tjerkessiske folkedrab samt c) de ​​årlige minde-arrangementer for eksilet i 1864 i forbindelse med 21. maj, tilsammen kan ses som en ’triangel af tjerkessisk revival’, ifølge hvilken mobilisering på ét af områderne, nærmest automatisk skaber mobilisering i forhold til de to øvrige.