Tag Archives: το Σταυροδρόμι

My Circassians

25 May

AdygeaReaders might remember I’ve had a long-term interest in Circassians since high school.  Of all the peoples collectively known in Turkey as muhacir, the Ottoman Muslims who took refuge in the Anatolian heartland of the Empire as it shrank, probably none had a more torturously, circuitous odyssey to ultimate safety in Turkey than the Circassians.  Here’s a selection about them from a post I wrote in February about why I was boycotting the Sochi Olympics; it wasn’t just for Putin and his filthy, murderous personage, but because the games were being held on land an admirable and honorable people had fought long and hard to keep and had been brutally thrown out of by Imperial Russia:

“And then there are the Circassians.  I became obsessed with Circassians in high school because I had to know who these people were, so physically beautiful apparently, that they held the entire Near East in thrall for centuries.  Circassians were the first reason I ever went into the New York Public Library, because the library at Stuyvesant didn’t have anything on them.  This is also around the time, as a nerdy sixteen-year-old, that I started developing the totally adolescent, romantic fascination I still suffer from, for honor-obsessed, heavily-armed highlanders — Montenegrins, northern Albanians, Pashtuns — who don’t easily let themselves get pushed around by outsiders.   It fed a lonely teenager’s fantasies of empowerment then.  Now, I couldn’t tell you.  Probably still.

“The Circassians lived in a huge swath of plain, foothill and high mountain country in the northern Caucasus.  Most of the sites of the this month’s games are being held on formerly Circassian territory.  This is a map of their general distribution in the eighteenth century, right before Russian expansion southwards began:

Circassia_in_1750

(click)

“For more than a century they fought a brutal tooth-and-nail war against the Russians and their Cossacks.  When they finally capitulated in 1864 it was in Sochi.  The majority, which would not agree to an oath of loyalty to Russia were deported, in what was probably the first campaign of ethnic cleansing of such dimensions in modern history.  For months, the beach at Sochi was a Dunkerque-like humanitarian disaster zone, with tens of thousands of shelterless, starving and diseased Circassians waiting for Ottoman ships to take them to safety in Anatolia or the still-Turkish Balkans or dying on the spot.

Expulsion_map_of_the_Circassians_in_19th_century“It certainly represented the largest civilian death toll of any war up to its time and today, ninety percent of people of Circassian descent live outside their original homeland, mostly Turkey, but also Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.”

(To read the whole post: Ignoring Sochi.“)

And as with Native Americans in North America, as their government was massacring and expelling them, Russian poets and writers like Lermontov, Pushkin and Tolstoy were romanticizing them, sympathizing with them and entering in a love affair with all the peoples of the Caucasus that literary Russia still has not recovered from.  Someone, everywhere, at all times, has a heart and a soul — for whatever good it does.

I had assumed muhacir is constructed from the Arabic “mu = doer of something” plus the roots ‘h’ + ‘j’ + ‘j’ (?) which almost sounds more like “pilgrim” –  as in “Hajj.”  But “mu” turns out to be a passive participle marker of someone who is made to do something, in this case not as in “Hajj, pilgrimage, but  ‘h’ + ‘j’ + ‘r’ as in “Hejira?” which would mean “fleer,” as in those who fled with Muhammad to Medina from Mecca in 622.  That would make more sense than traveller, which would be the “mu-sa-fir” recognizable to any Greeks as an old-fashioned word for “guest,” except to those Neo-Greeks that are so Post-Ottoman that they’re Post-Culture-of-Any-Kind and most certainly Post-Hospitality.  The Muslims that left India after Partition in 1947 to go to the land of Islamic Purity are also known as muhajir in South Asia.  I say that the Circassians’ route was particularly circuitous because many of them were first settled by the Ottoman government in the Balkans — especially Bulgaria and Kosovo (where there’s still a tiny community), where they were used to demographically offset the Christian population and because their warrior reputation would come in handy against Christian rebellions and Russian invasions.  (Though there is one wild episode of the Greco-Turkish War where a band of Circassian çeteler [çetes] in western Anatolia actually aided the invading Greek army.  Go figure.  Any-thing is possible in our part of the world.)  Needless to say with the coming of independence for the nations of the Balkans, they were uprooted again to Anatolia and other parts of the still Ottoman Arab world.

This year is the 150-year anniversary of the final, catastrophic expulsion from their Caucasian homeland and local Circassians (“Çerkes” in Turkish) have been holding demonstrations in front of the Russian Consulate down here on the Jadde (I wouldn’t even lower myself to asking for Putin’s ear) and then closer here to my place in front of Galatasarary.  (Click)

IMG_0777IMG_0775But I was kind of disappointed because I couldn’t get any really good pictures except some like these above.  Then I get on the ferry from Beşiktaş to go to Kadiköy with my cousin, Vangeli, to feed him at the spectacular Çiya restaurant there and visit Beylerbeyi, my favorite Ottoman palace, and by blogger-photographer’s luck right across from me is sitting this handsome Circassian kid from central casting (click):

IMG_0780 He was surprised I knew that his t-shirt said “Адыгэ” – “Adyghe,” which is what Circasians call themselves, written in the Cyrillic script they now use.  I asked him if he spoke the language and he said no, but some other Circassians I found the next day in Pera said that due to a concerted effort on the Turkey-wide community’s part — language classes, theater workshops, radio programs — more Circassians in Turkey of this kid’s age speak more of at least a little bit of the language than their parents do and that interest is increasing.  Insha’allah.  Cool.  So if you don’t respect these people for their legendary beauty, their ferocious warrior rep, the fact that they managed to stave off the forces of Imperial Russia for two centuries, that as the Mamluk military elite they effectively ran Egypt for five-hundred years till Mehmet Ali the Albanian massacred them in a totally, shitty, un-Albanian, pabesiko (“pa” = no + BESA), dishonorable, ambush — see  (“BESA: A Code of Honour,“) — then just admire them for sticking together as a cohesive and living identity after being scattered across the world for a century and a half now.

The suffering of Circassians and all the other Muslim peoples of the Caucasus are laid out in a bit of an uneven but heartfelt and informative book by Oliver Bullough called Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus — here’s his website too (check out some interesting pics): Oliver Bullough: Let Our Fame Be Great.

lofbg-usa-cover-300wUnfortunately, I don’t know if there’s a Turkish translation (or Arabic: Jordan, where Circassians still make up the King’s Royal Guard, Syria and, some extent Israel, is where most Circassians outside of Turkey now live) for young Circassians today to read.

Another book that I do know there’s a Turkish translation of, and is probably the only monograph to deal with the step by step expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Ottoman Muslims through the nineteenth and and early twentieth centuries, but tracing roots of the process back to even the century before is Justin McCarthy’s Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922Not polemic, not propagandistic, just the facts and figures that speak for themselves.  It should be required reading for every Christian in the former Ottoman sphere.  It’s not exclusively about the Circassian tragedy but there is, as you can imagine, a great deal of material on their experiences.

51qnwpuNCVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Turkish-speaking Circassians should definitely check this book out that’s available everywhere in İstanbul; they’ll learn a lot.  I really hope they get a chance to.  Share this post with friends if you found it interesting.  Feel free to write me with any comments.  And keep the memory alive!.  NB

55696-olum-ve-surgun-death-and-exile-justin-mccarthy

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Welcome to C-town: Tear gas in the Staurodromi…and a dedication: “In Spite of You…”

14 May

Galatasaray Lisesi gatesGalatasaray Lycée gates

Today, I had my first experience of tear gas.  A demonstration that, like most, was perfectly peaceful, started, like most, in the center of Pera, where the Jadde meets the Yeni Çarşı Caddesi and the Meşrutiyet Caddesi to the form the crossroads that the local Greeks used to call just that — το Σταυροδρόμι — the “Crossroads.”  If Pera was/is the center of the city, this was/is, despite everything, the center of Pera.  Here’s an old pic, the gates of the Lycée on the right:

Stabrodromi

PeraSevgen_Map

Pera: the large lot at the corner of the İstikal Caddesi and the Yeni Çarşı Caddesi in the lower-left-hand quadrant of the map, just before the İstikal bends a little to the south, is the beautiful Galatasaray campus at the “Crossroads.” (click)

This started out as a quiet sit-down demonstration about the tragic mining accident: “245 Dead and 200 Missing in Turkish Mine Disaster “(NYTimes, May 2014).  I’m in no position to tell whether the accident was the government’s fault or its response criminally ineffective as most people here seem to think, but it does kind of sound like one of those acts of God that a people angry at their government are just looking for as a club to use against an unpopular regime.  If the mining accident wasn’t in any way the government’s fault though, what’s now become the conventional way to break up these demonstrations was: setting up a cordon of armored vehicles around some quiet twenty-somethings and then finally disbanding them with tear gas and water-hoses and helicopters — for pure intimidation’s sake: “shock and awe” — just, stupidly, gives the demonstrators exactly what they want.  It’s inexcusable.  The demonstrations seem to have become weekly events (below) and Erdoğan seems to think he’s showing us all his magandalık by acting like he doesn’t care or dismissing them as works of subversives trying to make Turkey look bad.  (See his comments in The New Yorker article by Jenna Krajeski, “Turkey’s Coal Problem.”)  I’ve never seen a bunch of kids who seem to love their country more.

Protester, with cream applied to his face to protect against tear gas, reacts during a May Day demonstration in Istanbul A protester, with cream applied to his face to protect against tear gas, reacts during a May Day demonstration in Istanbul May 1, 2014. (Ümit Bektaş/Reuters)

Here I was all happy on this trip that I had found a place to rent literally fifty meters from the Staurodromi, and instead getting home tonight involved passing through the thick of the left-over tear gas cloud and tires burning outside the door.  The tear gas was, not so much a more painful, but much more panic-inducing a feeling than I had imagined it could be.

Here’s a dedication I want to make to Tayyip Bey, Brazilian cultural super-hero Chico Buarque’s 1970 “A pesar de você” — “in spite of you.”  The story of the song, from Lyrical Brazil:

“After spending approximately a year in Italy in exile from Brazil’s military dictatorship,  Chico Buarque returned to Brazil in 1970 and met with a rigid censorship machine — a result of Ato Institucional V, which institutionalized the pre-release censorship process.

“In an interview in September 1971, Chico lamented, “Of every three songs I write, two are censored. After being censored so much, something troubling is happening with me: I’m beginning to self-censor, and that is terrible.”

“The censors had grown particularly harsh with Chico after their inadvertent release of his thinly veiled protest anthem “Apesar de você.”

“Chico wrote and released “Apesar de você” as a single in 1970. The censors initially approved the song and it became a quick hit on the radio. As the song became popular, rumors spread that it was dedicated specifically to general Médici, who served as president from 1969 – 1974.(Chico says the “you” in the song actually referred to the entire system.) To the censors, Chico argued that he had written the song for a rooster that mistakenly believed that the day only broke as a result of his song, until one night when the rooster lost track of time and realized that day broke in spite of him. Unconvinced, the censors banned the song and punished those who had let it through.

“After the song was banned, Chico says he received the treatment of a traitor who had attempted to dupe the censors.  As a result, he faced even more stringent censorship. “Apesar de você” was re-approved and re-released on the album Chico Buarque (Samambaia) in 1978, as the government began a gradual political liberalization process during Ernesto Geisel’s presidency.”

The clenched-teeth rage of this song — “you’ll pay me back with interest” — behind the sweet samba beat and Buarque’s soft Rio accent always moved me enormously.  And the image of the rooster who thinks the day breaks because of his crowing is beautifully Erdoğan-ish.

And here’s a “non”-video version with much better sound:

 

********

The lyrics:

Tomorrow will be another day…

Today, you’re the one who calls the shots
I said it, it’s been said,
There’s no talking about it, nope.
My people walk around today
Speaking to the side and looking down at the ground

You, who invented this State,
Invented by inventing
All this darkness
You who invented this sin
You’ve forgotten to invent forgiveness

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day
Where are you going to hide
From the great euphoria?
How will you prohibit it,
If the rooster insists on crowing?
New water bursting forth,
And our people loving one another, without stopping

When the moment arrives
This suffering of mine
I’m going to charge you for with interest, I swear
All this repressed love,
This scream contained
This samba in the dark.

You who invented this sadness
Now be so kind as to “disinvent” it
You’re going to pay – and doubled
Every tear that rolled
In this anguish of mine

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day
I will pay to see
The garden that you tried to stop from blooming.

You’ll end up choked in bitterness
Seeing the day break
Without asking your permission.
And I’m going to die of laughter
And that day is bound to come
Sooner than you think
In spite of you

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day
You will have to see
The morning reborn
Gushing poetry

How will you explain to yourself
Seeing the sky clear, without your permisson, suddenly
and with impunity?

How are you going to stifle
Our chorus singing
Right in front of you
In spite of you

In spite of you
Tomorrow is going to be another day
You’re going to to be out of luck
Etcetera and so on
La la-ya, la la-ya, la….

 

Hoje você é quem manda
Falou, tá falado
Não tem discussão
A minha gente hoje anda
Falando de lado
E olhando pro chão, viuVocê que inventou esse estado
E inventou de inventar
Toda a escuridão
Você que inventou o pecado
Esqueceu-se de inventar
O perdãoApesar de você
Amanhã há de ser
Outro dia
Eu pergunto a você
Onde vai se esconder
Da enorme euforia
Como vai proibir
Quando o galo insistir
Em cantar
Água nova brotando
E a gente se amando
Sem pararQuando chegar o momento
Esse meu sofrimento
Vou cobrar com juros, juro
Todo esse amor reprimido
Esse grito contido
Este samba no escuroVocê que inventou a tristeza
Ora, tenha a fineza
De desinventar
Você vai pagar e é dobrado
Cada lágrima rolada
Nesse meu penarApesar de você
Amanhã há de ser
Outro dia
Inda pago pra ver
O jardim florescer
Qual você não queria
Você vai se amargar
Vendo o dia raiar
Sem lhe pedir licença
E eu vou morrer de rir
Que esse dia há de vir
Antes do que você pensaApesar de você
Amanhã há de ser
Outro dia
Você vai ter que ver
A manhã renascer
E esbanjar poesia
Como vai se explicar
Vendo o céu clarear
De repente, impunemente
Como vai abafar
Nosso coro a cantar
Na sua frenteApesar de você
Amanhã há de ser
Outro dia
Você vai se dar mal
Etc. e tal
Lá lá lá lá lai-
Will be back for more post-Balkans trip coverage soon.  NB.
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