HATICE KuBRA – Exhibition marks 150th year of Circassian exile and massacre

Exhibition marks 150th year of Circassian exile and massacre For many of us, the clock ticks and the present passes into the future yet, for others the past is still alive. What is more remarkable is that there are occasions when these people notice the heart of the past beating faster than usual, as is the case for Circassians, who mourn Russia’s ethnic cleansing of their ancestors in 1864 on May 21 of each yearAnd May 21, 2014 was an occasion on which the grief of Circassians was at its peak, as the day marked the 150th anniversary of their ancestors’ massacre and exile from their native land, the Northwest Caucasus, moving mainly to the Ottoman Empire, just after the Russian conquest of the region at the end of the Caucasian War Serina Haratoka TaraPhotographer Serina Haratoka Tara, who is an Istanbul-born Circassian, is now taking both Turks and Circassians to the native land of her ancestors to portray Circassian culture and the effects of the 1864 ethnic cleansing in her first solo exhibition, “Kabardey-Balkar ve erkesler” (Kabardino-Balkaria and Circassians).

On display from May 23-29 in the Feriye restaurant in Istanbul’s Ortaky quarter, the show not only evokes a feeling of abandonment and melancholy with its photographs but also sheds light on the dances, food, clothes and music of the Circassian people.“While I was thinking about starting a photo project about ethnic identities, one of my older relatives told me that first looking back at my identity might be an insightful start,” Tara told Today’s Zaman in an e-mail interview ahead of the exhibition launch.

The photographer traveled to the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, a federal subject of Russia in the North Caucasus, mainly focusing on Mount Elbrus, the eIem Valley and the capital city of Nalchik, and speaking with Russian and Kabardino-Balkaria residents for the exhibition.’1864 exile resulted in hundreds of thousands dead’ “Since my childhood, I dreamt of the magic of the Circassian mountains and the magnificent nature of my ancestors’ lands through the lyrics of the songs I have listened to and the heroic stories in the Nart sagas [the mythology of the North Caucasus],” said Tara, whose family is part of the Circassian Kabarday tribe.

“There was always sorrow in the [Circassian] songs I listened to. The people were forced to leave their homeland, and what is worse, it was an exile that happened in awful conditions and resulted in hundreds of thousands dead.

So my journey to the land of the Caucasus started with my desire to return there and provide a view of the magnificent nature of the location for Turkey-born Circassians and the others who have remained in their homeland.” One of the interesting sites in Kabardino-Balkaria for the photographer was a bazaar area, which she described as a “hot point where she could interact with the locals.

” Kabardinskaya Street was another location where Tara enjoyed the warmth of her compatriots. The photographer had the chance to meet with artists including the painters Ruslan Tsrym, Ruslan Shemeyev and Spanish-based Russian artist Muhadin Kishev during her journey.

The Circassian people who did not suffer exile share the pain of the others who were deported from their hometowns, according to Tara “The ones in the Caucasus had to renounce their families and religion to remain in their homeland, so they grieve over the culture they lost possession of.”“They were not even allowed to use their mother tongue or continue their culture and traditions in their homeland for many years.

They were exposed to Russian culture, and they still continue to suffer similar pressure in some ways. When there is a festival about Circassian culture, the announcements are made in Russian.

”Exile, for the Circassians who currently reside in Turkey, represents pain, death, losing their loved ones, growing up with stories full of sorrow and feeling their older relatives’ desire to return to the Caucasus although the living ones have never seen their homeland, according to the photographer ‘Turkey is the place we set our heart on’ “While they have been in exile, they have clung to their traditions and customs in order not to forget them they have tried to keep their music, food, dance and language alive. We have two hometowns: our native country, the North Caucasus, from which we can never be separated, though we do not live there, and Turkey, for which we martyred many Circassians [during the Turkish War of Independence], the place we set our heart on.

Both of them are important and irreplaceable for us.”Most of the photographs in the exhibition do not feature human figures, a reference to the fact that the exiled Circassians are now far from their land.

Tara explained that this aspect of the photographs was due to her desire to give the sense that the Caucasus is still awaiting its exiled inhabitants, leaving the rest to the viewer’s imagination, as Russians, Balkars and other people from different ethnicities now live in the area Another eye-catching aspect of the exhibition is the dominance of photographs of the Caucasus Mountains, which have special significance in Circassian culture. “The lifestyle and even the personality of Circassians are connected to the mountains, as they lived on these landforms for nearly 5,000 years,” the photographer pointed out.

Answering a question about the significance of the 1864 exile in modern times, Tara underlined that the exile was a massacre and a crime against humanity. “For a safe future, past incidents should be examined and recognized instead of being covered up.

The only way to relieve the pain of the Circassians living in diaspora is to respect the rights of their ancestors and return their rights. The Russian Federation and Turkey should recognize this situation, and Russia should apologize to the Circassians,” the photographer concluded.

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SOURCE: Today’s Zaman

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