Circassians in Turkey staged a rally Sunday in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district to demand broadcasting and education rights in their native language, following the lead of pro-Kurdish organizations and other groups.
"During the new process of democratization that is currently underway, we, too, have some demands, like the other peoples who are also living in Turkey,” said Meretuko Kenan Kaplan, the general secretary of the Circassian Peoples’ Initiative, who read his press statement in both Turkish and Circassian.
"The denials, exiles, betrayals, insults, policies of assimilation and social exclusion that have taken place during the 87 years that have passed since the foundation of the Turkish Republic nearly amount to a gallery of sins,” Kaplan said.
Demonstrators chanted slogans such as "Mother tongue is our honor, and we’ll fight to defend it” and "Anywhere, anytime, Circassian is my mother tongue” as they waved Adygeyan, Abkhazian and Chechnyan flags and banners. Some protesters wore traditional Circassian garments.
In his speech, Kaplan claimed that all the different communities in Turkey were forced to merge under the single umbrella of Turkishness.
"With the growing proliferation of democracy in the world, systems that enforce uniformity have become unsustainable. As Circassians, we find this new state of affairs to be in Turkey’s interest, and we consider it our duty to contribute to this new process of democratization to the best of our abilities,” Kaplan said.
He added that Circassians demand the immediate cessation of assimilation policies and the creation of conditions under which they could live freely and develop their identity, language and culture.
Kaplan also voiced his demand for the recognition of the right to be educated in one’s native language, a redefinition of the concept of citizenship, positive discrimination and the changing of the current Constitution, which was written following a military coup Sept. 12, 1980.
Although actual Circassians constitute only one of the ethnic groups coming from the North Caucasus region in present-day Russia, all the peoples who originated from that area are collectively referred to as "Circassians” in Turkey. Many Circassians were forced to abandon their native homelands when Czarist Russia conquered the region in the 19th century. Most of those Circassians who fled were resettled in Ottoman Turkey.
At the rally, Kaplan called for a state-supported radio and TV channel to air broadcasts at a national level in Circassian, as well as in all other local languages spoken in Turkey. The event ended with concerts given by Circassian artists.