Turkey pays respects to victims of Circassian exile from Russian Empire

Turkey pays respects to victims of Circassian exile from Russian Empire

Turkey pays respects to victims of Circassian exile from Russian Empire

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The Turkish Foreign Ministry has expressed its respects to the memory of victims of the Circassian exile, which it described as “one of the biggest massacres in the history of humanity.”

“In clashes that took place during the Tsardom of Russia’s occupation that continued throughout the 19th century, and as a result of oppression and massacres conducted in the region in the aftermath, Caucasian societies lost hundreds of thousands of people. Most of the survivors migrated to Anatolia,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç said in a written statement released on May 20.

“This great disaster, which passed into history as the ‘Circassian Exile,’ and which is commemorated on May 21 every year is fixed in the memory of the Caucasian peoples and has opened deep wounds in their hearts,” the statement added.

“We commemorate with respect those who lost their lives in this atrocity, one of the biggest massacres in the history of humanity,” Bilgiç said.

In the wake of the crisis in Russian-Turkish relations that followed the downing by the Turkish Air Force of a Russian warplane in November last year, Russia’s Federal Migration Service began sending letters to Circassians who had been allowed to return from exile in Turkey to their homeland in the North Caucasus, saying Moscow cancelled their residence permits and they must leave the Russian Federation and return to Turkey, the Eurasia Review website reported in January.

On May 21, 2015, Bilgiç issued a similar statement, also in the form of an official answer to a journalist’s question.

“During the conflicts that occurred when the Russian Empire invaded, occupied and annexed the Caucasus, as well as a result of the systematical oppression and massacres after the final ceasefire on May 21 1864, hundreds of thousands of Caucasians lost their lives and the majority of the survivors took refuge in the Ottoman Empire en masse,” he stated in his 2015 message.

Last year, hundreds of representatives of Turkey’s Circassian community marked the 151st anniversary of their expulsion from the Russian Empire, including Minister for Science, Industry and Technology Fikri Işık, Kocaeli Mayor İbrahim Karaosmanoğlu, laying wreaths and flowers in the Sea of Marmara. 

A commemoration gathering for the exile anniversary was also held in the Reyhanlı district in the province of Hatay on the Syrian border in 2015, along with Syrian-Circassians who had fled their country’s civil war.