“Meskhetian” Turks: Their ethnic self-identification and religion according to a sociolinguistic survey (2013-2018)
(62nd Meeting Friedensau, 2019)
The “Meskhetians”, one of the most numerous Turkic ethnicities living in Kazakhstan, are scattered around the worl, unable to return to Georgia after the deportation in 1944 (Suleimenova 2015; Mirkhanova 2006; Simonian 2007).
The Meskhetian Turkish idioms comprising numerous sub-varieties (Ahiska Yerli, Ahiska Terekeme, Hemshilli, etc.) have preserved very ancient Turkish features, not affected by the reforms in Turkey. At present, rapid processes of cultural and linguistic assimilation of Kazakhstani Turks, contact influences from Kazakh and Republican Turkish make these varieties moribund.
A sociolinguistic survey of Kazakhstani Turkic varieties was conducted in 2013-2018 by the international project “Interaction of languages and cultures in post-Soviet Kazakhstan”, supported by the Volkswagen Foundation. A free-licence online electronic database with the obtained sociolinguistic data was created, allowing filtering the data according to 191 parameters (Nevskaya & Tazhibayeva 2015; http://tuyrki.weebly.com).
Our claims based on the survey and oral interviews are:
1. “Meskhetians” speaking various idioms were deported from different regions of Georgia to Kazakhstan; they had not had contacts with each other and avoided mutual assimilation, having preserved the language and cultural heritage of their communities.
2. “Meskhetians” are Sunni Muslims. Religion is a strong factor for self-identifying themselves as Ahiska, or Hemshilli Turks. Thus, the language variant of the Terekeme idiom is a dialect of Azeri (Grunina 2010). However, the Terekeme identify themselves as Ahiska Turks ethnically, although they are registered in the passports as Azeri, and are close to Azeri by language and culture.
3. Younger generations of “Meskhetians” switch to Standard Turkish thanks to the influence of the Turkish mass media widely spread in Kazakhstan, and the increased mobility of the “Meskhetians” themselves: many young people study and work in Turkey. It is a paradox situation: the spreading of Standard Turkish endangers the preservation of “Meskhetian” native varieties.
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Electronic resources: http://tyurki.weebly.com