186.5 Between assimilation and survival: Laz community in Turkey

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 3:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Ayse SERDAR , Department of Humanities and Social Sceinces, Istanbul Technical University , Istanbul , Turkey
This paper analyzes the challenging ethno-cultural recognition and revival attempts of Laz ethnic community in Turkey.  The autochthon Laz community mostly lives in the Northeastern region of Turkey and through historical and contemporary waves of migration spread out to Western towns and metropolises. The Laz-speaking population has been assimilated into the Turkishness through the systematic Turkification policies by the Turkish nation-state that historically denied the existence of non-Turkish ethnic populations and defined all under the Turkish identity. Today the Laz language is recorded as “at risk of extinction” by UNESCO.  In Turkey, the limited recognition of ethno-cultural rights observed in the last years has been largely achieved by the long-term struggle of the Kurdish movement.  However, the political and armed conflict also deepened anti-Kurdish sentiments, and the resistance against ethno-cultural demands. The growing efforts of the Laz activists to keep their language and culture alive are similarly challenged with negative responses both within the Laz people and society at large. The growing visibility of Laz ethno-cultural activities exposes Laz activists to the nationalist antagonism and warning. The majority of Laz community refrains from speaking up identity-related demands believing that these efforts would strengthen “separatist” groups and divide the national Turkish identity.  Under these conditions, where struggling for collective rights and recognition bear the risk of exclusion from Turkishness, the assimilated identities resist against the efforts for recognition and revival. This paper offers an analysis and discussion of the factors that explain why and how assimilated ethnic communities resist against the efforts for collective rights and recognition and whether it is possible to reverse assimilation looking at the Laz people in Turkey. The study is based on the analysis of historical setting, interviews with community members -including oral history- and review of debates on print and social media.