Ahiska Turks, or Meskhetian Turks, have a rich culture. Forced to flee their homeland in 1944, their culture, religious beliefs and languages live on despite being dispersed across the world.
The Culture, Religion and Languages of the Ahiska Turkish
Meskhetian Turks are primarily Sunni Muslims, with a smaller group of Shiite Muslims. The majority of the Ahiska Turks are not strict Muslim observants, as the Soviet Union’s policies discourage religion.
Many Meskhetians fast during Ramazan, and they practice circumcision. They also avoid eating pork.
Ahiska Turk religious leaders are known as mullahs. Mullahs perform marriages, funerals and circumcisions. They are also in charge of organizing celebrations for two of their two most important holidays: Kurban Bayram and Ramazan Bayram.
Meskhetian Turks live in village groups, and they also divide themselves into larger groups of relatives, known as kovum. Village groups typically have several different kovums, and each one has its own name.
Family is of extreme importance to the Ahiska Turks, and plays a significant role in friendship, marriage, community and burial.
The elderly in the village group aid in the preservation of important traditions.
Marriages are often arranged, but the Meskhetian Turks generally avoid marriages involving related families. There are occasions when marriages occur between first cousins.
In Central Asia, many Meskhetian Turks do not welcome mixed marriages, including those with other Muslims outside the community. Outsiders are considered a threat to the preservation of their culture and the community’s future.
Major life events that are publicly observed in the Meskhetian Turk community include weddings, funerals and circumcisions. These major events are a reflection of Russian, Muslim and Caucasian practices.
Meskhetian Turkish cuisine is highly influenced by Central Asia and South Caucasia, but some dishes also include foods that were commonly found in the Soviet Union.
Common foods include rice, potatoes, meat, vegetables, cheese, sour cream, eggs and honey.
With many Meskhetian Turks now dispersed, traditional Meskhetian Turk arts, dress and crafts have all but disappeared. Traditional dances are still practiced and pass on today, offering a glimpse into the group’s traditions.
Most women now dress in modern clothing, although there are some restrictions:
- Some married women choose to wear head scarves
- Muslim aps, or kudi, are worn by elderly religious men
Young women living in urban areas generally wear modern clothing
Ahiska Turks speak an Eastern Anatolian dialect of Turkish derived from the regions of Artvin, Kars and Ardahan.
The Meskhetian Turk dialect primarily uses Turkish words for everyday language, animal husbandry and agriculture. Other words were borrowed from languages the Meskhetian Turks were exposed to during Soviet and Russian rule. These languages include Russian, Georgian, Kazakh, Uzbek and Kyrgyz.
Despite facing tremendous hardships, Ahiska Turks have managed to still preserve much of their culture and way of life. While traditional dress and arts and crafts have disappeared, the community remains close-knit and traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Today, many Meskhetian Turks gather together in their new countries to continue their practices and traditions.