Binali Yıldırm, former prime minister of Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Istanbul mayoral candidate said on Tuesday that Turkey had not forgotten the victims of the Circassian massacre that took place 155 years ago in a message he posted on Twitter.
Turkey, which has a sizeable community of Circassians of 1.5 million to 3 million people according to different estimates, has not officially recognised the Circassian genocide, the forced migration of an ethnic group that had lived in the major part of the North Caucasus and the northeast shore of the Black Sea by the Russian Empire. At least 600,000 people lost their lives a result of massacres and starvation during expulsion of Circassians, according to some studies.
“On the 155th anniversary of the Circassian genocide, I wish God’s mercy on all our exiled martyrs. The pain of our Circassian brothers is in our hearts. Forgotten persecutions repeat themselves. We did not forget, we will not let it be forgotten,” Yıldırım said.
“As far as I know, this is the first time Turkey defines the sufferings of the Circassians 155 years ago as genocide,” said Kerim Has, an expert on Turkish-Russian relation, in response to Yıldırım’s message. “From what I see, the Russian side is still silent… I think they await an explanation or they have noted this somewhere,” he said.
Other Turkish officials also commemorated the events, without using the word genocide.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said that the pain of the tragedy was still alive.
“We share the pain of our kinsmen, the Crimean Tatars, as well as brotherly peoples of the Caucasus and respectfully honour the memory of those who lost their lives during these exiles,” Anadolu Agency reported Aksoy as saying in a written statement.
Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun also took Twitter, stating, “The suffering of the Circassian exiles, a black stain in human history, has not been forgotten, even though it has been 155 years.”