Laz Intellectuals Explain Their View of Laz Ethnicity

Statue of a Laz man and woman. Artvin, Turkey

Statue of a Laz man and woman. Artvin, Turkey

In the accompanying statement, a group of Laz intellectuals have chosen to explain to interested parties (in Turkey, in Georgia, and in the world at large) how they see the Laz people's place among the community of nations. Whilst they readily acknowledge their ethno-linguistic ties with the other three South Caucasian peoples (Georgians, Svans and especially the Mingrelians), they reject attempts emanating from Georgia to categorise them as a sub-group of the Georgian people in the way that it became official policy around 1930 in the then-Soviet Republic of Georgia to categorise Mingrelians and Svans living there as 'Georgians'. Objecting to any denial of status to the Laz, Mingrelian and Svan languages (for example, by describing them as mere languages of the home), they urge the authorities in Georgia to demonstrate their concern for Georgian's sister-languages by recognising their true status and permitting mother-tongue education in them. This statement comes in the wake of reports at the start of April that Georgia's Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II opposes renewal of talks on Georgia finally signing the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) despite the fact that Georgia became a member of the Council of Europe in 1999.

Since we feel that our readers will see parallels between the treatment of Abkhaz and the treatment of Mingrelian and Svan over the decades by the Georgian authorities, we thought that they would appreciate the opportunity to have access to this statement, with the sentiments of which they will surely sympathise.

The statement has been published in four languages: Turkish, English, Georgian and Laz.

To the Turkish and Georgian People and the General Public

The Georgian country and the Georgian people have crucial importance for the Laz people.

Whether it is because the Mingrelian, with whom the Laz have a cultural, linguistic and ethnic connection, live in this country, or be it because archaeological remains of Laz history are to be found in the west of Georgia, it is virtually the homelands of the Laz.

Laz people’s approach to the country of Georgia, which possesses an important part of their history, has traditionally never been negative. The Laz community has always had friendly ties to Georgians living in Turkey or in Georgia. From the stage of its nation-building onwards, along with this, there have been many questionably motivated, political and populist statements about the linguistic, historical and cultural affiliation of the Laz community, which have constantly been brought forward in Georgia and have been assimilated into Georgia’s formal policies. These statements increased in the recent years and have begun to make the Laz community very uncomfortable and have reached to an unacceptable level.

According to the official statement of Georgia, Mingrelian-Laz people are not accepted as individual folks but seen as part of the Georgian Nation (Kartveli) and the Laz language is viewed as a dialect of the Georgian language (Kartvelian, Kartuli, Georgian).

During the cold war the Laz Community in Turkey has been unresponsive to kartvelist attitudes, due to unsiffucient knowledge and a lack of an organizied structure. However Kartvelist ideologists have taken this as a form of silent consent and continued to increase their harassment for the next ten years by trying to adapt this irrational claim by propaganda, demagoguery, word plays and distortion. The activities of the Georgian state which subsists on these Georgian presumptions are utterly disturbing the Laz community and is causing the development of a dislike towards Georgia.

We would like to clarify the following points to the people and institutions who are trying to understand:

  1. The Laz community has not been a part of the Georgian community and is still not one today. The Laz community is not Georgian (Kartvelian). The Laz people have been the Laz people since the beginning of history and intend to stay that way. The historic, linguistic, and cultural affiliation of the Laz community cannot be the debate topic of any person or institution. There is no question about this!

  2. The Laz Language is in no way a part of the Georgian language, neither linguistically, nor as a dialect of the Georgian. The Laz community objects to and rejects any political terminologies such as Kartvelian Language, SaertoKartveluri (Common Kartvelian). These terminologies foreground the Georgian language and disregard the Mingelian and Laz language as a written language. As a result of this, the Laz and Mingrelian literature is ignored and is even termed as separatist literature and has become subject of ridicule. Using the more scientific and apolitical terminology “South Caucasian Languages” instead, will present a more suitable, correct, and more scientific attitude.

    Along with this we do not deny the original and historical closeness of the Laz language with Georgian and other South Caucasian languages. This closeness can be compared to German and English, which both belong to the Germanic group of the Indo-European language family. The languages in question are much closer than the Laz language and Georgian language. However, as we do not call Germans English and vice versa, we cannot call the Laz people Georgian or the other way around based on this closeness. Adding political meanings to this relation is delusional, trivial.

  3. We do not find it sincere when persons and institutions approach the Laz community under the name of brotherhood while manipulating history with word games, claiming some historical happenings were true by using subjective interpretations, and utilizing all this to import religions to the Laz community.  We cannot reconcile this neither with brotherhood nor friendship.

  4. We do not find it ethical and vigorously condemn the appropriation of people who have contributed to the Laz Community and the attribution of those to the Georgians, through distortion and forced interpretations.

  5. It has been observed that the Laz language is being restricted to ”an academic subject” or to a “home language” only. However, we do know that Lazuri is a living language and an element of the Lazish identity. It has a living literature. It shows no insufficiency which could not be overcome, to describe the world, life and living. Any kind of effort made to help Laz language keep these feautures, especially in Turkey and Gerogia, will be greatly appreciated by the Laz.

  6. If Georgia and institutions in Georgia seek to raise the Laz’ sympathy and increase their satisfaction it is recommended that they should turn to topics like cultural autonomy and mother tongue education for Mingrelian and Svan, and support ways to  encourage and strengthen these languages. It would be a more democratic manner for Gerogia if they intended recognition of these lanuguages as mother tongues without being pressed by Europe or other political powers but  by means of a feeling of responsibility coming  from within the country and its institutions. It should ne noted that Mingrelian and Svan is a part of the world’s cultural heritage and efforts made to keep  these languages alive nourishes from universal guidelines which arise out of the universal human rights.The extinction of these languages is a problem that concernes not only the speakers themselves but all humanity. This should be kept in mind.

The undersigned Laz intellectuals and NGOs are of the opinion that they shall not remain unresponsive to this kartvelism and kartvelist propaganda approaching from Georgia. This declaration, which contains our common viewpoint spoken with one voice, was composed with the aim of informing related institutions in Georgia, Turkey and the World.

List of Signers & Organisations: 

İmzacı Kişi ve Kurumlar:
Gola Kültür Sanat ve Ekoloji Derneği
Karadeniz Ereğli Laz Kültür Derneği
Laz Kültür ve Dayanışma Derneği
Lazebura E.V. – Avrupa Laz Kültür Derneği (European Laz Culture Movement)
Lazika Yayın Kolektifi
Sima Doğu Karadenizliler Hizmet Vakfı

Ali İhsan AKSAMAZ İSLAMİŞİ – yazar
Sinan ALBAYRAK BADİŞİ – aktivist
Mehmet ALPER ŞİRİNİŞİ – aktivist
İsmail AVCI BUCAKLİŞİ – yazar
Yılmaz Münir AVCI – Sima Doğu Karadenizliler Hizmet Vakfı Başkanı, yazar, inşaat müh.
Mustafa BAYINDIR ALİİŞİ – aktivist
Mehmet BEKÂROĞLU Prof. Dr.
Cihangir BİLGİN MUFTİŞİ – araştırmacı
Eylem BOSTANCI – çevirmen
Gülay BURHAN BAYRAMİN – Sima Doğu Karadenizliler Hizmet Vakfı Eski Başkanı
Osman Şafak BÜYÜKLÜ BUYUKLİŞİ – yazar
Kurtuluş CENGİZ – tonmaister, müzisyen
Vecdi CİHANGİR – Sima Doğu Karadenizliler Hizmet Vakfı Kurucu Üyesi, eczacı
Selma ÇAKIR KOÇİVA – sosyal pedagog, yazar
İsmet ÇELİK BOSTANCİŞİ – Avrupa Laz Kültür Derneği “Lazebura E.V.” Eski Başkanı
Nükhet EREN
Yalçın ERSOY – eğitimci
Özer ERTAŞ TRAŞİŞİ – yazar
Ali GÜMÜŞ BADULAŞİ – aktivist
Seher GÜNEY – aktivist
Hasan KABOĞLU – müzisyen
Sevilay Refika KADIOĞLU – Gola Kültür Sanat ve Ekoloji Derneği Başkanı
Onur KAHVECİ KAVECİŞİ – müzisyen
Paluri Arzu KAL DEMİRÇİ KALOPXE – avukat
Erol KANT – aktivist
Mustafa KARADENİZ KARABİNAŞİ – Karadeniz Ereğli Laz Kültür Derneği Başkanı
Maksut KESİCİ ARATAŞİ – sanatçı
Taner KILINÇ – belgesel fotoğrafçı
Ahmet KIRIM XACALİŞİ – avukat
Ergün KONAKÇI MCVERİŞİ – tarihçi
Ramazan KOSANOĞLU KLEMURİŞİ – aktivist
Kutayi Derin KUGAY – prodüktör, programcı
Nurten KURNAZ KURKUZİPXE – aktivist
Musa OĞUZ CEDEŞİ – şair
Hasan ORAL – avukat
Mehmet Remzi ÖNCEL XAFİZİŞİ – grafiker
Denizhan ÖZER
Dr. Sevinç ÖZGEN
Rıdvan ÖZKURT ANÇAŞİ – yazar
Mustafa ÖZKURT ÇUPİNAŞİ – sanatçı
Mustafa Zeki ÖZŞAHİN DUDULAŞİ – öğretmen
Funda ÖZYURT TORUN – belgesel yönetmeni
Firdevs PERİLOĞLU – aktivist
Özcan SAPAN SPAİŞİ – yayıncı, yazar
Bülent SARALOĞLU SARALİŞİ – turizmci
Armağan SERDAROĞLU XAFİZİŞİ – Laz Kültür ve Dayanışma Derneği Başkanı
Sinan SERİN CEİĞİŞİ – aktivist
Mustafa SONBAY ZONBAİA – yayıncı
Yrd. Doç. Dr. Çiğdem ŞAHİN
Muhammet TUNÇSAN
Sadık VARER – ressam
Mustafa Çağlar YAVUZ – aktivist
Yavuz YAZICI EBAŞİ – webdesigner
Mahir YILDIZ – Avrupa Laz Kültür Derneği “Lazebura E.V.” Başkanı
İsmail Güney YILMAZ MURADİNAŞİ – yazar





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