Jade Cemre Erciyes
Post Doctoral Associate, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex. Editor of the Journal of Caucasian Studies (JOCAS). Turkey.

As a woman who settled in Abkhazia on the 15th year of the start of the conflict, my understanding of this political, male dominated reality was barely a vague history of what I remembered from my childhood when my grandfather supported the region with medical supplies and what I had learnt from reading academic articles as a scholar of the post-Soviet world. Of course, there were also the stories told in various North Caucasian associations and in the coffee-houses where the returning migrants gathered that added to my knowledge of the realities of 1992-93, but one could never knew how much of it was real...

Hence on 14 August 2007, 6 months after my arrival, everything changed. In Abkhazia, young people were commemorating the start of the conflict by walking from the three borders of Abkhazia (the River Ingur, the River Psou and the mountain-pass where “the Adyghe brothers” had arrived after the start of the conflict), to the Red Bridge that is known as the place “it all started”. The march with historical flags and crowds coming out to meet them in each town/village on the road, was a way to claim “homeland” Abkhazia by the new generation growing up after the “war”. It was a time when remains of “war” were disappearing and houses were being built, bullet-holes in the buildings were being covered, new cafés and restaurants were opening all around... So the march helped to claim the space with its history, language, culture, symbols, and to construct the country as a place of memory[1], borrowing the word from Pierre Nora[2]. On that day, the distinction between Abkhazians and other ethnic peoples of Abkhazia, between the diaspora and the homeland, between women and men, elderly and youth disappeared. There was the memory of a conflict that defined this land, each person living on it, each building that still existed as well as everything that had disapeared.

On that day, I, as a non-Abkhazian diaspora-scholar, wanted to say a few words in Abkhaz on the state-television about how important it was to hear and understand one another for all of us. The next day, I found a whole new world of Abkhazian women opening their hearts, their lives and their stories of 1992-1993 to me in Abkhazian, which they would say I could only learn better by listening and speaking more. In the market-place, women would tell me they saw me on TV and in the streets, women would stop me, hug me, pray for me by turning their hands in a circle around my head, and tell me about their losses in the “war” and how valuable it was for the diaspora to return to the homeland so that the homeland, the culture, the language would live on, and the losses would not be in vain.


With the possibility to travel developing in the region, while doing research for my Ph.D, I started to go back and forth between Abkhazia, the North Caucasus, Turkey and beyond which captured the attention of many in the Caucasus. I was not the first woman to “return” to the Caucasus, but in their eyes I was a lone female “return” migrant/diasporan who was always mobile, who was always on the road, constantly making the “long and hard journey”[3]. The journey defined the homeland-belonging in the eyes of the diasporans, and non-belonging in the eyes of the locals. In this regard understanding the gendered journey to the homeland is crucial.

In case of the North Caucasus, the first woman whose story of her return-journey to the homeland is set against a discussion of the pre-histories of globalisation, is narrated by Prof. Dr. Setenay Shami, an internationally renowned Circassian female scholar from the diaspora. In her article Shami relates a woman return-migrant’s story to that of a Circassian slave’s journey in the 1850s, while questioning the gendered experiences of migration and mobility[4]. She states:

“Yet the possibilities offered by the transnational encounters of the present can be explored in light of different pasts, such as pasts that foreground interconnections, histories of movement that complicate notions of home and exile, of self and other.” (Shami 2007, p. 191)

It must be understood that in the case of Abkhazia, whose history is primarily defined by the 1992-1993 conflict, for the younger generation of return-migrants who were neither part of the things happening in the diaspora nor came to the homeland, the notion of home, self and other is complicated. Besides, for a diasporic identity, knowledge and memory of exile is at the core, and with the journey to the homeland this core is challenged by a new type of victimisation of which they do not feel part. For women, as they were not expected to come to fight in Abkhazia, the situation may seem easier. In the article We left our skirts to men as we went to the front[5] is told the rare stories of women who came to their homeland in 1992-1993 because of the conflict. Written by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Setenay Nil Doğan, a Circassian female scholar from Turkey, this is the first and one-of-its-kind piece about the gendered experiences of the diaspora in relation to the 1992-1993 conflict. In her article she focuses on the story of Birgul – a woman who made jam and war through her children’s narratives, of Yesim – a woman who worked as a nurse during the war, and of the women whose stories were told in the Turkish media as war-heroines. Doğan concludes her piece about these women who came to Abkhazia at the time with the following words:

“Although all the women remember the 1992–1993 war in Abkhazia as a rightful and just war fought for self-defense, nevertheless their memories of the war are loaded with guilt, silences and apologies for penetrating into the war zone, “a male zone.” Those penetrations of women were transformed into different militarized images of women in war: an apologetic mother, a silent nurse-sister and rebellious but patriotic girls.” (Doğan 2016, p. 158)

The guilt, silences and apologies are also observed among the newly returning migrant-women who can communicate with the local women. As for the women of Abkhazia, who have lost their children, partners, lovers, siblings, classmates, colleagues, neighbours and many others they cared for in 1992 and 1993, their connection to the homeland and everything on it is defined by this loss… For the diaspora, it is a hard to relate to this feeling and this feeling of not-belonging fully is reflected in the narrative of a young female return-migrant that I quote in an article on Gendered Experiences of Return[6]:

“Those who want to return choose a very small, long path.[...] A majority of the girls went back (to Turkey). Those we thought can never stay, stayed. [...] (I remind myself) it is your choice. Today people go in every direction. Human being is no more a constant. [...] I live in the devil’s triangle. You are dispersed bodily, one half there, one half here… [Gupse, Female, in her 20s]” (Erciyes forthcoming)


In a land, where you feel a historical belonging (your ancestors being exiled so you are originally from there) but not a historical connection to the core historical event there (you have not lived the 1992-1993 Conflict or its effects like others) belonging is questioned everyday. For me 2007, was the year I was accepted by the women of Abkhazia as someone who cared and who had to know more, understand more, so that more could be felt. I learnt Abkhaz, I got to know a multitude of people living in Sukhum, and I felt a belonging. That year, a good friend of mine told me how she and her little sisters luckily survived an unfortunate event in 1993. If you have watched the 2015 movie Hunger Games, Mocking-jay Part II, you may remember how people were tricked into believing something nice was going to come from the small parachutes which were actually carrying bombs... That scene was real for my friend. Three girls survived such an attack, with some scars in their legs, and a cow was killed protecting them from the blast... While I was telling this story at work and how it pained me, my colleague aged 21 at the time revealed her shoulder and showed me her scar, telling me that she wasn’t so lucky as not to get hurt...  I had heard before of a female war-veteran who was telling with a laugh how she was no more a woman as she had been wounded in her private parts in the war, but these young women, who were kids at the time should notionally not have been part of this. They could tell me how their elderly relatives were killed, how their fathers fought at the front, but it was not their place to be suffer, they were just kids, playing in the fields and lands...


Reflecting in 2022 on Abkhazia in relation to 1992 may seem easy at first glance. All these interconnected and unrelated narratives of the diaspora, return, homeland, identity, belonging and conflict through the gendered lens that I shared shows that it is not easy at all. I cannot watch either an action-movie or news of wars without thinking about the women who have suffered greatly in times of conflict. Many in the homeland decided to stay in black mourning garb till Abkhazia’s recognition in 2008 as an independent state. 2008 was the year when those of us in Abkhazia lived a “war” and the days that led to recognition, a more recent key-event in Abkhazia’s history.

Now people want to look forward, to a future they want to build for future generations. Women are seeking their independence from traditional values that limit their existence as equal human beings in the society. They are questioning male-dominated life that limits them to the roles of mothers, sisters, daughters, carers, servants. Still it remains the case that the land is defined as a place of memory, “freed” by sons, brothers, fathers, heroes of war.


[1]Nora, Pierre, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire”,  Representations , Spring, 1989, No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter Memory (Spring, 1989), pp. 7-24

[2] Nora states “Our interest in lieux de memoire where memory crystallizes and secretes itself has occurred at a particular historical moment, a turning point where consciousness of a break with the past is bound up with the sense that memory has been torn – but torn in such a way as to pose the problem of the embodiment of memory in certain sites where a sense of historical continuity persists. There are lieux de memoire, sites of memory, because there are no longer milieux de memoire, real environments of memory.” (Nora 1989, p. 7)

[3] In my Ph.D thesis I discuss how the ancestral homeland in the Caucasus is still seen as “far away” by many in the diaspora, and the journey itself is seen as hard with so many unknowns – languages, routes and peoples. See Erciyes, Jade Cemre,  Return Migratıon to the Caucasus: The Adyge-Abkhaz Diaspora(s), Transnationalism and Life after Return, University of Sussex, 2014.

[4] Shami, Seteney. “Prehistories of Globalization: Circassian Identity in Motion.” Caucasus Paradigms: Anthropologies, Histories, and the Making of a World Area. Ed. Bruce Grant and Lale Yalcin-Heckmann. Berlin: Lit, pp. 191–218. Duke Press, 2007.

[5] Doğan, Setenay Nil. "" We Left Our Skirts to Men as We Went to the Front": The Participation of Abkhazian Women from Turkey in the Abkhazian War." In Gendered Wars, Gendered Memories, pp. 145-158. Routledge, 2016.

[6] Erciyes, Jade Cemre (Forthcoming) The Gendered Experiences of Return to Adygeya and Abkhazia: Dual Transnationalism Between the Caucasus and Turkey.