Cultural Semantics of the Black Sea Region

This project directed its research towards the Black Sea region as a site of negotiations between a plurality of cultural, religious, and symbolic practices. The goal was to investigate those spatially inflected topics that are also occupied by symbolic, imaginary, and affective meanings and look at their origins in various cultural traditions, especially during the time of the Ottoman and Russian empires. In contrast to Western Europe with its predominantly Roman heritage, the lingering traces of ancient codes in the Black Sea region were not so easily erased by the shifting imperial forces and ensuing attempts to overwrite certain meanings.

Against this background, in a first phase of the project we explored how Crimean Tatars and Russians have related to the peninsula since the Russian conquest of Crimea in 1783 and which cultural, historical, and spatial classifications they emphasize: Which continuities are claimed and which relationships are established? Which historical traditions are lent prominence, which are neglected? Which places, figures, or historical events are charged with particular symbolic and/or affective meaning? Of special interest is the fact that today the Crimean Tatars no longer exclusively live on the Crimean Peninsula, but are spread across various regions of the Black Sea (Turkey, Romania) as well as Central Asia. There they have developed their own politically and affectively loaded views towards the Crimean Peninsula. Russian perspectives on Crimea are not only evident in administrative practices, but also in works of fiction, where one finds imperial characterizations of the region as well as the transfiguration of the peninsula into a place many desire to control. The subject matter of this comparative study were the historiographical, journalistic, and literary texts by Crimean Tatars and Russians, in which the Crimean Peninsula is portrayed in historical and cultural contexts. These objects of analysis had been complemented by works from the performing arts (especially films). The aim of the project was to present in detail the historical and cultural conditioning behind various views on Crimea.

In a second phase, cultural semantisations of the Black Sea were examined from a different geographical perspective: Taking the Turkish port city of Trabzon as an example, the project examined how Black Sea imaginaries developed by different actors in different times overlap, complement, but also partially displace each other. Trabzon is not only a Turkish and formerly Ottoman port city, but was also the seat of the Greek empire of the same name. In the second half of the 19th century, the city was temporarily conquered by the Russian Empire, and in the 21st century, Trabzon is considered to be one of the centres of a “Turkish Black Sea culture,” which is assigned a certain independence in Turkish cultural memory, partly with ethnic connotations. It was investigated whether and how these different political and cultural affiliations affected the ideas of the Black Sea that were developed in Trabzon.

The focus on two regions offered other possibilities for comparison beyond mere geographical comparison: How do actors deal with comparable historical legacies (Greek-Byzantine heritage with a simultaneously multi-ethnic population; numerically relevant Turkish populations in both places)?

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2014–2016
Associate Researcher(s): Sebastian Cwiklinski, Franziska Thun-Hohenstein


03 Dec 2015 · 11.15 am

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