How Turkey's Abkhaz Community Resolves Interpersonal Conflict: AN OBSERVATIONAL STUDY

By Yilmaz, Muzaffer Ercan | Dispute Resolution Journal, August-October 2009 | Go to article overview

How Turkey's Abkhaz Community Resolves Interpersonal Conflict: AN OBSERVATIONAL STUDY


Yilmaz, Muzaffer Ercan, Dispute Resolution Journal


It is important to learn how different cultures resolve interpersonal conflicts in order to increase our understanding of these cultures and exchange ideas. This article takes a look at how a community that immigrated to Turkey maintains its traditional dispute resolution methods.

The purpose of this article is to explore traditional interpersonal conflict resolution methods through the looking glass of the Abkhaz community in Turkey. This community is a relatively small minority, having a population of approximately half a million people. The reason for choosing it for analysis is that the community is believed to be peaceful so when interpersonal conflicts arise, its members seek to resolve them quickly and constructively.

Migration to Escape Conflict

The Abkhaz is a branch of the Cerkes or Circassians, the native people of the Caucasus region. In the late 19th century, Czarist Russia attempted to expand its power towards the Black Sea. Despite large-scale resistance under the leadership of Sheyh Shamil, the Circassians lost the war with Russia in 1864. Afterwards, a large number of Circassians became exiles. The majority of the Abkhaz community immigrated to the Ottoman Empire where they were given land in northern and western Anatolia. Since then, the Abkhaz have been living in the same regions in today's Turkish Republic, which replaced the Ottoman Empire after the First World War.

This research into the traditional conflict resolution methods of the Abkhaz community was based on in-depth personal interviews and observations, including participant observation. The interviewees were selected through snowball sampling. This means that I first identified two Balikesir University professors from the Abkhaz community who led me to other potential interviewees. Ultimately, I interviewed 20 people, mainly from Bandirma province in Balikesir. Men made up 60% of the same and women, 40%. Their ages ranged from 17-48, with a mean age of 22.8 and a standard deviation of 7.05. All of the interviewees were white and most were well educated: 85% had a college degree, 10% had a Ph.D., and 5% had a high school degree.

In the beginning, I conducted unstructured interviews to obtain preliminary data. Later on, I developed semi-structured questions to ask in the interviews. An interview session lasted about one hour.

During an interview, respondents were basically asked to describe the types of interpersonal conflict they have experienced and how they unofficially resolved them. In addition, they were asked about different dimensions of these conflicts, such as their frequency and duration, the gender of the disputants and the relevance of the conflict to the respondent's daily life. The interview also explored variables that could affect the conflict resolution process, such as who usually served as the conflict resolution authority, the respondents' prior personal experiences and their educational background.

In addition to the interviews, I used the observation method to collect data. I spent a few weeks with the Abkhaz in Balikesir, visiting many Abkhaz families and observing them in different settings, including at popular gatherings, festivals, and during activities of daily living. I also visited some Abkhaz non-governmental organizations and inquired into the basic rules governing interpersonal relations. I also observed some informal dispute resolution processes.

Findings

The findings of this research show that the Abkhaz have adapted to living in Turkish society. Nevertheless, compared to other communities in Turkey, the Abkhaz are a relatively cohesive group, consciously trying to preserve, as much as possible, their ethnic identity and culture against external influences or perceived threats. For example, the incidence of inter-marriage is very low in Turkey's Abkhaz community. Most Abkhaz live together in a separate section of the city, town or village, and that is where their commercial and social activities take place.

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