Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Understanding the Culture of Ahiska Turks in Wheaton, Illinois: A Case Study

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Understanding the Culture of Ahiska Turks in Wheaton, Illinois: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Culture plays such a significant role in human life that no society can exist without it. All norms, value systems, and ways of conducts are the products of culture. Culture determines how an individual should act, dress, talk, eat, be educated, interact, believe, etc. Scholars of human development believe that there is a strong relation between cultural practices and the development of how members of a particular society think, remember, reason, solve problems, act, and behave. In this sense, every individual in all communities are "cultural participants" (Rogoff, 2003, p. 10). Figuring out what is meant by culture and how people acquire culture is an essential step to start investigating a culture and its participants. According to LeVine (1982), culture is "an organized body of rules concerning the ways in which individuals in a population should communicate with one another, think about themselves and their environments, and behave toward one another and toward objects in their environments" (p. 4). LeVine's (1982) definition of culture has an anthropological perspective positing that culture determines human behavior and human adjustment to the surrounding environment, and thus, helps people organize a collective life.

Each culture has its own set of rules that the members of that particular population have to follow. These rules are both implicit and explicit. When a rule is recognized and justified by the members of a particular society it becomes institutionalized. In other words, sociocultural environments are institutions that regulate norms. Individuals must follow the institutionalized rules (cultural norms) in order to fit in with the community (LeVine, 1982).

Phinney and Ong (2007) posit that both individual and collective cultures have fundamental importance in the identity formation process of immigrants. Even though there does not seem to be a consensus on the definition of ethnic identity, the term refers to people's sense of belonging to their origins (Phinney & Ong, 2007). Ethnic identity is the result of both individual and collective cultures, which plays a pivotal role in the lives of immigrants in their new land (Phinney & Ong, 2007).

In the following research, I attempted to understand the Ahiska Turks' culture in the Wheaton, Illinois area of the United States, investigating if the Ahiska Turks had experienced any hardship in their new land, how they were coping with those difficulties, and whether they were concerned with preserving their ethnic identities (and how they would achieve that goal). Understanding the culture and the cultural identities of Ahiska Turks in Wheaton, Illinois, would serve not only the Ahiska Turks in Wheaton and those entities that serve them, but also the scholars of culture and immigrants at large.

Historical Background of Ahiska Turks

Region. The Ahiska Turks are originally from Southern Georgia, known as Meskhetia (Ahiska), which is a region that is surrounded by mountains. It is near the Turkish border.

Culture. Aydingun, Harding, Hoover, Kuznetsov, and Swerlord (2006) provide a detailed description of the culture of Ahiska Turks and state that Ahiska Turks are Sunni Muslims who observe Islamic festivals as well as arranged marriages, circumcisions and funerals according to Islamic traditions. They are a predominantly agricultural people who also frequently breed livestock. Villages are important organizational settings as almost every Ahiska Turk can trace his or her origin to a village in Ahiska, Georgia. Ahiska Turks value family and kinship strongly. The predominant language of everyday communication among Ahiska Turks is an Eastern Anatolian dialect of Turkish (Aydingun et al., 2006).

Discrepancy in terms. In the literature, there is no consensus on whether to address the group as Ahiska Turks, Meskhetian Turks, or Meskhetians (Aydingun et al., 2006). Even among the leaders of the population, there are differing preferences (Aydingun et al. …

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