Dana Bayrami Festival: Forging Solidarity through Afro-Turkish Identity in Modern Turkey

By Zavier Wingham
Submitted to Session P4915 (Blackness in the Middle East: a Comparative Perspective, 2017 Annual Meeting
Diaspora/Refugee Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
After nearly ninety years of state enforced silence, a once lost festival made a boisterous return to the streets of Izmir, Turkey in 2006. Black bodies filled the street, gleefully announcing the return of Dana Bayram? and staking a public claim to the streets. Afro-Turks, or the descendants of African slaves from the Ottoman Empire, have long existed in modern day Turkey, along with Dana Bayram? (Calf Festival). During the Ottoman Empire, the festival was held over a few weeks and held various reasons ranging from religious to economic. Central to the festivities was rejoining as a community and reuniting families that might have been split from one another. With the institution of the Tekke ve Zaviyeler Kanunu (The Turkish Law of 1925 Closing the Dervish Lodges), the festival was banned and eventually disappeared in the 1960s. While the current reincarnation of the festival lacks in culturally specific elements such as a godya (spiritual leader) and healing ritual dance, creating and building community has remained key. Since its (re)inception, the festival has transformed from a local event to an international space. In particular, this paper explores how the festival has began to act as an arena of “live dialogue” between AfroTurks and other black subjectivities and through this space, continue to assert a black identity within an “atypical” context.

What does one make of this emerging diasporic voice? How, in a locality where these diasporic formations are constantly rebuffed with nationalism, might we assess the festival’s recent international scope? Through the use of newspaper articles, the AfroTurks organization’s website, Afrikal?lar Kültür Dayan??ma ve Yard?mla?ma Derne?i (African Cultural Solidarity and Cooperation Association), and the Tarih Vakf?’s (History Foundation) oral history of Afro-Turks,this paper examines how a sense of internationalism is crafted through discourse surrounding the festival, the Afro-Turks articulation of their history, and explore what kind(s) of dialogue has been created as a result. This work, quite like the subject, relies on a diverse array of literature, from diaspora studies to archival theory. Frank Guridy’s Forging Diaspora is central to the theoretical formation of a “live dialogue,” as well as Achille Mbembe’s conception of the archive as debris. This work combines such literature to assess how identity formation can act as an attempt to rupture colonial legacies through the intersections of performative cultural mediums and internationalism(s), and thereby imagine a black alterity.