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Historical Diasporas, Religion and Identity: Exploring the Case of the Greeks of Tsalka

Eleni Sideri


The day in Tbilisi was cloudy and the autumn chill started to make difficult the early wake-up in a cold apartment, which often had no light due to electricity failure. However, on that day, the commotion of our trip completely interrupted our morning routine. A couple of days before, my ethnic-Greek Georgian landlady had welcomed her two children who lived in Thessaloniki, Greece. The trip was really a visit to the family grave. For the visit, my landlady had rented a car with a driver, something that underlined the significance that she placed on that trip. “In a sense”, she explained to me before the arrival of her children, “this trip would be a family reunion”, as her late husband was buried there. The visit would be a sign that he had not been forgotten.

Family and religion are two categories that play a central role in the study of diasporas. The former constitutes a vehicle of memory and often a metaphor for the lost community and homeland. The latter, either through its institutions (church, priesthood, religious associations) or

E. Sideri (*)

School of Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece

© The Author(s) 2017

E. Sideri, L.E. Roupakia (eds.), Religions and Migrations in the Black Sea Region, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-39067-3_2

through its embedded-ness in everyday life practices (dietary habits, time organisation, rituals, production of holy places) could become a constant link to the trauma of exile and reminder of the motherland.

This paper will explore the relation of religion to diasporic identities by focusing on the Greeks of Tsalka. This family trip would become the context where religion, as part of imperial and colonial history, appeared interwoven with past migration movements in the Black Sea region. The latter has been a space of encounters of different peoples, cultures and religions for millennia. Furthermore, in a post-Soviet context, this trip signifies the repositioning of religious and diasporic identities within the framework of transnational and post-national communities which have pluralised the contexts where identities are produced. Moreover, my study represents a way through which this ethnographic region could be studied beyond the dominant themes of ethno-nationalisms and conflicts (see Grant and Yalyin-Heckmann 2007, 1-21), generating a more nuanced understanding of regional history. I will first introduce the community of the Greeks of Tsalka. Then, I will discuss the connection of religion to diasporas in the context of the Greek diasporas from the former Soviet Union. Subsequently, I will consider how transnationalism could further enrich traditional studies of religion and diasporas. The study is based on my fieldwork in Georgia (2003-2004) and my trips to the country in 2006 and 2010.

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