Religions and Migrations Rediscovered

In his study of the Ottoman and Middle Eastern lands, Bernard Lewis (1990) argued with fervour that religious and cultural identities would be the main force of international conflict in the new world order which followed the end of the Cold War. In this context, a discussion about the potential security threats that could stem from the Black Sea histories opened up.

With the demise of communism, the geopolitical position of the Black Sea was reshaped: the unleashed military conflicts brought to surface historical tensions, the Soviet superpower dissolved, new sovereign states and several secessionist movements emerged. Furthermore the Black Sea became again open to outside tendencies and rivalry while at the same time the EU agendas and its Enlargement to the East set to initiate region-building aspiring to generate cooperation and integration in the European landscape and values. With the Black Sea economic and political growth, a reappearance of nationalisms, often opposing each other with the same or neighbouring states (in particular in the Caucasus) went along with legacies of discord between the actors and agendas. (Ibid., 22)

The outburst of direct violence (wars or conflicts) in different parts of the Black Sea stemmed mostly from latent nationalisms following the triptych Brubaker (1996) launched (state nationalist projects that prioritised the old titular nationalities, like in Georgia, transborder nationalisms, like in Transnistria and in Nagorno Karabakh, or minority-based conflicts, like in South Ossetia or Abkhazia). In this context, religion played a role only as an embedded element of national culture and thus, as a constitutive element of state nationalisms or part of minority rights and transborder cultures. Yet it did not become or was not considered the driver of violence as in other parts of the world.

Direct violence, but also indirect violence like poverty, social inequality, corruption and lack of transparency, limited opportunities for education and social mobility, led to migrations. Moreover, the circulation of new imageries and lifestyles motivated millions of people to emigrate towards other parts of the world producing new immigrant communi?ties, like the Romanian immigrants in different parts of Europe, or the Armenians in Thessaloniki. Often these migrations were motivated by older perceptions of historical homelands, like in the case of diasporic Armenians and their memories of former Soviet Armenia, or the Greeks of the diaspora and their affective connection to Greece as a land of origin. Furthermore, these migrations took different forms of mobility and settlement (permanent dislocation, short visits and transnational human and capital flows),

In the context of the global political, economic and cultural changes of 1989-1990, freedom of ‘religion’ normalised religious life and free access to churches and holy sites, and other expression of religious practices in public, something that is foregrounded in the chapters by Magladalena Elchinova, Babak Rezvani and Eleni Sideri. It also allowed the opening of various ‘religious markets’, spaces where ideas, symbols and practices could circulate attracting new (or returned) believers, (Hann 1994; Verdery 1996: 82, Valtchinova 2004). This freedom, however, did not come without restrictions.

These new cultures of religious freedom, as well as freedom of mobility, did not mean abolishment of social exclusion and Otherness. The new national projects grew stronger bonds to certain religious cultures, often connected to national majorities. As Pelkmans has argued (2010, 441-442), ‘the entanglement of religious and national identities, the sacralisation of secular power, and the impact of the global discourse of (counter-)terrorism’ reintroduced the alleged strong relation between religions and violence.

In this context, it seemed that the post-socialist shift in the Black Sea reshaped religious identities through different national projects whose impact had different results in relation to past legacies, present interests and regional agendas. Some of these projects were closely related to migration in different forms, like repatriation, labour migration, refugee- ness or transnational migration. These mobilities, as the chapters included in this volume have shown, brought Eastern Orthodoxies or Islamic traditions in contact with communities of the same or different denomination. As a result cultural and religious boundaries were renegotiated, new bridges and inter-faith bridges were built and older ones were reaffirmed or revised. These new mobilities also familiarised immigrants with new religions or new religious practices and contributed to the ‘migration’ of new religions to the area.

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