May 6, 2013
The wedding looks pretty normal. The bride is dressed in a white gown and the groom is fitted with a sleek tuxedo. The tables are adorned with white sheets and purple decorative laces on each chair. There’s a four-layer cake with white frosting. Some guests dance while others eat.
It might be hard to tell from the outside that this wedding was both traditionally “American” and traditionally “Turkish”. The marriage was of two Ahiska Turks, and the entire Ahiska Turk community of Louisville joined to celebrate their union in grand fashion. The men wore Western suits while the women donned long dresses adorned with Turkish designs. On the dance floor, both genders trotted to the beat of Sari Gelin, a traditional Turkish style of music. When the song ended, women retreated to their tables on the right and the men on the left. Children played wherever they saw fit.
“We Ahiska Turks are still very traditional,” remarked Oydin Mamedov, owner of Oydin Trucking LC.
According to the Kentucky Office for Refugee, more than 500 Ahiska Turks have arrived in Louisville since 2004 as part of the U.S. State Department’s refugee resettlement program. Most did not emigrate directly from Turkey, but more often from Russia, as did Oydin, or Uzbekistan.
History has been cruel to the Ahiska Turks. Until 1944, most of them lived in the country of Georgia, but during Soviet rule, Stalin ordered more than 100,000 to be deported from their land. In this process of removal, nearly 50,000 died of malnutrition or exposure to the cold. Those who did not die fled to bordering countries, namely Uzbekistan.
In 1989 history repeated itself for the Ahiska Turks. A series of riots between the native Uzbeks and the Ahiska Turks were sparked by nationalism and competition for resources. They fled once again to places such as Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Russia. Their properties were burned and hundreds died in this violent process of relocation. Many have since sought a new life in the United States as refugees.
Against the backdrop of this dark history, the Ahiska Turks have found a reason to smile in Louisville, a popular city for refugee resettlement. Most of the men make a living as truck drivers, as does Oydin, who started his own trucking company. They are a close-knit community, having started the Ahiska Turks Community Center of Kentucky, a place where they can join together to pray and experience fellowship.
Being devout Muslims, they have housed a mosque inside the community center. They meet every Friday at the mosque, where Musa Uzun, the Imam, leads them in prayer. For Musa, Louisville is a place he feels he has the freedom to worship. “Life is very happy here in Louisville,” said Uzun. “All the people are very friendly and very respectful of your religion.”
Faramuz Mamedov agrees with Uzun. He is also a trucker like Oydin and resettled from Russia. He admits it was not easy at first in the United States, especially due to the language barrier, but because of the people’s acceptance, not only has he found a job, but communication for him is not a problem anymore.
“I feel like a Louisville person because here people are fair and nice,” he remarked.