Batumi, Odessa, Trabzon. The Cultural Semantics of the Black Sea from the Perspective of Eastern Port Cities
With the Russian annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014, the Black Sea region returned to the center of global politics 150 years after the Crimean War. The region once again became a site of displacements in the fundamental order of Europe. Its renewed presence on the world stage demonstrated its geopolitical significance as well as the strong symbolic and affective positioning of the Black Sea. The project concentrates in particular on the cultural dimensions and depths of current tensions, in which unresolved conflicts from the long 19th century are now being reactivated as part of an imperial heritage.
The project’s unique approach derives from its focus on the different ways that the Black Sea has been imagined (in terms of both symbolic and affective inflections) from the perspective of three port cities on the Black Sea: Batumi, Odessa, and Trabzon. These cities played a crucial role in attempts to address the Eastern Question of the 19th century. They were also the objects of military and cultural conflicts. The basic assumption is that these port cities, as places that facilitate interactions and exchanges between the different cultures found among neighboring populations, constitute condensation points that lend themselves to the study of waves of migration. The cities belong to Europe’s most pluralistic cultural region, where imperial (above all the Ottoman and Russian Empire), national, and minority identities clash. With a methodology that incorporates both philology and cultural research, the project approaches the three locations as “contact zones” and “places of exception” on the border between land and sea, where a series of religious, cultural, political, and spatial practices are negotiated.
The project draws from and extends the findings of the research conducted in the project Cultural Semantics of Georgia between the Caucasus and the Black Sea (2012–2015) and Batumi, Odessa, Trabzon. The Cultural Semantics of the Black Sea from the Perspective of Eastern Port Cities (2016–2018), both funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.