This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.
The repatriation of the Meskhetian Turks to Georgia from Azerbaijan, Russia and Central Asia is not just a priority for the Georgian government, but also an obligation it has had to fulfill to the Council of Europe since becoming a member in 1999. Over 100,000 people were deported by Stalin in 1944, from the Meskheti region of Georgia, among them Hemshin (Muslim Armenians), Kurds, and Karapapakhs. By far the largest group relocated, however, were the Meskhetian Turks.
At least 400,000 Meskhetian Turks now live outside of Georgia, although it has been unclear how many would return in a process that should have officially ended last year, but which might be extended. This has been one of the reasons why the process of resettlement has taken so long, especially as ethnic Armenians now make up the majority population in what is now the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. As a result, in order not to strain inter-ethnic relations, the Georgian government is settling Meskhetian Turks throughout the country.
East of Center recently touched upon the sensitivities surrounding the issue:
Thanks to Stalin’s paranoia, millions of Muslims and members of various non-Slavic ethnic groups in the Soviet Union were forcibly relocated to Central Asia during the ’30s and ’40s. It’s hard to think of any of these communities that has been victimized more often and so thoroughly ignored by the wider world as the Meskhetian Turks. [...]
Clearly, however, Georgia is not capable of resettling that large a population anywhere on its territory, much less the underdeveloped Samtskhe-Javakheti region where the Meskhetians originally lived. And then there is the Armenian question, and a large dose of anti-Muslim feeling. [...]
However, in a two-year application period ending in July 2010, the Georgian government received only 5,841 eligible applications according to the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI). This amounted to just 9,350 individuals. Ahıska Türkleri – Ahıskalılar explains what the Meskhetian Turks hope for:
We want to return our lands from which we were expelled unjustly. As of today, we have been settling down in 2000 different settlements at 9 different countries including USA. We have difficulty in getting citizenship, settlement permission and work permission in the countries where we live. Our culture and language is on the edge of vanishing. We want to return our country as Georgian citizens and to live in our lands from now on.
Last year, Zaka Guluyev's Blog detailed the situation of some of those that have returned, mainly from Azerbaijan, to Samtskhe-Javakheti:
Muslim Arifov and his family has come back to Akhiltskhe three years ago from Saatly, settlement of Azerbaijan. Arifov says that now he feels happy coming back and live in his motherland Georgia. “My parents were unfairly deported from this region. Now I’m happy that I managed to come back and live in my home Georgia with my family.”
Two months ago Muslim’s relative Mehemmed Rehimov also decided to come back with his family from Azerbaijan and to live in his motherland Akhlstkhe. Mehemmed Rehimov says that Georgia seems better place to live in. “It’s very good sense to live in my motherland Georgia. two months already past after my coming to Georgia. I’m happy here with my family and I’m feeling myself very well”.
Ismayil Moidze, the chairman of the [Vatan Georgian Axhiska Turks] society says that, their organization was expecting more people to apply for returning. But he explains that many families refused to apply because [...] many documents are required for applying [for] repatriat status in Georgia. [...] That’s why many families decided to stay where they live”.
Georgian Youth | Multiculturality | New Challenges looks at how the new arrivals are reintegrating:
In Samstkhe-Javakheti, the regional association “Toleranti” provides families of repatriated Meskhetians with legal counseling, medical assistance and language support. In the frame of its 3-year project “Provision of humanitarian assistance to repatriate Meskhs and prevention of “self-repatriation”, the association noticeably organizes classes for young repatriated Meskhetians twice a week. Youth who attend the classes hope to improve their chances of success at school, where they receive tuition in Georgian, and to support their integration in the community.
Considering how motivated they are to learn Georgian, and as quickly as possible, this integration is usually 100% successful.
As many others however, one thing prevents them from totally feeling home in Georgia: they are waiting for an answer to their application for the Georgian citizenship, which they sent two years ago. Without citizenship, they are not fully-fledged citizens in Georgia, and therefore struggle to have access to basic services like medical assistance. They have no choice, though: just like the others, they have to wait [...] – this means a life of uncertainty in the long-term…
Where's Keith comments on the work of Georgian journalist and photographer Temo Bardzimashvili who has been documenting the return of the Mskhetian Turks to Georgia as well as their lives in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. Some of Bardzimashvili's work, “The Unpromised Land – the Meskhetians’ Long Journey Home,” was exhibited in Tbilisi, sponsored by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI), and accompanies this post with kind permission.
Delizia Flaccavento also posts photographs of a Meskhetian refugee community in Buffalo, New York, as does Meskhetian Turk Refugees in Atlanta, Georgia (the US State). Meanwhile ECMI says there is a “serious need [...] to enhance public awareness on the right of deported persons to return and on the repatriation process [...], in particular through the media and the educational system.”
This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.