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Tuesday, 20 March 2018


Meskhetian Turks are not expected in Georgia…

2008-10-27 11:14

Last week Anatoly Kucherena, the famous human rights activist, lawyer and chairman of a commission in Russia's Public Chamber, sent an appeal to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) asking them to "to take measures ensuring that the rights of Meskhetian Turks who were illegally deported to return to Georgia are defended, and that Georgia fulfils the obligations to which it committed itself". For the time being Georgia is keeping silent on this issue. It is no wonder.


The repatriation of Meskhetian Turks is one of the most painful issues for Georgia. When joining the Council of Europe in 1999 Georgia committed itself to the return of the Meskhetian Turks, who had been deported in 1944, to their historical homeland. What lengths can one go to in order to avoid achieving this stated aim... Even then the most rationally inclined politicians there said that this issue would develop into a large headache for Georgia. The Meskhetians, who profess Islam, lived in the region of Samtskhe-Dzhavakheti (Meskhetia), which even without this was and remains a "problem area". The mountainous region of Samtskhe-Dzhavakheti, which borders Armenia, is populated mainly by Armenians, who are poorly integrated into Georgian society (as a rule,

they have little command of the Georgian language, and they are more concerned about cooperating with the Armenian and Russian authorities than the local ones). Time and again in this area there are explosions of anti-government sentiment - sometimes in relation to the infringement of Armenians' rights and freedoms, or sometimes because of socio-economic problems (it was only recently that the main road leading from the region to the capital managed to be repaired, until then for the whole winter the population of Samtskhe-Dzhavakheti had been cut off from the central part of Georgia). Meskhetians belonging to a different faith have also been resettled here, and further confrontation with the central authorities was practically guaranteed.

To this day historians still dispute the origins of Meskhetian Turks. According to one of the most widespread versions, the history of this ethnic group is as follows. Meskhetia was originally Georgian territory, it was here that Shota Rustaveli himself was born. From the 17th century raids into Meskhetia by the Ottoman Empire, which had decided to convert the region to Islam, became more frequent. In order to survive and save their families, the Meskhetians were forced to accept Islam. As a result the ambiguous term ‘Meskhetian Turks' appeared. Stalin declared them to be "enemies of the people" and in an instant they were moved to Central Asia. Surveillance of the repatriates continued until April 1956. In May 1968 all the Turkish immigrants from Georgia were allowed to live throughout the whole territory of the USSR, but they were not allowed to return to their homelands. This ban was removed in 1974. But in the Soviet times too the Georgian nomenklatura did everything they could to prevent this from happening, because Christian Armenians had long been living in the homes of the exiled Meskhetian-Turks. And the latter would not agree to either change their faith or take on Georgian surnames, as the Georgian authorities wanted them to.

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