18.12.2014 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

Will Meskhetian Turks Return to their Original Homeland?


The return of Meskhetian Turks to their historical homeland has been widely discussed for at least half a century by Turkic public organizations of this ethnic group, a group that had historically lived in the Turkey-Georgia border areas along with a number of international public organizations. Back in the Soviet days a total of one hundred thousand Meskhetian Turks were deported by the Soviet government from Georgia to the territories of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, under suspicion of assisting Soviet enemies. This massive deportation was initiated by Stalin, and executed by Beria, both of whom themselves were ethnic Georgians.

Today Meskhetian Turks are dwelling in Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, North Caucasus, USA, Turkey. Ukraine alone has become home to a population of nine thousand Meskhetian Turks, about 1,800 of them are living in Donetsk and the surrounding villages, stuck in the midst of armed clashes. Only a small number of Meskhetian Turks live in their homeland in Georgia.

Various international organizations have been fairly consistent in reminding Georgia that it had taken responsibility back in 1999 to pass legislation on the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks to Georgia, while joining the Council of Europe. The law that would allow Meskhetian Turks to return to Georgia should have been signed within a two year period while the next 10 years must be spent in preparations for this return. According to different estimates a total of three hundred thousand people were to be provided with all the necessary conditions for this return to Georgia by 2009, those were the conditions of Georgia’s membership in the Council of Europe.

In recent years, Georgian authorities are often accused of, in spite of the obligations Georgia had taken before the Council of Europe to address the issue of repatriation of the Meskhetian Turks, they have been deliberately delaying the process of their return, while making little to no effort to address the challenges they face. There has been no legislative measures that could accelerate and simplify this return, such as removal of restrictions on the terms of resettlement. Additionally, bureaucratic and burdensome formal requirements have made the trip home for most Meskhetian Turks virtually impossible, since its mandatory for them to know the Georgian language to obtain citizenship of this country. That is why it is widely believed that despite that fact that in 2007 Georgia adopted into law their repatriation, no real issues, except for the formal demands of the Council of Europe, have been addressed.

The nationalist segments of the Georgian ruling elite prevents the return of Meskhetian Turks out the fear that they could reduce the proportion of indigenous populations of the country, since today Georgia is facing demographic problems and emigration. Recent numbers show that Georgia’s population has shrunk to below 3.5 million people, while the approximate number of Meskhetian Turks living in Azerbaijan and Central Asia, according to rough estimates, exceeds half a million people. In addition, Tbilisi fears that the return of Meskhetian Turks to their original settlements will spark conflict with Armenians, Svanetians and representatives of other nationalities who settled there once the Turks had been deported.

In this regard, Tbilisi has not decide yet what should the areas of possible resettlement of Meskhetian Turks be, either near their original homeland in Samtskhe-Javakheti, that is densely populated by the Armenian diasporas, or should they demand their resettlement all across Georgia. However, the first option, if one is to take into account extremely tense Turkish-Armenian relations, can have a very negative and far-reaching impact.

On the other hand, although Tbilisi is not contended by the growing Muslim community in the country, where ethnic hatred is already on the rise, there is the temptation to use these immigrants to provoke a dilution in the region of Javakheti that is densely populated by Armenians. That is why the trend that had been started by Saakashvili’s campaign “one country – one nation” can be carried on by the Georgian authorities by putting forward the idea in regard to Meskhetian Turks as ethnic Georgians that profess Islam, while ignoring the fact that in this case the Meskhetian Turks will be deprived of their ethnic identity.

By sabotaging the fulfillment of Georgia’s obligations to deal with the Turkish-Meskhetian problem, Tbilisi is clearly setting their bosses in Washington up, which had not been in their plans. It is for this reason that this process is now strongly affected by external players. For example, in the US, where Meskhetian diaspora has already been fully assimilated and does not show any interest in returning to its historical homeland, a group of people that is seriously preoccupied with their return home has appeared out of the blue. In November they have organized a demonstration in Washington, demanding the acceleration of Meskhetian Turks’ return to their historical homeland. At this meeting a number of communities of Meskhetian Turks from various states joined together, including such from Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky.

It’s curious that recently this problem (along with many others) is being used in Washington’s anti-Russian propaganda campaigns. For example, certain Russophobic circles are making persistent attempts to push the blame for the “infringement of rights” of Meskhetian Turks onto Moscow, while carefully ignoring the negative role Tbilisi has been playing with its artificial delays in the repatriation of these people to their historical homeland in Georgia. In all likelihood, American people are not reading newspapers now-a-days therefore they might consider Georgia to be one of the republics of the USSR, forgetting that it was the White House that has recently used this state to fabricate an armed conflict with Russia in an attempt to “solve” yet other ethnic conflict in South Ossetia. In this light, one can only wonder why Washington isn’t also accusing Moscow of infringing upon the rights of Australian aborigines and native Americans or of the bitter police brutality in Ferguson.

As for Meskhetian Turks, it is a remarkable fact that at the upcoming elections of the new authorities of the international center of Meskhetian Turks in Ankara, Washington is going to get its representatives into it, in order to achieve a subsequent reorientation of this body in favor of the US.

Vladimir Odintsov is a political commentator, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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