Friday, September 09, 2005

Meskhetian Turks

The Meskhetian Turks are one of history's victim diasporas. In November 1944, the Stalin regime deported almost the entire Meskhetian Turk population. The NKVD uprooted more than 94,000 people from their historic homeland in Georgia. Stuffed into cattle cars they spent over two weeks in transit to Kazakshtan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Here they spent over a decade living under special settlement restrictions. Over 15,000 perished from malnutrition, typhus and other poverty related ailments during the first four years of exile.Even after being freed from the special settlement restrictions, the Soviet government never allowed them to return home. The Georgian government still maintains this near blanket prohibition.

In 1989 a pogrom in Uzbekistan caused tens of thousands of Meskhetian Turks to become displaced again. Many of them went to Russia. Those unfortunate enough to end up in Krasnodar Krai have experienced severe persecution for over a decade and a half. The local authorities in Krasnodar have denied most of the nearly 15,000 Meskhetian Turks in the region permanent residence status. Absent documentation of this status they are legally banned from owning property, working in most jobs and attending institutions of higher education. They also suffer from ethnic defamation and even racially motivated violence. The regional government has made it clear that it does not want the Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai and has done nothing to discourage such attacks. Starting last year the US State Department began to resettle Meskhetian Turks from Krasnodar Krai in Pennsylvania as refugees.

Some 300,000 Meskhetian Turks are now spread across Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Turkey and now the US. Very few, however, live in their historical homeland of Meskheti-Javakheti in Georgia. Spread from Pennsylvania to Kyrgyzstan they exist as a diaspora people in exile. Unfortunately for them it will not be next year in Akhaltsikhe.


Nathan said...

They're going all over the country, actually. The pilot program--with which I was involved--was in SE Pennsylvania. Most were in Philadelphia and its PA suburbs, but some went to Lancaster. At least at the beginning, they seemed to be trying to keep extended families in the same areas. I still hear about the Philly refugees every now and then.

I seem to remember hearing of some going to the Midwest and I've heard of some in New England. I'm not too sure how many plan to take the offer to come here.

I mostly hung out with the older people, ones who remember the WWII deportation. Talk about a rough life... And I heard quite a bit about how rotten they've been treated everywhere they've gone (though having spent so long there, many have fond memories of Uzbekistan). It was moving to hear how appreciative they are to have received an opportunity for their grandchildren to grow up somewhere where they are welcome, will have a chance to get an education, and have opportunities to prosper.

Nathan @

J. Otto Pohl said...

I have only seen reports on the first settlements in Philadelphia and Lancaster. I have not seen anything on New England or the Midwest. The story does not seem to have gotten much national coverage. I have thus not been able to follow their progress in adapting to the US very well. Do you know specifically of any cities outside PA that have been picked for resettlement?

The very first group of Meskhetian Turks to come to the US was actually sent to NJ. But it was a small group, about 15 if I recall. They had a relative already established in the state. I saw two of them (a mother and daughter) speak at an ASN panel in the spring of 2004. Mark Hetfield who did alot to get the State Dept. to classify them as refugees was also there.

Nathan said...

NJ? Interesting. The agency I worked with must have been mistaken. The PA group also ended up where they were because of a relative.

I'll see if I can track down more info on where they've gone. Just doing a quick google search, I've seen references to families being resettled in Virginia and Tennessee. The New England reference came through something in my referral logs.


John Pohl said...


Like always the burdent is yours. You need to write to all you contacts and ask for their help. My favorite group is, of course the Russian Germans. Good luck in getting ohers to contribute.