Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Can the Meskhetian Turks Finally Go Home?

It appears that the Georgian government is finally allowing the return of at least some Meskhetian Turks to their homeland. According to an article by Fati Mamiashvili in Tbilisi for the London based Institute for War and Peace Reporting - Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 315 of 23 November 2005, repatriation will begin next year. In 1999 the Georgian government pledged itself to this task when it joined the Council of Europe. But, up until now little has been done. Currently only about 600 Meskhetian Turks out of a population of over 300,000 have been allowed to return to Georgia. More than 110,000 live in neighboring Azerbaijan and another 100,000 live in Kazakhstan. The remaining 100,000 are divided amongst Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and the US. Conditions for the estimated 18,000 Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai, Russia have been particularly difficult during the last fifteen years. Here most of them have been denied legal residency by the local authorities and many have been subjected to Cossack violence.

The Georgian government plans to open two reception centers to help acculturate repatriating Meskhetian Turks to life in modern Georgia. Most notably these centers will provide instruction in the Georgian language. Plans for providing the repatriates with farm land, housing, jobs, pensions and schools are still in a very embryonic stage. It appears, however, that the Georgian government will be spreading them across Georgia in order to ease their economic and social absorption. Hence only a minority of the repatriates will be able to return to their ancestral lands in Meskheti-Javakheti.

Countering popular Georgian prejudices against the Meskhetian Turks, however, may be the most difficult task the government faces in resettling the returnees. Most Georgians are strongly opposed to the repatriation and view the Meskhetian Turks as impossible to assimilate. Despite their very small population, the Meskhetian Turks already living in Georgia have been subjected to considerable ethnic harassment and even violence.

It is not known exactly how many Meskhetian Turks will now opt to resettle in Georgia. Many may choose to remain in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Those currently in Krasnodar Krai have the option of coming to the US and some 2000 have already arrived here. But, the right of return demanded by the Meskhetian Turks for decades now looks like it will be granted. A very large number of Meskhetian Turks will undoubtedly take advantage of this right to return to Georgia.

Thanks to Hovann Simonian for bringing the IWPR article to my attention.


Randy said...

What ethnic background are the Meshkhetians? I'd thought them to be of Turkish background, but I've come across parenthetical references to their mother tongue being Georgian. Are they like the Laz?

J. Otto Pohl said...


They are Turkish. The Georgian government claims that they were Georgians forcibly Turkicized under Ottoman rule. But, their native tongue prior to deportation was Turkish. Now many speak Russian and Uzbek as well.