MINELRES: AFP: 60 years on, Georgians wont give Stalins victims a warm homecoming

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Tue Nov 23 07:21:01 2004

Original sender: Emil Adelkhanov <emil-ade@cipdd.org>

60 years on, Georgians wont give Stalins victims a warm homecoming 
by Simon Ostrovsky

ATSGUR, Georgia, Nov 18 (AFP) - Nuraddin Tsatsiyev was just twelve when
the Red Army told his family and 80,000 other Meskhetian Turks to take
what they could carry and get into cattle cars in the closing days of
World War II.

What they thought would be a temporary resettlement from their homeland
in southern Georgia -- planned from Moscow by dictator Joseph Stalin and
his secret police chief Lavrenty Beria -- has turned into a saga that
has scattered his people across the globe. 

"We want to go back, we want to live in our villages," said Tsatsiyev,
one of the leaders of a 30,000-strong Meskhetian Turk diaspora in
neighboring Azerbaijan.

But six decades later a homecoming looks to be a distant prospect.

It was 60 years ago that the Soviet Union finished its three-day
operation - packing the last of the Meskhetian Turks into freight trains
for a grueling weeks-long journey to Soviet Central Asia - to clear the
republic of its Muslim population. 

But unlike other ethnic groups not trusted by the authorities in Moscow
and deported from the Caucasus during WWII, the Meskhetian Turks were
never reinstated in their homeland after Stalins death and Russia never
made an official apology for their banishment.

Their desire to return to this region, which frequently changed hands
between the Russian and Ottoman empires, has not diminished with time:
families keep the memory of their hometowns alive with their children,
much like the Palestinians that once lived in present-day Israel do.

"We will go back when Georgia makes a law that will clearly define our
rights there," Tsatsiyev said.
But although the former Soviet republic made commitments to allow their
return when it joined the Council of Europe in 1999, little progress has
been made on an issue that is hugely unpopular with the Orthodox
Christian Georgian and Armenian population of Samtskhe-Javakhetia.

"If they want to live here they should convert to Christianity and learn
Georgian," said 48-year-old Zhuzhina Gogolauri, a shopkeeper in
Tsatsiyevs  hometown Atsgur, to which much of the current Georgian
population was resettled from poorer parts of Georgia after the
Meskhetians were sent away.

This picturesque village nestled in the Caucasus Mountains lies in the
shadow of a medieval fortress ruins, but its roads are caked in mud, its
residents own few cars and jobs are scarce.

"I dont want my daughter to go to school with a Turk," said 66-year-old
Shakro Mumladze, an angry villager who happened into Gogolauris shop.
"First theyd build a mosque, then a Turkish school, and then theyd ask
for autonomy," Mumladze said.

The local authorities are no more enthusiastic about the return of the
Meskhetian Turks. "Its physically impossible, there is no room here for
them," said Gocha Natenadze, deputy governor of the Samtskhe-Javakheti
region, "If I went into the villages to try to convince the locals they
need to live with the Turks, they would stone me to death."

True enough, the population of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region has nearly
tripled to 250,000 since WWII, and the Meskhetian Turk Diaspora has
grown to an estimated 300,000.

Plagued by two separatist conflicts elsewhere in the country, there are
nearly 400,000 refugees from Abkhazia and South Ossetia that the
government already needs to deal with, he said.
With frequent power outages, little heating supply and a huge
unemployment problem, officials say they have enough on their plate at
the moment.

But in Baku, Tsatsiyev is optimistic a settlement can one day be
reached. He said that of nearly 300 villages the Meskhetians once
occupied, 86 were completely destroyed. "They could be rebuilt," he
said, and in the other villages "we will get along with the current
population, the older residents know we are good people."
About a dozen Turkish families have returned, but they know any larger
resettlement wont be easy. "In the city, maybe it's possible," said
21-year-old Tamara Beridze, whose family came back to their home village
Mugareti in the eighties.

"But in the towns there will be resistance, they threatened to burn our
house down when we first came here."