MINELRES: Washington Post on Meskhetian Turks (and Hemshins, Yezids, Kurds)
Sun Nov 20 18:50:22 2005
Original sender: Steve Swerdlow <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Revival of Cossacks Casts Muslim Group Out of Russia to U.S.
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 18, 2005; Page A19
KRASNODAR, Russia -- Thousands of Muslims from a small ethnic group
known as the Meskhetian Turks are fleeing this Black Sea region for the
United States. The exodus is caused by what human rights groups call a
campaign of persecution sanctioned by local authorities and spearheaded
by the Cossacks, a Russian militia that fought for the czars and is
In the past year, just more than 5,000 Meskhetian Turks have resettled
in the United States as refugees, and 4,400 have approval to immigrate,
according to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Another 7,000 have filed
applications that U.S. officials are reviewing.
"I call it soft ethnic cleansing," said Alexander Ossipov, an analyst at
the Institute for Humanities and Political Studies in Moscow. "The local
authorities decided which ethnic groups were desirable and which were
not. It's government based on a racist ideology."
The United States has criticized actions of the Krasnodar authorities in
State Department human rights reports and at meetings of the 55-country
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Russian officials in the south say the Meskhetian Turks are foreigners
who have no right to remain in Russia. They play down reports of Cossack
In interviews, leaders of the Meskhetian community expressed dismay that
the Russian government has not curbed the actions of the local
authorities and has said it intends to formalize the role of the
Cossacks as an auxiliary force in law enforcement nationwide.
President Vladimir Putin has proposed a law that would allow Cossacks to
serve in special units in the military, assist the police and work in
border control, counterterrorism and counter-drug operations. Political
analysts predict the legislation will pass in the next few months.
"There is a long-felt need to confer a legal status on the activity of
Cossack units," Putin said in May at a meeting with Cossack leaders.
"Cossacks serving in Cossack units keep law and order."
The Cossacks' reemergence is part of a broader revival of vestiges of
the Russian past, both czarist and Soviet, that for many people invoke
national greatness and patriotism, a goal of the Kremlin. The trend
began under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s and has continued under
"How can Putin make police out of people who have no respect for the
law?" said Sarvar Tedorov, 57, a community leader who lives in the town
of Varenikovskaya, about 80 miles from Krasnodar. "Is he completely
blind? They break into our houses, even during prayer. They humiliate us
and call us names. The beatings are regular."
Originally from southern Georgia near the border with Turkey, the
Meskhetians are a rural, Turkish-speaking people who have often been
buffeted by their Russian neighbors.
In November 1944, Joseph Stalin ordered their deportation from Georgia
to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia for alleged
sympathy with the Nazi forces that invaded the Soviet Union. Nearly
90,000 people were uprooted.
Revival of Cossacks Casts Muslim Group Out of Russia to U.S.
In June 1989, Soviet authorities ordered the evacuation of the
Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan after they became the target of ethnic
rioting there. About 12,000 moved to Krasnodar; many others went to
In 1991, Russia passed a law that all former Soviet citizens who lived
permanently in Russia when the law came into effect were deemed Russian
citizens, as long they didn't renounce that right within 12 months. In
most parts of Russia, Meskhetian Turks became citizens.
In Krasnodar, however, officials balked and denied official residency
papers to the Meskhetians, the prerequisite for citizenship
applications, said Ossipov, who has written extensively about the plight
of the group for Memorial, a Russian human rights group, and the U.N.
Meskhetians say local officials also have blocked implementation of a
more recent law that on paper makes it easier for them to obtain Russian
The officials say the Meskhetians are citizens of Uzbekistan who spurned
their chance to become Russian citizens. "Theirs is not a problem with
the Krasnodar region, it's a problem of their own creation," said Valery
Ostrozhny, deputy head of the Department for Monitoring Migration in the
Krasnodar regional government.
In meetings of international organizations, Russian officials have said
that the Meskhetian Turks should be repatriated to Georgia, their
historic homeland. Memorial and other groups insist that any return to
Georgia should be voluntary and should not be used to deny Meskhetians
their rights in Russia, including citizenship.
Without residency permits, the Meskhetians in Krasnodar became isolated
in their towns and villages. According to reports by Memorial, their
homes were labeled illegal, they could not legally hold jobs, their
marriages were not recognized and the births of their children were not
officially recorded, extending the state of limbo into succeeding
"It's impossible to live here," said Rustam Zautadze, 35, also from
Varenikovskaya, who is moving to Baltimore soon with 17 other family
members, including his wife and three children, his parents, his
siblings and their children. "Several times, Cossacks and police came to
my house and asked for our papers, which of course we don't have. And
then they fine us. If they catch you on the street, they arrest you.
I've spent several weeks in detention centers."
Local officials said such cases are rare. "Where the local authorities
did something wrong," Ostrozhny said, "the courts ruled against them.
But there aren't many of those cases."
The region's top leadership appears to endorse administrative
harassment. "Most of the Meskhetian Turks do not want to get out of our
territory," Gov. Alexander Tkachev said in a speech in September 2001.
"I think all available mechanism of pressure and persuasion will be
employed to make the number of departing guests rise."
In a speech a year later, Tkachev, who some analysts see as a possible
presidential candidate in 2008, said: "We must protect our land and the
native population. This is Cossack land and everyone knows it."
The Cossacks are descended mostly from Russian serfs who fled to the
south in the 16th century to escape czarist authority. Later, they
became a special military community for the czars, producing generation
after generation of soldiers famed for their bravery and horsemanship.
As the czar's cavalry, they helped in the conquest of Siberia, the
Caucasus and Central Asia. Most famously, they harassed Napoleon's
troops during the French retreat in 1812. After the Russian revolution
in 1917, the Cossacks fought against the Red Army. That brought on
severe repression that led thousands of them to side with the Nazis
during World War II .
That is a period Cossack leaders prefer to forget. Vladimir Gromov,
chieftain of the Cossacks in the Krasnodar region, instead holds forth
on how the Cossacks saved Europe from "Islamic aggression." They were
instrumental in defeating the invading Turks at Vienna in 1683, he
Gromov said that Russia again needs to be protected from Muslim
outsiders. "Meskhetian Turks and other ethnic groups should live in
their historical birthplace," he said. "Not here."
"I have to save my family from the persecution," Tedorov said. He said
he will be moving to Phoenix this month with his wife, two of his
children, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. They will join two of
Tedorov's daughters already living in Arizona.
Vadim Karastelev, director of the Human Rights Center in Novorossiisk in
the Krasnodar region, expressed concern that with the Meskhetian Turkish
population dwindling, the Krasnodar authorities will turn their
attention to other ethnic minorities - Batum Kurds, Armenian Khemshil
and the Yazidis.
The Batum Kurds and the Yazidis have already written the American
embassy seeking refugee status in the United States, citing "endless
persecution, repression and
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