MINELRES: Recent Developments Concerning the Meskhetian Turks

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Wed Aug 15 08:37:42 2007

Original sender: Alexander Osipov <ao_file@list.ru>

Recent Developments Concerning the Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai.
By Alexander Osipov
Human Rights Centre "Memorial"

August 2007

The group

Meskhetian Turks are Muslims who speak the Turkish language. They are
referred to as Ahiska Turks in Turkey and Mesktetian Turks in
international organizations as well as in Western and Russian media and
academia. They populated the region which is nowadays a borderland of
Southern Georgia. This territory is part of the historical province
known as Ahiska Bolgesi in Turkish and as Meskheti in Georgian, hence
the group's names. In November 1944, Stalin ordered the forcible
deportation of approximately 95,000 Moslems from Southern Georgia to
Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. During the expulsion this
population was denoted as  Turks, Kurds and Hemshins' and thus put on
the list of other punished peoples' such as Crimean Tatars and Chechens
who were viewed as unreliable during World War II. Most Meskhetians
identify themselves as Turks; a small number consider themselves as 
Georgian Muslims' or belong to smaller ethnic minority groups. To date,
Meskhetians have not been able to return en masse to the places where
they had originally been deported from or to Georgia in general. [1] 

In June 1989, Meskhetian Turks living in the Ferghana oblast (province)
of Uzbekistan (then a part of the Soviet Union) became victims of
large-scale violent clashes. All Turks living in Ferghana (approximately
17,000 people) were evacuated to Central Russia by order of the Soviet
government. In the following year and a half, more than 70,000
Meskhetians were forced to leave other regions of Uzbekistan, fearing
for their safety during continued ethnic tensions in the region. The
Meskhetian Turks spontaneously began moving mainly to Russia and
Azerbaijan; a small number migrated to Ukraine and Kazakhstan.[2] 


Currently, there are an estimated 350 - 400,000 Meskhetian Turks living
around the globe, predominantly in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia,
Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, the United States, Ukraine, and Georgia.
[3] In most places Meskhetian Turks are rural dwellers. The number of
Meskhetian Turks resident in Russia is estimated as 70 - 80,000; a part
of them live in Krasnodar Krai, a southern Russian region where they are
persecuted directly and blatantly as a distinct minority group. 

By 2004, the number of Meskhetians in Krasnodar Krai is estimated
between 15,000 and 19,000.[4] Later on, about 21,000 Turks have applied
for the resettlement to the U.S., and about 12,500 have left by the eve
of 2007. However, these estimates must be confusing. First, different
sources - the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) which
administers the resettlement, the U.S. officials and the Krasnodar
authorities - announce different figures. Secondly, it is unknown how
many of the applicants were real residents of Krasnodar Krai and not of
the neighbouring territories. Thus, it is unclear, how many Turks still
reside in Krasnodar Krai. The Human Rights Centre Memorial and its
partner NGOs in Krasnodar Krai roughly estimate the number of local
Turks who did not apply for the resettlement as 5,000 and the amount of
those Krasnodar residents who were denied admission as 2,000.

Racial discrimination in Krasnodar Krai

Those Turks who fled Uzbekistan after the 1989 ethnic clashes for
Krasnodar Krai, were denied in this place unlike in other Russian
regions residence registration. Mandatory administrative registration by
the place of residence (colloquially known as propiska) was a formal
requirement in the Soviet Union and still remains such in the
contemporary Russia. Overtly restrictive permission-based in the Soviet
Union, it remains so in Russia in practice, but not in law; it is also a
precondition for the exercise of almost all rights although no law
stipulates this. The Russian constitution guarantees the right of every
person legally resident the right to move and reside freely. However,
the Krasnodar authorities and law enforcement bodies actively enforce
the restrictive registration regime as a basic instrument of

The Krasnodar authorities have arbitrarily refused to grant the
Meskhetian Turks propiska, or registration by place of residence from
1989 onwards. Persons who lack permanent residence registration are
virtually devoid of almost all rights. These people have limited rights
to own property and to schooling, and virtually no rights to employment,
to register their marriages, to obtain a passport or other personal
identification, to healthcare, to enter public institutions of higher
education, to receive proper birth certificates, and have no access to
social security pensions earned during the Soviet period.[5]

Meskhetian Turks, like other people who did not have propiska by 1992
and in defiance of the Russian citizenship law of 1991 are not
officially recognised as Russian nationals. Therefore, while qualifying
for the 1991 Citizenship Law and being Russian citizens legally, most of
them are de facto stateless. However, some Meskhetian Turks arrived in
Krasnodar Krai before 1989, got propiska and later on were acknowledged
citizens of Russia. 

Many Meskhetian Turks from Krasnodar in the recent years got propiska
and Russian passports in some neighbouring regions like Rostov province.
By 2004, their number was estimated as 5,000, but the U.S. resettlement
programme questioned these figures. The statistics of the International
Organization for Migration reveal that out of a total 20,413 Meskhetian
Turks who applied to the resettlement program, 6,149 persons (30.1%) was
either stateless or held some form of foreign citizenship. 5,678 persons
(28%) were stateless.[6] While actual residence of these people was and
still is in Krasnodar Krai, they find themselves in a similar position
as those Turks who are considered "stateless": they are often denied
local residence registration, the right to work, property rights, health
care etc. 

Since 1992, the regional authorities in Krasnodar Krai repeatedly
singled out the Meskhetian Turks by special normative acts as a distinct
category and subjected them to discriminatory treatment. The Meskhetian
Turks are regularly stopped, checked and fined by police. The Krasnodar
authorities enable and encourage law enforcement agents and Cossack
militias to conduct random street searches which can end in arrest and
violent assault if the individual lacks the necessary proof of residence
or citizenship. The Krasnodar government and local officials overtly and
publicly recognised that their goal was to drive the Turks out of the

Communities in similar conditions

The deported population from Southern Georgia, as Stalin's decree
stated, included three Turkish-speaking groups, namely Turks, Hemshins,
and Kurds. The Kurds numbered 9,800 were deported from both Adjara and
Meskheti regions (one half from each, roughly speaking). The total
number of Hemshins in 1944 was 1,400; they all were displaced from
Adjara. Hemshins and Kurds were forcibly deported to Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan in 1944 in the same way as the Meskhetian Turks were, fled
similar threats of violence in Central Asia in 1989, and are subject to
the same discrimination in Krasnodar Krai. The only difference is that
there were no official acts overtly designating Kurds and Hemshins as
subjects to a special discriminatory treatment. 

Hemshins and Kurds share many characteristics with Meskhetian Turks and
with each other. Hemshins and Kurds have received far less attention
because as extremely small minorities, they have always been much less
politically mobilized and organized than Meskhetian Turks. There are few
if any Kurds originating from Meskheti in Krasnodar Krai; together Kurds
from Adjara (usually referred to as Batumi Kurds or Batumi Kurmanj) and
Hemshins amount to a maximum of 3,000 persons in the region.[7] The 2002
Russian Census revealed 1,019 Hemshins in Krasnodar Krai [8], and their
real number might be higher. Batumi Kurds are not singled out in any
registers; their number in the region is estimated as 1,000 - 1,500

According to the assessment of Steve Swerdlow, an independent expert
from the Berkeley Law School, over 35% of the Hemshin population
possesses neither Russian citizenship nor permanent Krasnodar
registration. About 31% are stateless persons (Soviet passport or no
passport) and 1% is persons with some type of foreign citizenship
(usually Kyrgyz or Kazakh).[9] Swerdlow's field research revealed that
in nearly every household within the Hemshin community at least one
member of every family has been unable to obtain either Russian
citizenship or Krasnodar registration.
At present, a likewise and also significant percentage of Batumi Kurds
in Krasnodar remain without Russian citizenship or Krasnodar
registration, while their community as a whole are disproportionately
subject to discriminatory treatment by Russian state agents and Cossack
militias. Many Hemshins and Batumi Kurds report that members of their
communities who have been successful in acquiring citizenship were only
able to do so through bribery.

Many Hemshins and Batumi Kurds, like Meskhetian Turks, have relatives in
Turkey. Some would like to immigrate to Turkey; some unsuccessfully
applied for the resettlement to the U.S. [10] 

Meskhetian departure to the USA
Since 2004, mass exodus to the United States within the special
resettlement programme for the Meskhetian Turks remains the major factor
affecting this group in Krasnodar Krai. 

The United States designates groups of "special humanitarian concern"
for Priority Two, or P-2, processing. The P-2 category, which
encompasses the Meskhetian Turks of Krasnodar Krai includes specific
groups (within certain ethnic, religious or similar groups) identified
by the Department of State. Applicants who appear to have suffered
persecution or to have a well-founded fear of future persecution and who
otherwise fall within the United States' resettlement priorities meet
with a U.S. immigration official to determine whether they qualify for
admission as refugees.[11]

Initially, the programme covered the Meskhetian Turks who live in
Krasnodar Krai without residence registration, allowed them to apply for
refugee status and to get a package of social benefits on their
resettlement to the U.S. The programme was administered by the IOM and
was open on 1 February 2004. On 21 July 2004, the first group led by one
the Turkish leader Tianshon Svanidze left Krasnodar for America. In June
2005, the IOM office stopped acceptance of applications. About 21,000 in
total applied for the resettlement (a
part of them actually did not reside in the krai) and about 12,500 left
for the U.S. by the end of 2006.[12] Besides, about 2,400 persons were
awaiting departure in 2007.[13] The operational criteria of eligibility
were always shifting, and shortly after the programme's start those
Meskhetians who had Russian passport and even had propiska in Krasnodar
Krai were considered eligible. 

In July 2007, the Krasnodar regional administration announced its own
data on the number of Meskhetian Turks who had left for the U.S. from
the Krai. The total number was 11,224 people, of them 546 departed in
January - July 2007. 59% of the Meskhetians resettled from the region
were documented Russian citizens and 41% were stateless.[14]

The Meskhetian Turks are being settled in more than 30 states of the
U.S. These people regularly call their relatives remaining in Russia and
report that they settle themselves quite well. Most adults got jobs, and
children attend schools.[15]

Meskhetian Turks who were resettling to the U.S. got little if any help
from the local Russian authorities, although the Krasnodar officials
always welcomed and encourage any outflow of Meskhetians to other
places. Worse, in 2004 and the first half of 2005 the local authorities
created obstacles to the departing Turks in selling their immovable
property and other property. In general, the federal and regional
authorities decline any responsibility for the Meskhetian Turks and pay
no attention that the Meskhetian flight is detrimental to the reputation
of Russia.

In formal sense, the resettlement programme is accomplished. The IOM
office in Krasnodar is considered closed, and the only one
administrative section remaining is preoccupied with booking airtickets
for those Meskhetians who have already passed through all procedures and
are awaiting departure. The resettlement is to be finalized by the end
of 2007.

Refusals in admission to the U.S.

According to the resettlement programme's formal conditions, all Turks
holding passports of Uzbekistan were denied the refugee status.
Meanwhile, many Meskhetian Turks who had left Uzbekistan in 1989-90,
later on were to take up the Uzbek passports to have any ID although
they had actually lost all ties with this country. According to some
estimates, these people make up around 10% of the Meskhetian community
in Krasnodar. This is why some families have either to split or to
decline the resettlement. In late 2005, the IOM office invited the
holders of Uzbek passports to decline their citizenship of Uzbekistan to
qualify the resettlement requirements, but when the people did this, the
U.S. Embassy in Moscow confirmed refusals in admission.[16]

The second wave of mass refusals covered the Krasnodar Meskhetians in
June-July 2006. The U.S. Department of State informed that the total
number of refusals was 2,851 people. [17] The formal pretexts were
either inability to confirm their permanent residence in Krasnodar Krai
on 1 January 2004 or a lack of proof of their Meskhetian Turkish

It is unclear how many of the Meskhetian Turks whose refugee status was
denied are real residents of Krasnodar Krai. The Human Rights
Novorossiysk Committee, the main advocacy centre dealing with Meskhetian
Turks made an estimate that most of the refusals affected people
residing in the Krai. They Committee officers consider most refusals
they encountered as arbitrary and biased. Unfortunately, no decisions
are made at the moment either in IOM or the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and
all complaints are examined in the Department of Homeland Security. 

The refusals were shocking for the applicants, first of all, because,
they all previously had been told in the IOM office that their papers
had been in order. As a result of these refusals, many families were
split: in some parents are admitted while the children are refused; one
brother goes to the U.S. while the other siblings get trapped in Russia
etc. Many Turks, having their applications processed, according to the
IOM advice, sold their property and abandoned jobs; now these people
have remained without any source of income and forced either to stay
with their relatives or to spend their savings for renting a flat. 

Nargiza Husainova (born 1965) arrived in Krasnodar Krai in 1989; over
years she tried to document her Russian citizenship, but was in vain.
Once she lost her old-type Soviet passport and become undocumented. Her
two daughters are studying in a gymnasium in Novorossiysk, but they were
not recognized as Russian citizens and denied passports although the
younger one had been born in Russia and is a Russian national ex lege.
In 2005, Nargiza and her relatives applied for the resettlement. In
2006, her mother, brother and other close relatives left for the U.S.
while she and her daughters were denied the status. The pretext was that
she did not prove her belonging to the Meskhetian community. The only
proof for all applicants, however, was a certificate from an Meskhetian
leader authorized to issue such written confirmations. Amazingly, nor
she just presented this certificate to IOM, but the IOM and U.S. Embassy
officers had no doubts that her mother and brothers were of Meskhetian
origin. Nargiza has to rent a flat under a fear of police checks and
fines. Previously, she and her new husband could earn some money but
selling fruits on the local bazaar, but since 1 April 2007 retail trade
is not allowed for foreigners in Russia.[18]

Therefore, the overall situation with Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai
remains unresolved. The position of many applicants to the resettlement
programme has even deteriorated; these people have their families
separated, their property sold out, and their previous sources of income
abandoned. Many have also lost their IDs and face poor perspectives of
getting any legal status in Russia. 

These people are subject to the same discriminatory treatment they have
experienced for almost 18 years. In the first months of 2007, the local
police has escalated passport and identity checks among the Meskhetian
Turks. These people are fined for the lack of registration and denied
the right to work while the authorities stopped again both residence and
sojourn registration of Meskhetians in Krasnodar Krai.

Perspectives for the repatriation to Georgia. Adoption of the law on

Many Meskhetian Turks activists have declared from 1950s until recently
that their people would like to return back to Georgia and, in
particular, to the place they had been deported from. Neither in the
Soviet times nor during the Georgian independence were the deportees and
their descendents allowed to repatriate. On its accession to the Council
of Europe, Georgia had to make several commitments concerning the
"Meskhetian population" in order to join. It had to adopt a legal
framework permitting repatriation and integration, including acquisition
of Georgian citizenship, for the Meskhetian population within two years
(i.e. by April 2001); start the process of repatriation and integration
within three years after its accession and complete the process of
repatriation within twelve years (i.e. by 2011).[19] 

In 1999, the newly created Georgian governmental commission on the
repatriation of Meskhetians considered two draft laws on
repatriation.[20] The both texts were rigidly criticized by the
international organization involved and the Meskhetian activists
themselves. The provisions offered if adopted would create a lot of
red-tape obstacles for the applicants, envisaged an unlimited discretion
of the Georgian authorities in determining who would be entitled to come
to Georgia and who would not, and limited the rights of repatriates even
putting them in a worse position than "ordinary" foreigners resident in
the country. The work on the draft law was suspended and resumed only in
November 2004, when the new governmental commission was created. The
Commission put forward a new draft which had the same drawbacks as the
previous ones. Despite the extensive involvement of the CoE and the
European Centre for Minority Issues, in the drafting, the process was
again suspended in autumn 2006.

Quite unexpectedly, the Georgian government presented in mid-June a
radically different draft law. All the efforts put previously into the
drafting have been in vain and all advice and consultations from the
side of international organizations have being disregarded. The official
strategy was to pass the law expediently and to avoid discussions and
consultations. This goal was achieved, the law was adopted by the
Georgian Parliament on 11 July, signed by the President on 27 July and
made public officially on the same day.[21]

The Law of Georgia "On Repatriation of Persons Forcefully Sent into
Exile from Georgian SSR by the Former USSR in the 40's of the 20th
Century" actually is not about repatriation. People deported from
southern Georgia in 1944 and their direct descendants may apply before
the Georgian authorities, but the law does not determine what the status
of "repatriate" means and what kinds of rights and duties entails. The
only one clear consequence of the repatriate status is the holder's
obligation to decline the existing citizenship within 6 months and to
apply for Georgian citizenship within 1 year after acquiring the status.
However, the Georgian citizenship is not guaranteed, and it must be
granted on the basis of individual acts of the President. 

The law keeps silence on the order and procedures of resettlement to
Georgia, and it is unclear, how the issues concerning property, taxation
and social security are to be resolved upon the repatriates' arrival at
Georgia. The law also does not define the rights and duties of the
repatriates coming to Georgia. The law does not entail financial or any
other obligations of the Georgian state before the repatriates; it is
unclear how many people are to get the repatriate status and within what
time limit. It envisages unlimited discretion of the Georgian officials
in any matter, but denies the right of repatriates to bring an action. 

The scope of the law is rather limited. It excludes family members other
than spouses or children of the repatriates and covers only those who
reside in their country on legal ground - thus, people like Meskhetians
in Krasnodar are ineligible. The law creates many obstacles to the
people wishing to repatriate - they have to submit numerous papers and
certificates, concerning their health conditions, income, criminal
record etc. All the documents are to be submitted only in Georgian or
English or with a Georgian or English translation confirmed notarially.
Needless to say that very few Meskhetians are in command of Georgian or
English; it is not easy to find a good translator into Georgian in
Kazakhstan, Russia or elsewhere while Russian is the lingua franca both
in Georgia and amongst Meskhetians. Besides, the applications can be
submitted only from 1 January 2008 to 1 January 2009. And - last, but
not least - the law contains no anti-discriminatory provisions and does
not acknowledge repatriation as a right of Meskhetians. 

Obvioyusly, the Georgian government's strategy is to reduce the number
of applicants as much as possible, then to feel free to refuse admission
to Georgia and bear no responsibility before those few Meskhetians who
will be (maybe) allowed to come. Actually, this is the law on
non-repatriation and one can hardly call it the fulfillment of Georgia's
obligations before the CoE.

Many Meskhetian activists have repeatedly declared that Meskhetian
Turks, or Meskhetians would like to repatriate, but they, like the
international organizations involved virtually have no leverage to
encourage Georgia to start a real process of resettlement. The future
conditions of admission to Georgia and subsequent accommodation remain
unclear, and no one can predict whether any would apply under the new

1. Ayding&#252;n, Ay&#351;eg&#252;l. Creating, Recreating and Redefining
Ethnic Identity:
Ahiska/Meskhetian Turks in Soviet and Post-Soviet Contexts. Central
Asian Survey. 2002. vol. 21, No.
2, pp. 185-197.
2. Osipov, A. Russian Experience of Ethnic Discrimination: Meskhetians
in Krasnodar
Region. Moscow: Zvenia, 2000; for more see the monograph to be issued by
the European
Centre for Minority Issues in 2007 "Between Integration and
Resettlement: The Meskhetians"
3. Meskhetian Turks. An Introduction to their History, Culture and
Resettlement Experiences. By Ay&#351;eg&#252;l Ayd&#305;ng&#252;n,
&#199;igdem Bal&#305;m Harding, Matthew Hoover, Igor Kuznetsov, and
Steve Swerdlow.
Washington, D.C.: Cultural Orientation Resource Center, Center for
Applied Linguistics, 2006, p.13. Available at:
http://www.cal.org/co/publications/cultures/MTurks.html (accessed on 23
April 2007).
4. Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai in 2005. By Alexander Osipov.
Available at:
(accessed on 21 April 2007).
5. Osipov, A. supra note 2; Swerdlow, Steve. Understanding Post-Soviet
Discrimination and the Effective Use of U.S. Refugee Resettlement: The
Case of the Turks
of Krasnodar Krai. California Law Review, Dec.2006, Vol. 94. Issue 6,
6. Durable Solutions for Ethnic Minorities in Krasnodar Krai: Challenges
of Integration
for Hemshins, Batumi Kurds, Yezids, and Abkhaz Georgians. By Steve
Swerdlow for the
International Organization of Migration (IOM). Unpublished manuscript. 
7. Ibid., p.23.
8. Naseleniye po natsionalnosti i vladeniyu russkim yazykom po subyektam
Rossiyskoy Federatsii. Vserossiiskaya perepis naseleniya 2002 goda.
[Nationality composition of the population and Russian language
proficiency by regions of the Russian Federation. The 2002 Census data]
Available at: http://www.perepis2002.ru/ct/doc/TOM_04_03.xls (accessed
on 23 April 2007).
9. Durable Solutions. Supra note 6, pp.4, 23, 30.
10. Field data of the Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee and the Human
Rights Centre 
11. Martin, David. A. The United States Refugee Admissions Program:
Reforms for a New Era of Refugee Resettlement. Available at
http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/36495.pdf), pp.64-66 (last
accessed 23 April 2007).
12. Reported by the Novorossiysk Human Rights according to the data
obtained from the IOM.

13. Personal communication with Maureen Greenwood-Basken, Advocacy
Director for Europe and
Central Asia, Amnesty International USA, May 2007.
14. The data provided by the Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee.
15. Meskhetian Turks. Supra note 3, pp.26-34.
16. Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai in 2005. Supra note 4.
17. Personal communication with Maureen Greenwood-Basken, Advocacy
Director for Europe and
Central Asia, Amnesty International USA, October 2006.
18. The case reported by the Novorossiysk Human Rights Committee; March
19. Parliamentary Assembly's Opinion No. 209 (1999) "Georgia's
application for membership of the Council of Europe." Text adopted by
the Assembly on 27 January 1999 (4th Sitting). Available at:
(accessed on 23 April 2007).
20. For more details see: Ethnic-Confessional Groups and Challenges to
Civic Integration
in Georgia. Tbilisi: Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and
Development, 2002, pp.
21. Law of Georgia "on Repatriation of Persons Forcefully Sent into
Exile from Georgian
SSR by the Former USSR in the 40's of the 20th Century" No.5261-RS from
11 July 2007.
Official publication (in Georgian): Sakanondeblo Macne ('Legal Herald',
the Parliament's
Bulletin) No.29, 27 July

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