MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service No. 406: Meskhetian Turks Closer to Return

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Tue Aug 21 10:20:46 2007

Original sender: Institute for War & Peace Reporting <editor@iwpr.net>



New draft law guarantees return of deported people to Georgia but
promises no help with resettlement.
By Natia Kuprashvili in Tbilisi and Nino Gerzmava in Ianeti

Defence minister pledges to clean up poor practice, but conscripts say
corruption and violence are still rife.
By Gegham Vardanian in Yerevan

Fear and confusion among South Ossetians as they are courted by new
pro-Georgian leader.
By Alan Tskhurbayev in Tskhinval




New draft law guarantees return of deported people to Georgia but
promises no help with resettlement.

By Natia Kuprashvili in Tbilisi and Nino Gerzmava in Ianeti 

"This law reminds me of the well-known Georgian song where they tell a
multi-coloured butterfly, 'Don't fly away, but don't come flying here,'"
said Madin Mamedov.

Mamedov is one of a small community of 1,200 Meskhetian Turks who
settled in Georgia in the 1970s, some 30 years after they were deported
from there by Stalin. He lives in a close-knit community in the village
of Ianeti in the Samtredi region of western Georgia.

Now he and his fellow-villagers are facing the prospect of tens of
thousands of other Meskhetian Turks returning to Georgia, following the
long-awaited passage of a law on repatriation in the country's

Mamedov worries that after 60 years of waiting, many of them will fall
at the bureaucratic hurdles created by the new law.

"Most of my kinsfolk live in terrible poverty," he said. "Many of them
will have no documentation to confirm that they were deported. They will
be unable to put their documents in order and won't be able to return to
the homeland at their own expense."

The Meskhetian Turks have had a tragic history of multiple exile. They
were originally a Muslim population living in Meskhetia, now part of the
Samtse-Javakheti region of south-western Georgia. They generally prefer
to call themselves Akhiska Turks.

Stalin deported a number of ethnic groups - Chechens and Ingush, Crimean
Tatars and others - during the Second World War out of a paranoid
concern that they might be less than loyal in case of invasion. In
November 1944, it was the Meskhetians' turn, and all of them were
rounded up and despatched to Central Asia, with thousands dying en route
in disease-ridden cattle trucks.

Violent clashes targeting Meskhetians in the Fergana Valley in 1989
prompted tens of thousands of them to flee Uzbekistan, where many had
lived since deportation. Most are now scattered across the former Soviet
Union, especially in Azerbaijan and southern Russia. Estimates of their
numbers range from 60,000 to 200,000.

In 1998, the Council of Europe made the repatriation of the Meskhetians
a condition of Georgia's accession to the institution. The council gave
Tbilisi two years to pass a law on repatriation, three years to begin
the actual return and 12 years overall to complete the entire process.

The first repatriation bill was drawn up in 2005 by the new government
that followed the "Rose Revolution". That law was drafted under the
supervision of Giorgi Khaindrava, the then state minister for resolution
of conflicts. One of the authors of that bill, Temuri Lomsadze, has
helped draft the new law that went through parliament in a first reading
on June 22.

Lomsadze, who is now a consultant with the European Centre for Minority
Issues, admitted that the repatriation process might not be completed by
the year 2011, as promised.

"However, the exact number of repatriates will be established during the
coming year," he said. "The greatest merit of this law is that it allows
for the Muslim Meskhetians to be finally rehabilitated."

"This law differs considerably from the document that was drawn up in
Khaindrava's time on the orders of President Mikheil Saakashvili," he
said. "We've removed from that bill whole chapters where the state
pledged to assist the process of adaptation and integration of the

Khaindrava, now an opposition activist, is critical of the new law for
precisely this reason, saying it gives the Meskhetians nothing to return

"Apart from rehabilitation [restitution for their deportation], what the
Muslim Meskhetians want most is to return to their motherland," he said.
"But the new law does nothing to promote the return process."

The new law grants the right of return to the individuals deported in
1944 and their family members. Those who want to do so have one year
from January 1, 2008 to submit an application either to the Georgian
consulate in their country or at the ministry for refugees and
resettlement in Tbilisi.

More controversially, applicants also have to provide documents to
confirm they were deported.

Although the governing majority in parliament is backing the bill, other
deputies have criticised it, albeit for sometimes conflicting reasons.

The law's most bitter opponents belong to the Conservative Party, which
is against a large-scale influx of Meskhetians as a matter of principle.

"This law goes against the interests of our country," said party member
Kakha Kukava. "It is a time bomb for Georgia."

David Berdzenishvili, a parliamentarian from the Republican Party, is
unhappy with the law for a different reason - he argues that it "creates
hidden mechanisms for preventing any actual return".

In Ianeti, the head of the village administration Gia Kopaleishvili said
that from his experience, a large-scale population return would need to
be planned carefully.

"In the [Seventies and] Eighties, the Muslim Meskhetians were resettled
without any prior calculations or planning," he said. "As a result, what
we have is an impoverished community isolated from the outside world and
poorly integrated. The repatriation process should be carried out so as
to ensure that there are no more places like Ianeti in this country."

The Meskhetians live apart from the main village of Ianeti in a tiny
settlement of 26 households known simply as "Plot 9".

Kopaleishvili feels "a different faith and the language barrier" keeps
the Meskhetians isolated from their Georgian neighbours, who are
Orthodox Christians. The Meskhetians speak Turkish rather than Georgian,
although the children are now learning the latter at school.

The Meskhetians of Plot 9 expressed a sense of isolation from the wider
"The [Georgian] locals come to us only to buy sheep," said one man, Aziz
Mamedov. "They smile but they still call us Turks behind our backs. The
politicians appear just before election time to win our votes. They
promise us better living conditions, jobs, a new clinic and lots more
but few of these promises are ever delivered."

Yet both communities say integration is happening. Magda Chinijishvili,
a journalist from nearby Kutaisi, says the Meskhetians of Ianeti have
"changed enormously" in the last few years and identify much more
strongly with Georgia.

Madin Mamedov recounted with tears in his eyes how his parents, wife
brother and nephew had all died after resettling in Ianeti, and then his
five-year-old son was accidentally killed by a shell.

"From the day I came to Georgia I have been dogged by death," he said.
"But despite that, I love my home, my village and my country. I am part
of Georgia. I haven't for one second considered leaving."

The prospect of friends and relatives being allowed to return is making
the Meskhetians feel more secure.

"It's important for us to know that someone remembers us," said villager
Shah-Murad Bekadze. "They finally understood that it's vitally important
for a bird to have its nest. Help us get our relatives and family
members back here. It doesn't matter which corner of Georgia they live
in. The important thing is that we're all living under one roof in the
same country."
Natia Kuprashvili is the Georgian-language editor of IWPR's Caucasus
newspaper Panorama; Nino Gerzmava is a correspondent for the paper.


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