MINELRES: Georgia: Parliament Backs Meskhetian Repatriation

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Sat Jun 30 11:33:06 2007


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


http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=15325

Civil Georgia / 2007-06-22

Parliament Backs Meskhetian Repatriation

Parliament paved the way for the eventual repatriation of the Meskhetian
population after it passed a proposal by 134 to 14 votes on June 22.

The draft law, approved with its first hearing, will establish
procedures for the repatriation, next year, of Meskhetians - survivors
or descendants of a rural Muslim population who were deported by Joseph
Stalin from southern Georgia in 1944.

However, as Elene Tevdoradze, a lawmaker from the ruling party, put it
during the hearings on June 22, the draft law contains such "strict
criteria of eligibility" that the proposal can be better described as "a
law on non-repatriation."

Potential returnees must apply at the nearest Georgian consulate or at
the Georgian Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation some time between
January 1 and December 31, 2008.

Giga Bokeria, an influential lawmaker from the ruling party and a
co-author of the draft law, defended the restrictions, saying that the
one year period would enable the authorities to determine exactly how
many people were willing to return. Based on this information we will be
able to plan - rationally and based on our national interests - the pace
of the process," Bokeria said.

Applicants will also be required to submit old Soviet papers to prove
they, or their descendents, were actually deported from Georgia in 1944.

The draft law does not oblige the Georgian authorities to provide any
financial support to the returnees.
The process will be administered by the Ministry of Refugees and
Accommodation. The interior and justice ministries, however, will also
be involved, with the right to veto any applicants based on undetermined
criteria.

Despite these restrictions, which some lawmakers conceded were "too
strict," the opposition Conservative Party was vocal in its criticism of
the draft law and, indeed, the very idea of repatriating the Meskhetian
population. "By repatriating them we are planting a time bomb which
poses a threat to the country's unity and territorial integrity," MP
Kakha Kukava of the Conservative Party said during the parliamentary
hearings on June 22.

Such fears are based on a popular misperception that most Meskhetians
identify themselves as ethnic Turks. Many people refer to them as
'Meskhetian Turks' - a term resented by the Meskhetians who are
descendants of Christian Georgians forcibly converted to Islam under
Ottoman rule.

Other opposition figures, although less inflamatory, were equally
concerned by the religious leanings of the potential returnees. MP
Pikria Chikhradze of the opposition New Rights said that the authorities
should be aware of the threat posed by, as she put it, "political
Islam."  "Islamist foundations are behind some of the active Meskhetian
groups… Everyone avoids discussion of this, but we should not turn a
blind eye to it," she said on June 22. 

Others saw the dark hand of Russia, suggesting that Russian special
services were behind certain Meskhetian groups.  "Turkey and Russia have
been lobbying on this issue and the Georgian authorities unfortunately
yielded to this pressure," MP Kakha Kukava of the Conservative Party
said.

In March 2006, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said in Tbilisi that
Turkey was ready "to contribute to this process" of repatriation of
Meskhetians. Moscow on several occasions in the past accused Tbilisi, as
the Russian Foreign Ministry put it, of "not even trying to demonstrate
that it wishes to solve the issue."
Georgia undertook a commitment to repatriate the Meskhetians in 1999
when it joined the Council of Europe.
MP Giga Bokeria said on June 22 that by passing the draft law the
Georgian authorities "are putting an end to this issue, which was used
as a propaganda weapon against Georgia."

Georgia undertook a commitment to repatriate the Meskhetians in 1999
when it joined the Council of Europe.

MP Giga Bokeria said on June 22 that by passing the draft law the
Georgian authorities "are putting an end to this issue, which was used
as a propaganda weapon against Georgia."

Opponents have also complained that the draft law does not stipulate or
regulate where returnees can or can't live. Opposition lawmakers from
the Conservative and New Rights parties said they should not be allowed
to settle as a bloc in one particular location. Although unsaid, these
MPs specifically mean Samtskhe-Javakheti, which is currently
predominately populated by ethnic Armenians. It was from here in 1944,
in what was then known as Meskheti, that the Meskhetians were deported. 

Lawmakers from the ruling majority said that although the proposal may
contain potential threats, the authorities were capable of tackling
them. "Every move or decision in itself may pose a certain level of
threat. But the Georgian state can deal with them," MP Maia Nadiradze,
majority leader in Parliament, said.
Unlike many opposition groups, the Republican Party supported the
initiative. "For the first time the Georgian state is saying that
deportees have the right to come back after going through certain
procedures. In certain cases, however, I think, these procedures are too
strict," MP Davit Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party said.

Republicans, however, were critical of the authorities' failure to
provide a proper public awareness campaign, so as to bring the
population on board behind the proposal.

Related articles:

MP Slammed for Hate Speech
http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=15316

Burjanadze Meets Opposition over Meskhetian Repatriation
http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=15312


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