Some aspects of the approaches of Georgia and Turkey to the question of the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks

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Some aspects of the approaches of Georgia and Turkey to the question of the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks 18.07.2018 17:01



June 29, 2018 in the Institute of CIS countries held a seminar "Some aspects of Georgia's and Turkey's approaches to the issue of the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks". The event was aimed at a comprehensive analysis of the situation in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region (Javahkу) in the context of the possible return of the Meskhetian Turks there.

The seminar was opened and moderated by Deputy Director of the Institute of CIS countries Vladimir Evseev.

The report "Results of elections in Turkey and their impact on the country's regional policy" was delivered by independent Turkish political scientist Kerim Khas. In his opinion, the main issue that is being discussed today may even more animatedly than the victory of Recep Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party in the early presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey is the unexpectedly high level of support rendered to the People's Republican Party and candidate for presidency from this party Muharramu Indge. The latter is often compared with R. Erdogan for his mastery of oratory and charisma. He is a representative of the Republican People's Party, twice claimed for the post of its leader, but lost to his opponent - K. Kylichdaroglu. It is assumed that with such a high level of popularity, M. Indge may soon lead the said political party.

In 2002, when Erdogan's Justice and Development Party came to power, Turkey had numerous partners in the West, and the country's foreign debt was $130 billion. At the end of 2017, such debt reached $453 billion, that is, three times the cost of all national exports. And this happens despite the fact that the reserves of the Central Bank of Turkey are estimated at $110 billion. Relations with the West are spoiled, and the country now has no opportunities to attract foreign investment in sufficient volume. For the first quarter of 2018, such investments decreased by 22% compared to the same period last year.

Russian-Turkish relations on this background look somewhat better. However, the expert cited two alarming examples. First, in May 2018, a subsidiary of Sberbank of Russia, the Turkish Denizbank, despite a net profit of $477 million in 2017, was sold by the Russian side with significant financial losses. Secondly, there are problems in the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Turkey. In particular, Russia wants to share with Turkey the cost of this construction, the total amount of which is likely to exceed $30 billion. However, Ankara is considering selling a 49% stake in the plant and it is not known whether there is a buyer. In this situation K. Khas did not rule out freezing the construction of this project.

According to the expert, proceeding from the dynamics of the development of Turkish-Western and Turkish-Russian relations, it can be assumed that rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow will not become a product of strategic planning, but will have the character of an enforced fragile partnership.

The Chief Researcher of the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Historical Sciences, and Professor Nikolai Bugay delivered a report "Meskhetian Turks in the System of Interethnic Relations in the North Caucasus". In his opinion, the term "deportation of unreliable peoples", which is often used in the media, is fundamentally wrong, since from a legal point of view it was a move, albeit violent, but still within the borders of the USSR. And the word "genocide" in general is a fiction, since practically all the displaced peoples showed a significant increase in their numbers.

Previously, President Boris Yeltsin was actually scared to solve the problem of the Meskhetian Turks and distanced himself from it, while the US opened a program for their resettlement. As a result, about 11,200 people moved to the United States for permanent residence. The expert also noted that the Russian society "Memorial" provided assistance to this process. So, during the Congress of Meskhetian Turks in Bursa (Turkey), his representative promised that about 10,000 people will move from the USA to Russia.

At present, according to the speaker, in Turkey they continue to pay significant attention to the problem of Meskhetian Turks. For example, in 2015, representatives of this people from the faculty of all universities of the country participated in the work of the International Congress of Meskhetian Turks. However, in reality the prospect of the return of Meskhetian Turks to Georgia looks very unlikely, at least until Tbilisi continues the Georgian-centric policy of "crystallizing the state".

Expert of the Center for the Study of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Ural and the Volga Region, the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Andrei Areshev presented the report "Problems of Meskhetian Turks in the Context of Georgian-Turkish Relations." He recalled that when Georgia joined the Council of Europe in 1999, Tbilisi undertook to return the Meskhetian Turks (Turks-ahiska) evicted by the Stalin regime in 1944 from the territory of the Georgian SSR to their places of residence. The main regulatory legal acts of the Georgian legislation, designed to solve the Turkish-Meskhetian problem in terms of repatriation to the historical homeland, the Law of Georgia "On the repatriation of persons forcibly resettled from the Georgian SSR in the 1940’s by the authorities of the former USSR" dated July 11, 2007 and the Government of Georgia Decree "On conferring citizenship of Georgia in a simplified order to persons having the status of repatriate" dated July 11 2007. The law was adopted under the pressure of the Council of Europe, one of the preconditions for entering into which was Georgia's obligation to repatriate Meskhetian Muslims for a 12-year period.

However, this law, whose adoption lasted almost ten years, not only did not rehabilitate the people subjected to repression, although initially in the projects under consideration it was a question of social rehabilitation, but also did not solve the problem of returning the deported population to traditional places of residence. As of May 12, 2014 only 7 people of the Meskhetian Turks received Georgian citizenship. And it was not accidental, as the law has a number of stringent restrictions. For example, the deadline for filing applications was limited to one year, which was subsequently extended, under the pressure of the Council of Europe, for a further one year. But this did not affect the overall process. In addition, the full package of documents required to receive applications, totaled more than 14 different certificates, including documents certifying the fact of forced relocation.

The official point of view of the Georgian authorities and experts provides for the mandatory integration of Meskhetian Turks into Georgian society, with due consideration for historical and ethno-demographic aspects. However, according to A. Areshev, in the present conditions of the lack of a balanced national policy and the objective complexity of the problem itself, it will not be easy to achieve this. In addition, even in the Soviet era, even despite the conditions of deportation, the Meskhetian Turks lived quite apart, observing their customs and traditions.

Chairman of the International Public Organization of the Meskhetian Turks "Vatan" Javid Kazanfar Aliyev in his speech told how the Meskhetian Turks found themselves in Russia in the early 1990’s. Their leader Y. Sarvarov, assured that they would soon begin to receive Russian citizenship, but when in 1994 they suddenly realized and began to actively collect documents, they had to await the decision of the relevant bodies already on general grounds. According to him, the attitude towards the Meskhetian Turks varies, depending on the region of their resettlement. If in the Rostov region, for example, there were no special problems, then in the Krasnodar Territory they became the "source of all ills". As a consequence, the center for the solution of the problem of the Meskhetian Turks gradually shifted to Turkey, but there they are not particularly concerned with it.

During the process of repatriation, launched under EU pressure, about 15,200 families applied for relocation to Georgia, but only 5,861 families managed to translate documents. As a result, in 2010-2016 citizenship of Georgia received only 494 people, and 80% of them - an incomplete family list. In this situation, one is no longer talking about moving to Georgia. And if at the moment Turkey is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to the migrants, Georgia prevents it because of fears of ethnic clashes. Thus, during the meeting of the Turkish Meskhetian Turks' DATUB chairman with the Georgian President Georgi Menagarishvili, he answered the question about the problem of their repatriation: "We did not evict you".

According to Zh. Aliyev, consideration of the issue of simplifying the procedure for admission to Russian citizenship of former Soviet citizens who speak Russian gives the Meskhetian Turks serious hopes for streamlining their life in Russia, and everyone is welcome. However, it is necessary for Georgia to take the final and executable decision as soon as possible to implement their legitimate right to return to their homeland.

Deputy Head of the Caucasus Department of the Institute of CIS countries Sergey Sargsyan delivered a report "Turkey's Attitude to the Problem of Repatriation of Meskhetian Turks". He pointed out that the very geographical location of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia at the junction of its borders with Armenia and Turkey, the complex ethno-national situation, the passage of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Erzurum gas pipeline, and the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway predetermined the crossing in the province of strategic interests not only all the countries of the South Caucasus, but also Russia, Turkey, Iran, the United States and the European Union. Moreover, according to many experts, both from the Caucasus region, and from European and American, as well as Chinese analytical centers, the problem of repatriation of Meskhetian Turks who were resettled in 1994 from Georgia to the Central Asian republics is the most potentially dangerous of all latent conflicts in the South Caucasus

After the adoption of the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of April 28, 1956, which freed the Meskhetian Turks, Crimean Tatars and Balkarians from the special police of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but retained the ban on their return to their native places of residence, among the Meskhetian Turks a social movement for the restoration of their rights. During this period, among the Meskhetian Turks, three main groups were formed:

1) identifying themselves as Turks - natives of Georgia;

In 1964, in Frunze (now Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan), they formed the Provisional Organizational Committee for Liberation (POCL), on the basis of which in May 1990 the society "Vatan" (Turkic - "Rodina") was established. Behind it, the image of the pro-Turkish organization was firmly entrenched.

2) Meskhetian Turks who consider themselves to be ethnic Georgians-Meskhs of the Muslim faith;

They were ready to move to any region of Georgia, and not necessarily in Meskheti or Javakheti. Since the early 1960’s, representatives of this group actively opposed the "Mesham-Turks", united in POCL, and then in "Vatan".

3) Meskhetian Turks who were ready to immigrate to other countries - to the USA and Turkey.

Their interests were represented by such organizations as the Umid (Hope) society of the Krasnodar Territory of Russia, the As-Turk community of Kyrgyzstan and others.

At the same time, the expert noted that the majority of Georgian historians criticized the term "Meskhetian Turks", believing that Turks and Meskhetians are completely different peoples.

According to this point of view, after the conquest of the Georgian region of Meskheti by the Ottoman Turks in 1578, the local population adopted Islam; it was tainted and lost Georgian identity. However, in contrast, the overwhelming majority of Meskhetian Turks identify themselves with Turks originating from Akhysk (the Turkic name of the city-fortress of Akhaltsikha is the "White Fortress"), and in general Meskheti.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the repressed - more than 78,000 people of the almost 93,000 were residents of the Akhaltsikhe, Adigen, and Aspindz districts of the Georgian SSR, and not, in fact, Javakhk with a predominantly Armenian population, their return could still cause additional demographic pressure on the entire Samtskhe-Javakheti region.

According to the expert, Turkey will try to take advantage of the possibility of changing the ethnic composition of the population of the south of Georgia. Although, while supporting the demands of the Meskhetian Turks for full rehabilitation and repatriation to their historical homeland in Georgia without any preconditions, it will not try to accelerate this process as far as Tbilisi's commitments are fully in line with its interests and opportunities. In addition, at present Ankara, in fact, having established control over all organizations of Meskhetian Turks, increasingly views them as a potential tool for lobbying their interests in the countries of residence.

Thus, the seminar "Some aspects of the approaches of Georgia and Turkey to the question of the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks" held at the Institute of CIS countries made it possible to better understand the current state of this problem. As participants of the seminar noted, it is necessary to fully study and evaluate the impact on a wide range of issues of regional policy, taking into account the interests of global actors. In addition, it was expressed the wish to disseminate the discussion materials in all ministries and departments of the Russian Federation interested in solving this problem.

S. Sarkisyan