Issue #366 20.07.07 - 26.07.07
In 1944 hundreds of ethnic Turkish families were forcibly exiled from the Southern Georgian region of Meskheti, to remote destinations in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Russian and other parts of the former USSR. In the early 1980s, around 1,300 of them returned to their ancestral homeland although the plight of the so-called Meskhetian Turks remained relatively unknown. Several weeks ago, the Georgian Parliament adopted a draft bill about the repatriation of these historic citizens of Georgia. This legal act coincided with the world premier of journalist Manana Lomadze’s film “Island of the Meskhs” which was screened for the first time ever at the Georgian Public Defender’s Office on July 13.
Before the screening, which was sponsored by UNDP, the topic of these repatriated people was discussed. According to Vano Khukhuneishvili, Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Regional Politics now there is a relevant law regarding the Meskhs and it is up to the central authorities to properly realize it. “The problem lies not only in the technical solution of the issue but also in the eradication of all the negative attitudes that exist in Georgian society towards these people. We should unanimously declare them as the children of our nation,” Khukhuneishvili said.
According to the draft-bill, the so called Turk-Meskhs will be actually provided the right to return to Georgia and be granted full and equal Georgian citizenship. These refugees have to submit applications to the Georgian Ministry of Refugees and Settlement by January 1, 2008 to acquire the legal status of repatriates. Georgia has committed to finishing the repatriation process before 2011.
The issue is very controversial. Opposition representatives did not support the draft bill, claiming that a country, which has hundreds of IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia cannot receive and accommodate these repatriated Meskhs, especially when it is not yet defined how many families will be brought back to Georgia and where they will be placed.
Manana Lomadze, the director and producer of the film said: “We had no problems while shooting this film. Our aim was to clarify how the process of integration. We simply wanted to show their everyday life and their values.”
The film takes no political stance. Besides the historical background information, which is told by the presenter, the Meskhs talk about their lives – and the problems that they face – themselves.
To the question of why she decided to call this film the “Island of the Meskhs” Lomadze answers: “Because it is a real island. They live in isolation from others. For instance, the district where the returnees live in Ianeti is 5 kilometers from the centre of the village.”
In spite of this, the returned Meskhs consider themselves to be ethnic Georgians and become quite angry when they are referred to “Meskhetian Turks.” But in reality they are culturally, as well as geographically, isolated. “We just live separately. I cannot speak fluent Georgian, neither Russian nor Turkish. I am at a loss. I want my child to study good Georgian and be a genuine Georgian,” one man noted in the film.
Telman Eristavi, repatriated Meskh says in the film that he realized that he was Georgian only after returning to this country. “Before that, I thought, I was Turk.”
Scholar Lavrenti Janiashvili, who is interviewed in the film, expresses doubts that many of these people will want to come live in Georgia. “Many of them are totally integrated in the countries that they live in now,” he points out. “The majority will not come back.”
Still the debate about the official identity of those expelled from the region of Meskhetia continues unresolved.
According to Lomadze, in producing this film she wanted to collapse any stereotypes surrounding the Meskhs by showing them as individuals. “I chose this way of not including any political analysis in the film. I just wanted to build a bridge between the society and these people in order to put an end to their ‘island’. This is a film for the spectators to judge,” Lomadze says. “I want to particularly thank Open Society Georgia Foundation that gave me the chance to shoot the movie and cinematographer Giorgi Kharebava.” The spectators left the hall in delight. “This is already the victory of the film,” Lomadze noted. “Several TV companies have refused to screen it, as it still seems that this is not a profitable topic for them, but we are not disappointed, as we know that this is a film about a future day.”