Georgia's attempt at repatriation disappoints Meskhetians

Publié le par FULYA ÖZERKAN

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A new parliamentary bill by Tbilisi is very unlikely to satisfy Meskhetian Turks, a group of Muslims deported in 1944, as it denies their national identity among other unpopular measures

FULYA ÖZERKAN
ANKARA - Turkish daily news

New legislation introduced by the Georgian government authorizing the repatriation of a long-prosecuted Muslim minority but under strict rules caused discord among Meskethians in Turkey.

  Rüstem Mürseloğlu, a Meskhetian Turk whose father was among those deported en masse to Central Asia in the 1940s, told the Turkish Daily News that the new bill denies the identity of Meskhetian Turks; describing them as Georgian Muslims even though Stalin's original deportation decree describes them as Turks.

  Under the legislation, those returning must integrate with Georgian society and renounce any other citizenship they have.

  “I hold citizenship in both Turkey and Azerbaijan. Why shall I give up my Turkish nationality? It is as if Georgian authorities are bestowing us with U.S. citizenship,” said Mürseloğlu, head of an association for education, culture and social solidarity with Meskhetian Turks. 

  Critical of Tbilisi's policies toward resettlement of Meskhetian Turks, he said: “These policies are aimed at assimilating us. There are around 50,000 Meskhetian Turks in Turkey and a return is out of the question under these circumstances,” he stressed.

  During World War II, the USSR deported Meskhetian Turks from regions along Georgia's border with Turkey to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for supposed treason.

  Until recently, Georgian authorities have delayed allowing Meskhetian Turks to return for various reasons. In order to join the Council of Europe in 1999, Georgia agreed to guarantee the return of the Meskhetian Turks by 2011, an estimated 300,000 of which are scattered in former Soviet republics.

  Last month, Georgian lawmakers gave preliminary backing to the bill introduced by President Mikhail Saakashvili's ruling party intended to benefit Meskhetian Turks, also giving legal authorization for the repatriation of others “forcibly deported by authorities of the Soviet Union from Georgia.”

  The bill, which was drafted in the course of eight years and which must go through two more readings before adoption, is unlikely to satisfy the expectations of Meskhetian Turks. 

  Yunus Zeyrek, a scholar at Ankara's Gazi University who brought to light the issue of Meskhetian Turks through his writings, prepared a file in five languages (German, French, English, Russian, and Turkish) defending Meskhetian Turks on the issue of repatriation and presented it to officials of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe.

  “This bill is a complete disaster and will never be accepted by Meskhetian Turks,” said Zeyrek, also head of the International Federation of the Meskhetian Turk Associations. “The bill imposes a quota on returning families, forces them to go through re-education camps focusing on Georgian culture and language, and resettles them outside their ancestral lands.”

Armenian factor:

  The presence of Armenians that moved into the lands vacated by Meskhetians is one of the reasons for the Georgian government's refusal to resettle returning Meskhetians in their old lands fearing violence with ethnic Armenians.

  “This is false propaganda. The Armenians there are not economically wealthy and believe the returning Meskhetians will contribute to the revival of economic life,” Zeyrek said. “I believe the Armenian factor is being exaggerated.”

  Uncertainty:  

  Meskhetian Turks in Kyrgyzstan are complaining of uncertainty over the contentious bill that received the tentative backing of the Georgian parliament.

  Murafeddin Sakimov, head of the Meskhetian Turks' Association in Kyrgyzstan, told the Anatolia news agency that the bill did not provide any details on the returning process of Meskhetians to their ancestral lands.

  “As Meskhetians who were deported in 1944, we want to return to the Meskhetian region,” he said, dismissing the conditions laid down by the Georgian government.

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