Javakhk Flatly Rejects Meskhetian Turk Resettlement Program

AKHALKALAK (Combined Sources)–Georgia’s minister for conflict resolution Georgi Khaindrava–who heads a presidential commission on the resettlement of the country’s Meskhetian Turks–was in the city of Akhalkalak to pitch the state program to re-settle the minority.

Meskhetian Turks are the former Muslim inhabitants of Meskheti (Georgia)–which lies along the border with Turkey. They were deported to Central Asia in 1944 by Joseph Stalin and settled in Kazakstan–Kyrgyzstan–and Uzbekistan. Today they are dispersed over a number of other countries of the former Soviet Union.

During his August 14 meeting with NGO representatives from the mostly Armenian-populated Javakhk region–which includes the cities of Akhalkalak–Ninotsminda–and Akhaltskha–Khaindrava noted that Georgia is committed to resettling the Meskhetian Turks–after they gain Georgian citizenship.

The NGOs–however–noted that the Turks are not welcomed in Javakhk–and never lived in the area to begin with. They stressed that no resident would tolerate Turks on their territory–and instead proposed that the government–if it is committed to a finding a home for the minority–then move them to territories they once occupied.

The majority of Meskhetian Turks are ethnic Turks–while 20 percent are descendants of indigenous Georgians forced into Islam in the 17th-18th centuries. Their estimated population is around 300,000.

"After all–books like that are available for sale in Armenia," one of his Armenian attorneys–Vartuhi Elbakian said.

"Yektan bought them without violating the law," argued the other lawyer–Hrair Ghukasian.

Individuals detained while trying to smuggle cultural treasures have rarely been imprisoned in Armenia. Such cases usually end in heavy fines and the confiscation of those artifacts.

In a separate message to President Kocharian last week–Duke University president Richard Brodhead said–"As the leader of a great country–you have the ability to intervene in this matter and to determine the appropriateness of the actions of your government and the Armenian prosecutors and police."

Adding his voice on August 2 was former US Senate majority leader Bob Dole–known for his staunch advocacy of Armenian issues. In a strongly-worded letter to Kocharian posted on–he demanded that Turkyilmaz be released "at once," saying that the Criminal Code article used against him is "unique in the community of free nations."

Dole warned that failure to release Turkyilmaz would further tarnish Yerevan’s already negative image in the West. "Your detention of Yektan for seven weeks on any grounds would draw attention to failings in Armenia’s democratic evolution," he said. "To detain him on grounds as dubious as these calls into question Armenia’s commitment to democracy in the first place."

"Your treatment of Yektan makes Armenia look bad –with good reason," he added. "Armenia has many friends in the United States–but we cannot and will not defend the indefensible."

The academic’s mother–Gulsin Turkyilmaz–pleaded with the authorities in Yerevan on August 8 to set him free and end his controversial prosecution.

After visiting her 33-year-old son in a maximum security prison in Yerevan where he has been kept since his arrest on June 17–she said–"I hope that they won’t imprison him…if he knew that [he is violating Armenian laws] he wouldn’t do that."

"Yektan would never do any harm to this country," she added.

Turkyilmaz was allowed to see his mother the day before the start of his trial–which is expected to be attended by representatives of Duke University in North Carolina where he is pursuing a PhD in Ottoman history.

Turkey’s government has still not officially commented on the prosecution of the Turkish national. Turkyilmaz is among few Turks who have publicly challenged Ankara’s vehement denial of the Armenian genocide. n.


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