YEREVAN (Armepress)–Georgia’s minister for refugees and deported persons Giorgy Khviashvili called on Meskheti Turks not to hasten to return to their historical homeland in southern parts of Georgia and avoid also actions not reconciled with central authorities in Tbilisi.
The minister told Georgian journalists such steps are fraught with incidents and provocations.
The minister’s remarks come after a group of Meskhetis from Azerbaijan traveled to the village of Adigeni in Samtskhe-Javakheti province where their fathers had been deported from in 1944 by Joseph Stalin.
The trip was marked by an incident between local Christian Meskhetis and Meskheti Turks. The local population said the return of Meskheti Turks would be possible only after they apologize publicly for persecution of Christians of the area in the early 20-th century.
The trip was organized by the International Union of Meskheti Turks. Its chairman was quoted by Georgian news agencies as saying that 3,000 Meskheti Turks out of 70,000 living in Azerbaijan are ready now to return to their homeland.
Meskheti Turks are the former Muslim inhabitants of Meskheti (Georgia), along the border with Turkey. They were deported to Central Asia in 1944 by Joseph Stalin and settled within Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Today they are dispersed over a number of other countries of the former Soviet Union.
A majority (more than 80 percent) of Meskheti Turks are ethnic Turks. A minority (about 20 percent) are descendants of indigenous Georgians who became Muslim in the 17th-18th centuries. The estimated population of Meskheti Turks is around 300,000.
In the 1990s, Georgia began to receive Meskheti settlers, provided that they declared themselves to be of ethnic Georgian origin. Their resettlement created tension among the Armenian population of Samtskhe-Javakheti province.
Azerbaijan accepted a number of Meskhetis and Turkey, seen as their "homeland" by many Meskheti Turks themselves, started a program of resettling Meskheti immigran’s in the underprivileged, Kurdish majority eastern regions of the country. This program was for fewer than 200 families, and fell short of expectations.
Meskhetis were also allowed to settle in the central oblasts of Russia, and those who settled there automatically received Russian citizenship in 1992. However the majority of them moved to Krasnodar province at their own will and so their legal status remained undetermined
It also caused tensions with local Cossack population. Between February of 2004 and the end of 2007, and in cooperation with the governmen’s of Russia and the United States the International Organization for Migration implemented a program to resettle Meskheti Turks from the Krasnodar province to the United States. A total of 21,000 individuals applied to the program, of which 12,500 were approved by the U.S. government for refugee status. Approximately 11,500 ultimately departed.