On Thursday, May 26, 2011, together with Jana Kowalova, EVS volunteer at Caritas Georgia, and Teona Zhuzhunadze, local volunteer for the organization Toleranti, I took part to a Georgian class organized for young repatriated Meskhetians living in Akhaltsikhe. This article hopes to introduce you to the population of repatriated Meskhetians established in Georgia. It does not pretend to go into the many details of their history, for it is particularly dense and intricate.
In Southwestern Georgia, in the region of Samstkhe-Javakheti, is located the historical region of Meskheti, whose inhabitants are referred to as Meskhetians.
F.1. Actual region of Samstkhe-Javakheti F.2. Historical region of Meskheti
In 1944, Muslim Meskhetians from Meskheti were one of the 8 ethnic groups which were deported to Central Asia by Stalin for (geo)political reasons. Some families suffered later on the pogrom of Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan in 1989, as well as further deportations and migrations, and as a consequence deported Meskhetians now live dispersed in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia. Some also successfully applied for the status of refugee in the United States of America.
As for the families which decided to return to Georgia, they are referred to as ‘repatriated Meskhetians’. In the last decades, there were different waves of repatriation to Georgia, whether governmentally organized or corresponding to a “self-repatriation” migration scheme. Some families returned in 1985 already, whereas others arrived just 2 years ago. For the most part, they settled in different regions of Georgia, in Samstkhe-Javakheti, Samegrelo or Shida-Kartli.
The repatriation of deported Meskhetians is a very sensitive political issue. Since 1999, Georgia is part of the Council of Europe and due to facilitate the repatriation of deported Meskhetians. Ever since, although the country was urged to take swift action several times, few steps have carried forward the establishment of a proper administrative repatriation procedure, which explains the general difficulty to discuss the situation of those who have returned.
In Samstkhe-Javakheti, the regional association “Toleranti” provides families of repatriated Meskhetians with legal counseling, medical assistance and language support. In the frame of its 3-year project “Provision of humanitarian assistance to repatriate Meskhs and prevention of “self-repatriation”, the association noticeably organizes classes for young repatriated Meskhetians twice a week. Youth who attend the classes hope to improve their chances of success at school, where they receive tuition in Georgian, and to support their integration in the community.
Considering how motivated they are to learn Georgian, and as quickly as possible, this integration is usually 100 % successful.
Also, in Akhaltsikhe, repatriated Meskhetians are recognized for their hard work. Families of deported/repatriated Meskhetians are traditionally farmers and work in the fields. Among those who returned, many bought houses with land in order to grow fruit and vegetables and prepare dairy products from the milk of their cows, both for their own consumption and for selling to the neighbors and locals, sometimes even on the markets when the production is good.
The family of Yunus and Faia, established in the Freight Station settlement of Akhaltsikhe, is a successful example. After two years in Georgia, they feel well integrated in their neighborhood. They have their own garden, orchard and fields, from which they manage to have two productions a year, and thus make a living.
As many others however, one thing prevents them from totally feeling home in Georgia: they are waiting for an answer to their application for the Georgian citizenship, which they sent two years ago. Without citizenship, they are not fully-fledged citizens in Georgia, and therefore struggle to have access to basic services like medical assistance. They have no choice, though: just like the others, they have to wait, without timeframe – this means a life of uncertainty in the long-term…
Beside the regional association Toleranti, other organizations try to voice the needs and protect the rights of repatriated Meskhetians, like the organization ACF – Action Contre la Faim whose current project, like Toleranti’s, is funded by a macro-grant of the European Union.
Nevertheless, for the Meskhetian issue remains a political issue, supporting this population is an every-day challenge.
Samstkhe-Javakheti map [online] available at: < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SamtskheJavakhetiLocationinGeorgia.svg >
Meskheti map [online] available at: < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MeskhetiHitorical.jpg >
Many thanks to Teona for her precious help; to Nino for having us in her class; to Faia for receiving us so warmly at her place; and to Jana for her translation from the Russian language into English –
For further information about the classes given at Toleranti:
“I like Georgian classes” [online] Available at: <http://toleranti.ge/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=313%3A2011-06-07-12-47-26&catid=70%3A2011-01-05-11-59-25&Itemid=82&lang=en>
For further information about the political context of the Meskhetian issue, an article of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty slightly outdated (2005) but careful enough in its wording:
Georgia: Leaders Remain Noncommittal on Meskhetian Repatriation Issue [online] Available at: <http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1057117.html>