Meskhetian Turks, also called as Meskheti, lived in the historical region of Meskhetia in southwestern Georgia until 1944. They are the former Muslim inhabitants of Meskheti, which is located along the Turkish boarder. Their language belongs to the Turkic group, the east-Anatolian dialect. Meskhetian Turks are the consequence of the movement of Turkish settlers into the region during the Ottoman Empire. They are influenced by Georgian culture. Their origins have been debated for such a long time, some saying they are Turkified Georgians, some advocating that they are Georgified Turks, and some saying the truth lies somewhere in between. Deported to Central Asia in 1944 by Joseph Stalin, they settled in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Today the estimated population of Meskhetian Turks is around 300,000. Although their Turkic culture allows easy integration in Azeri society, their ultimate desire is to be repatriated to Georgia. It wasn't easy for them to have a peaceful life even after World War II. Some of them returned with a 1996 Georgian presidential decree allowing their resettlement with government support.
ANKARA – Turkish Daily News
A bill allowing tens of thousands of Meskhetian (Ahıska in Turkish) Turks to return to their homeland almost half a century after being exiled by Joseph Stalin has sparked debate among rival political parties in Georgia, BBC World reported on its Web site yesterday.
Meskhetian Turks are the former Muslim inhabitants of Georgia, along the border with Turkey. They were deported to Central Asia in 1944 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and settled in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan and Uzbekistan. A majority of Meskhetian Turks are ethnic Turks and speak Turkish. The estimated population of Meskhetian Turks is around 300,000 of which only 25,000 live in Turkey.
The Georgian government recently introduced a bill to parliament to allow Meskhetian Turks to return. However, opposition parties are against the bill saying that they are not powerful enough to handle a new ethnic minority. These parties also argued that the stability in the country will be harmed if Meskhetian Turks return. Despite the opposition, the Georgian government will be able to pass the bill in the parliament.
Opposition: Let's implement quotas
Georgia's move will also please the Council of Europe who were pressing the Tbilisi government to accept those who want to return to their country. Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili will be able to demonstrate his respect for human rights with this law but he doesn't offer any financial support to those who want to return.
A poll in Georgia showed that the majority of Georgian people are against the idea of their return. Kahka Kukava, an official from the opposition Conservative Party proposed to implement quotas for Meskhetian Turks.
If the bill passes in the parliament, Meskhetian Turks will be able to return to Georgia by next year.
Turkey expresses satisfaction
Meanwhile Turkish officials, monitoring the matter closely for years, expressed their satisfaction with the decision taken by the Georgian government. The situation of the Meskhetian Turks is very poor in the countries they were forced to live. We hope this recent move of Georgia will allow them to re-settle in their homeland and forget all the pains they suffered, an official told the Turkish Daily News yesterday