2010 OSCE REVIEW CONFERENCE
26 – 28 November 2010
Palace of Peace and Accord (Pyramid)
APPLICATION SUBMITTED BY BANISHED AHISKA (MESKHETIAN) TURKS TO THE ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND
COOPERATION IN EUROPE
All local people living in Ahiska city located within the boundaries of the Republic of Georgia in Southwestern Caucasia as well as nearby villages and townships were banished on November 15, 1944 although they had not done anything wrong. Sixty-six years have passed since this human tragedy. But, those banished people could not return to their homeland yet.
Women, children, and old-aged people living in the homeland of this community whose younger members had been enlisted to fight in the war were forced to leave their homeland overnight.
Various Caucasian communities who had been victimized by Stalin returned to their homes after his death in 1953. But, Ahiskacommunity still continue to live in exile because of the incomprehensible stance taken by Georgia.
In 1999, Georgia informed the Council of Europe that it would take legislative steps to resolve this problem. It finally adopted a law permitting banished people to return to their homes in 2007. But, the wording and style of this law and preconditions set for their return were short of restoring confidence among the banished people.
Many people who were eager to return to their homeland declined to submit an application for their return due to this distrust. The future of those people living in Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine as scattered communities is still uncertain.
To put an end to this human tragedy, The World Ahiska Turks Association which represents non-governmental organizations founded by Ahiska Turks applies to the OSCE and asks it to make contributions to efforts aimed at settling this problem as soon as possible.
Ahiska Turks would like to draw attention to certain subjective assessments in te Georgian Act No. “5261-RS” of “July 11, 2007” which are outlined below:
Article 1 of the Act refers to “ensuring a dignified return” whereas Article 7 stipulates that “A compulsory interview and a written examination shall be conducted and persons who speak Georgian shall be accorded priority.” Such provisions conflict with the “principle of a dignified return” because the members of this community desire to return to their homeland, not to work as a civil servant for a government agency. Expecting Ahiska Turks who have been living in exile for 66 years to speak Georgian is obviously a sign of bad faith.
“Phased completion of the return process” which is referred to in Article 1 means that their return will probably be completed in decades to come.
Article 4 stipulates that a total of 10 documents, including a certificate substantiating banishment, must be be provided together with an application for return. The documents are required to be drawn up in Georgian or English and documents in Russian or their native tongue will not be accepted. But, the deportation in question took place overnight or in a couple of hours. But, those people are required to document that they have been sent to exile. Who could one find a document substantiating such an unlawful act?
Article 9 of the Act stipulates that “a person shall document that he or she has been denaturalized by the country where he or she was living as its citizen within six months after he or she had been granted status as a returnee and shall be granted Georgian citizenship within one year thereafter.” In other words, current citizenship must be fortwith canceled and the person concerned would have to live as a stateless person for 6 months.
Georgian authorities would, at their sole discretion, grant citizenship to a person after his or her denaturalization or, if they refuse to grant citizenship, he or she would continue to live as a stateless person. Firstly, it should be noted that this policy clearly conflicts with the norms of international law because, in such a case, the Georgian State would breach the principle of international law pertaining to a state’s obligation to prevent statelessness.
The Act in question does not state that the banished community will be resettled in their own homeland. Reports appearing in the Georgian press and steps taken so far indicate that people returning from exile will be settled in other parts of Georgia rather than Ahiska (Meskhetia).
All those negative decisions and policies undermined confidence placed by banished Ahiska Turks in Georgia.
Non-governmental organizations founded by Ahiska Turks expect that the OSCE will caution Georgia in line with general principles related to human rights so that those practices are abandoned and the members of the ıcommunity can return to their homeland.
We can give several examples of the current discriminatory policies in Georgia as follows:
- A total of 40 families who have traveled to Ahiska by using their own resources are being kept under constant police surveillance.
- Sale of property is not permitted in spite of the fact that it is permissible under Georgian laws and the property of a deceased man cannot be inherited by his wife. This practice which curtails the right to inherit cannot be seen any civilized country.
- The members of the Muslim community are not allowed to build their own cemetery.
- The children of Ahiska Turks are not granted to receive free education. They are asked to pay US$ 300 for each child attending a primary school in spite of the fact that it is free in the rest of the world. US$ 300 is equal to the montly salary of a civil servant in a good position within the government. The ultimate goal isto force people who have returned to their homeland in spite of all difficulties to leave the country. This is not a policy that could be witnessed in any civilized country.
- The Georgian government does not allow the members of the Ahiska community to take part in activities carried out by non-governmental organizations. Those who desire to found civil organizations or establish relationships with such organizations are intimidated and threatened by the government.
- Today, Georgia questions the nationality of banished Turks. An association called Xisna which is supported by the Georgian government although it is ignored by people was formed in a bid to dictate Georgian identity. Georgia demands the members of the banished community to change their names with Georgian names and to change their religion.
- Georgia shows disrespect for Muslim places of worship in Ahiska.
Considering that Ahiska Turks were deported when the country was a part of the Soviet Union, the fact that the Russian Federation, its successor, has certain responsibilities. Russia should, therefore, fulfill its responsibility toward these people without turning the issue into a political game.
The social system in Kyrgyzstan is not sufficient to assure Ahiska people. So, Georgia should also accept new applications from Kyrgyzstan without claiming that the period granted for filing applications has expired.
The non-governmental organizations of Ahiska Turks invite the OSCE to decide a clear and final program with the parties concerned and to make endeavors in that direction with a view to ensuring that the process of final return to Ahiska is completed in the spring of 2011 with interest expressed and support provided by Georgia and Russia as well as international organizations.
YUNUS ZEYREK, PRESIDENT OF AHDEF
(INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF AHİSKAN TURKS )
ON THE HOME VOYAGE OF AHISKA TURKS
(Istanbul, Turkey; 27 January 2007)
Honorable Deputy President of the Parliament, and its Members,
Dear Representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations,
Dear Guests and Fellows,
Mankind is searching for peace, prosperity and happiness. However, the things we are looking for are in our hands, if only we could understand each other, show respect for each others rights. It is not fair for one is flying high while the other crawling in hardship. Either we will all be free and happy or we will all share the same run of misfortune tomorrow if not today. You can not laugh in front of a crying one. We must never forget that the one, who’s laughing today, may be crying another day. As our ancestors say “do not let the oppressed take a sigh, and beware! You will pay for it by and by”.
The 63 years old outcry of the Ahiska Turks (Meskhetian Turks) has been heard by the whole world, but the responsible ones are yet to hear them.
The 21st century which we live in, should put an end to this shameful legacy left over from the previous century.
This important meeting that is being held here today has been organized with a view to making a positive start for addressing the issue of the return of Ahiska Turks to their homeland.
The issue of Ahiska Turks cannot be compared to any other issue. For the very simple reason that our people have not committed any crime, just the contrary they have always remained respectful to the laws of the state that have lived in. This community has scarified their youth by sending them to the frontline in the Second World War in order to defend the country while the rest has worked on fields to generate income to pay for expenses of the army.
The state employed by force these people on railroad constructions without any compensation. While these people were expecting their children to return from the frontline via these railroads that they built, goods and animal wagons that would banish them from these roads arrived!
All people living in this region were taken on a death journey with these animal wagons! They were told that they were taken temporarily to secure areas and they would come back soon, turned out to be sheer lies and they were fooled!
Some of those who joined the army to defend the country were perished on the frontlines while the war veterans with medals could not return to their homes, instead they were left alone to look for their mother, father, brother, sisters on the Central Asian desserts.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We would like to call out to those engaged in human rights issues: What will be the rights of a community whose youth, with no military training whatsoever, has been used up on the frontline, and the others taken on a death journey? Who will ask this question?
Has there ever been a more piteous, more brutal execution in the history of mankind?
What else is it called genocide taking an innocent people altogether on a death trip? Or is this definition used only for certain privileged people?
This was what exactly went on in Ahiska town and nearby villages in the middle of a winter night in 1944, and with Stalin and Beriya’s orders the innocent people of the region were banished altogether.
Here we will not talk about the pain and the sufferings that this banishment has caused. After all, those who have suffered are still alive and among us.
Today, some people and some members of the media are trying to upset the temper the governments by looking for tracts of human rights violations in the dumps of history. Yet they totally ignore the very tragedy of the people standing before their eyes.
The misery of the Ahiska Turks has not drawn the attention of respectable newspapers, TV programs and newspaper columns. We are now, through the medium of this conference, calling for the champion of the human right defenders and media to hear us.
The deported people were sentenced to live in camps for 12 years, and the deportation event was kept a secret even from the Soviet public. After the death of Stalin, a decree was passed finally in 1956 stating that from now on they are set free to enjoy the normal social and political life, and that they are free to live wherever they wish to, just like any other the Soviet citizens; however, these statements were remained as mere words on paper.
Finally a second decree was passed in 1968 and carried the signatures of Soviet Podgorni and Georgian Georgadze but it turned out to be a repetition of the previous decree and shared same fate. Accordingly many applications for returning home ended up without result. Among those went to Moscow were not listened to, while those went to Tiflis were expelled and even arrested.
Here it is very interesting to note that while all other communities that had been victimized by Stalin era have returned home, the Ahiska Turks are still kept waiting!
We have been organizing this meeting in order to put an end to this frustration that has been going on for 63 years, and to take a serious step forward on the journey back home.
Today as everybody knows the Ahiska area is located within Georgia’s borders.
Ahiska people say this: “We have been forced out of our homes. We do not want to live in exile. Our ruinous and desolate homeland awaits us! We would like to go back there and rejoice the area. We do not want anything from anybody, we only want our land! We will come not for combat; we will come to restore our lands!”
I firmly believe that everybody should hear this! It is indeed difficult to understand who would be disturbed by these requests and why?
All we want is that the rights that were given on paper should be applied.
The Republic of Georgia had promised to work on the home voyage issue of Ahiska Turks, to solve the problem and made a commitment to the European Council in 1999. The necessary legal arrangements were going to be carried out within the next 6 years and the return process was going to be accomplished by the year 2011.
The Sevardnadze period was wasted, and no improvement was ever made.
The Saakasvi government has appointed a ministry to deal with the subject. This concerned Ministry prepared a draft statute in 2006. In this draft statute, the homeland and national identity of the exiled Ahiska people have not been mentioned, and instead they tried to evade the real issue by employing vague and void expression in the Draft. Minister Haindrava, who has now been removed from the office, visited the Ahiska Turks in the countries that they lived in, held meetings, visited Turkey, and held the last meeting in Tiflis. In these meetings, no noteworthy and useful sentences were used and moreover, the public representatives were reprimanded and offended!
The Georgian government states that it will accept the Ahiska Turks. But he avoids giving a specific calendar for the return. Moreover, in the talks that have been held, it has been stated that there will definitely not be a return to Ahiska, and that a quota of 100 families a year will be relocated in other regions of Georgia!
But, all the exiled people have in their minds this question to pose: How can it be that we were banished in 2 hours yet cannot return to our homeland in 2 years? The answer to this question should be provided.
It has been stated that these people cannot be named as Turks, since they are actually Georgian! This means that the identity and homeland of the people have also been questioned!
Our people state that their ancestors have lived in these lands for hundreds of years, they were defined as Turks on the banishment decree and no one could be assimilated in the banishment years; therefore they will return to their homeland as they were before the banishment.
The oldest Georgian historical resource Kartlis Ckhovreba as well as other credible Georgian historical resources records the presence of Turks in Georgia. If so, what are we discussing?
Should we discuss our nationality now, while the wound is bleeding profusely? Should we discuss history? Who could possibly benefit from this discussion?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It must be known that the Ahiska Turks think of nothing but being loyal and hard-working citizens of the country they belong to, once they return to their homeland. No one should see them as potential enemies. They lived as Turks during the Tsarist Russian and Soviet periods, and this identity did not cause any problems within this period. No one should have the right to explicitly assimilate a human community before the world public opinion! States should think as the way they should! They should look after their citizens.
Georgian writer Vacnadze said 55 years ago; “When Georgia lost its freedom in the 19th century, the whole of independent Caucasia went into captivity. After independent Caucasia collapsed in the 20th century, Georgia also lost its independence. This was always like this, and it always will be. Either we will be free all together, or we will be slaves individually. There is no third path that history offers.”
Now, we would like Georgia to hear this voice.
A Turkish population lives in both Greece and Bulgaria, which are located alongside the west borders of Turkey. Everybody knows that Turkey has no ulterior motivations related to these regions.
Turkey and Georgia, being allies, will benefit highly from the return of the Ahiska Turks to their homeland. Today, the Ahiska region is nearly totally abandoned. Many villages are empty; fields and gardens are in a miserable state. After the people were banished, life in the region degraded; in fact, it’s safe to say that it totally stopped.
Let us assume that today there are people living in these villages and that the fields are farmed. Let us imagine how a hard-working population that has brought life to the desserts that it had been banished to, can bring a fresh life to this region.
We should also take into account the fact that there should be a dependable component in this region which has become an energy corridor.
Our people have suffered very much in the banishment period. It has been subjected to injustice that is inconceivable. During the times when the Soviet order was cracking, they were sacrificed to unthinkable provocations in 1989 in Uzbekistan. We want these days to be over. For this simple reason our people want to return to their homeland. They want to live decently in their countries. No one can say that they don’t have the right to ask for this. Ahiska Turks have are perfectly eligible for every humanly rights and aspirations as all people do.
Today, Ahiska Turks, are scattered all over the world: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and USA.
There is no other population in the recent history that has been subject to such massacre and that has been forced to live in eight different countries.
Georgia is trying to delay the return of the banished population by giving excuse for the present conditions.
The Ahiska Turks have no involvement whatsoever with the problems Georgia is currently facing. Therefore, problems that have nothing to do with this issue before us should not hamper the road to the homelands.
Sometimes the ethnic factors in the region are mentioned. Our population has no problem with any of the ethnic groups in the region. No one should have any problems with us. The Ahiska region is our ancient homeland. It is our people’s right to return to their homeland. This matter has never been disclaimed. Therefore the rest is only a blind excuse.
Today, about 80 villages of Ahiska are empty. The banished people should be relocated to these villages initially. Everyone in the other villages should go back to their previous locations, just as before the banishment.
The parties of this historical event are evident: It is the Soviet Union that has sent our people to banishment. Today’s Russian Federation is the primary party since it is the inheritor of the Soviet Union; therefore it has to fulfill its responsibilities.
The other party is the Georgian government that controls over the Ahiska region within its borders has been constantly refusing to let the people go back to their countries. Georgia, as a sovereign and independent state, should receive its old citizens with open arms, should not hurt them, admit that they have suffered so many wrong-doings and that their wounds will be healed; it should declare that it recognizes every right of these people. We have prepared our plan for the solution of the matter and communicated it to the Georgian Embassy in Ankara.
Turkey, should not forget the responsibilities that it has shouldered in the previous international agreements. We would like to remind authorities the words of Minister of Foreign Affairs Yusuf Kemal Bey, from the letter of instruction, dated 19th September 1920, that he sent to Kazım Karabekir Paşa before the Kars Conference stating “We should not forget the situation and the future of the Ahiska Turks while trying to protect Georgia” .
The Ahiska Turks have come together many times in order to discuss the many subjects among which the primary issue is their homeland. However, we have come to the conclusion that no problem can be solved before we have our homeland. How can it be that these people have to suffer such uncertainty?
The three states that we have mentioned here have to establish units related to the Ahiska Turks within their administration mechanisms, coordination should be provided between these units and our people should not be left in the hands of those that feed the deadlock.
Today, this conference must declare that the way the Ahiska Turks have been treated is a crime against humanity, condemn Stalin and Beriya, and the countries responsible should state plainly their plan of action for the solution of this long-standing issue.
I plead that conclusive solutions are to put forward in this meeting and the interlocutors of the solution should be identified. We should have concrete things to say to the Ahiska Turks, Turks and to the rest of the world once we leave this room.
Before concluding I thank you all for attending this meeting that, we hope, will be a very important turning point for the Ahiska Turks and history of mankind. I hope this will be a fruitful conference.
I salute this supreme group with respect.
OUR CONCERNS on the GEORGIAN LAW
regarding the resettlement of the people who have been exiled in 1940s from Georgia of the Former- Soviet Union
Subject: The return of the Ahiska (sometimes wrongly called as Meskhetia) Turks to their native region who have been exiled in 1944.
Exiled people: These people are Turks and they speak Turkish. They are the oldest known residents of the Ahiska region. The people are also said to be Turks in one of the oldest Georgian historical book called Katrlis-Çkhovreba (The life of Georgia). Before exile, the language taught in schools was Turkish and they had their own local newspapers.
Exile: with the beginning of World War II, 40.000 Meskhetians were taken as soldiers and sent to German fronts. The women and children were used as workes to build a 60 km long railroad. This railroad was meant to be built for evacuating the residents in a short time. After the end of war, the exile plan has been employed. At the night of 15th November 1944, 120.000 people living in 220 towns and villages have been evacuated in livestock cars. Evacuation has been finished in two hours. Thousands of people died en route, and thousands died in Central Asian countries.
The rationale for exile: The other exiled communities during Stalin era have been accused of alleged co-operation with German Army. But, the Meskhetians have not been charged with anything. They have been told lies by telling them that they are transported to more secure regions and they would be returned soon. Apparently, these people have been exiled only because they are Turks and they live at the Turkish border.
After Exile: After Stalin died in 1953, the Northern Caucasians returned to native region. But Georgian authorities have always refused the Meskhetians to return native region. Today, they still hinder the Meskhetians. This intention can be clearly seen on the prepared law.
Today: Meskhetians live dispersely and under very hard conditions in former Soviet States like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Russia Federatin, Ukraine. A groups has gone to Turkey, and another one has been taken by USA. Total population is around 300.000.
Exiled people’s demand: By waiving their indemnity, the exiled people demands to return to native region like the other exiled communities of that time. Georgia has made a decision to settle this people not to Ahiska, but to toher regions by spreading them througout the country. While describing the ethnical roots of the exiled people as Meskhi-Georgian, Georgia gives no acceptable date for the return process.
The process of returning to native region: In 1999, Georgian government has committed to European Council that it would finish the legal arrangements in 6 years, and finish the return process until 2011. finally, it has prepared a draft legislation bill and submitted to European Council.
What we would like to emphasize now is that this is a draft legislation bill.
First of all, we must say that, the words from the Georgian Authorities in the papers are far from healing the wounds of exile. Almost every clause in the Georgian Law can be interpreted arbitrarily in the future and a lot of people can be negatively affected by that. We woulk like to address some of them:
- How would the statement in Cl.3 “The people pariticipated in actions against Georgia” be interpreted? Was the exiled people supposed to thank to a country that kept them apart from their homeland for years? What should be interpreted from the expression ”counter action”?
- Cl. 4/2 What does “Former family names shall be returned” mean? Which family names? By giving them their former family names and Georgian identity, it reminds us of the Jivkov’s Bulgaria. The Georgian family names called as former names had been partially used in Ahiska in 1930s! Noone would like to go back to those days.
- Is the condition Cl. 4/3-b “Not to change the residential address in one year” legal?
- Is the condition in 4/3-c 10% up front payment when purchasing a house, legal? The Statement in Cl. 5/1, 2-b “Country of citizenship” excludes the heimatlos people. Cl. 5/3, the applications should be in person” Is this possible? The mentioned papers are excessive and unnecessary.
- Cl. 6/1 “Whole package of the documents” is a complex expression. This may be an excuse for corruption, which is widely used in this country. What does “Deficiency in the documents” mean? The “one onth, three months limitation” in Cl. 6/3 true? How would you set this deadline?
- The expression in Cl. 8/4 “Assets according to the Customs Law” should be clearly explained. All assets that will contribute into family and country economy should be allowed.
- What does Cl. 9/2-c “Georgia or another country citizenship” mean? 9/4 someone returned to native land can be deported anytime or can be a foreigner there. It can be interpreted in many ways …
- Cl. 10/2 Quotas are not clear. For example “this” number of applicants will be accepted out of “that” number of applications. These expressions lay the groundwork for the Georgian authorities saying “It is impossible to complete the return process in 2001”.
- What is meant by adaptation and integration in Cl. 12/1. Is it an effort to change the ethnical identity of the people by saying “former family names”.. Referring to Minister’s Counselor Lomsadze’s words: “They will stay in two of the adaptation centers in East and West”, is that lawful? Israeli expertise can bot be viable for Ahiskans. These people do not return to a new land, but to their native land.
SHORTCOMINGS AND CRITICS:
- The place of return: The exiled people’s native region Ahiska is not mentioned. Excuses like Ahiska is infertile or 90% of the Georgian people is against this return is not realistic and lawful. It is clearly stated that the people to return will be dispersed throughout Georgia. Can such an application be called return to native land?
- The name of the people: This people, who are called as Turks in the exile decree, are called anonymous in the prementioned law, and they are claimed to be Meskhi-Georgian in the meetings. This comedy must be over.
- It is said that, brochures will be prepared in Russian. Why in Russian, but not in these people’s mother language?
- Real estate property: There is no regulation about the real estates of the repatriates in the countries where they came from and also the ones to be presented to when they came.
- Military obligation: What will be the military obligation situation of the youngsters that don’t speak Georgian?
- Non governmental organizations: There is no such regulation for civil organizations of the ones that posses citizenship.
- Education: What will be the education matters of the repatriates? Will they not be granted a right to be educated again, as it has been restricted in the past by calling it Azerbaijani language?
- Process: The people say: “They deported us only in a couple of hours in one night! Now they say it is impossible to return in 3 to 5 years.
By looking from these perspectives, we kindly request you to modify the draft law prepared by Georgian government.
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF AHİSKAN TURKS
Chairman: Yunus Zeyrek
Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Kyrgyzstan Ahiska Turks Association: Mürefeddin Sakimov