Right to Return of `Ahiska’ Muslims

Mathaba.Net, Africa
Aug 2 2004

Right to Return of `Ahiska’ Muslims
Posted: 08/02
From: Muslim Weekly

By: Shahed Alam

If I put this term -Meshetia- into a crossword, I am pretty sure ,
most of you will hardly be able to guess what country we are speaking
about, where it was and is located. The reason is, that Stalin – the
former leader of the Soviet Union not only evicted the Meshetian
people -the Meshetian Turks- from their own Meshetia, but liquidated
the name itself of their country, and crossed it out from the
geographical guidebooks, encyclopedias, and from literary sources in
general. Where was it located? Why its people were guilty before

The country with such a name was situated of South and SouthWest
Georgia -a former Republic of the ex-Soviet Union. It was located at
the height of 2000 metres over the sea level, in a big, wide and long
valley with a general territory ot 8600 km. Before the Meshetian
Turks’ eviction from their own places, their number was 158000 men
and they lived in 212 villages. All these villages are located near
the city of Batumi -the capital of Autonomous Republic of Adzharia-
between two rivers – Chorokh and Kura.

Repatriation of Meskhetians became a political issue, involving
different parties in and outside Georgia, in Russia and Turkey.
Confrontation and debate is already reflected in the labelling of
deported Meskhetians made by different key players. They are referred
to as Meskhetian Turks, Ahiska Turkleri, Muslim Meskhetians, Muslim
Georgians from Meskheti – depending on the intent to present them as
representatives of the one or the other nation. Obscurity of the
ethnic background of deported people forms a fertile ground for
different interpretations. Meskheti is a historical Georgian region,
at the Turkish border well advanced until late middle ages in
politics and culture, but which due its geographical situation for
centuries was a prey to its more powerful neighbours- Ottoman empire,
Perssia and Russia.

Ahiska, the ancient Oguz region was called as “Ak-S¦ka” (White
Castle) in Dede Korkut’s Book and “Akesga” in the records pertaining
to the year of 481. Ahiska is also rendered as the Turkish or Farsi
form of Ahal-Thise that mean “Yeni Kale” (New Castle). In the course
of the first Islamic conquests, Habib b. Mesleme, one of the
commanders of Damascus’ Governor Muaviye conquered Ahiska in the
period under the caliphate of Hz. Osman. It was under the Mongolian
dominion between the years of 1267-78 and then it was administered by
“Atabeg’s, the autonomous governors of the region in the subsequent

Ahiska Atabegs were connected to the Ottoman dominion as a result of
C¦ld¦r War (1578) in the command of Lala Mustafa Pasha. The last
atabek, Minücihr declared its dependence to Ottomans. He reverted to
Islam and given the name of Mustafa Pasha. Pursuant to that date,
Ahiska had become the centre of C¦ld¦r province that was newly
established and it was drawn up thereof. However, Ahiska became a
province when C¦ld¦r got worn out due to the wars. The city that was
once conquered by Safevis got under the dominion of Ottomans again in
the year of 1635. Until it was subjected to the Russian dominion in
the year of 1828, Ahiska remained as a forefront city of the Ottoman
State. When it was separated from Turkey, the Serhat Turks that lived
in this region met with their bad destiny.

Contrary to beleive by western historians, due to their ill
intention, Meshetia, the country of the Meshetian Turks was always
located in the Caucasus, in Georgia but not in Turkey. It was seized
by the Ottoman Empire in its time, during the great Turkish conquests
in Fore Asia. In 1829, according to the Adrianopol Peace treaty, this
part of the Ottoman empire was transferred to Russia. Russia on the
basis of Ahalgtsikh vilayet (province), where Meshetia was located,
formed a district of the same name. The Meshetian Turks, at the
transference to Russia, were already Muslims of the sunnite trend,
though before that time they were Christians, belonged to two
churches – the Orthodox and the Catholic. Some scholars consider that
they are Turks by origin, who settled down there since the time of
coming the Turks to Fore Asia. By their arrival at the Caucasus, the
Turks, as the scholars say, forced out the local population from
their places and settled down themselves in that district. The other
scholars think that the Meshetian Turks from anthropological point of
view and many other elements of the Georgian ethnography are
Georgians by descent. They adopted not only Islam from Turks, but
their language. In this aspect, their fate is very close to the fate
of the Adzharians and the Lazes. They both adopted Islam, but
preserved their Georgian language. On the contrary, the Meshetian
Turks adopted the Turkish language and Islam from the Turks. Though
the Georgians consider the Meshetian Turks their own compatriots,
this part of the Georgian population was considered during almost 300
years to be Turks with the Turkish language and the Muslim culture.

In the course of the Ottoman-Russian war in 1853-1856, some of Ahiska
people ran away and took shelter in Erzurum due to the intense
pressure imposed upon them on the grounds that they collaborated with
the Ottoman army. Pursuant to this war, Kars was broken off from the
Ottoman borders and Ahiska remained far away from the border of
Turkey. In this period, an Armenian migration was experienced from
the North East Anatolia towards the Ahiska region.

The country Meshetia and the Meshetian Turks always arose Stalin’s
suspicion, as the Turks lived in an important military, strategic
region of the former USSR, on the border with Turkey, which after
President Ata-Turk’s death was always closer to the West than to
Russia, as constantly feared its mighty neighbour – Russia. In the
period of the World War II Turkey was preparing to attack the USSR
together with fascist Germany in case its successful invasion to
Stalingrad on the Volga river and Japan’s interference on the side of
Germany. By this, Stalin justified his decision to evict the
Meshetian Turks, who were preparing a white horse for Hitler with the
golden harness. Certainly, it was a big lie. Nevertheless the
decision about the exile of the Meshetian Turks out of Meshetia was
made by the State Defence Committee under the signatures of
Stalin-Chairman, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Mikoyan, Malenkov and
others. At night 14-15 of November 1944 the Internal Ministry troops
were moved there, which began massive eviction of the Meshetian Turks
to Kazakhstan and Central Asia. These troops chased all the Turks to
the village streets, dipped them into the lorries of “Studebackers”
and sent them to the nearest railway stations, in which they had
transported before that the livestock.

Imagine, that was November in Russia! it was the time of severe
frosts and snowfalls, of frosty winds, but the wagons were not heated
and the Turks had to go to the places of destination during one
month. In each carriage there were not less than 18 families, who
received 2-3 loaves of bread and a bucket of watery soup. All the
Turks went in 4 trains – all in all 112 000 and 40 000 were mobilized
for the front. After awful tribulations and sufferings in cold
carriages, in which they were without appearing in the air, they at
last arrived in Kazakhstan and Central Asia.

In Central Asia they were transfered to the regions of Mirzacol,
Sirdaria, velikoalexeevskava, and Golden Horde. And everywhere there
was an uninhabitated steppe hungry desert, called like this because
nothing could grow on its soil. As a result of the diseases and
famine in the first two months, 17000 people died and mainly children
and elderly people. At that time, when the Turks, as slaves of 20th
century, were labouring in the Hungary Steppe, the KGB spread a
rumour, that the Turks had hidden their gold and golden handicrafts
in their houses. And who will find it, will receive them for

KGB influenced animals arms with axes, picks, shovels and crow-bars
crushed everything around what could obtain the hidden treasures. But
they could not find anything, though all the houses were destroyed,
including the mosques. Nothing was left for the Meshetian Turks, who
would be able to return home.

Stalin evicted the Meshetian turks from their Motherland, and the
Uzbek nationalists killed all whom they met of children, women and
elderly. The Muslim Uzbeks were destroying all the Muslim Turks. It
happened on 10-12 of June of 1989. The masses of the Turks rushed to
railway stations, occupied the places in the trains and rushed to the
North Caucasus near to their own Meshetia. Together with them, they
took the killed children.

Today, Ahiska Turks live in 264 different regions of 13 Republics.
There are approximately 629,000 of Ahiska Turks dispersed into the
various regions of former USSR. They are without a homeland and
without any rights.

Despite all struggles, the will to return never dies.

In 1956 after 19th congress of the Communist party of the USSR and
N.Khrushev’s report at it, where he exposed tne personality cult of
Stalin, the Meshetian Turks were rehabilitated. They were allowed to
go from Kazakhstan and Central Asia to any point of the USSR, except
their Motherland – Meshetia. They decided to go to many republics and
provinces of the USSR – Azerbaijan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Naghorny
Karabagh, Chernobyl, Smolensk, Saratov, Voronesh and many others.

In order to prevent them from coming back to Meshetia the local
authorities built up a wide frontier zone, up to 78 km, and the
former one was only 2-7 km in width. They put the border barrier up
to the resort city of Borjomi. It meant, that only the local
Georgians, but not the Meshetians, could come there as there was a
passports’ regime. In each passport a person’s nationality was
written. The border guards, looking at the passports, could recognize
the Meshetians at once and refused them the visa entry.

Despite all these hardship, Meshetian Turks were not broken
psychologically and moraly. They carried out their own national
congress in Central Asia, created the Provisional Organisational
Committee under the name “Vatan” -i.e. Motherland. The main target of
this organisation is to return to their native Meshetia.

The decision to settle the Turks in all the former USSR is not the
solution to the problem of these people. It is only a superficial
surgery operation, capable to lighten the condition of a patient at a
certain stage. The main and basical for the Turks is to return to
their Motherland in Georgia. The delegates of the lst Congress of the
Turks in 1992 appealed to the General secretary of UNO Butrus Ghali
to take measures to acknowledge the rights of the Meshetian Turks
from the part of Georgia, to return to their Motherland – to
Meshetia-Java- hetia and secure them their human rights in the places
of their current existence before their return to the historical

Today, many of the survivors and their descendants are seeking to
return to their ancestral home. The Georgian government has
undertaken the task of repatriation of deported Meskhetians over
decades. There is also serious international commitment to accelerate
this process. Still, careful planning is required because this
process involves a number of complicated real-world economic,
political, social, and legal issues, as well as serious psychological
challenges. However, planning does not mean dispersing a community or
given citizenship to another country. That is why, last week’s U.S
offer to move 7000 Ahiska Muslims raise suspicion. We are all happy
to see the Ahiska Muslim brothers found a new life in Pennsylvania.
But, what about other Meskhetians. Can they move back to their
homeland or will they face deportation like Palestinians with no
right of returns.

Prof. Konstantin Matveev contributed to this article.