Meshketians from Stalin to 2012
The Meskhetians are a Turkish speaking population of the Muslim faith that was collectively deported from their original homeland in the Georgian Soviet Republic by Stalin during World War II.
They were forcibly resettled in three Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union, but were later, due to ethnic tension and persecution, scattered throughout vast territories of the Soviet Union. Today the around 425,000 Meskhetians live in nine countries, mostly in former Soviet republics, but also in Turkey and the USA.
While other people of the Soviet Union, who were also collectively deported during Stalin’s repression, could return to their native lands soon after the death of the dictator, the ‘Meskhetian problem’ has lingered on up until this day.
The ethnic conflicts that erupted in the early 1990s effectively barred the Meskhetians from coming back in the first years after the Soviet downfall, and in subsequent years shifting Georgian governments, overwhelmed by political, socio-economic and ethnic problems, have been dragging their feet in letting the displaced population return.
In 1999, when Georgia became a member of the Council of Europe, the newly independent state undertook an obligation to facilitate the return of the deported Meskhetians. However, little was done by the Georgian government to implement this commitment, and by 2002, the issue had dropped low on the Council of Europe’s and other international organizations priority lists in relation to Georgia.
Again, the political climate in Georgia changed. The fulfillment of obligations and commitments to the Council of Europe moved up on the agenda. A reform-oriented and pro-Western government came into power in Georgia under the leadership of President Saakashvili.
In July 2007 the Law on Repatriation marked a major step ahead for the possible return of the last of Stalin’s deported people.
As of early2012, some 8,900 Meskhetians have applied for repatriation and so far the Georgian authorities have granted repatriation status to 333 families. At least another 1,000 statuses are expected to be granted in 2012. New challenges will emerge when Meskhetiansthis year, presumably, will start moving to Georgia.