The ECMI Synergy Wheel © spins perfectly in Georgia
Our Meskhetian problem preoccupation illustrates how the ECMI synergy approach works in practice
By Tom Trier, ECMI Caucasus
As of early 2012, some 8,900 Meskhetians have applied for repatriation and so far the Georgian authorities have granted repatriation status to about 200 families. ECMI is deeply engaged.
ECMI’s preoccupation with what has become known as the so-called ‘Meskhetian problem’ in the past decade may serve as an illustration of how the ECMI synergy approach works in practice.
ECMI singles out the Meskhetian issue
With the establishment in 2002 of a Caucasus research department at ECMI, the ‘Meskhetian problem’, among other matters, was singled out as a key issue that needed further addressing and where ECMI potentially might have a significant impact.
An initial ECMI Working Paper was drawn up, and established a need for the conduct of more research in the field, in order to produce the necessary documentation of the problem and finding sustainable solutions to the displacement.
One of the considerations was that the ‘Meskhetian problem’ should be addressed not only by encouraging return to the territorial homeland, but also by facilitating integration in the countries where Meskhetians now lived, or in some cases, e.g. in regions where Meskhetians faced severe discrimination, even could be addressed by supporting repatriation to third countries.
This did in fact happen later, with the US processing as refugees of a large contingent of Meskhetians from Russia.
Mapping by thorough research
Based on the initial Working Paper, ECMI with support from the Volkswagen Foundation from 2004–06 conducted a large scale research project involving a multidisciplinary team of 37 scientists covering all of the nine countries of contemporary Meskhetian settlement.
The project resulted in the publication in 2007 of a large research volume on the subject: Tom Trier & Andrei Khanzhin, The Meskhetian Turks at a Crossroads: Integration, Repatriation or resettlement? (LIT, Berlin, 2007).
The volume has later become an authoritative ressource on Meskhetian issues for practitioners in Georgia and among international organizations as well as within the academic community.
ECMI settles in Georgia
ECMI’s engagement on the Meskhetian issue initiated in 2002 was soon followed by the coming into power of a reform-oriented and pro-Western government in Georgia under the leadership of President Saakashvili.
The new government articulated a strong will to integrate Georgia into European and North-Atlantic structures. With the changing political climate in Georgia, the fulfillment of obligations and commitments to the Council of Europe again moved up on the agenda.
Under the influence of these developments, ECMI in 2004 established an office in the Georgian capital Tbilisi and embarked with the financial backing of the Danish and Norwegian Ministries of Foreign Affairs on different projects to support the building of a more ethnically inclusive society.
Action in synergy with research findings
It became possible under these action-oriented interventions also to facilitate the newly established State Minister of Georgia on Conflict Resolution Issues, who among other responsibilities was in charge of the Meskhetian issue.
Following a number of workshops and conferences with government and civil society stakeholders in 2004 and 2005 that brought attention to the question, ECMI could now facilitate the establishment of an inter-governmental working group tasked to prepare the grounds for repatriation of deported Meskhetians and draft a law on repatriation.
These action-oriented efforts worked in synergy with the findings of the large scale research project that helped to inform both government actors and the NGO community with insights into the needs and living conditions of the Meskhetian communities.
The July 2007 passing of a Law on Repatriation was a milestone in the efforts of the international community to facilitate the return of the last of Stalin’s deported people. Albeit, the law that was finally adopted was very different—and less accommodating to the needs of the Meskhetians—from the version that was initially drafted by the working group.
Subsequently, ECMI has been playing a leading role in the work of a consultation group on repatriation consisting of the Council of Europe, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the European Union, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and ECMI.
Through the consultation group, ECMI and other international organizations have provided recommendations and supported the Georgian authorities in facilitating Meskhetian returns.
Some of these recommendations—for example on providing greater awareness on the repatriation process in Meskhetian communities, awareness in the Georgian society on the right of Meskhetians to return, or on supporting the integration of the tiny communities of Meskhetians that already exist in Georgia (some 600 Meskhetian had come to Georgia in the 1960-80s against all odds)—are now being implemented by ECMI in partnership with the Spanish NGO Action Against Hunger (ACF) based on funding provided by the European Union.
Under this programme ECMI also advises the Georgian government on repatriation processes based on international best practices.
A recent book on Meskhetians produced under the project, Tom Trier, George Tarkhan-Mouravi and Forrest Kilimnik, Meskhetians: Homeward Bound…, (Tbilisi, ECMI, 2011 ), provides a comprehensive set of recommendations that is intended for practitioners in the field.
The ECMI Synergy Wheel © spins on
Throughout the entire process, ECMI has continuously maintained a two-fold approach, combining practice-oriented research with implementation action.
Lessons are being learned from the implementation of the action-programmes and generate insights and experience that is being utilized in future interventions.
It is the synergies between research, action, and European standards that together describe the ECMI Synergy Wheel ©. The synergies are core to the methodology that the ECMI applies in all projects and programmes.
New challenges will emerge already this year (2012), when Meskhetians, presumably, will start moving to Georgia. Some 8,900 Meskhetians have applied for repatriation as of early 2012, 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.