Ahiska Turks History

History of Ahiska Turks


During the rule of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922), Turkish settlers moved into Meskheti as part of the Turkish expansion. The resulting mix of Turkish and Meskheti populations became known as the Meskhetian Turk.

In 1958-62 the settlement of over 20,000 families was sanctioned by the government of Soviet Azerbaijan in the districts of Saatly Rayon, Sabirabad Rayon, Khachmaz Rayon and Shamkir Rayon.[9] In May 1989 a pogrom[10][11][12] of Meskhetian Turks occurred in the crowded and poor Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan as a result of growing ethnic tensions during the era of Glasnost. This triggered an evacuation of Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan. In the last years of the Soviet Union, pogroms in Uzbekistan brought the latest wave of Meskhetian Turks to Azerbaijan from 1989 onward, which settled mostly in the districts Balakan Rayon, Zaqatala Rayon, Qakh Rayon near the Georgian border. The Azerbaijani government, facing problems with its own 1 million internally displaced and external Azeri refugees from its break-away region of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, did not accept larger numbers and the further settlement of Meskhetian Turks to Azerbaijan was stopped in 1993.

In the 1990s, Georgia began to receive Meskhetian settlers, provided that they declared themselves to be of ethnic Georgian origin. One of the human rights campaigners on their behalf was Guram Mamulia. Their resettlement created tension among the Armenian population of Samtskhe-Javakheti province. Turkey, seen as their homeland by many Meskhetian Turks themselves, started a program of resettling Meskhetian immigrants in the underprivileged, Kurdish majority eastern regions of the country. This program was for fewer than 200 individuals, and fell short of expectations. The government of the Soviet Union encouraged Meskhetians to settle in selected oblasts of the Russian SSR, and most received Russian Federation citizenship in 1992. The legal status of those who moved to Krasnodar Krai, however, remained undetermined, and many were Stateless.[15] Their presence caused tensions with the local Kuban Cossack population, who, according to human rights activists, in coordination with local authorities lead prosecutions of them. Russian authorities called the stateless Meskhetians "foreigners who have no right to remain in Russia" and play down reports about Cossack violence.[16] To help resolve the situation, the International Organization for Migration implemented a program to resettle Meskhetian Turks from the Krasnodar Krai to the United States between 2004 and 2007. In cooperation with the two governments (Russia and the US), approximately 11,500 individuals departed.

Meskhetian Turkish Dialect

Meskhetian Turkish is not recognised as a separate language though ethnic Meskhetians refer to it as Ahıska Türkçäsi / Аҳыска Тÿркчäси using a variant of the Uzbek Cyrillic alphabet. For the most part, the Turkish alphabet is more widely accepted when writing, which would attempt to follow more closely with Turkish orthography and vocabulary. The majority of the older generation Meskhetian Turks received their secondary education in Uzbekistan and other former Soviet republics, therefore, when writing, the Uzbek alphabet or Kazakh alphabet, or a combination of the two is used. Meskhetian Turkish has no standardised orthography or standardised alphabet. The Mesketian Turks, especially the majority of the older generation, who settled in Azerbaijan receive their entire primary and secondary education in the Azeri language, and due to the high mutual intelligibility of Meskhetian Turkish and the Azeri language to which it is most closely related, has heavily influenced their everyday language to such an extent that they speak a mixed language,[citation needed] and, when writing, use the Azeri language and the Latin-based Azerbaijani alphabet. The younger generation of Meskhetian Turks is more integrated or assimilated into the Azerbaijani population.

Meskhetian Turkish varies in severals way from Standard Turkish in pronunciation. Over the years, Meskhetian Turkish has picked up various sounds that are not represented in the Turkish alphabet. However, it should be noted that those differentiation at the dialect occurred after the exile in 1944. For instance, the sound [q] from Uzbek, represented by the letter q or қ in the word qabul etmäk or қабул етмäк and also the Uzbek pronunciation of the sound /ʁ/ represented by ğ or ғ instead of the Turkish. In Meskhetian, there is a obvious distinction made between [æ] and [ɛ], as opposed to Turkish. In addition to /h/, Meskhetian also makes use of the sound /x/.

The term Meskhetian Turks refers to a group of peoplein Russia (especially the region of Krasnodar) who have faced a long historyof discrimination and displacement.

The traditional homeland of the Turks is the mountain region ofMeskhetia in the present day Republic ofGeorgia.  Part of the OttomanEmpire centuries ago, the region eventually became part of the Soviet Union andits large communist system.  With this long history, the Turks have a mixof cultures and traditions: Turkish language, Russian schooling, Islamic beliefs, traditionalclose-knit families, rural and urban backgrounds. 

Along with many other ethnic minorities at the time, nearly the entire Turkish population(almost 100,000 people) was forcibly moved by Stalin and hisarmy in 1944.  This move wasquite a traumatic event for the population as they were placed on crowded trainsin freezing weather and forced to leave behind their homes. Many died along the way. The group was placed in the area that is modern day Uzbekistan where they wouldhave to fend for themselves to survive.  (Most of the adults and older children arriving to the United States todaywere born in this region.)  

Unfortunately, just as the Turks were beginning to rebuild their lives in diaspora, ethnic tensions began to growbetween the newcomers and established groups in the area.  In 1989 there was a violent pogrom(a term referring to organized violence against a defenseless community) inwhich angry Uzbek mobs attacked homes and communities of the Turks.  In theface of the escalating violence, most of the Turk population fled east to Russia.  Onceagain, therefore, the Turk population was forced to leave behind the lives theyhad established and start over in areas throughout the region. 

The information in this overview comes from a  personal interviews and the report entitled MESKHETIAN TURKS: SOLUTIONS AND HUMAN SECURITY by the Open Society Institute, Forced Migration Projects.


Just after this move, however, the Soviet Union collapsed and broke into manyindividual nations. This was a significant problem because it left the Turkswithout the security of ties to any country.  While most Russian states agreed toincorporate the Turks who had moved there as citizens, others likeKrasnodar refused to grant any official recognition to the over 17,000 Turks intheir area. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan and Georgia had become their own countries and would not recognizethe families who had left as citizens either.  This circumstance essentially made the Turksstateless and without the protection of a country.

Since this time, the Turkish families have been forced to live and work asconstant "visitors" in the region of Krasnodar.  Their status assecond class outsiders affords them little protection from harassment, briberydemands, and even state-sponsored violence. Without passports and other documents, the Turksstay hidden in their homes in constant fear of being thrown in jail withoutcause or recourse. Not being allowed to hold jobs, most of the Turks have had towork as day labor in agriculture.  Xenophobic tensions towardthe Turks have grown in recent years, setting the stage for another violentconfrontation.  Based on these circumstances, the Meskhetian Turks (asthose eligible for resettlement were labeled) were finally granted refugeestatus under the US refugee program. 


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