7.6 The movement of the people from Meskhetia for a return to the homeland

No 7 : 30 April 1969

On 15 November 1944 the indigenous population of Meskhetia (a southern part of Georgia) was forcibly deported. The latter was mainly formed when, from the end of the 16th to the beginning of the 17th century, the Meskhi Georgians gradually adopted the Turkish language and became converted to Islam. The all-union census of 1929 officially described them as Turks, and schools using Turkish were opened in the province.

In 1935-1936 the people were suddenly renamed Azerbaijanis, and teaching was transferred to the Azerbaijani language. But on 15 November 1944 they were once again stated to be Turks and deported to Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Apart from the Meskhi Georgians, the following were deported from Meskhetia:  the Karapapakhi Azerbaijanis, the Islamicized Khemshinli Armenians, and the Turkicized Kurds and the Meskhetian Turkmens, who also call themselves Turks. Common’ misfortune brought these varying ethnic groups together and welded them into one people.

The deportation took place on the pretext that evacuation to safe areas was necessary because of the supposedly advancing Germans. It was promised that the people would be returned to their homelands after the war. The tragic circumstances of this deportation are similar to those surrounding the history of the Crimean Tatars and the peoples of the North Caucasus. A few months after the deportation, the regime for deported exiles – the same as that for peoples accused of being “traitors” – was imposed upon all areas where the “temporarily deported peoples” had been put. The deported, who had left their homes, property and livestock behind, perished in the alien climate from starvation and cold.  In Uzbekistan alone 50,600 people died. A particularly large number of Turks died while transforming the Hungry Steppe [south of Tashkent] into the flowering region of Gulistan. Those returning to Meskhetia from the front, including Heroes of the Soviet Union and those with medals, were not allowed back.

*

The decree of 31 October 1956 [1] promulgated by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, lifted the regime for deported exiles. The right to return home, however, and compensation for confiscated property were not accorded to them. At the end of 1956 and the beginning of 1957, representatives went to Moscow to obtain permission for their people to return home. In answer the Meskhi were announced to be Azerbaijani and were “given permission” to “return” to Azerbaijan: they were recruited for the cultivation of the Mugan Steppe [300 miles east of Meskhetia]. Many went there hoping to be nearer their homeland and to return there in the end.

A letter from the people as a whole, demanding permission to return to their homeland and sent to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, was handed over to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian Republic and from there to the KGB, attached to the Council of Ministers in Georgia. The KGB, in general, is a body which does not have the right to decide this question; but the head of the KGB, [Alexei] Inauri, wrote that, in accordance with the decree of 31 October 1956, promulgated by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the people had not been granted permission to return to the area from which they had been deported in 1944.

Over a period of a few years, the people’s representatives, who had formed a Temporary Committee for the Return of the People to their Homeland, travelled to Moscow and Tbilisi and obtained interviews with the highest party and government authorities.  In 1963 they encountered understanding and humanity in the 2nd secretary of the Central Committee of the Georgian Party, Zemlyansky, who said that he had known nothing about this terrible mistake and would immediately exert pressure to obtain permission for their people to return home. He also said that conditions should be created so as to make them forget their suffering. But this single defender of the Meskhi died a few months later [23 September 1963:  see Zarya Vostoka, 24 September 1963].

Further visits by representatives to the reception-rooms of Moscow and Tbilisi were fruitless, or indefinite answers were given to get rid of them, or they received an answer such as the following from Sklyarov, head of the reception-room of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR:  “I will not give your documents to Comrade Brezhnev, nor will he receive you; go home and get on with some work.” The Meskhi turned to Georgian writers, journalists, cultural workers and found moral support, but none of them could give them any real help – in addition those who took up the cause of the persecuted people were frequently subjected to censure by official bodies.

On 15 February 1964 the First  Meeting of the People took place at the “Leninist Path” collective farm (Bukinsk district, Tashkent Region). Representatives of the Central Committee of the CPSU and of the Central Committees of the Union republics, representatives from the Union and republican governments, from regional and district Party committees were invited to attend, but only some unidentified people in mufti appeared, who tried to prevent the delegates from assembling. Nevertheless, more than 600 delegates from Central Asia, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus with mandates from local assemblies of the people representing the whole, 200,000-strong nation, took part in the meeting. Speeches were made on the early history of the people, on their present situation and on the organisation of work. A petition to the Party and government was drawn up. A Temporary Organising Committee for the return of the people to their homeland was elected. The historian, Enver Odabashev (Khoaravanadze), was chosen as president. 125 representatives were selected to go to Moscow. A complete record of the meeting was sent to Party and government leaders. Up till now, 26 meetings of representatives of the whole people have been held.

On the occasions when the people’s representatives visited Moscow, they were informed that it would be far better to get the question settled in Tbilisi. In Tbilisi they were told that only the Soviet government could make the decision. In the autumn of 1964, the delegates were summoned to the Georgian KGB building, and an unidentified Lieutenant-colonel announced that the question would be decided at the beginning of 1965. The sole purpose of this announcement was to send the delegates back to Central Asia.

The KGB of the Central Asian republics would take their own measures: house arrest of representatives  when they should have been leaving; talks with participants of the movement when alternatively bribes were offered and threats made. In the Party committee of Kantsky district [of the Kirghiz SSR] Polikanov, the district Party secretary, Kurmanov, deputy president of the Kirgiz KGB, and four unnamed men, talked to Alles Izatov, a candidate member of the Party and secretary of the Komsomol committee in the Frunze agricultural college. As a result of refusing to dissuade the people from writing to and visiting Moscow Izatov was not made a Party member. KGB workers also tried out every method of wrecking the people’s regular meetings.

In March 1966, Alles Izatov and Enver Odabashev planned to fly to Tbilisi. After fruitless talks with them and attempts to prevent them reaching the airport, a provocation was organised.  After they had checked in at the airport, some lieutenant-colonel or other advanced upon them and tore up their tickets and boarding cards; all this aroused the indignation of the surrounding people The police detained a few members of the angry. crowd as well as Izatov and Odabashev who remained calm.  On the following day all the rest were released, but these two were tried for “petty hooliganism” and given 15 days in prison: at the people’s court in the Lenin district [in Frunze] the judge was Turin; the case was heard without assessors.

In 1967 the people’s representatives were promised that their question would be considered after the 50th anniversary of the October revolution.

In April 1968 the 22nd national meeting, with over 6,000 delegates was held in Yangiyul [near Tashkent]. The meeting took place while army detachments, police with truncheons and fire-engines surrounded it, but it ended without disorder. On their return journey, the police began detaining participants and despatching them to Tashkent. Thirty people spent from 2-6 months in preventive detention cells.

On 30 May 1968 a resolution of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was promulgated to the effect that citizens of Turkish, Kurdish and Azerbaijani nationality, who had been deported from Akhaltsikhsky, Aspindzsky, Akhalkalakskly and Adigensky districts and from the Adzhar ASSR benefited from the same rights as all other citizens of the USSR; but these people had by now put down roots in those republics where they now lived, and needed to have created for them there conditions which took into consideration their national peculiarities.

After the promulgation of the resolution, the people once again sent their representatives to Moscow in order to gain permission for an organised re-settlement in their home country.  No one would receive them.  On 24 July 1968 7,000 delegates converged on Tbilisi and gathered at government, house demanding an interview. They were met by volunteer police, by police with truncheons, and by army detachments.  The delegates, including even women, were beaten up.  They were searched for weapons.  The delegates refused to be provoked:  they did not get involved in fights but neither did they disperse. Finally, on 26 July, the first secretary of the Georgian Central Committee, Mzhavanadze, received a few of them and said that there was no room in Meskhetia for its indigenous population, that other districts in Georgia could accept them, but then only a hundred families per year; however, if they insisted on having their way, then they must apply to Moscow.

In August 1968 B. D. Yakovlev received the delegates in the Moscow Central Committee reception room, saying that the leadership was at present engaged in more serious matters and would only be able to examine their question in two months time; when this happened they would be informed. When they heard nothing, the delegates arrived in Moscow in November, and then once again they were sent from one reception room to another, while the following type of argument started being repeated more and more often: “The Soviet Union is your homeland; the place where you live is your home; live and get on with some work.”

An exiled people cannot agree with this false argument. The people’s movement for the restoration of historical justice continues.