19.6 The Movement of the Meskhetians for a Return to their Homeland

No 19 : 30 April 1971

In 1969 the Chronicle reported on the Meskhetians, a population native to the southern areas of Georgia, on the history of the forcible deportation of the entire people (CCE 7.6), and on the persecution of the Meskhetians when they attempted to return to their homeland (CCE 9.7).[1] For 27 years the people of Meskhetia have been in exile, and although the deportation-regime was lifted in April 1956 the Meskhetians are still not permitted to return to the places from which they were banished in 1944.

The Muslim Meskhetians were declared to be “Azerbaijanis” and allowed to move from Central Asia and Kazakhstan to the Mugan steppe (in the Azerbaijan Republic) to develop that area, which has severe climatic conditions.

Representatives of the Meskhetians repeatedly travelled to Moscow to try to secure the right to return to their homeland. Their constant visits to government bodies in Moscow and Tbilisi were in vain.

Many families began to return to Georgia, abandoning their homes and belongings. By decision of V. P. Mzhavanadze, First Secretary of the Georgian Party Central Committee, they were sent back by force: on 13 July 1960 fifty families were deported from the Makharadze district; on 20 July 1960, fifteen families from Mikha-Tskhakaya; on 20 February 1961, 130 families from the Gali district; on 23 April 1964, ten families from the Gardabani district; and on 10 June 1969, 500 families from the Gali district.

Persecution and repression united the Meskhetian people. At their first general assembly in 1964 the Interim Steering Committee for Liberation (ISCL) was formed, headed by Odabashev, a history teacher, to campaign for the return of the people to their homeland.

On 23 March 1966 an act of provocation was staged at Frunze airport, as a result of which Odabashev and Izetov [Alles Izatov, see CCE 7.6], who had been intending to fly to Tbilisi, were put in prison.

On 26 August 1969 the 33rd delegation of the Meskhetian Turks, consisting of 120 persons, was received by Moralev at the premises of the CPSU Central Committee in Moscow. Their demands were rejected in an insulting manner. In protest the entire delegation left their passports in the Central Committee Reception Room and handed in statements renouncing Soviet citizenship. On the following day a round-up of the delegates began, and they were deported from Moscow under guard.

On 13 October 1969 Enver Odabashev, the leader of the national-liberation movement, was summoned to court for the sixth time. Meskhetians who arrived at the court-house, among them old men whom the police had removed from vehicles and who had come many kilometres on foot, were not admitted to the court-room.

Driven to desperation, members of the Committee, under the leadership of E. Odabashev, M. Niyazov, I. Kerimov and T. Ilyasov, applied on 6 April 1970 to the Turkish embassy in Moscow, with a request that all those who wished to do so should be allowed to emigrate to Turkey as citizens of the Turkish Republic.

Meeting on 2 May 1970 in the Saatly district of the Azerbaijan Republic, the 6th People’s Assembly approved this decision. The following resolution was also passed:

– to demand that the Procuracy of the USSR and the Council of Ministers initiate an investigation into the illegal deportation and 26-year exile of the original population of the Adyge, Akhaltsikhe, Aspindza, Akhalkalaki and Bogdanovka districts of Georgia, and punish those responsible;

– to request autonomy, with the formation of a Meskhetian-Turkish Autonomous Republic or Autonomous Region, with its capital in the town of Akhaltsikhe, within the Georgian Republic;

– to request the Soviet Government to provide for a normal return by the people to their homeland;

– should these demands not be met, to request the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet to allow those wishing to emigrate to Turkey to do so.

The next meeting of the Steering Committee took place on 14 February 1971. It requested the Government of the USSR to meet the national demands of the Meskhetian people.

On 15 March the Turkish embassy was handed lists of Meskhetians wishing to emigrate to Turkey if the Soviet Government should refuse them the right to live in their ancestral lands.

On 21 March 1971 a protest was submitted to Soviet government leaders. It cites numerous cases of lawlessness and of insults to the national feelings of Meskhetians. The delegates ask that their demands should be properly understood, and state that they will remain in Moscow to await a definitive solution of their national problem.

Notes

[1] See Possev: Vtoroi spetsialnyi vypusk, December 1969, also Robert Conquest, The Nation Killers, London, 1970, passim.