Discrimination Community Rights Indigenous Peoples

Meskhetian Turks: Would the Historical Justice be Ever Restored?

05.09.2023  |  Georgia  |  Submitted by: Interregional Public Organization of Meskhetian Turks "Vatan"


Forcefully deported from their homeland to Central Asia in 1944 and fleeing from Uzbekistan after the 1989 outbreak of violence in the Ferghana Valley, the minority of the Meskhetian Turks is currently living dispersed in nine different countries: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and the United States. In 1999, when Georgia became a member of the Council of Europe (CoE), it made a commitment to repair the historical injustice and to return the forcibly evicted Meskhetian Turks to their homeland. However, this commitment has not been fulfilled. By 2011 only about 2000 members of the community succeeded in relocating back to Georgia, most of whom returned on their own. Many of the remaining beyond the state borders between 350 000 and 400 000 people, according to the estimates,[1] are still struggling to get back to Georgia, considering it their country of origin and seeking support from international institutions, governments, and non-governmental organisations to restore their rights.

The article introduces the case of the Meskhetian Turks and puts forward some issues seen as problematic by the members of the minority. It has been prepared based on materials provided by the Interregional Public Organization of Meskhetian Turks "Vatan" and additional sources.


Who are the Meskhetians Turks

The Meskhetian Turks are viewed as an indigenous minority group of the region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Located in South-Western Georgia, the mountainous region with plains at 1500-2000 meters above sea level borders Armenia and Turkey. Historically, this land was a part of the Georgian Kingdom until the 16th century when it was integrated into the Safavid Empire and the Ottoman Empire, thereafter. With the end of the Russo-Persian War of 1826-28, it came under Russian power, and in 1918, when the Democratic Republic of Georgia was established, it became again a Georgian territory. From 1921 until 1991, the region belonged to the Georgian SSR.

The years-long debate about the ethnic origin of the Meskhetian Turks centres around the question of whether the minority is ethnically Turkish or whether they are decedents of Georgians who centuries ago converted to Islam and have adopted the Turkish language.[2] Similarly, different terms are used both by politicians and minority members to refer to the group identity – the most popular being Meskhetians, Ahıska Turks, and Meskhetian Turks. The term Meskhetian Turks first emerged in the 1960s but came into wide use after the 1989 violence against the minority in Uzbekistan and the flow of more than 70 000 refugees to other Soviet republics attracted the attention of the international community.


Historic Overview

In 1944, in accordance with the decree of the USSR State Defense Committee No. 6279ss "On the resettlement of Turks, Kurds, and Khemshins from the border zone of the Georgian SSR" more than 100,000 Muslims being declared “untrustworthy populations” were placed in cattle cars and deported from the region to Central Asia. Many of them did not survive the road and four years after the deportation, the Meskhetian Turks were 15-20% less in numbers.[3]

Until the collapse of the USSR, both the Soviet leadership and the Georgian SSR obstructed the attempts of the minority representatives to return to their homeland. Twice a month, each Turk had to report to the local warden. It was forbidden to leave one's village even for a short time without permission. Violating this restriction was punishable by imprisonment or exile to Siberia for 25 years. This made it impossible for young people to find a spouse in a village other than their own.

When Georgia regained its independence in 1991, it also had to address the issue of the restoration of the rights of the Meskhetian Turks, their return, and rehabilitation. The reluctance of the re-emerged state forced the minority representatives to seek international support for their cause, involving structures of the UN and the Council of Europe. After a range of consultative meetings held in 1998 in the Hague and in 1999 in Vienna, organized by the Offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, in which representatives of the Governments of Georgia, Russia, Azerbaijan, and the International Organization of Meskhetian Turks “Vatan” participated, an agreement "On complete political rehabilitation" was reached.

Joining the Council of Europe in 1999, Georgia undertook the obligation to develop a legislative framework for repatriation and integration of the population deported from its territory, to start the process of repatriation and integration, and to complete the processes by 2011. Nevertheless, Georgia has not initiated the repatriation process for years. Only after several resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in 2007 the law "On the repatriation of persons forcibly resettled from the Georgian SSR in the 40ies of the XX century by the authorities of the former USSR" was adopted by the Georgian parliament. The law has initially given only one year for submission of repatriation applications from those wishing to return to Georgia. However, prolonging the deadline several times, on January 1, 2010, the procedure was finally closed. As a total, 5841[4] applications were submitted but only about 2000 were approved. Yet, a significant number out of the total of about 400,000 people remaining abroad are still struggling to return and regain their rights as citizens of Georgia.

FUEN has been actively engaged with the provision of support to the cause of the Meskhetian Turks and their rightful claims for repatriation. The first initiative was a Fact-Finding-Missions to Tbilisi in the years 1998/99. The president of Georgia at that time, Eduard Shevardnadze, promised to solve the problem within a period of 12 years. In 2016, aiming to draw international attention to the lack of an efficient solution to the case, FUEN held a Dialogue Forum for a Stable Future event in Flensburg for the minorities of the Caucasus. The conclusions made by the FUEN Honorary-President, Hans Heinrich Hansen that over the years not much has happened in favor of the Meskhetian Turks, was another call to the international community and to the government of Georgia to effectively implement the minority rights that the Georgian state has abided to. In 2023, for a consecutive year, the FUEN Congress adopted the resolution proposed by the Meskhetian minority and expressed its firm support for their desire to return to their homeland.  


                                       Photo: NGO Vatan


The challenged return of Meskhetian Turks


Ineffective legislative framework

According to representatives of the Meskhetian Turks, the law on repatriation is rather formal and not supportive of the process of repatriation.[5] This, in their opinion, nullified the efforts of all international organizations to resolve the issue with the return of the forcibly deported Georgia people and their descendants.

One of the major challenges before resolving the problem with the efficient rehabilitation of deported people is the legislative framework. Despite the Law “On the repatriation of persons forcibly resettled from the Georgian SSR in the 40ies of the XX century by the authorities of the former USSR” declares the goal of creating legal mechanisms for the return to Georgia of persons forcibly resettled by the former USSR and their descendants and the adherence to the principles of restoring historical justice,[6] there are no real implementation mechanisms in place.

The Law does not provide for unconditional return and rehabilitation of the rights of the deported people and does not restore the unconditional right to citizenship, but imposes many conditions for such to be obtained.

Despite the Hague (1998), Vienna (1999) agreements between the Georgian authorities and the representatives of the minority organisations, and the subsequent repeated recommendations of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities and the Council of Europe on the need to rehabilitate deported people, Georgia has still not recognised them as victims of political repression. Neither the law “On the repatriation of persons forcibly resettled from the Georgian SSR in the 1940s by the authorities of the former USSR”, nor the law “On the acknowledgment of citizens of Georgia as victims of political repression and social protection of repressed persons”[7] does not reflect the case of the Meskhetian Turks and does not provide for any rehabilitation procedure for the repressions effected on ethnic grounds.

The low efficiency and shortcomings of this Law “On the repatriation of persons forcibly resettled from the Georgian SSR in the 1940s by the authorities of the former USSR” have been criticised by international institutions for years. In 2008, a year after its adoption, PACE issued a Resolution[8] providing recommendations for the need for the full implementation of the previous Resolutions, in particular Resolution 1428 (2005)[9].

In 2022, the problem was also noted in the Report on Georgia by the Public Defender of Georgia for the 108th session of the UN Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).[10] Recognising the adoption of laws and measures aimed at facilitating the repatriation of the forcibly deported from Georgia people, the UN CERD Recommendations (2022),[11] also paid attention to the Georgian authorities that the low number of returnees reflects problems, including the difficulty for the persons to renounce their existing citizenship as required by Georgian law). The Committee recommended that the State party facilitate the voluntary return, the acquisition of citizenship of the returnees, in particular Meskhetian Turks, and support their integration into Georgian society.[12]


The application process

In the ninth and tenth periodic reports submitted by Georgia to the UN CERD, the government has reported that 5841 applications for repatriation were submitted.[13] According to data gathered by the public organizations of Meskhetian Turks,[14] the applications amounted to more than 15,400 (13,400 from people living in Azerbaijan and about 2,000 applications from Russia). Having in mind that the applications were submitted by one of the family members, it means that about 50-60 thousand people expressed their desire to return to Georgia. However, according to the data of the Interregional public organisation “Vatan” none of them received real citizenship. 

As the Fourth report of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the  Protection of National Minorities states, applicants had had a “reasonable time and opportunity to apply for repatriate status to the state” but most of the applications were submitted with flaws.[15] According to the representatives of the minority, however, the time was insufficient. In addition to the time-limits pressure and the difficult conditions for submitting applications led to the situation that many documents were not prepared according to the requirements.[16] The full package of documents required the inclusion of more than 14 different certificates, including a document (documents) certifying the fact of the forced resettlement. The complexity of the application form - compulsory to be filled in in Georgian or English and the extremely low level of awareness of the minority representatives dispersed throughout the post-Soviet and other countries and living mainly in rural areas created additional obstacles. Furthermore, there were significant financial costs associated with the process of document collection. As a result, only 1,998 people were approved for repatriation status, and only 494 people received conditional citizenship.


The state strategy for repatriation

In 2014, Georgia adopted a state strategy for the repatriation of persons internally displaced by the former USSR from the Georgian SSR in the 1940s.[17] However, it has not been supported by an action plan or implementation mechanisms. As a result, repatriates faced integration problems, such as a lack of understanding by the majority of the population of the historical reasons for their return or language barriers in accessing education or employment.

The strategy emphasized the need to preserve the cultural identity of repatriates, while at the same time pointing out the need for them to know the state language of Georgia, which in fact allows the government to open Georgian language courses and access to educational resources for repatriates. The preservation of cultural identity however is viewed by the minority representatives, who in fact do not possess a minority status in Georgia, as challenged. An example is that the authorities refrain from using the term Meskhetian Turks because “the term is not mentioned either in Georgian legislation or in any international document”.[18]


Challenged integration 

A major challenge before the returnees, including those who returned at their own initiative as “self-repatriates”, was and still is the integration into Georgian society. Many of the returnees were treated as foreign citizens having neither a repatriate status nor Georgian citizenship. The lack of an official legal status creates difficulties in access to education, employment, and housing. These people are forced to leave and enter Georgia once a year to legalize their position in the country. The cases of aggression and physical attacks based on ethnic grounds, which are occurring even nowadays,[19] are an additional challenge to the representatives of the Meskhetian minority.


Preventing minority social activists from entering the country

Georgian authorities have resorted to the practice of banning entry into the country for activists of Meskhetian organizations from other countries. In May 2019, the chairman of the public association of Akhaltsikhe Turks living in Azerbaijan (ATVIB) Ismail Rakhimov, and his assistant Emil Rakhimov were refused the right to enter the country on the grounds of “other cases provided for by the legislation of Georgia”.[20] In June 2019, the same happened to the chairman of the interregional public association "Vatan," Zhavid Aliyev. These refusals interrupted the negotiation process between representatives of public organizations of the deported Georgia peoples and the Georgian authorities on repatriation issues. These public figures are still not allowed to enter Georgia. Lastly, in May 2023, the President of the Ahiska Turkish American Council (USA) Aydin Mamedov, and the deputy chairman of the Interregional public organization "Vatan" Abubekir Kurshumov were denied entry to Georgia, who were on their way to a meeting with the delegation of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities that was on a visit to Tbilisi.


Restoring the historical justice

According to the Interregional Public Organization of Meskhetian Turks "Vatan", the following steps are needed for historical justice to be restored:

The Georgian authorities should fulfill their obligations on the issue of repatriation and integration of the population deported from its territory

The Government of Georgia should begin the process of rehabilitation of the people repressed on its territory with the adoption of the necessary legislative measures to restore the rights of the illegally deported population.

The legislative mechanisms on repatriation should be updated, considering reasonable, real procedures and conditions for return, with the creation of permanent mechanisms and structures responsible for the implementation of the developed procedures for the rehabilitation and return of those who wish. As part of this structure, it is imperative to provide for the participation of representatives of deported peoples, including at least one representative of public organizations of Meskhetian Turks from nine countries of residence (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, USA, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Ukraine). The composition and principles of work of this structure should be open and controlled by the public.

The legal mechanism for repatriation should provide for:

- the right to return to their homeland for everyone (and family members) who can provide documents confirming their residence in one of the five regions of Georgia (Akhaltsikhe, Adigen, Aspindza, Akhalkalaki, Bogdanovsky) at the moment of deportation (November 15, 1944) or is a direct descendant of these persons. This right should not be limited in time and should also be carried out according to a simplified procedure specially developed for such repatriates. This right should be unconditional from the point of view of individual self-identification.

- the exemption of repatriates from customs duties on property upon relocation.

- the right of second citizenship to persons applying for citizenship of Georgia under the Law on Repatriation, in the same way as all citizens of Georgia have this right, in accordance with the adopted amendments to the Constitution, which have been in force since December 16, 2018.




[1] Aydıngün, Ayşegül & Balim, Cigdem & Hoover, Matthew & Kuznetsov, Igor & Swerdlow, Steve. (2006). Meskhetian Turks: an introduction to their history, culture and resettlement experiences, p.3; available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45666400_Meskhetian_Turks_an_introduction_to_their_history_culture_and_resettlement_experiences

[2] ibidem

[3] Ibidem, p.6

[4] Ninth and tenth periodic reports submitted by Georgia under article 9 of the Convention, due in 2020* **

[Date received: 30 June 2020] https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD%2fC%2fGEO%2f9-10&Lang=ru   

[5] Interregional Public Organization of Meskhetian Turks "Vatan"

[6] Law of Georgia on the Repatriation of Persons Involuntarily Displaced by the Former USSR from the Georgian SSR (The Soviet Socialist Republic Of Georgia) in the 1940's, Parliament of Georgia, Article 1 Preamble https://www.matsne.gov.ge/en/document/view/22558?publication=6

[7] Law of Georgia on the Acknowledgment of Citizens of Georgia as Victims of Political Repression and Social Protection of Repressed Persons, Parliament of Georgia, https://matsne.gov.ge/en/document/view/31408?publication=11

[8] PACE Resolution 1603 (2008) Honouring of obligations and commitments by Georgia, https://pace.coe.int/en/files/17629/html

[9] PACE Resolution 1428 (2005) The situation of the deported Meskhetian population https://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-en.asp?fileid=17312&lang=en

[10] Written Submission for 108th session (14 November - 2 December 2022) of the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by the National Human Rights Institution – the Public Defender of Georgia https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=2557&Lang=en

[11] CERD, Concluding observations on the combined ninth and tenth periodic reports of Georgia, 2022 https://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=6QkG1d%2FPPRiCAqhKb7yhsuh9J2cqmL1NA4hM%2B%2FajGw70MM4S48bnga8jd9t3rQf3etLs4QawzPXXqx1r1fiPKoERDzzJuVyZ%2BHdblb%2FPXOBVVjqfK4yJ%2Ffdqz8MIG0pCKOw1hjpAyzuBukuefT6dbw%3D%3D

[12] Concluding observations on the combined ninth and tenth reports of Georgia/ CERD/C/GEO/CO/9-10/2 December 2022 https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=2557&Lang=en

[13] Ninth and tenth periodic reports submitted by Georgia under article 9 of the Convention, due in 2020* **

[Date received: 30 June 2020] https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD%2fC%2fGEO%2f9-


[14] Public Association of Akhaltsikhe Turks living in Azerbaijan - "Vatan," Interregional Public Organization of Meskhetian Turks of the Russian Federation "Vatan"

[15] ACFC, Fourth Report Submitted by Georgia, 31 July 2022, ACFC/SR/IV(2022)001, https://rm.coe.int/4th-sr-georgia-en/1680a78b0c

[16] Interregional Public Organization of Meskhetian Turks "Vatan"

[17] Interregional Public Organization of Meskhetian Turks "Vatan"

[18] Concluding observations on the combined sixth to eighth periodic reports of Georgia. Addendum. Information received from Georgia on a follow-up to the concluding observations [Date received: 14 December 2017] https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CERD%2fC%2fGEO%2fCO%2f 6-8%2fAdd.1&Lang=ru

[19] On the night of August 5, 2020, a group of young people attacked the household of the Mardaliev family. The attackers, shouting insults on ethnic grounds, smashed the Mardalievs' car and threatened the life and health of family members. The Mardaliev family moved to Georgia from Azerbaijan in 2014 in accordance with the general procedure, without falling under the “mechanisms of repatriation.” Referring to the head of the family, they failed to obtain citizenship and were issued only a residence permit. In hot pursuit, several suspects of this crime were detained, but soon they were all released. According to media reports citing the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the country, a criminal case was initiated under the article on intentional damage to property (Article 187 of the Criminal Code of Georgia). Source: Interregional Public Organization of Meskhetian Turks "Vatan"

[20] Interregional Public Organization of Meskhetian Turks "Vatan"








Bosnia and Herzegovina





More practices in