A secret Soviet document dated 31 July 1944 stated, “In order to improve the situation at the state border of the Georgian SSR, the State Committee [on defense] has decided … to deport from the border zone of Georgian SSR … 16,700 households with a population of 86,000 Turks, Kurds and Hemshins.”

The deportees – most of whom were Meskhetian Turks, a Muslim community settled on Georgian territory – were transported to the Kazakh, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz Soviet republics. The citation from the deportation order and reams of other information on the Meskhetians are available in this 700-page book.

Thanks to Stalin’s paranoia, millions of Muslims and members of various non-Slavic ethnic groups in the Soviet Union were forcibly relocated to Central Asia during the ’30s and ’40s. It’s hard to think of any of these communities that has been victimized more often and so thoroughly ignored by the wider world as the Meskhetian Turks. Now, IWPR writes, Georgia may finally be taking action on the promise it made to the Council of Europe more than a decade ago to help repatriate the Meskhetians, who now number perhaps 400,000 to 500,000, many in Azerbaijan and Central Asia.

Clearly, however, Georgia is not capable of resettling that large a population anywhere on its territory, much less the underdeveloped Samtskhe-Javakheti region where the Meskhetians originally lived. And then there is the Armenian question, and a large dose of anti-Muslim feeling. Much of Georgia’s Armenian minority lives in Samtskhe-Javakheti and not only have they been complaining of ill-treatment for years, some are also lumping the Meskhetian Turks in with Azeris as two prongs of the “Islamization” of the region, if you believe the not always impartial PanArmenian.net site. A recent article on the site quotes one “expert” on this dire threat, and another declares that if no Armenians will remain in the region (presumably because incoming Muslims will displace them), Armenia will have to station troops to guard the border with Georgia. Funny, I didn’t think those two countries were at war.

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email: ky.krauthamer@tol.org

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