(A brief review of the problem)

On the night of 15 November 1944, the Soviet authorities carried out a strictly secret special operation in five provinces of Southern Georgia: 220 villages of Meskheti region were emptied during that night. About 90 or 120 thousand people were driven into the freight cars and banished from their homeland without any explanation. Tens of thousands of people perished from diseases, hunger, cold, shortage of air and insanitariness on the way during a month. The guards threw the corpses from the carriages of the train going through without a stop.
The Meskhis were settled in Uzbekistan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan without a right to go back. The deportation was conducted under the Decree #6279 of 31 October 1944 issued by the USSR State Committee of Defence – it was then that the female Meskhis were fighting in the World War II.

92% of the deported were ethnic Georgians; the others were Kurds, Hamshils, Taraqamas and Karapapakhis.

On 27 April 1999, Georgia became a member of the European Council, however, had to accept certain conditions. In particular, under the Amendment 6 to the PACE Recommendation, Georgia assumed obligations to provide a legislative basis for the rehabilitation, repatriation and integration of the deported population within two years after the ratification of the mentioned document, to start repatriation after three years and to complete the process within 12 years.

Only after that Georgia considered it possible to apply Article 27 of the “Nationality Law of Georgia” with regard to the repatriates. The named Article empowers the President, to grant citizenship individually as an exception to a certain person. In that way, 34 repatriates received citizenship in 1998-1999.

Below is given a list of chief problems concerning the reintegration of the population deported from Southern Georgia in 1944:

1. Special commission formed on 14 March 1999 under the Decree # 104 enacted by the President of Georgia, which, according to the recommendations of the PACE, had assumed the responsibility to prepare all necessary legislative acts for reintegration of the deported and to submit them to the government, failed to fulfill the task.

2. Regardless of the international agreement reached in Vienna in 1999, above 100 Meskhetian repatriates cannot receive citizenship of Georgia. Georgia has not ratified the Convention of 1961, which stipulates the decrease of the number of citizens not enjoying the civic rights. No mechanism of granting citizenship to the deported Meskhetians has been worked out in Georgia. Granting of citizenship by the order of the country’s president is not a solution to the problem, as it is applied to the individuals only. In addition, this procedure is complicated and very expensive.

3. The deported Meskhetians come across obstacles on leaving another country’s citizenship for acquiring the citizenship of Georgia. It would be more expedient to take into consideration the experience of deciding the analogous problems in the case of the Crimean Tatars deported earlier, and namely: the agreement between the Ukraine and Uzbekistan on simplified procedure of leaving the citizenship of Uzbekistan with acquiring the citizenship of the Ukraine. It would be rational for Georgia to conclude treaties with Azerbaijan, Russia, Uzbekistan and other states from which the repatriation of the Meskhetians is expected.

4. One of the most effective instruments of successful reintegration of the Meskhetians into Georgian society is restoration of their former last names. Unfortunately, the procedure of restoration of the former surnames is complicated, and the expenses are unaffordable for the majority of Meskhetian families. This hampers the process of their integration into society, and frequently makes them sensible to the feeling of inferiority causing their isolation and estrangement.

5. Despite the fact that development of the Georgian language is one of the priorities of the State, not all the Meskhetians have an access to be taught to it. It is not difficult to see how much the process of their integration is slowed down because of lack or insufficient knowledge of the Georgian language. When working out the state programs of short-term and long-term repatriation-integration of the Meskhetians it is necessary to envisage the organization of special Georgian-language teaching courses for different categories of the repatriates.

6. Judging by the results of inquiry, the non-governmental organizations carry authority with the Meskhetian repatriates. Therefore, the potential of NGOs should be taken into consideration when working on the problem of repatriation.

7. The government has drafted a bill on repatriation, in which the position of a number of NGOs, including the ones of the Meskhetians working in Georgia has been ignored. Therefore, the bill on repatriation of the Meskhetians has been drafted infringing the European standards on human rights and has acquired a discriminative character. In particular, it does not provide for recognition of the Meskhetians as victims of political repressions under the Soviet regime. The bill was sent back by the Council of Europe for alteration. But it is not known where it is at present.

8. The problem of the deported Meskhetians’ repatriation should be solved on the basis of collective responsibility of the States, in which the deported Meskhis live at present.

9. One of the principal obstacles on the way of repatriation of the deported people is “an image of enemy” made of the Moslem Meskhetians by the radical nationalists, politicians and journalists (headed by Zviad Gamsakhurdia) since 1989. It is the “image of enemy”, which causes disorientation of Georgian society regarding this question.

This year is 5 years of Georgia’s integration into the Council of Europe. Georgia has assumed an obligation to settle the problem of repatriation of the deported Meskhetian population within 12 years. However, taking into consideration the complicated political and economic situation in the country, the Council of Europe admits reconsideration of the terms of repatriation. Georgia, on its part, does not refuse to meet its engagements. Therefore, repatriation of the deported Meskhetian population, sooner or later, will be realized.

Georgia should be seriously making ready for resolution of this problem not to lay a burden of unsettled debt on the future generations.

First, we have to help the innocent people who had been punished for nothing to heal their spiritual trauma through moral compensation, and the best manifestation of that will be the recognition of the Meskhetian peoples’ deportation as an outrage upon humanity. The deported people should be declared the victims of political repressions.

Naira Gelashvili, Writer
Head of the “Caucasian House”
Clara Baratashvili, Journalist
Union of the Descendants of Latifsha Baratashvili “Patria”, 2004