Meskhetian Turks

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Meskhetian Turks
Ahıska Türkleri
Total population
350,000–400,000 (2006 academic estimate)[1]
600,000 (2011 academic estimate)[2]
Current estimates: 500,000[3][4] to 600,000[5]
Regions with significant populations
 Kazakhstan 150,000[6]
 Azerbaijan 90,000–110,000[6]
 Russia 70,000–90,000[6]
 Kyrgyzstan 50,000[6]
 Turkey 40,000[7]
 Uzbekistan 15,000[7]
 Ukraine 10,000[7]
 United States 9,000[7]
 Georgia 600–1,000[6]
Azeri  · Russian  · Georgian

Meskhetian Turks also known as Meskheti Turks, and Akhaltsikhe / Ahiska Turks (Turkish: Ahıska Türkleri; Georgian: თურქი მესხები, t'urk'i meskhebi) are speakers of eastern Anatolian Turkish formerly inhabiting the Meskheti region of Georgia, along the border with Turkey. The Turkish presence in Meskhetia began with the Ottoman invasion of 1578,[9] although Turkic tribes had settled in the region as early as the eleventh and twelfth centuries.[9] As with Anatolia and the Balkans, it is important to bear in mind that those defined as 'Turks' in southern Georgia often included people whose ancestors were of non-Turkish descent but who had converted to Islam and adopted the Turkish language and identity in the Ottoman period, particularly following Lala Mustafa Pasha's Caucasian campaign that led to the Ottoman occupation of Georgia in 1578. These islamized and turkicized Christians of the South Caucasus were therefore often people whose mother-tongue was one of the dialects of Georgian, or less frequently of Armenian, Ossetian, or Pontic Greek. Upon conversion they and their descendants naturally integrated with the preexisting Muslim populations of southern Georgia who spoke dialects of Eastern Anatolian Turkish or Azeri Turkish, although significant numbers of non-Turkish origin Muslims from the region continued to use their native first languages (mainly Georgian, but also Armenian, Ossetian, or Pontic Greek) instead of adopting Turkish. However, even in these cases they are still often generically defined as Meskhetian Turks.

Today, the Meskhetian Turks are widely dispersed throughout the former Soviet Union (as well as in Turkey and the United States) due to forced deportations during World War II. At the time, the Soviet Union was preparing to launch a pressure campaign against Turkey and Joseph Stalin wanted to clear the strategic Turkish population in Meskheti who were likely to be hostile to Soviet intentions.[10] In 1944, the Meskhetian Turks were accused of smuggling, banditry and espionage in collaboration with their kin across the Turkish border;[11] nationalistic policies at the time encouraged the slogan: "Georgia for Georgians" and that the Meskhetian Turks should be sent to Turkey "where they belong".[12][13] Approximately 115,000 Meskhetian Turks were deported to Central Asia and only a few hundred have been able to return to Georgia ever since.[12]

Origins and terms[edit]

The origin of the Meskhetian is still unexplored and highly controversial. But now it seems to emerge two main directions:

  1. The pro-Turkish direction: The Meskhetians were ethnic Turks, with whom some Christians of Georgia assimilated after converting to Islam [14]
  2. The pro-Georgian direction: Georgian historiography has traditionally argued that the Meskhetian Turks, who speak the Kars dialect of the Turkish language and belong to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, are simply Turkified Georgians converted to Islam in the period between the sixteenth century and 1829 when the region of Meskheti-Dzhavakheti was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.[15]

However, Anatoly Michailovich Khazanov has argued that "it is quite possible that the adherents of this view oversimplified the ethnic history of the group, particularly if one compares it with another Muslim Georgian group, the Adzhar, who in spite of their conversion to Islam have retained, not only the Georgian language, but to some extent also the Georgian tradition culture and self-identification. Contrary to this, the traditional culture of Meshetian Turks, though it contained some Georgian elements, was similar to the Turkish one".[15] Kathryn Tomlinson has argued that in Soviet documents about the 1944 deportations of the Meskhetian Turks they were referred to simply as "Turks", and that it was after their second deportation from Uzbekistan that the term "Meskhetian Turks" was invented.[16] Furthermore, according to Ronald Wixman, the term "Meskhetian" only came into use in the late 1950s.[17] Indeed, majority of the Meskhetians call themselves simply as "Turks" or "Ahiskan Turks (Ahıska Türkleri)" referring to the region, meaning "Turks of Ahiska Region". The Maskhetians claim sometimes that the medieval Cumans-Kipchaks of Georgia (Kipchaks in Georgia) may have been one of their possible ancestors.[18]


The historical Meskheti region of Georgia.

Ottoman migration[edit]

In 1578, the Ottoman Empire conquered Meskheti, although it was not secure as part of the Ottoman Empire until 1639, when a treaty was signed and brought an end to Persian attempts to take the region.[19]

Soviet rule[edit]

1944 deportation from Georgia to Central Asia[edit]

On 15 November 1944, the then General Secretary of CPSU, Joseph Stalin, ordered the deportation of over 115,000 Meskhetian Turks from their homeland,[20] who were secretly driven from their homes and herded onto rail cars.[21] As many as 30,000 to 50,000 deportees died of hunger, thirst and cold and as a direct result of the deportations and the deprivations suffered in exile.[22][21] The Soviet guards dumped the Meskhetian Turks at rail sidings across a vast region, often without food, water, or shelter; according to the 1989 Soviet Census, 106,000 Meskhetian Turks lived in Uzbekistan, 50,000 in Kazakhstan, and 21,000 in Kyrgyzstan.[20] As opposed to the other nationalities who had been deported during World War II, no reason was given for the deportation of the Meskhetian Turks, which remained secret until 1968.[10] In was only in 1968 that the Soviet government finally recognised that the Meskhetian Turks had been deported. The reason for the deportation of the Meskhetian Turks was because in 1944 the Soviet Union was preparing to launch a pressure campaign against Turkey.[10] In June 1945 Vyacheslav Molotov, who was then Minister of Foreign Affairs, presented a demand to the Turkish Ambassador in Moscow for the surrender of three Anatolia provinces (Kars, Ardahan and Artvin).[10] As Moscow was also preparing to support Armenian claims to several other Anatolian provinces, war against Turkey seemed possible, and Joseph Stalin wanted to clear the strategic Georgian-Turkish border where the Meskhetian Turks were settled and who were likely to be hostile to such Soviet intentions.[10] Unlike the other deported Muslim groups, the Meskhetians have not been rehabilitated nor permitted to return to their homeland. In April 1970, the leaders of the Meskhetian Turkish national movement applied to the Turkish Embassy in Moscow for permission to emigrate to Turkey as Turkish citizens if the Soviet government persisted its refusal to allow them to resettle in Meskhetia. However, the response of the Soviet government was to arrest the Meskhetian leaders.[23]

1989 deportation[24] from Uzbekistan to other Soviet countries[edit]

In 1989, riots broke out between the Meskhetian Turks who had settled in Uzbekistan and the native Uzbeks.[20] Nationalist resentments against the Meskhetians who had competed with Uzbeks for resources in the overpopulated Fergana valley boiled over. Hundreds of Meskhetian Turks were dead or injured, nearly 1,000 properties were destroyed and thousands of Meskhetian Turks fled into exile.[20] The majority of Meskhetian Turks, about 70,000, went to Azerbaijan, whilst the remainder went to various regions of Russia (especially Krasnodar Krai), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan[20][25] and Ukraine.


The settlement area of Meskhetian Turks, 1926.

According to the 1989 Soviet Census, there were 207,502 Turks living in the Soviet Union.[1] However, Soviet authorities recorded many Meskhetian Turks as belonging to other nationalities such as "Azeri", "Kazakh", "Kyrgyz", and "Uzbek".[1] Hence, official censuses do not necessarily show a true reflection of the real population of the Meskhetian Turks; for example, according to the 2009 Azerbaijani census, there were 38,000 Turks living in the country; however, no distinction is made in the census between Meskhetian Turks and Turks from Turkey who have become Azerbaijani citizens, as both groups are classified in the official census as "Turks" or "Azerbaijani".[26] According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report published in 1999, that 100,000 Meskhetian Turks lived in Azerbaijan and the defunct Baku Institute of Peace and Democracy stated, in 2001, that between 90,000 and 110,000 Meskhetian Turks lived in Azerbaijan,[27][28] similarly, academic estimates have also suggested that the Meskhetian Turksish community of Azerbaijan numbers 90,000 to 110,000.[27]

More recently, some Meskhetian Turks in Russia, especially those in Krasnodar, have faced hostility from the local population. The Krasnodar Meskhetian Turks have suffered significant human rights violations, including the deprivation of their citizenship. They are deprived of civil, political and social rights and are prohibited from owning property and employment.[29] Thus, since 2004, many Turks have left the Krasnodar region for the United States as refugees. (A large population of which, nearly 2500 individuals is in Dayton, Ohio). They are still barred from full repatriation to Georgia.[30]



Meskhetian Turks are predominantly Sunni Muslims with a Shiite Muslim minority.[8]


The Meskhetian Turks speak an Eastern Anatolian dialect of Turkish, which hails from the regions of Kars, Ardahan, and Artvin.[31] The Meskhetian Turkish dialect has also borrowed from other languages (including Azerbaijani, Georgian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Russian, and Uzbek) which the Meskhetian Turks have been in contact with during the Russian and Soviet rule.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Aydıngün et al. 2006, 1.
  2. ^ Seferov & Akış 2011, 393.
  3. ^ Today's Zaman (15 August 2011). "Historic Meskhetian Turk documents destroyed". Today's Zaman. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Kanbolat, Hasan (7 April 2009). "Return of Meskhetian Turks to Georgia delayed". Today's Zaman. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  5. ^ Assembly of Turkish American Associations (5 February 2008). "ATAA and ATA-SC Visit Ahiska Turks in Los Angeles". Today's Zaman. Retrieved 21 February 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Aydıngün et al. 2006, 13.
  7. ^ a b c d Aydıngün et al. 2006, 14.
  8. ^ a b Aydıngün et al. 2006, 15.
  9. ^ a b Aydıngün et al. 2006, 4.
  10. ^ a b c d e Bennigsen & Broxup 1983, 30.
  11. ^ Tomlinson 2005, 107.
  12. ^ a b Kurbanov & Kurbanov 1995, 237.
  13. ^ Cornell 2001, 183.
  14. ^ Helmut Glück: Metzler Lexikon Sprache, 2005, p. 774
  15. ^ a b Khazanov 1995, 195.
  16. ^ Tomlinson 2005, 111.
  17. ^ Wixman 1984, 134.
  18. ^ Yunusov, Arif. The Akhiska (Meskhetian Turks): Twice Deported People. "Central Asia and Caucasus" (Lulea, Sweden), 1999 # 1(2), p. 162-165.
  19. ^ Tomlinson 2005, 110.
  20. ^ a b c d e UNHCR 1999b, 20.
  21. ^ a b Minahan 2002, 1240.
  22. ^ Polian 2004, 155.
  23. ^ Bennigsen & Broxup 1983, 31.
  24. ^ citation needed
  25. ^ UNHCR 1999b, 21.
  26. ^ The State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan. "Population by ethnic groups". Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  27. ^ a b UNHCR 1999, 14.
  28. ^ NATO Parliamentary Assembly. "Minorities in the South Caucasus: Factor of Instability?". Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  29. ^ Barton, Heffernan & Armstrong 2002, 9.
  30. ^ Coşkun 2009, 5.
  31. ^ a b Aydıngün et al. 2006, 23.


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  • Barton, Frederick D.; Heffernan, John; Armstrong, Andrea (2002), Being Recognised as Citizens, Commission on Human Security 
  • Bennigsen, Alexandre; Broxup, Marie (1983), The Islamic threat to the Soviet State, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0-7099-0619-6 .
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  • Coşkun, Ufuk (2009), Ahiska/Meskhetian Turks in Tucson: An Examination of Ethnic Identity, University of Arizona 
  • Cornell, Svante E. (2001), Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, Routledge, ISBN 0-7007-1162-7 .
  • Council of Europe (2006), Documents: working papers, 2005 ordinary session (second part), 25–29 April 2005, Vol. 3: Documents 10407, 10449-10533, Council of Europe, ISBN 92-871-5754-5 .
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  • Robert Conquest, The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities (London: Macmillan, 1970) (ISBN 0-333-10575-3)
  • S. Enders Wimbush and Ronald Wixman, "The Meskhetian Turks: A New Voice in Central Asia," Canadian Slavonic Papers 27, Nos. 2 and 3 (Summer and Fall, 1975): 320-340
  • Alexander Nekrich, The Punished Peoples: The Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978) (ISBN 0-393-00068-0).
  • Emma Kh. Panesh and L. B. Ermolov (Translated by Kevin Tuite). Meskhetians. World Culture Encyclopedia. Accessed on September 1, 2007.

External links[edit]