For debate in the Standing Committee — see Rule 15 of the Rules of Procedure

Doc. 10451

4 February 2005

The situation of the deported Meskhetian population


Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population

Rapporteur: Mrs Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Switzerland, Socialist Group


Meskhetian Turks were deported in 1944 from their homeland in Southwest Georgia to Central Asia by the Soviet regime. After an outbreak of violence and riots in 1989, which included attacks against Meskhetian Turks in the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan, over 70 000 Meskhetian Turks left Uzbekistan and live today dispersed in several countries: the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

The present situation of the Meskhetian population living in the Krasnodar region of the Russian Federation raises a special concern of the international community. Considering their stay as temporary, the local authorities refused to grant them permanent residence registration, the so-called "propiska". Due to the officials' unlawful refusal to grant propiska and later to recognize the people as Russian citizens, the Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar remain in legal limbo. They are deprived of basic civil, political, economic and social rights.

The return of Meskhetian Turks to Georgia is hampered by the delay in the fulfilment by Georgia of the commitment undertaken upon its accession to the Council of Europe, to adopt a legal framework permitting repatriation and integration of Meshketian Turks.

In its resolution, the Parliamentary Assembly calls on the Governments of the Russian Federation and Georgia to take urgent measures to improve the situation of the Meskhetian population and to create conditions for an early and sustainable repatriation of those Meskhetian Turks who wish to return to their native region.

I.       Draft resolution

1.       The Parliamentary Assembly is concerned by the situation of Meskhetian Turks who, as a result of the Soviet regime's ethnic policy, were forcibly removed in 1944 from their homeland in Southwest Georgia, now known as Samtskhe-Javakheti, to other parts of the then Soviet Union. After an outbreak of violence and riots in 1989, which included attacks against Meskhetian Turks in the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan, over 70 000 Meskhetian Turks left Uzbekistan and were scattered in seven different Union republics of the Soviet Union.

2.        Today, Meskhetian Turks live dispersed in several countries: the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. However, the situation of several thousand Meskhetian Turks living today in the Krasnodar region (Russian Federation) raises major concerns.

3.        After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Meskhetian Turks in the Krasnodar region were not recognized as Russian citizens and remain de facto stateless due to an arbitrary interpretation of the legislation in force at the time and contrary to the 1991 law of the Russian Federation on citizenship. Since the Meskhetian Turks are refused residence registration and are not recognized as citizens of the Russian Federation, they are deprived of basic civic, political, economic and social rights. This situation, which lasts to this day, is unacceptable. It is furthermore particularly worrying that the regional administration applies deliberate discriminatory practices against Meskhetian Turks.

4.        Moreover, the Assembly recalls that upon Georgia's accession to the Council of Europe in 1999, one of the commitments undertaken by this country included the adoption, within two years, of a legal framework permitting repatriation and integration of Meshketian Turks, including the right to Georgian nationality, the launch of a repatriation process within 3 years and its completion within 12 years.

5.       The Assembly acknowledges that some measures aimed at facilitating the return of Meskhetian Turks were taken by the Georgian authorities before Georgia joined the Council of Europe. However, the adoption of the main legal instrument, the law on repatriation of persons deported from Georgia in the 1940s by the Soviet regime, prepared with legal assistance by Council of Europe experts, is still outstanding. The Georgian authorities link the fulfilment of this commitment with the creation of appropriate conditions in the country for the return of this population.

6.       The Assembly stresses that with regard to a future repatriation of Meskhetian Turks from the Russian Federation to Georgia, the essential principle should be the free choice of those concerned. Those who wish to stay in the Russian Federation should be offered such a possibility. In any case, the Meskhetian Turks' legal status in the Russian Federation should be urgently clarified and re-established.

7.       Independently from the prospect of repatriation, the Russian authorities should ensure that the question of the Meskhetian Turks' legal status is solved and that the 1991 law on citizenship as well as the Russian Federation's Constitutional and Supreme Courts' ruling that residence registration is not a precondition for citizenship, are respected. Also, the Russian authorities should stop the regular administrative practices of discrimination against the Meskhetian Turks and bring to justice those responsible.

8.       The Assembly notes with satisfaction the commitment of the international community aimed at finding a durable solution. In particular, the efforts of the UNHCR, OSCE and IOM, including their contribution to finding resettlement opportunities in third countries for some Meshketian Turks living in most precarious conditions, are highly appreciated. In this context, it calls on the international community, and in particular on the UNHCR and IOM to ensure that any repatriation is carried out on a strictly voluntary basis.

9.       The Assembly is also concerned that no reliable data on the demographic and social situation of Meskhetian Turks is available and therefore invites the international organisations to conduct special research to obtain precise data on this issue which would significantly facilitate the further political steps to be taken to resolve the problems of Meskhetian Turks, including their return to Georgia.

10.       The Assembly calls on the Congress of Regional and Local Authorities of the Council of Europe to also keep in mind the issue of the Meskhetian population when carrying out their political dialogue with the Russian authorities following their last monitoring report on local and regional democracy in Russia.

11.       The Assembly welcomes the initiative of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to examine the situation of Meskhetian Turks in the Russian Federation and invites him to continue to follow this question.

12.       Furthermore, the Assembly:

i.       calls on the Russian authorities:

ii.       calls on the Georgian authorities to:

II.       Explanatory memorandum by Mrs Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold

1.       Introduction: historical background

1.       Meskhetian Turks, also known as Meskhetians or Akhiska Turks, constitute an ethnic group originally settled in Georgia. There is little consensus among researchers concerning the population group's origin: some claim that they are ethnic Turks, while others advocate that they are Georgians, who, in the course of history, adopted or were converted to Islam. It is estimated that their number today amounts to 260-335 000 people. Until 1944 they lived in the region of Meskhetia, currently know as Samtskhe-Javakheti, which is a part of Georgia along its border with Turkey. The region became a part of Russia in 1829 following the Russian-Turkish war. The Meskhetian Turks speak an East-Anatolian dialect of Turkish which was to some extent affected by the Georgian influence. Their traditional religion is Sunni Islam.

2.       In 1944, as a result of Stalin's policies of ethnic engineering, the Meskhetian Turks were deported along with other ethnic groups, such as the Karatchai, Balkars, Crimea Tatars2, Ingushes, Chechens and others3. According to the official statistics, around 115 000 people were forcibly displaced from the region to Central Asia (primarily to the Fergana Valley, Tashkent and Samarkand of Uzbekistan as well as south Kazakhstan) in November 1944. In the forthcoming years, the Georgian government resettled and encouraged resettlement of significant numbers to the region.

3.       In Uzbekistan, Meskhetian Turks lived under a special regime, which was lifted only in 1956. Until then they had no right to leave the area. After Stalin's death, a government decree eased their freedom of movement within the restrictions of the passport and propiska system. However, in practice they remained unable to return to southwest Georgia, because the region was considered a "border zone", and it was necessary to obtain a special permit even in order to visit the area.

4.       In the last years of the Soviet rule, in spring and summer 1989, Meskhetian Turks became victims of an outbreak of violence and riots, which included attacks on the Meskhetian Turks in the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan. The fights, which sparked off disorders in the Ferghana province (3-12 June) and to a lesser extent in Samarkand (late June), Tashkent (February 1990), Sydarya (mid-August) and Namangan (12-13 June), resulted in more than 100 people killed. The Soviet Army responded by evacuating an estimated 17 000 Meskhetian Turks from the Ferghana province and in total over 70 000 left the republic. As a result, Meskhetian Turks were scattered in seven different Union republics the Soviet Union (out of fifteen). At present there are numerous groups of Meskhetian Turks living in many CIS countries, notably in the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Kasakhstan, Kyrgysztan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

2.       Overview of the current situation

5.       It is difficult to determine precise figures of Meskhetian Turks living in different CIS countries, as in many cases ethnic groups are not registered. Also, newly independent states have no efficient system of gathering and processing statistical data, and the information provided by their statistical institutes is often unreliable.

6.       According to the research carried out by the International Historical-Enlightment and Humanitarian Society Memorial, the population of Meskhetian Turks residing on the territory of the former Soviet Union numbers between 270 000 and 345 000 people. Out of this figure, between 90 000 and 110 000 persons live in Azerbaijan, between 90 000 and 110 000 persons in Kazakhstan, between 50 000 and 70 000 in Russia, between 25 000 and 30 000 in Kyrgyzstan, between 10 000 to 15 000 in Uzbekistan, and between 5 000 and 10 000 in Ukraine. According to the UNHCR, 644 had returned to Georgia before the end of 2001.

7.       In the Russian Federation Meskhetian Turks reside mainly in the southern parts of the country (Rostov, Stavropol, Krasnodar, Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Kalmykia) and the central regions of the country (Belgorod, Voronezh, Kursk, Orel, Smolensk).

8.       The situation of 16-18 000 Meskhetian Turks living in Krasnodar region have raised major concerns in the recent years. Their legal status has not been recognized or solved, their rights are not respected and most have remained de facto stateless (see below).

9.       The large number of Meskhetian Turks living in Azerbaijan can be explained by its geographical proximity to Georgia as well as by strong cultural, religious and linguistic links with the Azerbaijani people. The first group of Meskhetian Turks arrived in Azerbaijan between 1958 and 1962. The inflow continued over the years and the numbers of migrants considerably increased after the troubles in Fergana. Meskhetian Turks live in compact settlements mostly in the area of Sabirabad and Saatly and are involved primarily in agriculture. Whereas the first wave of migrants is relatively well established and deeply integrated into the Azerbaijani economy, the newcomers face more difficulties. However, the Azerbaijani government appears to be sympathetic to the refugees and attempts to play a positive role in solving the Meskhetian Turkish issue.

10.       The republics of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are home to significant Meskhetian Turks communities. In general, there are no reports of conflict with other nationalities and ethnic groups, nor complaints of the human rights violations. The respective governments seem to be tolerant.

11.       Those Meskhetian Turks who have remained in Uzbekistan do not complain about their situation, but they are anxious about the future and possible reappearance of interethnic hostilities. The government takes measures aimed at preventing any tensions. For example it has authorised the establishment of cultural centres of national minorities. However, they have not been provided with financial resources thus their action is limited.

12.       There are no major problems in Ukraine, where Meskhetian Turks live in harmony with the indigenous population and do not complain about the violation of their rights by the authorities. However, the majority of them declare the wish to return to Georgia.

13.       There has been a large Meskhetian Turkish community living in Turkey for several centuries. The bulk of the population resides in the urban centres of Bursa and Antalya. In 1992, the Parliament adopted a law allowing the settlement of 500 Meskhetian Turkish families during two years. However, in 1993-1994 only 179 families (750 people) moved to Turkey from Russia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and the second stage of the project has never been accomplished .The government supports the view of repatriation to Georgia. At present, it is estimated that about 25 000-30 000 Meskhetian Turks live in Turkey.

3.       Main areas of concern

14.       According to the Krasnodar official statistics, approximately 20 000-25 0000 Meskhetian Turks reside in Krasnodar Krai, a southern region of Russia. They live in settlements mostly in the western (Krymsk and Abynsk districts) and south-eastern (Apsheronsk and Byelorechensk districts) parts of the region.

15.       When Meskhetian Turks fled Uzbekistan in 1989, they arrived in Krasnodar Krai as Soviet citizens without having crossed any international border. Considering their stay as temporary, the local authorities refused to grant them permanent residence registration, so called "propiska"4. Due to the officials' unlawful refusal to grant propiska and later for not recognizing the people as Russian citizens, the Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar remain in legal limbo. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, most Meskhetian Turks remain de facto stateless5.

16.       Upon their arrival in 1989, they purchased houses and plots of land from the local population including the Crimean Tatars who were massively leaving the region to return to the Crimea. However, without "propiska" they could not register their property.

17.       Being regarded as lacking legal status, Meskhetian Turks are deprived of basic civil, political, economic and social rights. They cannot be employed on a permanent basis or be involved in trade and encounter major difficulties in access to essential social services like medical care or higher education. There are frequent reports of the local administration and militias harassing the local Meskhetian Turkish population. Moreover, members of Cossack organizations are involved in acts of violence and harassment against the Meskhetian Turks.

18.       Overall, the population in the region is decreasing like elsewhere in Russia and the migration turnover to the region in 1990s is comparable to that 1980s. However, the authorities have interpreted the estimated 1 million people who received propiska within the last 12 years, including those who have moved within the region, as migrants. Although the administration headed by Alexander Tkachev has continued in essence the region's policies vis-à-vis migration he has been more vocal against the Meskhetian Turkish population in comparison to his predecessors seemingly aimed at protecting the local population. The new policies include restrictive measures concerning admission of new migrants and deportations of those who reside in the region without propiska.

19.       In February 2002, the local Legislative Assembly issued a Decree "On the additional measures to decrease tensions in inter-ethnic relations in the areas of compact settlement of Meskhetian Turks temporarily residing on the territory of Krasnodar region" followed by a Decree "On the measures to strengthen state control over migration and on administrative eviction of the persons illegally staying on the territory of the Krasnodar region" issued in March 2002. This first decree does not provide any special status for Meskhetians, it qualifies them as «stateless» and introduces the restrictive measure such as ban on processing of residence registration requests, control of registration regime, land distribution, etc. and the latter foresees a deportation of all persons without permanent local registration. However, the Federal law of July 2002 on foreigners has made the practical terms of the declarations insignificant.

20.       The question of Meskhetian Turks was officially being designated to the Governmental Migration Commission of the Russian Federation, but in practice no governmental institution is substantially addressing the issue. According to one of its decisions, Meskhetian Turks can apply for Russian citizenship under the procedure envisaged by the new Russian citizenship law, which came into force on 1 July 2002. However, only an insignificant number of Meskhetian Turks have obtained citizenship on the basis of the new law and to a large extent the region's Meskhetian Turks do not have access to the procedure. The commission ceased to exist in accordance with the Resolution of the RF Government N 215 of 16 April 2004. There was not a public decision on the transfer of functions of the commission to any other organ.

21.       In February 2004, the US Government started a resettlement program to the US for the Meskhetian Turks residing in Krasnodar Krai. As of October 2004 some 85 persons departed to the US and some 2889 cases / 8502 individuals are pre-screened and are pending further review of their applications. At the same time its is not clear what will be the situation of those Meskhetian Turks who would not be found to be eligible for the program and would remain in Krasnodar Krai after the closure of the resettlement program.

4.       Prospects for the future

22.       International attention on the issue was increased during the negotiations over Georgia's accession to the Council of Europe. The requirements which were imposed on Georgia on that occasion included the adoption, within two years after the accession, of a legal framework permitting repatriation and integration of Meskhetian Turks, including the right to Georgian citizenship, the launch of the repatriation process within three years, and its completion within 12 years. Georgia was admitted to the Council of Europe in 1999. So far it has not complied with the obligations undertaken upon its accession. Also, since 1999 the international attention has considerably subsided with regards to the issue.

23.       The problem of the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks has always been viewed with apprehension from the very establishment of the Georgian state both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Georgian authorities rejected the existing mechanism, which might have facilitated a repatriation, and they did not accede to a treaty on formerly deported people known as the Bishkek agreement signed by the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1992.

24.       Since 1993, Georgia has launched some initiatives with regards to the return of Meskhetian Turks. A state agency to handle repatriation was established in 1994, however its activities have been very limited due to lack of funds. In 1996, a presidential decree signed by President Shevardnadze, established a state commission to find a solution to the Meskhetian issue. The commission issued a blueprint that foresaw the repatriation of up to 5000 Meskhetians by 2000. To facilitate the repatriation, the blueprint called for adopting the law, which would "rehabilitate" Meskhetians, paving the way for acquisition of citizenship.

25.       However, little progress has been made towards implementation of the principles embodied in the presidential decree. The reluctance of the Georgian authorities to carry out the repatriation process has political, economic and social reasons, which are closely interrelated.

26.       The main reason is the fear generated by Georgia's recent history of interethnic strife. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Georgia has experienced two armed conflicts in Abkhazia (1992-1993) and South Ossetia (1990-1992). The multiethnic composition of the Georgian society makes many Georgians worry that the large-scale repatriation of the Muslim Meskhetian Turkish population would potentially threaten with another interethnic struggle. Moreover, the Armenian population, which resides in the region of original settlement, today known as Samtskhe-Javakheti, opposes the repatriation of a large number of Meskhetian Turks.

27.       Another reason is economic. Georgia has not recovered yet from the economic turmoil it plunged into after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The economic crisis prevents Georgian authorities from assigning any important financial resources that would obviously be necessary for any successful repatriation and integration. It has to be remembered that the country has a large number of refugees from Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as other numerous vulnerable groups living in extremely poor conditions.

28.       The international community has offered its support to Georgia. Several international organizations, in particular the Council of Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) and the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN) have become active in gathering information, providing expertise, initiating consultations and seeking solutions to the Meskhetian Turkish issue.

29.       The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the UN High Commissioner For Refugees, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the Director of the International Organisation on Migration in their letter addressed to the President of the Russian Federation Mr Putin, dated 6 September 2003 raised their long-lasting concern with de facto statelessness of a majority of Meskhetian population in Krasnodar Krai. They expressed their hopes that “the difficult situation of the Meskhetians could be resolved quickly if the Russian federal authorities take the necessary legal/regulatory measures to ensure, with immediate effect, the official recognition of the Meskhetians within the territory of the Krasnodar Krai as citizens of the Russian Federation.

30.       The Meskhetian Turks themselves have also been fighting for their rights. The International Society of Meskhetian Turks "Vatan" was established in 1990 with the aim to promote the repatriation to Meskhetia in Georgia. Its headquarter is situated in Moscow. Also, the focus of its activities has shifted to Azerbaijan from Moscow. Vatan leaders say that a comprehensive legislative framework should be elaborated in order to facilitate the return of the Meskhetian population and to recognize and protect their cultural identity and heritage. The Vatan's action has been hampered by internal divisions and financial difficulties. Furthermore, the distance between the headquarters and local offices limit Moscow leadership's ability to efficiently coordinate policies.

31.       Another prominent movement of the Meskhetians, the Union of Georgian Repatriates, operates exclusively in Georgia. Its members claim to be ethnic Georgians with no aspiration to Turkish identity.

5.       Conclusions

32.       With regard to a future repatriation, the essential principle should be that it has to be a matter of individual free choice. People must be given a possibility to stay where they are if it is their wish. Any option should be carried out in full respect of human rights and dignity.

33.       The situation of Meskhetian Turks has got two main aspects, which should be dealt with in a parallel and complementary way. First, the respect for human rights of the Meskhetian Turkish population should be ensured in the places where they reside at present. In particular, the question of their legal status, economic, social and political rights including access to permanent residency and citizenship, should be resolved immediately. This is particularly urgent in Krasnodar Krai in the Russian Federation, where this should be dealt with and monitored at the federal level.

34.       Second, the question of the repatriation to Georgia needs to be resolved. This requires the fulfilment by Georgia of obligations undertaken upon the accession to the Council of Europe, and in particular the adoption of a legal framework6.

* * * * * *

Reporting Committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population

Reference to Committee: Doc. 9510 and Reference No. 2755 of 3 September 2002

Draft resolution adopted by the Committee on 27 January 2005 with 28 votes in favour and 1 against

Mr John Wilkinson (Chairperson), Mrs Tana de Zulueta (1st Vice-Chairperson), Mr Doros Christodoulides 2nd Vice-Chairperson), Mr Jean-Guy Branger (3rd Vice-Chairperson) (alternate: Mr Denis Jacquat), Mrs Manuela Aguiar, Mr Pedro Agramunt, Mrs Lale Akgün, Mr Gulamhuseyn Alibeyli (alternate: Mr Bakhtiyar Aliyev), Mr Jozef Banáš, Mr Akhmed Bilalov, Ms Oksana Bilozir, Mrs Mimount Bousakla (alternate: Mr Paul Wille), Mr Paul Bradford, Mr Ivan Brajović, Mr Márton Braun, Mr Christian Brunhart, Mr Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Mr Boriss Cilevičs, Mrs Minodora Cliveti, Mrs Elvira Cortajarena, Mr Franco Danieli, Mr Joseph Debono Grech, Mr Taulant Dedja, Mr Nikolaos Dendias, Mr Karl Donabauer, Mrs Lydie Err, Mr Mats Einarsson, Mr Valeriy Fedorov, Mrs Daniela Filipiová, Mr Karl Theodor Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, Mr Andrzej Grzesik, Mr Andrzej Grzyb, Mr Ali Riza Gülçiçek, Mr Michael Hagberg, Mr Michael Hancock, Mrs Jelena Hoffmann, Mr Ilie Ilaşcu, Mr Tadeusz Iwiński, Mrs Corien W.A. Jonker, Lord Franck Judd, Mr Oleksandr Karpov, Mrs Eleonora Katseli, Mr Evgeni Kirilov, Mr Dimitrij Kovačič, Mr André Kvakkestad, Mr Petr Lachnit, Mr Geert Lambert, Mr Jean-Marie Le Guen, Mr Younal Loutfi, Mr Tito Masi, Mr Jean-Pierre Masseret, Ms Nóra Nagy, Mr Giuseppe Naro, Mr Pasquale Nessa, Mr Xhevdet Nasufi, Mr Kalevi Olin (alternate: Mrs Irina Krohn), Mr İbrahim Özal, Mr Gheorghe Popa, Mr Virgil Popa, Mr Gabino Puche (alternate: Mr Adolfo Fernández-Aguilar), Mr Milorad Pupovac, Mr Martin Raguž, Mr Anatoliy Rakhansky, Mr Marc Reymann, Mr Branko Ružić, Ms Katrin Saks, Mrs Naira Shakhtakhtinskaya, Mr Össur Skarphéğinsson, Mr Søren Søndergaard, Mr Luzi Stamm, Mrs Terezija Stoisits (alternate: Mr Ewald Lindinger), Mr Michael Stübgen, Mrs Elene Tevdoradze, Mr Tigran Torosyan, Mr José Vera Jardim, Mrs Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Mr Arno Visser, Mr James Wray (alternate: Mr Bill Etherington), Mr Akhmar Zavgayev, Mr Emanuelis Zingeris, Mr Vladimir Zhirinovsky (alternate: Mrs Vera Oskina).

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in bold

Secretariat of the Committee: Mr Halvor Lervik, Mr Mark Neville, Mrs Olga Kostenko, Mrs Sonia Sirtori-Milner

1 Resolution 1415 (2005) on Honouring of obligations and commitments by Georgia.

2 See Doc 8655 (Report on the repatriation and integration of the Tartars of Crimea, Rapporteur: Lord Ponsonby, UK, Socialist Group).

3 The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population is also preparing a report on the situation of refugees and displaced persons in the Russian Federation (Rapporteur: Mr Iwiński, Poland, Socialist Group).

4 The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population has examined the question of propiska in the report presented by Mr Cilevičs.

5 The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation as the highest relevant Russian court considers Meskhetian Turks to be de jure Russian citizens (decision No.5-B02-250/249, 31 October 2002).

6 The Committee on the honouring of obligations and commitments by member States of the Council of Europe presented Reports on Honouring of obligations and commitments by Georgia (see Doc. 9191, Resolution 1257 (2001) and Recommendation 1533 (2001) and most recently Doc. 10383, Resolution 1415 (2005)). The monitoring procedure in respect of Georgia is continuing.