Some 72 Meskhetian Turkish families have been resettled in Turkey’s southeastern province of Bitlis, after leaving their homes in the Kharkov province of conflict-hit Ukraine.
Meskhetian Turks are a Turkish-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine who come from the Meskheti region of Georgia. They were expelled from their homeland in 1944 following orders by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in order to clear the shores of the Black Sea from Turks.
Some 10,000 from the minority migrated to Ukraine in 1990 and settled in shanty towns used by seasonal workers but they were eventually threatened by ongoing clashes between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Erdoğan met representatives of the Meshketian Turkish community during his visit to Kyiv in March 2015, where he vowed to resettle members of the minority in Turkey after they described the problems they encounter in Ukraine.
Some 300 families were resettled in Turkey’s northeastern province of Erzincan after first families started arriving in December 2015, while a group of 72 families was settled in apartments built by the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) in the historic Ahlat district of Bitlis – which has come to be referred to as “Donetsk TOKİ.”
According to a list put together by DATÜB, the World Union of Ahıska (the Turkish word for “Meskhetian”) Turks, 677 families, amounting to 3,000 people in total, have accepted the offer to move to Anatolia.
“War is war. We were uneasy. We wanted to come to Turkey but we could not migrate due to our economic situation,” said 61-year-old Hamza Kehvan, speaking as the “honorary village head” (muhtar) of the group.
“It is hard to believe but we have finally come to the home of our ancestors,” Kehvan added.
“We were frightened on the way here, [thinking] ‘could they look after us?’ But we also came thinking this is our homeland. We will die in our homeland,” Simizar Hadimova, 76, told daily Hürriyet.
According to DATÜB secretary-general Fuat Uçar, Meskhetian Turks were settled in the Üzümlü district of Erzincan and Ahlat because they wanted an “organized migration.”
“The Presidency and the Prime Ministry showed us these residences built for a large population, fully prepared and ready. We could not wait for TOKİ to build new homes,” Uçar said.
The residences in Üzümlü could not be sold due to a financial disagreement, while the buildings in Ahlat were built as state housing but were not given to anyone. However, the Meskhetian Turks in Ukraine still opted to migrate to Turkey.
“TOKİ said it could build new homes if we waited two years, but the Meskhetian Turks said ‘We don’t want to spend two more hours here, let alone two more years. We can live on a mountain top,’” Uçar added.