Tags / caucasus
Photos by Alexey Volosevich.
Moynaq used to be the biggest port on the Aral Sea, now the site of one of the biggest ecological disasters of the last half-century. Our contributor looks into the state of the sea, and the affect the sea's disappearance is having on a local population that once hosted a thriving fishing industry.
During the Second World War, the Soviet Union deported around 100,000 Muslims from southern Georgia to the remote republics of Central Asia. The vast majority of them were from the Turkic Meskhetian ethnic minority, also known as Meskhetian Turks.
While no official reasons were given for their deportation, many researchers argue that under Joseph Stalin’s rule the Soviet government was suspicious about the Meskhetian Turks of the mountainous Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakhet bordering Turkey, an undeclared ally of Nazi Germany.
Within a few days in November 1944, tens of thousands of people had to collect their belongings and move to Central Asia in cargo trains, with many of them dying during the trip that lasted for several weeks. They were settled in the Soviet Union’s central Asian republics during the harsh winter, in settlements from where they were not allowed to leave.
In 1956, three years after Stalin's death, Meshkhetians were granted the right to settle anywhere in the Soviet Union, except for Georgia. More than 60 years after their deportation, a few families managed to return to their homeland.
Some Meskhetians moved to Azerbaijan in 1958, in the hope of being as close to Georgia as possible. The very close similarity between the Meshkhetians’ language and customs on the one hand, and the language and customs in Azerbaijan on the other, helped them to blend in the Azerbaijani society easily.
Others went to Russia in the 1970s, while a small group of them managed to settle in Western Georgia in 1977. In the beginning of the 1990s, several groups of Meskhetians living in Uzbekistan moved to Turkey due to ethnic violence in the Fergana Valley. In 2004, a few thousand Meskhetians emigrated from Russia to the USA, where their number has grown to nearly 18,000 since then.