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Meskhetian Turks: 70 years of exile
Sajavakho-Chokhatauri-Ozurgeti-Kobuleti
By TemoBardzimashvili
17 Oct 2014

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.

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Shirinbeili, azerbaijan
By TemoBardzimashvili
17 Oct 2014

Rana Rajabova, a 24-year-old bride form the Azerbaijani village of Shirinbeili, prepares herself for her wedding. Rana'€™s grandparents, natives of the Arali village in Georgia'€™s Adigeni region, were deported to Uzbekistan during the Second World War.

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Kutaisi-Baghdati-Abastumani-Benara, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
17 Oct 2014

Meskhetian elders gather after their Eid-ul-Fitr (Ramazan Bayrami) prayer in Abastumani, Georgia. Most of them were teenagers when they were deported from Georgia in 1944 but they were able to return after more than 60 years.

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kant, kyrgyzstan
By TemoBardzimashvili
17 Oct 2014

Two girls whirl under plates of sweets during a wedding ceremony in Kant, Kyrgyzstan. According to tradition, this ritual brings prosperity to the new couple's life. The plates are usually layered with candies, cookies, apples, and a piece of butter bread called Kete topped with a lit candle.

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Октябрьская, Kant, Kyrgyzstan
By TemoBardzimashvili
17 Oct 2014

One of the groom'€™s best men dances with knives around the bride, jokingly asking gathered people: "€œshould we cut bride's tongue or head?"€ The regular answer is "tongue," which implies that the new wife and daughter-in-law should be obedient. The best man then takes the piece of folded cloth off the bride'€™s head using the knives, signifying that she is officially married.

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Октябрьская, Kant, Kyrgyzstan
By TemoBardzimashvili
17 Oct 2014

Portraits of Abdullah Gamidov, his wife Khalida, and her father Zia Chumidze lie on the checkerboard in the Emil Gamidov'€™s house in Kant, Kyrgyzstan. Zia Chumidze died while fighting on the frontline during the Second World War.

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abastumani, georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Ali Mekhriev poses next to the remains the mosque in Abastumani, Georgia. The mosque has been used as a cowshed for the past few decades because returning Meskhetians do not have the means to rebuild it. They conduct religious services at home.

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nasakirali, georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

A Meskhetian woman stands outside her house in the village of Nasakirali, Georgia. The Soviet government deported around 100,000 Meshkhetians from Georgia during the Second World War, but some managed to return to their native areas in the 1970s.

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Istanbul, Turkey
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Meylan and Jihangir’s' (left and middle) grandparents were deported from Georgia to Central Asia, but they had never met until they both moved to Istanbul to study at Boğaziçi University where they became friends with Kagan from Turkey (right). The three often meet and chat in the campus park, which overlooks the Bosphorus ,or play basketball.

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abastumani, georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Salim Khamdiev, originally from the village of Abastumani in Georgia, was 14 when he was deported to Uzbekistan. It was after more than 60 years of exile that he was able to return to his hometown.

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medrese, azerbaijan
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

A man from the Meskhetian community gathers donations on Eid-ul-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of fasting, at the mosque in the village of Medrese, Azerbaijan.

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kant, kyrgyzstan
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Ramzila Partova, a woman from the displaced Meshkhetian community, wipes her teary eyes on her daughter's wedding day. Kant, Kyrgyzstan

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Medrese, Azerbaijan
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Khalisa Sardarova, 16, serves tea to her future father-in-law (left, holding a cell phone) under her father's supervision. Usually, the groom'€™s father visits the future bride's family a few months before the wedding. During that time, the bride becomes part of her future husband's family but the groom cannot see her until the wedding day. Medrese, Azerbaijan.

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Kutaisi-Baghdati-Abastumani-Benara, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

With the help of his old tractor, Alikhan Kuradze pulls a carriage filled with his family's belongings as they move to Abastumani, Georgia. It took the 76-year-old and his family almost seventy years to achieve their lifelong dream of returning to their native village. In 1944, Kuradze was nine years old when he was deported to Central Asia.

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Октябрьская, Kant, Kyrgyzstan
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Emil Gamidov, 70, walks out of the room in his house in Kant, Kyrgyzstan as his wife holds the portraits of her parents, who were deported from Atskuri village in Gerogia. Gamidov was only three years old when he was deported from Georgia to Kazakhstan. Many years later, he moved to Bishkek to pursue his graduate studies. He still lives in Kyrgyzstan.

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Kutaisi-Baghdati-Abastumani-Benara, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

This area was a Meskhetian cemetery until 1944, when most of the community members were deported. After the deportation, the cemetery was leveled and converted to agricultural land. Only a few of the gravestones can be seen today, like the one seen in this photo.

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baku, azerbaijan
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

A Meskhetian family build their house near Baku, Azerbaijan.

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Bishkek
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Tahmina Gamidova, a lecturer at Ataturk Alatoo University in the Kyrgyz capital, wears a traditional Meskhetian robe at a cultural center for ethnic minorities. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Farman Shakhbazov, an famous davul player in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, says he could barely sit when started drumming on the table with his palms as a child. His mom would even tie his hands so that he wouldn'€™t injure himself. Shakhbazo, who assembled his first drum kit from pots and pans, acquired both traditional and contemporary drumming techniques, which allowed him to join rock bands and win fame as a versatile drummer.

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Kiev Street, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Hasan Hamdiev runs a shop in Dordoi Market in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he sells clothes imported from Turkey. Despite the recession in the job market and the tough economic conditions in Bishkek, the 23-year-old prefers staying there to leaving for Turkey in pursuit of a better job, unlike many other young Meskhetians of his age.

"€œThose of us who go to Turkey forget our traditions and just become Istanbul Turks," he says disapprovingly. "€œI want to remain a Meskhetian Turk."

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Kiev Street, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Gullar Kamalova is a poet of Meskhetian roots who lives in Kyrgyzstan and writes in both Kyrgyz and Turkish languages. Kamalova was only a few months old when she was deported from Georgia with her family. Her father was away fighting during the Second World War. The family was "lucky" that he was wounded on the frontline and returned home before their deportation. The entire family, including her siblings, parents, and grandparents were deported to Uzbekistan. Not all families were as lucky as Kamalova's, as many were deported while their men were away, fighting in the war.

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medrese, azerbaijan
By TemoBardzimashvili
16 Oct 2014

Worshipers from the Meshkhetian community gather for the Eid-ul-Fitr prayer, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramazan in Medrese, Azerbaijan.

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Mesketians return to Abastumani
Abastumani, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
01 Nov 2011

Alikhan Kuradze (at the wheel), 76, is taking help from the villagers to move to his new house in Abastumani, the village he was deported from to Central Asia in 1944.

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Mesketians return to Abastumani
Abastumani, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
01 Nov 2011

Alikhan Kuradze (at the wheel), 76, is using help from the villagers to move to his new house in Abastumani, the village he was deported from to Central Asia in 1944.

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Mesketians return to Abastumani
Abastumani, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
01 Nov 2011

Alikhan Kuradze (at the wheel), 76, is getting help from the villagers to move to his new house in Abastumani, the village he was deported from to Central Asia in 1944.

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Mesketians return to Abastumani
Abastumani, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
01 Nov 2011

A few Meskhetians (or Meskhetian Turks) families return to Abastumani, the village their ancestors were deported from to Central Asia in 1944.

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Mesketians move to Abastumani
Abastumani, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
01 Nov 2011

Alikhan Kuradze (at the wheel), 76, is taking help from the villagers to move to his new house in Abastumani, the village from where he was deported to Central Asia in 1944.

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Meskhetian Family
Nasakirali, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
12 Jul 2011

Meskhetian family in Nasakirali, Georgia.
In mid-November 1944, around 100,000 Georgian Muslims from the southern region of Samtskhe-Javakheti were deported to Central Asia. The vast majority of them were Meskhetians (or Meskhetian Turks). In the course of WWII, they were perceived by the Soviet government to be Turkey's potential allies. More than 60 years after the deportation, a few families managed to return to their ancestors' land.

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Quba, Azerbaijan
By TemoBardzimashvili
31 May 2011

A young Meskhetian rides a horse in Azerbaijan.

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tsitelubani, georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
06 May 2011

A Meskhetian farmer works the soil in Tsitelubani, Georgia.

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Kutaisi-Baghdati-Abastumani-Benara, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
31 Mar 2011

Meskhetians in Abastumani, Georgia help the Kuradze family move to their new house.

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Ali Mekhriev in Abastumani
Abastumani, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
31 Mar 2011

Ali Mekhriev in his garden in Abastumani. Ali was among the first to return to the village from where his father was deported in 1944. Ali says that his father had always told him that their family would one day return to Georgia. However, the return to Abastumani turned out to be not as smooth as one would have hoped for: the family home had long been leveled, and the locals gave them a rather cold and suspicious reception. Building peace with the Abastumani’s Christian community took a few years, and it did not come easy. “We have a perfect relationship now,” says Ali. “What really matters is the kind of person you are: if you are a reasonable person, you won’t have problems with others.”

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Abastumani Meskhetian
Abastumani, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
31 Mar 2011

Ali Mekhriev in his garden in Abastumani. Ali was among the first to return to the village from where his father was deported in 1944. Ali says that his father had always told him that their family would one day return to Georgia. However, the return to Abastumani turned out to be not as smooth as one would have hoped for: the family home had long been leveled, and the locals gave them a rather cold and suspicious reception. Building peace with the Abastumani’s Christian community took a few years, and it did not come easy. “We have a perfect relationship now,” says Ali. “What really matters is the kind of person you are: if you are a reasonable person, you won’t have problems with others.”

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Kutaisi-Baghdati-Abastumani-Benara, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
29 Mar 2011

Ali Mekhriev, a member of the Meshkhetian community, plants potatoes in his garden. Abastumani, Georgia.

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Октябрьская, Kant, Kyrgyzstan
By TemoBardzimashvili
11 Mar 2011

People from the Meshkhetian community wait for the bride to come out at this wedding in the village of Kant near Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan.

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Kutaisi-Baghdati-Abastumani-Benara, Georgia
By TemoBardzimashvili
18 Sep 2009

Ahmed Mekhriev conducts the Ramazan prayer in Abastumani, Georgia. The Abastumani Meskhetian community does not yet have a mollah, or muslim cleric.