Tags / Deportation
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the groom's best men dances with knives around the bride, jokingly asking gathered people: "should 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.
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.
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.
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.
Meylan and Jihangirâs' (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.
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.
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.
Ramzila Partova, a woman from the displaced Meshkhetian community, wipes her teary eyes on her daughter's wedding day. Kant, Kyrgyzstan
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Meskhetian family build their house near Baku, Azerbaijan.
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.
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.
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.
"Those of us who go to Turkey forget our traditions and just become Istanbul Turks," he says disapprovingly. "I want to remain a Meskhetian Turk."
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.
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.
Text by Jenny Gustafsson and Photos by Karim Mostafa
A crowd has gathered on the grass outside Guatemala City’s airport. They wait patiently, wander back and forth outside the gates. Suddenly a plane appears in the sky, sinks down behind the wall. This is what everyone has been waiting for – one of several daily flights arriving with men and women deported from the United States. “I’m here to meet my brother. He called us yesterday saying that he was coming back today,” says Azucely, a young woman with one child resting on her hip and another playing at her feet. Her brother had been in the US for five years, she says, when he got caught without papers. Azucely herself went through the same thing only a year before. “I had been in the US for nine years when I was deported, all the time without papers. I have three kids born over there. I left Guatemala when I was young, only 14. My mum took a bank loan to send me. She did the same with my brothers too.” Azucely relates a common narrative among young people from the region, who are migrating in ever-growing numbers. The Central American immigrant population in the U.S. has nearly tripled since the 1990s, and now makes up the fastest-growing segment of its Latino population. But the story for many ends suddenly. Over 2 million people have been deported during Obama’s years in power – more than any other period in the past. “Each week, between nine and 14 flights land here, full with people. Most come with nothing at all,” says Mario Hernández at Guatemala City’s airport.
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A chartered flight with deported migrants lands at San Pedro Sula's airport. Lidia de Souza, who works with receiving the migrants, says the numbers today are 10 to 20 times higher than when she started working in the 1990s.
Four men just arrived to Guatemala City on a flight from the U.S. are reflected in the airport window. They are given juice and tortillas, and the NGO Asociación de Apoyo Integral al Migrante help them with one phone call and advice – but once they step outside the airport gates they are on their own.
A man walks out from Guatemala City's airport, carrying only a small bag in his hand. The number of Central American migrants arriving in the U.S. informally is on the rise, including that of unaccompanied children. The reasons for leaving the region are many – not least the high levels of violence and lack of social and economical security.
Two security personnel waiting outside the airport in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras. Every day, one flight in the morning and one in the afternoon arrive with deported migrants from the U.S..
Adrian Peña Carratero, a father of two, on the free bus taking arriving migrants from San Pedro Sula's airport to the bus station. He has everything in the U.S., he says, as he has lived there all his life.
Julio Torres, who was born in the U.S., lived all his life undocumented. Three years ago, he was deported. He now works at a call center in San Pedro Sula, dubbed for several years in the row 'the most dangerous city in the world', with extremely high homicide rates. All across Central American cities, these call centers are set up, and young people deported from the U.S. are recruited straight from the airport – their language skills and intercultural backgrounds make them ideal employees.
A man and a boy waiting for a flight with deported migrants to land at the airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The country has among the highest homicide rates in the world – San Pedro Sula has topped the list several years in a row – and widespread poverty, currently at 65% of the population.
Sister Valdete Wilemann and her colleagues, working at the non-civilian part of San Pedro Sula's airport where two daily flights land with deported migrants from the U.S.. Many have been caught at the border trying to enter, others have lived their entire lives in the country.
The young daughter of Azucely, who was deported in 2013, looks underneath the gate to the airport in Guatemala City. They are waiting outside for Azucely's brother, who was also deported and is arriving with the next flight.
Azucely and her youngest daughter waiting for Azucely's brother to arrive at the airport in Guatemala City. Their mother had taken bank loans to pay for the siblings' trip with coyotes, organised smugglers, to cross the border to the United States. But eventually, both of them were deported back to Guatemala.
Azucely from San Marcos, nearby Guatemala's border with Mexico, waiting for a flight with deported migrants arriving at the airport in Guatemala City. Every day, families gather outside to pick up returning relatives, as do taxis and buses bringing people back to rural parts of Guatemala where most migrants come from.
The mother of Azucely, who sees her son for the first time in five years. Many people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, called the 'Northern Triangle', are separated from family members who have left in search of better opportunities and safety in the United States.
Three friends who just arrived at the airport in Guatemala City. Most people arrive with nothing or very little – they carry plastic bags with whatever belongings they brought with them.
Crimean Tatars fear persecution under Russian authority
As Tatars in Crimea seek to preserve their way of life - their language, cultural and religious practices, and political organizations - under Russian authority, a crackdown on voices of dissent from within their community and on Tatar leadership doesn’t seem to be letting up.
On October 6, another young man, 25-year-old Edam Asanov of Bilogorsk was found dead after disappearing on September 29 while protesting the kidnapping of two young men from the community just days earlier. This is the latest in a string of kidnappings, raids and arrests that have shook the Crimean Tatar community in recent months.
Since the first Russian incursions into Ukraine’s Crimea region in February, ethnic Tatars have feared a return to the kinds of persecution and mistreatment the Muslim minority has historically suffered under Russian administration. Events since then seem to highlight the precariousness of their situation.
Days before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, on March 18 hundreds of members of the Tatar community gathered in a cemetery in Simferopol to pay their respects to Reshat Ametov, a 39-year-old found dead after having been missing for over two weeks. According to the local Tatar television channel ATR, police found the tortured body of the activist in a forest outside the Crimean capital. Investigators presumed he was killed by pro-Russian militiamen after he was seen crossing a line of pro-Russian protesters in military fatigues at a protest earlier in the month. The death came as a great blow to the Muslim Tatar community for whom persecution, deportation and violence remain vivid memories.
After the funeral, Remzie Dzhemilev, 87, gathered his family and recounted their history. Like the majority of Crimean Tatars, the Dzhemilevs were deported to Uzbekistan in 1944, a seemingly endless journey by wagon during which six of his family members died. The survivors returned to the Crimea in 1990 after the fall of the former USSR, and have remained there since. Mainly opposed to Russia, today he says that the community tries to preserve their traditions and culture, from language and religion to flags and national symbols, despite increasing fears that renewed Russian control of the Crimea will revisit suffering upon the Muslim minority.
Originating in the great steppes of Central Asia, the Turkic-speaking Tatars were one of the main ethnic groups of Crimea leading up to World War II. Their historical influence on the region is visible in Simferopol’s art and architecture and in their specific relationship to the land. Up until the 18th century, the Crimean Khanate was among the most powerful Muslim states in Central Europe.
Today, Tatars account for just over 10% of the population in this region of south-eastern Ukraine, in particular due to waves of deportations driven by Stalin in 1944. Called the “Sürgünlük” in Crimean Tatar dialect, these deportations led to the relocation of nearly 240,000 Tatars. Those who escaped deportation were often shot on sight, had their boats sunk, or died of cold and hunger trying to flee. Many were also deported to Soviet GULAGs where they would work as indentured servants.
Today, a delicate political situation has ethnic Russians in Crimea rejoicing over their annexation while historically marginalized Muslim Tatars and their organizations feel they have become the targets of a new brand of authoritarian rule from Russia and violence from militant pro-Russian activists. In April and July, the chairman of the Crimean Tatar People’s Movement Mustafa Dzhemilev and Simferopol’s Tatar leader Refat Chubarov were banned from re-entering Crimea for five years. Later, in May, Crimean authorities banned public protests and closed central Simferopol to prevent Tatars from commemorating the deportation.
More recently in September armed, masked men raided the Majlis, the Tatar’s self-governing council in Simferopol, removing a weapon, hard drives and “extremist literature,” according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. Mr. Dzhemilev told the UK daily The Telegraph that he equated this to a robbery.
"The Crimean Tatar nation is now in a most complicated and dangerous position since it has always spoken out against the illegal occupation [of Crimea by Russia]," Dzhemilev said.
Dzhemilev’s son was detained by Russian authorities on murder and weapons charges that he says were acquitted by a Ukrainian court. In a press conference on October 4, he told reporters that his son’s arrest by Russians was “blackmail by Putin.” “The Russians continue to play it in a heavy-handed, Soviet and blatant way,” he said.
Kidnappings, arrests and raids now amount to what Tatar leaders consider an officially sanctioned campaign of harassment and intimidation. On September 27, two more young Tatar men were kidnapped while walking down the street in their native Belogorsk. Witnesses saw a white van pull up next to the men, and throw them inside. 18-year-old Islyam Dzheparov and 23-year-old Dzhebdet Islyamov have not been seen or heard from since then, according to an October 3 report by Radio Free Europe.
"I think it is outrageous, completely outrageous,” Mustafa Asaba, the head of the regional Crimean Tatar Mejlis in Belogorsk, told RFE. “If there were some questions for these young people or anything like that, there are official organs, the police. They could have been summoned for questioning."
Russian authorities in Crimea launched an investigation into the disappearances. However, Tatars in Belogorsk feel that they are being driven into a corner based only on their ethnicity and religion.
"This is an attack on Crimean Tatars," one activist told a gathering of over a hundred locals who came together to pray for the men and protest the disappearances. "Our only guilt is that we are Crimean Tatars, Muslims. I don't see any other motives here.”
Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks brought up the issues facing the Tatars at a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on October 1.
"My biggest concern, to be honest, is the situation of the Crimean Tatars -- a population with a very tragic history," Muiznieks said. "There is an urgent need to strengthen their sense of security, which has been shattered by a series of raids by armed, masked security personnel in religious institutions, schools, Tatar-owned businesses, private homes, and, after my visit, to the Mejlis. The Crimean Tatars have no history of violence or extremism, and the raids are completely disproportionate and should be stopped.”
-- Joe Lukawski with reporting by Rafael Yaghobzadeh for Transterra Media
Alma Shalabayeva, wife of controversial Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, and her six-year-old daughter were rapidly deported back to Kazakhstan on May 31 after a night raid on their villa in Rome, Italy, despite the fact that they both had valid visas to stay in the European Union. The government of Kazakhstan accused her of possessing unlawfully obtained passports. Additionally, the unusually fast 72-hour deportation caused a furor of criticism against Italian authorities, as the fact that Shalabayeva could face persecution and even torture upon her return to the country from which she and her husband fled. Ablyazov is a former minister turned dissident in Kazakhstan who started an opposition movement in the country in 2001. He later headed up BTA Bank and continued to fund opposition groups. The bank was nationalized in 2009 and Ablyazov was accused of embezzling billions of dollars. He fled the country, fearing for his life, and obtained political asylum in Britain in 2011. But after he was tipped off by UK police that his life was in danger again, he went into hiding. Some critics say that the treatment of his wife and daughter by Italy were a favor to the oil-rich country of Kazakhstan.
Alma is now in Almaty, after her arrest in Italy and deportation. She does not leave her house and is protected by few relatives and controlled by the Kazakh security services. She defends her husband and longs to leave the country and go back to Europe. Mukthar Ablyazov has been arrested in France, and is waiting the decision of the French authorities. This reportage from the heart of Central Asia makes an in-depth enquiry of the true story of the dissident-banker, seen from the eyes of his wife and of the Kazakh Minister of Foreign Affairs.