Meskhetians - Sociopolitical Organization



The possibility of Meskhetians returning to their historical homeland in southern Georgia was severely curtailed by the abolition of the status of special migrants. This was a result of the position taken by Georgia, linking the return of the Meskhetians to the republic to the requirement that they acknowledge themselves to be Georgians and replace their Turkish family names with Georgian ones. An insignificant number of Meskhetians accepted Georgian nationality, but the overwhelming majority, with a stronger sense of ethnic self-consciousness, rejected the conditions. They continue to insist on their Turkish national identity while trying to negotiate their return to Georgia. The conflict among segments of the Meskhetian community was resolved at the 9th Congress of Turks held in Kabardino-Balkaria (named the "Congress of Unity"), which took the form of a traditional meeting with the blessing of a mullah: the congress denounced the advocates of the "Georgian" position and required them to acknowledge the error of their views. But the problem of resettlement remains unresolved to the present day, even more so given the decision by the Georgian government to resettle those Georgians victimized by the 1991 earthquake in Meskheti.

In view of the condition of temporary residence outside of Georgia, contacts between the Meskhetians and local populations have been reduced to a minimum, limited to economic matters. Relations with local groups are determined by the community. At the same time, there has been an increase in political activity among the Meskhetians, in conjunction with more than ten political congresses (which only in recent years have been held openly) and over 400 delegations to the leadership of Georgia and of the USSR in connection with the problem of repatriation. Until recently the members of the delegations, and likewise the participants active in the nationalist movement (the Return to the Homeland Committee), have been leaders whose popularity and authority derive from their political activism and readiness to make sacrifices for the cause of reimmigration. Among the contemporary leaders, those who a few years earlier were brought to trial because of their political activities and held in places of detention enjoy special esteem.

The intensification of nationalist processes throughout the country has also contributed to the formation of the Meskhetian leadership. Under conditions of the progressive increase of ethnic self-awareness, among the important factors contributing to the popularity of a leader are: taking a hard line in regard to the restoration of justice for the Soviet Turks, demanding offical acknowledgment of the illegality of the deportation, and striving for the realization of a consolidated and clearly developed adherence to the values of traditional culture. Recent political events and societal changes in the country have led to the transformation of Meskhetian society from a kinship-based community to a political one. This change was accompanied by a shift in the dominant function of the community from that of governing internal affairs to that of dealing with external matters and likewise a change in the leadership, with community elders being replaced by political leaders. At the same time, the community, maintaining internal relations while controlling the influence of outside groups, has revived the previously lost ethnocultural values and fostered the growth of ethnic self-awareness. For an ethnic group such as the Meskhetians, which has undergone resettlement and dispersion, the maintenance of endogamy has special significance. The community can be a regulating force if it is sufficiently close-knit, resulting in marriages within the group and the preservation of cultural traditions. (The degree of internal cohesion of the Meskhetian community is clear in the context of the other ethnic groups with whom they have had long-term contact.)

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