Akhiska Turks excited to return their homeland

Akhiskan Turks dispersed all around the world are currently in a state of excitement because of the adoption of a law by the Georgian Parliament allowing their return from exile to their homeland.

Akhiska Turks excited to return their homeland
Given that it is a historic decision, different views are being voiced in regards to the recent move. Under the law, those who were exiled in 1944, their children and grandchildren will be entitled to file an application within one year, beginning Jan. 1, 2008 indicating their request to return to their homeland.

Whereas Akhiskan intellectuals criticize the law, referring to particular gaps and ambiguities, the majority agree that those who are eligible should file their applications regardless of whether the law is a flawed one. The critics particularly recall that the law is not clear as to whether those who return will be allowed to settle in their original lands.

Many opinion leaders in the Akhiskan community hold that the opportunity should not be missed, despite shortcomings in the legal instrument administering the return. Akhiskan Turks Education, Culture and Social Solidarity Association Chairman Rüstem Mürseloğlu says: "Yes, the law includes serious deficiencies. But the Akhiskans cannot ignore this opportunity after the sufferings of 63 years. I think all Akhiskans will file applications. We will submit the applications to become Georgian citizens. Then we will also continue our struggle to settle down in Akhiska through democratic means."

Conversely, a small number of Akhiskans assert that the ambiguities in the law should be removed first. Noting that a return to Georgia without the right to settle in Akhiska would be a second exile, Akhiska magazine coordinator Adem Ahıskalı says, "If there is an Akhiska, Georgia is the homeland; Georgia without Akhiska is unacceptable."

Recalling that they have had to deal with many troubles in 63 years, Ahıskalı further says: "The law is ambiguous. Filing applications is pretty risky unless the law is amended. For this reason, I do not think the number of applications will be so high. Without legal guarantees, a return to Georgia will be a second exile."

No problem

Noting that even the Georgian administration admitted the ambiguities in the law, Federation of the Akhiskan Turkish Associations Chairman Osman Çelik said it was not politically correct to be skeptical based on the gaps in the bill.

They discussed the issue thoroughly with Georgian authorities, Çelik said and added: "We paid a visit to Akhiska, where we met with the administrators. They told us that they would interpret the unclear points in the law in a way to favor those who decided to return to their homeland. Just like the other Georgian citizens, Akhiskan Turks will have the opportunity to settle anywhere they choose inside Georgia. They invite us; they promise they will provide the necessary aid. There will be no problem after becoming citizens. I would like to say that there will be no problem at all." Çelik also recalled that they will visit predominantly Akhiskan villages to inform the people of the new opportunity and to ensure that they file their applications to return to their homeland.

Council of Europe closely monitors the process

The Akhiskan Turks' expectations to return to their homeland peaked when Georgia was admitted to the Council of Europe, which endorsed their demand and further asked the Georgian government to introduce the bill allowing their return.

However, despite the expectations, six years have passed without any concrete step to ameliorate the situation of the Akhiskan Turks. Noting that they learned to be patient owing to the disruptive exile, the Akhiskan Turks underline that they found the delay normal despite the difficulties. Former International Federation of the Akhiskan Turks Chairman Yunus Zeyrek says: "We have been waiting for the legal arrangement; we do not ignore the difficulties that the Georgian administration had to deal with. However we want sincerity in fulfillment of our demands. We are particularly concerned about the ambiguities in the law and the lack of a guarantee to allow settlement in Akhiska. We are still waiting for the removal of these deficiencies."

Zeyrek and the other administrators at the federation drew the attention of the Council of Europe during the law's preparation period, demanding the removal of the ambiguities. Recalling that they are still in contact with the Council of Europe to ensure that the legislation in effect is not misinterpreted, Zeyrek also notes: "The earlier draft was even more ambiguous; we filed objections with the Council of Europe. The current bill also includes voids. But we expect that the Georgian government will interpret it in good faith to meet our demands. The world and Turkey will be following the process."

Gaps in the law

Ahıskalı, who asserts that the holes in the bill are not acceptable, also insists that the current bill is far from meeting the demands expressed by the Council of Europe. Noting that no action should be taken unless the Georgian administration adopts a bill found satisfactory by the council, Ahıskalı further says: "We are hesitant of the gaps in the current law. This was not the legal resolution that the council sought. The council asked for completion of the return process in six years. The voids in the law raise doubts as to when the return will be complete because the period of application will be one year under the law. The law provides that the applications will be reviewed and additional information will be requested if necessary. Above all, those exiled are defined in sarcastically and with no particular reference to the Akhiskan Turks in the preamble of the bill; naturally, this raises doubts. A lot of documents are asked from the applicants; even a document certifying the exile is required under the bill; this is not something we understand." Ahıskalı says it would not be right to file applications unless the bill is amended in a way to remove the shortcomings.

Zeyrek, editor-in-chief of the Bizim Akhiska magazine, says that those eligible should file applications despite the deficiencies in the law. "Under the law, the applications will be subjected to review and evaluation. Only those whose applications are admitted and their spouses will be allowed in for settlement. The law is not clear on what will happen to the adult children of those eligible. Moreover, there is a great chance the return to the homeland will be postponed to as late as 2010 because of ambiguities in relation to the consultation with other units, additional procedures and further documentation. Besides, the issue of interviews and tests to facilitate civil integration is not clear. What will happen to the applicants if they renounce citizenship or fail the interview?"

Noting that they expect the Georgian authorities to consider the gaps and ambiguities in the law in light of universal principles of human rights, Zeyrek says that "despite its shortcomings, the current law should not be missed and those eligible should file their applications in pursuant to it."

'We are insurance for stability'

Stressing that they are not party to Georgia's minority problems, Zeyrek further says: "We went to Akhiska and talked to the Armenians there. We concluded that we could live with them in peace. They ask us when we are going to return; they complain of a lack of productivity after we left. The Akhiskans are the insurants of stability and peace. The local economy will revive after our return to [our] homeland. Currently, 80 villages are unpopulated. Akhiska, which was a trade center before the exile, has today lost its appeal. The region is a fertile land that can feed a population of 150,000. Our demand from the Georgian government is to allow settlement of a large population in the region. In case of intense settlement, of course we will be ready for alternatives. In that case, our hope is that Turkey will open the region 30 kilometers away from Akhiska to settlement."

Turkey's guarantorship

Recalling that the return process will be completed under supervision by the Council of Europe and the guarantorship of Turkey, Akhiskan Turks Education, Culture and Social Solidarity Assocation Chairman Mürseloğlu said: "There is no need for skepticism. There is a law being promulgated to ensure a return to the homeland, despite its shortcomings. This is a great opportunity for our people, who have been subjected to exile and persecution. We believe that we will not suffer from another exile throughout the process that will be completed under the auspices of the Council of Europe and the guarantorship of Turkey."

Stressing that the Georgian government cannot force the people granted citizenship to settle in a certain place even if the law is not clear on this matter, Mürseloğlu further said: "Under the principles of the rule of law, the Georgian government has to give the same rights to us as those available to others. We hope the Georgian administration will be mature enough to act in a manner consistent with the rule of law and democratic principles." Noting that the friendship between Turkey and Georgia is beyond regular neighborhood relations, Mürseloğlu said this would be the warranty that there would not be another persecution campaign.

Despite the deficiencies

The Akhiskan Turks will soon file applications to return to their homeland that they had to leave 63 years ago. Assessing the application procedure, Çelik says a complete application and lengthy process awaits: "There are some elements that make the return difficult and discourage applicants to proceed further. But despite the deficiencies, the Akhiskan Turks will file their applications and return to their homeland. The only viable option at the moment is to make the applications to ensure that this just cause persists. Perhaps the process is lengthy and problematic, but I think the probable issues will be minimized."

Noting that their meetings with Georgian authorities at the Council of Europe, diplomats and local Georgian authorities were fruitful, Çelik said they were warmly received in such a way that will eliminate concerns and skepticism.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 09 Aralık 2007, 14:34