The Meskhetian Turks

The Meskhetian Turks are a group of Sunni Muslim Turks who have historically lived in the Meskheti region (pronounced mas-kha-ti) on the border between Turkey and Georgia. Under the rule of the Soviet Union, the Meskhetian Turks were deported to Central Asia. In 1989 there was a pogrom against the Meskhetians in Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan. Hundreds of Meskhetian Turks then moved to Azerbaijan. In 2004 the United States began accepting Meskhetian Turks as refugees. A small number were able move back to Georgia, which is considered the homeland of most Meskhetian Turks.

A short documentary (8 min) on the history of the Meskhetian Turks


Meskhetian Turks come from Meskheti, a historical region of Georgia along the border with Turkey.
Meskheti is a located in a mountainous area located upon the Trialeti volcanic plateau. [3]
external image georgia_large.jpg



Georgia has a current population of 4,661,473
Religions: Orthodox Christianity of the Georgian Orthodox Church (82.0%), Muslim (9.9%); Armenian Apostolic (3.9%); Russian Orthodox Church (2.0%); Roman Catholic (0.8%), and 0.7% no religion at all.
Migration %: Krasnodar Krai (0.26%)

Current Populations

Georgia - Meskhetian Turk population of about 1,000. Georgia has only been accepting a few, but has an official policy supporting repatriation. However, as of yet they have only helped 6 families move back.
Kazakhstan - Population of about 150,000. Initially had some economic problems, but since have been well integrated into society. Most live in the rural south.
United States - Population of about 9,000 from the Krasnodar Krai region.
Azerbaijan - Population of 100,000. Many migrated during the Soviet Union, and another group came after the pogroms in the Feranga Valley.
Kyrgyzstan - Population of about 50,000. As far as public life, they have been well integrated but suffer due to nationalism in Kryrgyztan.
Russia - Population of about 80,000 Meskhetian Turks. Local population is not exactly friendly to their presence, especially in the Krasnodar region. It is the group from this region that is now being resettled in the US.
Ukraine - Population of 10,000, settled there after the Fergana Valley pogrom, and have now been granted citizenship.
Uzbekistan - Before the 1989 Fergana Valley incident, it had a population of over 100,000 Meskhetian Turks but now only has 15,000.

Before Refugee Crisis

The Meskhetian Turks were displaced in 1944 and therefore there is little information about their prior life.

Traditions and Culture

Dance performed by a group of Meskhetian Turkish immigrants in Boise, ID.

Meskhetian Turks are Sunni Muslims, though many do not strongly observe their religion. Their society is generally divided into groups derived from their home villages, and within those groups, extended families. The hardships of deportation have strengthened family and village ties, and as such they are very important to their social structure and help Meskhetian Turks maintain their culture despite their situation. As part of maintaining their culture, Meskhetian Turks generally frown on mixed marriages, even with other Muslim groups.

Meskhetian Turks speak Turkish, but not exactly the same as is spoken in Turkey. Most Meskhetian Turks also fluently speak Russian. Some know Uzbek or Khazak.

Common foods include geographically traditional Turkish food with influences from Russian and Uzbek foods.

Refugee Cause

external image meskmap.gif
Stalin deported the Meskhetian Turks from Georgia to Central Asia - yellow arrows.
Some moved from Uzbekistan to Azerbaijan in 1992 - red arrow.

After the USSR disintegrated in 1989, Meskhetian Turks were not recognized as legal citizens of their countries (all the -stans in Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan).This aimed all the attention towards Meskhetian Turks and they became the subject of hatred. In Uzbekistan, legal citizens would beat Meskhetian Turks in the streets, burn down their houses, rape the women and steal their possessions. After some time, the Meskhetian Turks were not only wanting to flee the country but they were also warned that if they did not leave within a month every Meskhetian Turk found would be killed. Most families packed their belongings within 2 hours and whole villages moved across their country towards Russia, where some of them were sent to Krasnodar.

Krasnodar Krai

Meskhetian Turks faced discrimination in Krasnodar Krai, led by local governmental officials. Meskhetian Turks were denied citizenship and could not register their land, keeping from them most civil and human rights. The government also perpetuated xenophobia as a way of keeping the Meskhetian Turks down. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, the region received increased international attention, and now some Meskhetian Turks are being accepted into the US as refugees.

Resettlement in the US

Meskhetian Turks don't usually have problems with modern technology, housing, public transport, etc. They have a strong work ethic, but sometimes are disappointed with jobs that don't match their level of education. Language is the largest barrier when moving to the US and with being part of the workforce.

Healthcare is sometimes a problem because they have been denied access in the past, so many come to the US with health problems which need to be addressed, especially dental problems.


Some of my classmates and I had an opportunity to meet with a nice couple from Uzbekhistan who came to Salt Lake City on April 3, 2007. Both Sona and Mukhammad, now married, were born and grew up in Uzbekhistan. However, due to the reasons described above both of their families moved in 1989 to Krasnodar, Russia. Once in Russia, Sona was issued a passport which made her a citizen of Russia. However, a holder of an ordinary Russian passport could not travel anywhere else than to the states of the disintegrated USSR. Sona was lucky though, because some Meskhetian Turks, like her parents, got deported back to their country of birthright when they arrived to Krasnodar, for no apparent reason. Shortly after that Mukhammad's sister became friends with Sona and immediately recommended her to Mukhammad. "She called me and said that she has met this beautiful and funny girl I should marry," Mukhammad said. Since that day they talked on the phone very often, and one day when Mukhammad couldn't stand the anticipation anymore, he sent his sister to get Sona, they got on a train and went to see Mukhammad. They married one week after and as they said, they love each other very much.

After they married they decided to leave Russia. They had to go into the embassy twice a month for six months in three day sessions, where they were questioned from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. so the officers could make sure Sona and Mukhammad were not lying. Shortly after that, the Russian government wanted to stop sending refugees to other countries and ripped up both of their passports with visas on March 26, 2006. However, nothing could stop Sona and Mukhammad from leaving so they traveled with a torn-up visa, which evidently worked well enough.

In 2007 they landed in a strange city, Salt Lake City, with a different culture, language, food and customs, not knowing a word of English. One of the IRC workers picked them up from the airport and brought them to their apartment. Currently both of them are "very happy and thankful" for the opportunity they were given. "We love America because there is work to do," they both agreed. They also said that people are very nice and friendly. They were especially amused by people smiling at them on the streets and saying "hi." Apparently, that's not what happens in Russia. As far as their future, they both have ambitions. Sona and Mukhammad would both like to learn at least basic English, so that they can start to work to support themselves. Mukhammad would like to be involved in agriculture business, while Sona is on her way to fulfilling her lifelong dream - becoming a doctor.

Listen to the Interview

Click below to download:

Professional viewpoints

This is a space in which people who work with refugees are welcome to post.


An Introduction to their History, Culture and Resettlement Experiences [6]

Meskhetian Turks: Solutions and Human Security [7]

Meskhetian Turks: Still Struggling to Return to their Homeland [8]

The Problem of Muslim Population of Southern Georgia [9]

Experiences of Meskhetian Turks in Atlanta, Georgia. [10]

Sources Cited, Byline Credits, and Copyrights © on this Page.

1. 17 Years and Counting. 29 Apr. 2007
2. "Meskhetian Turks." 29 Apr. 2007
3. "Meskhetian Turks." Wikipedia. 20 Apr. 2007
4. Sona.Personal Interview. 25 Apr. 2007 Mukhammad. personal Interview. 25 Apr. 2007
5. "The Exile of the Meskheti Turks." 5 May 2007

6. "An Introduction to Their History, Culture and Resettlement Experiences." 6 May 2007 <>.
7. Helton, Arthur C. "Preface." 6 May 2007
8. Brennan, Dan. "Meskhetian Turks: Still Struggling to Return to Their Homeland." 6 May 2007 <>.
9. Sumbadze, Nana. "The Problem of Muslim Population of Southern Georgia." 6 May 2007
10. "The Meskhetian Turks." Davidredd.Com. 9 May 2007

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