24 December 2003, 12:59

Yusuf Sarvarov and Meskhetian Turks' movement for return to homeland

Yusuf Sarvarov, permanent chair of the Central Council of the International Meskhetian Turks Society Vatan, died in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkar Republic, Russia, on July 4, 2003. There is an impression no one noticed Yusuf's death save his relatives, associates, and those who had personally contacted Vatan. Almost nowhere - in Russia, Georgia, or Turkey - reports or comments emerged. It would be extremely unfair to reproach Yusuf behindhand for having not made an eminent political figure - he had never sought that. It would be just as wrong to criticize the Vatan society for not being as well-known as, for instance, an anti-globalist movement. It's not Vatan's guilt, but its trouble that problems of the Meskhetian Turks remain their own problems with almost complete indifference or even hostility on the part of the surrounding public.

It seemed nothing had foreboded the soon departure. Yusuf had an ailing stomach, and he was put to hospital several times over the past year, but he felt not bad and treated the illness calmly, like his relatives. His sudden death shocked everyone.

The scope of the loss is yet to be realized. An entire era is over with Yusuf Sarvarov's death. An era in history, at least in that of the Meskhetian Turks. His name was tightly connected with the movement for return to South Georgia, the parts from where the Turks had been deported in 1944.

* * *
This ethnicity has been called differently: the Meskhetians, Soviet Turks, Meskhetian Turks, Akhaltsikhe Turks (more precisely in Turkish, "akhyska tiurkleri" - translation into Russian substantially changes shades of meaning). They, too, call themselves differently. They are Muslims, Turkish-speaking, and they lived in the south of Georgia, in the region with the capital city of Akhaltsikhe. The region is considered part of Georgia's historic province Meskheti, hence the names "Meskhetians" or "Meskhetian Turks." In November 1944, they were deported from there, to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, and settled down in the countryside as "special migrants". The total number of the people deported from those parts (including ex-servicemen after the war) is up to 100,000.

An April 28, 1956, decree of the USSR Supreme Soviet's Presidium released the nationalities deported from South Georgia, along with the Crimean Tartars and the Balkars, from the Interior Ministry's special oversight and related restrictions (1). According to the decree, however, they were prohibited from coming back to their native parts, and the Meskhetians have not received such an opportunity up to the present. In first years after the decree, hundreds of Meskhetian families tried to move to Georgia, closer to their native parts. Authorities prevented such attempts: police deported the migrants from the republic or detained them on the border; in the same year 1956, a border area regime was extended to the entire Akhaltsikhe region.

The people came to have a firm belief that return to the native parts requires a fundamental decision of the top leadership. First initiative groups emerged in 1956-57, and they began to prepare group addresses to party and state organs of the USSR and the Georgian SSR. Enver Mushur-oglu Odabashev became leader, a war veteran and teacher of history by profession, who lived in Kirgizia [present-day Kyrgyzstan - tr.] and later, in the mid-1960s, moved to the Saatly district, Azerbaijan. Odabashev toured a lot of regions searching for supporters and trying to establish a sort of public movement.

According to Chronicle of Current Events, the Meskhetian Turks' first "nationality-wide" meeting (kurultai) was held on February 15, 1964, on the collective farm Lenin Yuli ("Lenin's Path"), Buka district, Tashkent region, Uzbekistan (2). However, all veterans of the movement maintain the first kurultai occurred in 1961. The congress is estimated to have involved 200 to 600 delegates from different regions and several hundred local Meskhetians. The authorities had been informed about the event by its organizers; they did not put obstacles, but sent observers - representatives of the regional and district committees of Uzbekistan's Community Party and the KGB. The meeting announced establishment of an organization titled Temporary Organization Committee for Liberation (TOCL). They adopted its platform resolution and an address to the central authorities. The 11-paragraph resolution set the following tasks to the movement: complete rehabilitation of the people; removal of all bans and restrictions on movement; obtaining of official permission for organized return to South Georgia; and so on.

The idea of an ethnic union, along with the plan to establish, not under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and other Soviet organs, some bodies of a movement pursuing the objective of influence on the country's political leadership; and the very name of this organization that time appeared to be a sedition passing all bounds. Enver Odabashev took away with him how it had occurred to him and his supporters to set up a public movement actually opposing the Soviet government and simultaneously non-conspiratorial. It also remains a mystery why the authorities practically did not react to the Meskhetians' first kurultai, as well as their subsequent "nationality-wide meetings."

Movement activists were chiefly busy with composing addresses to CPSU and Soviet state leaders, as well as those of union republics, requesting to look into and decide on the destiny of the people that remained in exile and collecting signatures for these appeals. A lot of efforts were spent to prepare delegations of "people's representatives" (first of all from among war veterans, CPSU members and persons with government awards) and send them to Moscow and Tbilisi to party and state leaders. Movement members also held meetings of compatriots and carried out propaganda (proving the need to unite and join forces to achieve the desired goal - return to the homeland). Local activists also took part in preparing republican and "nationality-wide" meetings and fund-raising for movement events.

In the early 1960s, a problem emerged that later exerted a very serious influence on the entire situation - the issue of the Meskhetians' ethnicity. The movement began to split gradually into two factions - a "Georgian" and a "Turkish" one. Supporters of the former insisted that the Meskhetians should admit themselves to be Georgians, set the objective of "returning to roots," learn Georgian, and seek agreement with Georgia's authorities on that basis. Those who considered themselves Turks were disposed to return to the Akhaltsikhe region without any preconditions.

The second "nationality-wide" meeting took place in the Tashkent region, Uzbekistan, in 1963; the third and fourth in the Saatly district, Azerbaijan, in 1965 and 1966; the fifth was held in the Tashkent region in 1968. From 1966, the movement's documents began to mention a Main Organization Committee for Liberation (MOCL) instead of the TOCL. The movement was stepping up its petition campaign. No wonder that expressions of loyalty to the Soviet state, the CPSU, and "Lenin's nationalities policy" were absolutely typical for every address to the authorities in the 1960-80s; sometimes they were combined with demands and critical rhetoric, quite radical in form. By 1968, at least 24 Meskhetian delegations had been sent to top party and state authorities of the USSR and Georgia. Meetings with leaders followed different scenarios. In some cases, the petitioners faced strong rejection, sometimes they met sympathy, but more often evasive answers.

By the late 1960s, the division became more distinct between the "Turkish" and "Georgian" trends, although the movement's key events (kurultais, large delegations) as a rule involved supporters of both factions. Enver Odabashev became leader of the "Turkish" and Kh. Umerov-Gozalishvili of the "Georgian" trend.

In the second half of the 1960s, authorities began to give more promises. On May 30, 1968, the USSR Supreme Soviet's Presidium passed Decree N 2709-VII which explained that Turks, Kurds, Khemshilis, and Azerbaijanis with Soviet citizenship who had previously resided in Georgia's southern regions and Ajaria "enjoy the right, like all citizens of the Soviet Union, to live in any part of the USSR in accordance with the employment and passport regime legislation in effect." At the same time, the Decree observed that the mentioned categories of citizens had "taken root" in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and other union republics (3).

On the other hand, pressure on movement members was stepped up in the same period: local government organs, the KGB, and police invited them for conversations; CPSU members were threatened punishment along the party line. In April 1968, authorities tried by force to prevent the fifth "nationality-wide" meeting in the Yangiyul (Янгиюльском) district, Tashkent region, Uzbekistan.

On April 19, 1969, Enver Odabashev was arrested at a teachers' conference in Saatly, Azerbaijan, and his home was searched the same day. On April 21, several hundred Meskhetians from all settlements of the district left work and gathered in Saatly before the party's district committee, demanding that Odabashev should be immediately discharged; so they let him go on the night of April 23 (4).

On August 27, 1969, the 33rd Meskhetian delegation sought to be received at the CPSU Central Committee. The delegates encountered what they considered offensive treatment and were said to throw down in protest their Soviet passports in the waiting room, saying they wanted to decline their Soviet citizenship. In the morning on August 28, police detained some delegates and sent them out from Moscow to their residences (5). On April 6, 1970, MOCL members Enver Odabashev, Mukhlis Niyazov, Ismail Kerimov, and Taifur Iliyasov addressed the Turkish embassy inquiring about the possibility to enter this country for those Turks who like if the Soviet authorities refuse to return the deported ones to their homeland (6).

On May 1-2, 1970, the sixth "nationality-wide" meeting was held in Adygiun, Saatly district, Azerbaijan. The closing resolution contained strong-worded statements, condemned "acts of violence and abuse of power" on the authorities' part, and mentioned that this was what made the MOCL to apply to the Turkish embassy. The resolution approved of the 33rd delegation's actions (paragraph 9) and contained a request to the authorities to "permit those who like to depart for Turkey... if our demands are not satisfied" (paragraph 10). It should be considered a fundamentally new point that the resolution featured a demand of not only the people's return to Meskheti, but also establishment of a "Meskhetian Turkish Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) or Autonomous Region with the capital in Akhaltsikhe, as part of the Georgian SSR" (paragraph 1), as well as payment of the deported people's damages (paragraph 4).

On May 25, 1971, MOCL members Niyazov, Mamedov and Seifatov were detained in Moscow and sentenced to administrative arrest, as they wanted to pass to the Turkish consulate to discuss the emigration issue for those Meskhetians who wanted it (7). On July 18, 1971, the KGB and police tried to disrupt the seventh "nationality-wide" meeting in the Middle-Chirchik district, Tashkent region, Uzbekistan. However, the meeting occurred: the roads were blocked too late when more than 1,000 people had already gathered at the appointed place, while threats of arrest and dispersal had no effect (8). The meeting's closing resolution again put forward demands of territorial autonomy for the Meskhetians in South Georgia. The demand of territorial autonomy for the Meskhetians has never since been mentioned in any document of the movement or in its leaders' statements. The Meskhetian movement did not either put forward the emigration slogan later; it reappeared only in 1990 with initiative groups advocating an organized departure for Turkey. It should be noted that the seventh kurultai's Protest against repressions on the part of authorities mentioned UN Secretary-General U Thant among this statement's addressees (9).

In August, Odabashev was arrested and soon sentenced in Baku, Azerbaijan, for two years in labor camp under article 162 of the Azerbaijani SSR's Criminal Code, for some alleged "unauthorized seizure of collective farm land." While in labor camp, he again went on trial in Tashkent and received another 2.5 years under articles 191-4 and 191-6 of the Uzbek SSR's Criminal Code ("dissemination of knowingly false insinuations defaming the Soviet regime" and "organization of group actions gravely violating public order"). He was released in April 1974 (10). In October 1971, Mukhlis Niyazov was convicted for "hooliganism" and received 3.5 years in prison. In the same year 1971, the following people were sentenced to labor camp: Niyazov for 1.5 year, Izzatov for 2 years, and Seifatov for 1 year; Karimov was sentenced to 8 months in labor camp in 1972 (11).

* * *
By the late 1960s, Yusuf Sarvarov had a usual life for a Turk in exile. He was born in 1939 in a peasant family in Abastumani, Adigeni district, Georgia (don't mix with the resort town of Abastumani, which is not far from there, though). In November 1944, with all the Turks he was deported to Middle Asia. He grew up in the Akhunbabaev district, Fergana region, Uzbekistan. Yusuf entered the Tashkent Aviation School and then, as a graduate, moved with his family to Frunze, the capital of the Kirgiz SSR. In 1969, he entered an evening department of the Frunze Polytechnic Institute (graduated in 1974) and simultaneously began to work as a driver at a champagne plant. At the same time, he joined the movement for return to Georgia.

On July 25, 1971, Enver Odabashev took part in a general meeting of Frunze's Turk residents in the Popenovka village, where the Frunze Committee for Liberation (FCL) was set up headed by Sarvarov (12). Later, in August-October 1971, the FCL launched work on creating Turkish committees in key settlements in the Chuya Valley.

In the early 1970, leaders' arrests weakened the movement, but not stopped it. Regional organizations, in particular the FCL undertook many tasks of the MOCL. In 1971-74, Yusuf Sarvarov prepared several messages to the USSR's top leaders and first secretaries of union republics' communist parties, and managed to organize collection of signatures. In Kirgizia alone, about 10,000 signatures were collected for releasing Odabashev and other Meskhetian leaders. In 1974, he became chair of the Kirgiz MOCL and deputy chair of the union-wide MOCL.

Becoming an activist of an ethnic movement which to some extent opposed the state meant to doom oneself for a very troublesome life. Some or other troubles were guaranteed, but success and, more so, some welfare by no means.

Overall, attitude of the KGB and party organs to Meskhetian activists remained rather tolerant by Soviet standards. Activists remained under constant oversight in the provinces, and "explanatory" work was conducted with them, but just seven people were sentenced to labor camps up to the late 1980s, and it is open to question in one case whether it was fabricated. Activists were invited for conversations, and people were persuaded out of writing addresses to Georgian leaders. Party organs initiated addresses of Meskhetians, first of all party members and war veterans, to leaderships of union republics and, perhaps, to the CPSU Central Committee, in which they gave assurances that they did not want to move to Georgia. From 1972, activists were recommended seeking to move to Georgia on general terms, but in fact this piece of advice had a mocking nature: all inquiries addressed to district authorities in South Georgia led to answers that there were no grounds to allow entrance to the borderline area. However, there also were threats and dismissals. Thus, Kiazim Anvarov who, like Yusuf Sarvarov, worked as a driver at the champagne plant in Frunze was fired in 1972. The KGB's pressure (shadowing, threats) was stepped up in cases when movement members tried to communicate information abroad or to Moscow's dissidents.

After Odabashev's release, the operation of the movement's central leadership was resumed (the central organ was again called TOCL). An eighth "nationality-wide" meeting was held on June 8, 1976, in Erokko, Kabardino-Balkar ASSR, which led to an open conflict between the "Turkish" and the "Georgian" trends (13).

Starting from 1976-77, the Georgian authorities sanctioned without much publicity resettlement of small Meskhetian groups to various districts in the republic. Supporters of the "Georgian" trend established contacts with Georgian dissidents (Guram Mamulia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Victor Rtskhiladze) and some intellectuals advocating return of the "Muslim Georgians" to "national roots." It should be noted that those circles at that time viewed "saving the denationalized Meskh Georgians" almost as their patriotic duty.

On February 14, 1978, a so-called TOCL "small delegation" was received by Z.A.Pataridze, Chairman of the Georgian Council of Ministers, who gave assurances that the Georgian leadership was going to launch repatriation of the Meskhetians as soon as possible, in particular it was ready to admit 4,000 to 10,000 people to Georgia during the year. A different statement was made at another meeting on June 29: the issue of admitting the Meskhetians to the five borderline districts was beyond the Georgian government's jurisdiction, while settlement in other republican districts would require extra adjustments and longer terms (14). TOCL members' next four visits to Tbilisi in the summer-autumn of 1978 did not lead to clarifying the situation.

On April 3, 1979, the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party passed a resolution (several days later it served as a basis for a decree of the republican Council of Ministers) about settlement and employment of small groups of Meskhetians in some Georgian districts. Meskhetian representatives were told they would be informed about further practical measures during a month (15). Yusuf Sarvarov, appointed TOCL representative in Tbilisi, did not receive the official answer and tried to learn from his own experience how serious those promises were. With his family, he tried to move to the Makharadze (present-day Ozurgeti) district, but he was deported from there. After some red-tape at Georgia's Council of Ministers and State Committee for Labor and Employment, he was offered Narazeni, Zugdidi district, for settlement. Ten Meskhetian families settled down in Narazeni together with the Sarvarovs, and they all were offered unskilled jobs on the collective tea farm. The declared resettlement of several hundred families to Georgia did not occur, so the Georgian authorities once again resorted to red-tape tactics.

In late 1979, some Georgian dissidents (Guram Mamulia, Karina Korinteli and, presumably, Zviad Gamsakhurdia) paid a visit to Narazeni. They tried to persuade Yusuf Sarvarov and other Meskhetians into writing applications about their wish to "restore" Georgian ethnicity and Georgian surnames. Perhaps, Meskhetian leaders' previous reluctance to get drawn into discussions on their ethnicity had provided Georgian intellectuals that contacted them with reasons to believe that those were ready for such demonstrative "return to roots." This time, the visitors were met with quite a strong rebuff; moreover, the Meskhetians lodged a collective complaint to the Central Committee of Georgia's Communist Party. After this, Narazeni residents' attitude to them rapidly grew much worse. According to Yusuf, it would go as far as direct threats of arson and beating his children at school. In March 1980, he had to leave Georgia, first to Azerbaijan, then to Kabardino-Balkaria.

In spite of the unsuccessful outcome of Yusuf Sarvarov's undertaking, the Georgian authorities continued to settle in various districts small Meskhetian groups, mostly those who were ready to admit themselves Georgians (17).

In 1980-81, TOCL leaders prepared a series of collective petitions to Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the CPSU Central committee and Chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet's Presidium, and other state leaders and delegates of the CPSU's XXVI Congress. The authorities continued to alternate promises and red-tape with repressions. One delegation in November 1981 managed to attain an audience at the KGB where the Turks were given vague, but encouraging promises (18). At the same time, Yusuf Sarvarov's house in Nartan, Kabardino-Balkar ASSR, was searched on October 12, 1981. Another Meskhetian delegation on February 8, 1982, was rudely denied reception at the CPSU Central Committee. All members of the delegation (52) in protest refused to leave the waiting room, so by the end of the working day they were evicted by police officers and sent out from Moscow. In a few days, Yusuf Sarvarov was arrested in Nartan and convicted for two years in prison under article 191 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic ("showing of resistance to a police officer"). He did time in Vydrino, Buryat ASSR, and was amnestied in a year.

A recession began in the Meskhetian movement that lasted several years. A tenth "general" (it did not have a "nationality-wide" status) meeting of the Meskhetians occurred in Kabardino-Balkaria in February 1986. Enver Odabashev was dismissed as TOCL chair; the TOCL was renamed as Temporary Organization Committee of the movement for return (the TOC abbreviation came in use); Abuzar Safarov was elected chair (19). An expanded meeting on April 12, 1987, elected Yusuf Sarvarov to this position.

Change of the country's top leadership and the start of the perestroika gave new hopes to the Meskhetians. Georgia's Council of Ministers passed Decree N 600 on December 8, 1987, on settlement of the Meskhetians in the republic; for the first time, it indicated the possibility of their resettlement in the Akhaltsikhe region. In 1988, a commission on the Meskhetian Turks problem was set up at the CPSU Central Committee. In the same year 1988, the Meskhetian problem was first highlighted by the media. The petition campaign was again on the rise in 1987-88. The Central TOC constantly held conferences and meetings with representatives of the provinces which adopted addresses to authorities at various levels. The network of local (regional, district and village) TOCs was restored.

The "Turkish" and "Georgian" factions completely split in this period. An extraordinary, "uniting" "nationality-wide" meeting occurred in Psykod, Kabardino-Balkar ASSR, in August 1988. At this meeting, supporters of the "Georgian" trend underwent an "ideological defeat," so they publicly "admitted" their position to be erroneous (20). Even before, it had already been clear that the number of Meskhetians ready to declare themselves Georgians was minute comparing with those who considered themselves Turks.

After the so-called Fergana events - mass pogroms of Meskhetian Turks in the Fergana region, Uzbekistan, in June 1989 - more than 90,000 Turks had to leave Uzbekistan and move to other union republics, mainly to Azerbaijan and Russia. Simultaneously, anti-Turk moods increased in Georgia; while all Georgian intellectuals had formerly viewed Meskhetians as Georgians by origin and demanded that they should be made Georgians by culture, after Fergana they talked about them in Georgia only as Turks which were to be defended from. As for the central Soviet authorities, they demonstrated complete helplessness in protecting their citizens from violence and in ensuring forced migrants' rights.

* * *
At a constituent congress in Moscow on May 1-2, 1990, a Union-wide Meskhetian Turks Society Vatan was set up instead of the TOC. The society's key target was proclaimed to be complete rehabilitation of the Meskhetian Turks and provision of conditions for return to their historic homeland - Georgia's Samtskhe-Javakheti region. The organization's Charter codifies that the society acts only within the scope of law using only nonviolent methods. Yusuf Sarvarov was elected chair of the society's Central Council. Since then, the society's key operation has been focused in Moscow, although Vatan's offices have emerged almost in all regions where Turks live. In the early 1990s, Vatan's leadership held a series of mass actions. The best-known are: picketing the state's top government bodies in Moscow in the summer of 1990 and a mass meeting of Meskhetians in Adler, Krasnodar region, Russia, in August 1990. The meeting in Adler was to announce the start of a "peaceful advance" on Georgia, but this plan was not put into practice after protests from Russian and Georgian authorities. However, Vatan leaders' key activity was lobbying at those party and state structures to which they were admitted. When in April 1991 Russia's Supreme Soviet passed a law on rehabilitation of repressed peoples, various societies in Moscow noticeably stepped up their activity representing peoples that had underwent exile. Yusuf was elected co-chair of the Russian Confederation of Repressed Peoples which existed until 1994.

Vatan's first meeting in Moscow in November 1992 renamed the society as an international public organization. The congress confirmed the invariability of its platform objectives, but also made a decision to consider interaction with international organizations one of its priorities.

The entire period of Vatan's existence from the moment of establishment was very difficult for the organization: a series of splits occurred, a lot of regional offices were passive, and the society was not able to find sponsors and patrons. Almost all activities of Vatan's central bodies chiefly consisted of Yusuf Sarvarov's lobbying. Yusuf used any chance to remind the Russian authorities of the Meskhetian problem and the need for more active pressure on Georgia. When in 1992, right after Gamsakhurdia's overthrow, the new Georgian government announced their readiness to settle the Meskhetian issue, Yusuf constantly tried to maintain contacts with the Georgian leadership and the Georgian embassy in Russia. Simultaneously, he tried to win government and public support in Turkey, which however, did not yield noticeable results.

In spite that Vatan's addresses to various government, international, and nongovernmental organizations basically remained fruitless, the human rights movement and international community were becoming more and more aware of the Meskhetian Turks problem.

In 1997-2000, Yusuf Sarvarov took part in the Regional Conference on Migration Problems in the CIS, held under the UN aegis. In August 1998, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees; the OSCE HighCommissioner on National Minorities; and the Forced Migration Projects of the Open Society Institute held in the Hague, Netherlands, informal conferences on Meskhetian Turks problems. Meskhetian societies, including Vatan, took part in the meeting along with international organizations and the concerned governments of Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Vatan's delegation also took part in the second round of consultations in Vienna, Austria, in March 1999.

On Vatan's initiative, a Union of European Federalists delegation of the in 1998 visited Georgia to learnabout the life of national minorities. Their report to the Council of Europe (COE) gave a basically positive estimate of the authorities' operation, along with a resolute indication of the need to solve the problem of repatriation for the Meskhetian Turks.

All these debates, discussions, and reports produced an effect - when joining the COE in 1999, Georgia undertook an obligation to solve the problem of repatriation for the Meskhetian Turks in twelve years.

* * *
What kind of man was Yusuf? He lived by his cause which completely engrossed him. His very public position made him be in full view and in the thick of events, but he did not seek to draw attention to himself and disliked to open up with outsiders. He did not leave any memoirs; several newspaper articles and interviews - only here, probably, his direct speech can be heard. What kind of man is he in people's memory? Resolute, straightforward, at times even harsh, intolerant of everything in which he saw treachery of the common ideals. Sometimes he was rough, and he was never at a loss for words, but at the same time, he could for hours patiently talk to touring journalists or researchers bringing his position home to them in great detail. A man who never hid behind anyone's back and tried to do everything by himself. Himself, he went to Russia's Nationalities Policy Ministry, or went to Georgia and Turkey to negotiate with officials; himself, he prepared Vatan's activities and wrote addresses and resolutions. Perhaps, some can view this as an authoritarian character; others view this as the measure of responsibility this man loaded himself with.

Not a simple man in complex situations. In all these situations, as one can see now, he behaved with dignity. Any leader can be criticized behindhand - somewhere he was undiplomatic, somewhere too rigid, somewhere he lost a favorable chance. But Yusuf did not betray or set up, provocation and violence were alien to him. It's a rare thing for a contemporary politician. How much blame was put on him for the idea of a "peaceful advance on Georgia" in August 1990! Indeed, this initiative was almost too much. But now, looking back and analyzing those events calmly, one can see that this was a very successful, if risky, publicity action. Nothing indicates that Yusuf really intended to lead Vatan's supporters from Adler to Georgia across the Abkhaz border. After all, a "peaceful march" can also be interpreted figuratively! Never since the Fergana events had so much been talked and written about the Turks as that time, when the authorities panicked. Meanwhile, the Georgian "patriots" going into hysteric very demonstratively showed everyone what they were actually worth.

It's hard to realize what enormous patience one must have had to do one's bit persistently, for more than 30 years, without seeing one's family for months, with a phantom hope for success, and running up constantly against treachery and deceit. This cause never promised lay welfare - money, glory, respect, or power. Even as chair of the society, he, like any other Meskhetian leaders, in fact could not order anything to anyone. Himself, too, he joined the movement not by order. Like other Vatan activists, his inner persuasion and sense of responsibility made him hold out. The press blamed him for "extremism," fanaticism, and "fundamentalism"; he could not respond, but he continued to work, persistently. He was perfectly aware that those Soviet, Russian, and Georgian officials on whom solution of the Turks' problems actually depended did not care a devil for himself and his people. But all the same, he haunted offices, wrote addresses, attended international meetings, and proceeded with persuasion. There was no strong state behind him (all this time, the Turkish government's position can be described as almost complete indifference), nor rich sponsors (Vatan almost had no funds; Russia's Nationalities Policy Ministry paid several meetings of the society, and the Turkish embassy helped to lease a small office). He knew that only 300,000 his compatriots are behind him - simple peasants scattered about eight countries, disunited, poor, sometimes simply on the brink of survival. Already an aged man with poor health, he could not leave for private life to be busy only with his home and family. A man of duty, he thought this would be treachery.

Yusuf was perhaps the last ethnic leader known and respected in almost all countries where Meskhetian Turks live. Sure, it would be a big exaggeration to say that Vatan rested only on Yusuf, but no doubt, to a significant extent on him. Yusuf was probably the last romantic leader, from among those who believe not only in their moral rightness, but also that the goal can be achieved only by persuading others of this rightness, not by violence, threats, or intrigues. Of course, the Meskhetian Turks movement is and will be continued. However, it will not be like it was formerly. What will it be like? So far, it is unclear.

F.Pepinov, A.Osipov
Human Rights Center Memorial (Moscow)


(1) Deportation of Peoples of the USSR (1930-50s). Part 1. - Moscow: IEA RAN, 1992. p. 82.

(2) Chronicle of Current Events, N7, in: Chronicle of Current Events. Fascicle 1-15-Amsterdam: Hertsen Fund, 1979. p. 133

(3) Bulletin of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 1968, N23, p. 181

(4) Chronicle of Current Events, N9, p. 167-168, a copy of the Resolution of the sixth "nationality-wide" meeting, kept at Yusuf Sarvarov's place.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid; Chronicle of Current Events, N19, p. 167-168.

(7) Chronicle of Current Events, N20, p. 217-218.

(8) From a copy of the seventh kurultai's Protest in Yusuf Sarvarov's archives.

(9) From a copy of the document in Yusuf Sarvarov's archives.

(10) Chronicle of Current Events, N22, p. 288; Chronicle of Current Events, N34, New York, 1975, p. 90.

(11) Liudmila Alekseyeva, A History of Dissidence in the USSR. Moscow-Vilnius, 1992, p. 113; information of Yusuf Sarvarov.

(12) From minutes in Yusuf Sarvarov's archives.

(13) From Yusuf Sarvarov's diary records.

(14) TOCL document N 700/15 of September 16, 1978, and an address to Leonid Brezhnev, TOCL document N 700/18 of January 24, 1979.

(15) TOCL document N 700/24.

(16) It was planned to admit up to 150 families in 1979 and up to 200 families in 1980; from Yusuf Sarvarov's draft address to D.I.Patiashvili, First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party's Central Committee, 1988.

(17) According to Georgia's State Committee for Labor and Employment, 380 Meskhetian families moved to Georgia between 1966 and 1989; 150 families left the republic by May 1, 1989; see: The Turks from Meskheti: A Long Way to Rehabilitation. - Moscow, 1994. p. 109.

(18) From an address to Yuri Andropov, TOCL document N 700/47 of November 1, 1981.

(19) According to Yusuf Sarvarov's information.

(20) E.Kh.Panesh, L.B.Ermolov, Meskhetian Turks (A historic and ethnographic analysis of the Problem) / Soviet Ethnography, 1990, N1, p. 18.

Source: Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow, Russia)

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