09TBILISI1037, GEORGIA: MESKHETIANS — WHAT THEIR RETURN MEANS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1037 2009-06-05 09:24 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO1354
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1037/01 1560924
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 050924Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1670
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 001037 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/06/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM RU GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: MESKHETIANS -- WHAT THEIR RETURN MEANS 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1.  (SBU) Summary and Comment:  As part of its obligations to 
the Council of Europe, Georgia committed to establishing a 
legal way to repatriate Meskhetians, the former Muslim 
inhabitants of southern Georgia who were deported to Central 
Asia by Stalin.  Georgia did that, and according to the 
timelines in Georgian legislation, Meskhetian applications to 
return have to be submitted by July 1, 2009, and repatriation 
completed by 2011.  More than 12,000 applications have been 
filed, primarily by a Moscow-based organization representing 
Meskhetian interests.  However, because the 
Samtskhe-Javakheti region, the traditional home to 
Meskhetians, is a region primarily inhabited by ethnic 
Armenians, the GoG has proceeded cautiously, fearing a 
large-scale return of Meskhetians could destabilize the 
ethnic balance in the region.  Russia has criticized Georgia 
for moving slowly, most recently on May 5 in the COE.  UNHCR 
contacts say the applications contain serious problems, 
presenting the Georgians with a delicate dilemma:  accept 
them, self-inflicting an administrative nightmare, or send 
the applications back, garnering bad publicity.  Ostensibly, 
it presents the Russians ample opportunity to embarrass the 
Georgians before the COE.  Georgia finds itself in the 
awkward position of trying to honor commitments made to 
Europe and moving forward, but dealing with old hostilities 
at the same time.  End Summary and Comment. 
 
Who are the Meskhetians? 
 
2.  (SBU) Meskhetians, former Muslim inhabitants of 
Samtskhe-Javakheti (southern Georgia), were deported by 
Stalin in 1944 to Central Asia.  In 1999, when acceding to 
the Council of Europe (COE), the Georgian Government agreed 
to adopt a legal framework for Meskhetian return and did so 
in 2007.  Under current legislation, the receipt of 
returnees' applications is to be completed by June 1, 2009, 
and the repatriation process is to be finished by 2011. The 
Samtskhe-Javakheti region, the traditional home to 
Meskhetians, is a region primarily inhabited by ethnic 
Armenians.  As such, the GoG has proceeded cautiously, 
fearing that a large-scale return of Meskhetians could 
destabilize the ethnic balance in the region.  Vatan, a 
Moscow-based organization representing the interests of 
Meskhetians, has been active in promoting and soliciting 
repatriation documents of Meskhetians.  It is unknown how 
many Meskhetians in Russia really wish to return, and how 
much Vatan is using the repatriation process to bring 
publicity to their cause.  Anecdotal information indicates 
that some 12,000 applications, many under Vatan auspices, 
have been filed with the Georgian Interest Section of the 
Swiss Embassy in Moscow.  On May 5, the Russian delegation to 
the COE in Brussels alleged that Georgia is not meeting its 
obligation for Meskhetian returns. 
 
Meskhetians -- The History 
 
3.  (U)  UNHCR describes Meskhetians as the former Muslim 
inhabitants of Meskhetia in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of 
Georgia, an area along the border with Turkey.  The group 
includes those from other ethnic backgrounds such as Ahiska 
Turks and Terekeme (both of Turkish extraction), Hemshins 
(Islamized Armenians), and Batumi Kurds.  According to 
research conducted by the European Center for Minority 
Issues, currently Meskhetians are scattered in nine different 
countries, most residing in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and 
Russia.  In 1999, when it joined the Council of Europe, 
Georgia committed to adopting a legal framework to repatriate 
QGeorgia committed to adopting a legal framework to repatriate 
and integrate deported Meskhetians.  In January 2005, the 
Council of Europe further encouraged Georgia to honor its 
commitment by creating necessary conditions "without any 
further delay" for the start of the repatriation process with 
a view to its completion by 2011. 
 
The Law and Its Shortcomings 
 
4.  (U)  In 2005, the Government of Georgia established a 
commission to study the issue and to elaborate a work plan. 
The law was adopted in July 2007, and the Ministry for 
Refugees and Accommodation became the responsible institution 
for the process.  The present law does not provide automatic 
permission to each formerly deported Meskhetian and his 
direct descendants to repatriate, but offers a legal 
framework to register and process applications for 
consideration.  UNHCR lists the major short-comings in the 
2007 law as: 
 
--  Short time of registration:  The original 2007 law only 
envisioned 12 months for persons to submit applications.  Due 
to the small quantity of applications received, this was 
 
TBILISI 00001037  002 OF 003 
 
 
extended by an additional year until July 1, 2009.  Another 
prolongation of the registration is now being considered but 
would delay implementation of the law. 
 
--  Proof of Exile:  Bierwirth said this criterion can only 
be met by very few, as most of the persons concerned have 
either never received a deportation order or no longer 
possess suc
h a document.  According to Irakli Kokaia, Head of 
Refugees and Repatriation Division, Ministry of Refugees and 
Accommodation, this issue is not insurmountable and MRA 
understands the complexity of the issue.  Kokaia said MRA has 
been able to assist applicants with this hurdle before and it 
solely will not block repatriation.  What is important is to 
fill out the applications correctly, attaching all requested 
additional documents (i.e., birth certificates, marriage 
certificates, etc.) 
 
--  Possible statelessness of a person holding status of a 
repatriate:  If a person returns, he/she must give up current 
citizenship and wait for Georgian citizenship approval, which 
may in fact leave him/her stateless until a decision is made 
for a period of six months or more. 
 
--  The scope of the law:  Only former deportees and their 
descendants who possess the citizenship or the status of 
permanent residence of their host country may apply for 
repatriation under this law.  This excludes all stateless 
persons without a residency permit, to include Meskhetians in 
Krasnodar Kray in Russia. 
 
--  Lack of legal remedies:  The law does not foresee an 
appeal. 
 
--  Lack of repatriation assistance:  The Government of 
Georgia does not bear the responsibility to allocate funds 
for reintegration processes, including housing, allocation of 
land, etc. 
 
5. (SBU)  UNHCR and other international organizations raised 
concerns over the vagueness of the procedures leading to the 
granting of Georgian citizenship.  They also emphasized that 
the simplified naturalization procedures should be designed 
to prevent interim statelessness and to avoid requiring 
applicants to renounce their existing citizenship before 
being able to apply for Georgian citizenship.  As of March 
2009, no changes have been made in the law. 
 
Georgian Political Ramifications 
 
6.  (SBU)  Strong commitment by some parliamentarians and 
human rights actors to improve the process to establish an 
acceptable repatriation regime has met with reservations from 
the security-related ministries, who are concerned that a 
significant influx of a Muslim minority to Georgia may 
aggravate local security challenges.  This is particularly 
true in Samtskhe-Javakheti, where 90 percent of the residents 
are ethnic Armenians.  Armenian-backed political parties 
active in Samtskhe-Javakheti point out that Meskhetian 
returns would upset the ethnic balance in the region, and 
fear that the returnees could lodge potential "lost property" 
claims.  The return of Meskhetians is used by some in the 
radical opposition to "reveal the betrayal of Georgian 
values" by the current "cosmopolitan" leadership.  For 
mainstream Orthodox Georgian society, the repatriation of 
Meskhetians also remains controversial.  Although the need 
for historic justice is generally understood and appreciated, 
not all segments of the population welcome returnees who have 
lost their ties to the Georgian culture, traditions and way 
of life. 
 
Russian Political Interest 
 
7.  (SBU) According to UNHCR, the Georgian Government has 
received 12,000 individual applications from the Russian 
Federation, predominantly from the Krasnodar Kray region. 
The applications were to be completed in English or Georgian, 
QThe applications were to be completed in English or Georgian, 
but most of the applications, filled out in Russian, are 
sitting in the Georgian Interests Section of the Swiss 
Embassy in Moscow.  According to MRA, about 6,000 of the 
documents are filled with errors and missing additional 
addendum documents.  GoG representatives are pondering next 
steps.  Kokaia spoke with Zurab Barbakhadze, at Vatan's Head 
Office in Moscow more than six months ago underlining the 
need to send additional documents to support the 
applications.  To date, nothing more has been received by 
MRA.  According to Christoph Bierwirth, UNHCR, the 
International Office of Migration (IOM) offered to conduct 
training with the Vatan representatives on how to fill out 
the forms correctly, but competing factions within Vatan 
refused.  Bierwirth noted that Vatan was heavily involved in 
 
TBILISI 00001037  003 OF 003 
 
 
identifying the possible candidates and the collection of 
applications.  He questioned to what extent the applications 
reflect the genuine interest of the applicants to return. One 
of the goals of Vatan is to raise the profile of Meskhetians 
and their return, and the sheer number of applications could 
be their attempt to do just this.  Bierwirth's analysis is 
the Russian objections are merely intended to make Georgia 
look bad before the Council of Europe, taking advantage of 
this difficult situation.  The High Commissioner for Human 
Rights will be in Strasbourg on June 9 to discuss the next 
step in the return process for Meskhetians and UNHCR will 
participate along with other stakeholders. 
 
Comment 
 
8.  (C)  The region of Samtskhe-Javakheti has long been an 
area of concern for the GoG, as it attempts to integrate 
non-Georgian speaking ethnic Armenians into the fabric of 
Georgian society.  Given the history of the region, it is not 
surprising that ethnic-Armenian Georgian citizens would be 
opposed to large scale Meskhetian returns.  It is not 
surprising either that Russia could see this as a way to not 
only destabilize Georgia by playing up CoE commitments, but 
also rid itself of a population that sometimes poses 
difficulties for the Russian government.  Russian influence 
has historically dominated the S-J region, culturally and 
politically, (many residents go to Russian speaking schools 
or have worked in Russia to send money home), however, this 
influence has decreased with the closure of the Russian base 
in Akhalkalaki several years ago.  Residents fear Georgian 
NATO entry would mean Turkish troops would be assigned to 
Georgian soil, and Meskhetian returns play directly on this 
fear. 
TEFFT

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