Members of the Ahiska Turk community recounted memories of their sorrowful exile when they were deported from their homeland in 1944 under Soviet rule.
In 1944, more than 92,000 Ahiska Turks, also known as Meskhetian Turks, were expelled from Georgia’s Meskheti region by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, according to the World Ahiska Turks Association.
On Tuesday, some Ahiska Turks gathered in the Turkish capital for a commemorative event organized by Turkey’s Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) to mark the 75th anniversary of their ordeal.
Enser Rizmanoglu, 95, who lives in Azerbaijan, was among those in Ankara for the occasion.
Rizmanoglu told Anadolu Agency that he was in his 20s during the deportation.
“Some of my family members died on the way,” he said. “We lived in Uzbekistan until 1958 and later moved to Azerbaijan, where we still live.”
According to Rizmanoglu, people in the region built the railroad that was used to carry out the deportation.
“We didn’t know anything until the construction was completed," he said, adding soldiers later came and their daily life was restricted.
“We were not allowed to travel from one village to another for around three months,” he recalled. “But still, we had no idea they would exile us.”
Rizmanoglu recalled that they were kept waiting outside for three days until one morning, all the people in their village were sent into exile.
“The trains arrived. So many Muslims were carried in those trains that lice were swept inside the carriages.”
During the nearly 40-day deportation from their homeland to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, around 13,000 Ahiska Turks died from hunger, cold weather and diseases, according to the association.
For Rizmanoglu, the journey took more than a month before they reached their destination -- Uzbekistan.
He said their movement was restricted in the Central Asian country as well.
“I could not live peacefully until Stalin died,” he said.
Cold winters, freezing vehicles
Suliyev Halil Nuflioglu was only six years old during the exile.
Nuflioglu said they were transferred by vehicles that were sent to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan.
Up to 500,000 Ahiska Turks scattered across nine countries marked the 75th anniversary of their deportation, according to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.
“They told us we would come back. But we never returned our homeland,” he added.
The only consolation for Nuflioglu was that the local people in the area where they were sent to were Muslims.
“We suffered a lot during the exile,” he said. “Cold winters and freezing vehicles."
Most people were ill or died during the move, he said.
“They would stop the vehicles and tell us to take out the dead bodies. We would bury them in the snow.”
'I will live under the Turkish flag'
Another Ahiska Turk who remembers the exile is Musayev Ragip Ridvanoglu, 80, who was around eight years old during the deportation.
It took his family, including his six siblings, a little over a month to arrive in Kazakhstan, from which they later moved to Azerbaijan.
In an emotional tone, Ridvanoglu said he wants to live in Turkey.
“My homeland is here. I lived around 50 years in Kazakhstan and my son grew up there. My grandchildren were born there. Later, we went to Baku.”
According to the World Union of Ahiska Turks, Turkey has granted citizenship to more than 40,000 Ahiska Turks living in Turkey.
“Now if God permits, I will live here. If God permits, I will live under the red flag,” he said, referring to the color of the Turkish flag.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.