Meskhetian Turks resettle in Philadelphia

Haroon Moghul moghul at
Sat Sep 25 16:42:26 UTC 2004

I was contacted a few months ago by an agency that was assisting these
refugees, and was looking for interpreters. Specifically, people who
spoke Turkish (as in Turkey's Turkish), Azeri, Uzbek or Russian... I
found the absence of 'Meskhetian' interesting. Though perhaps the
agency presumed fairly enough that there were likely too few people
who knew any Meskhetian dialects to serve that capacity.

I can try to contact this agency again for more information, and let
everyone know what I find...

Haroon Moghul

On Fri, 24 Sep 2004 11:27:44 -0400 (EDT), Harold F. Schiffman
<haroldfs at> wrote:
> Does anyone know of work that has focussed specifically on the groups
> deported by Stalin to Central Asia (such as the Meskhetian Turks, below)
> and what has become of them?  I know that Khrushchev allowed some to
> return to their "homelands", such as these folks, the Chechens, the
> Kabarians (all in the Caucasus) but of course Volga Germans didn't get to
> return their homes, and Koreans deported from the Far East are also now
> still either in Kazakhstan or in Russia.
> I have been interested in this issue since I visited the North Caucasus in
> 1963, and actually visited a Balkarian village, where they proudly showed
> us the wonderful new homes the Soviet authorities had built for them (but
> neglected to mention that they had spent 15 years or so in Kazakhstan.) At
> the time I wondered why their old homes looked so decrepid, but didn't
> learn about the deportations until later.
> Of course part of the Chechens' bitterness about their situation results
> from having returned to Chechnya to find their homes and lands occupied,
> but that doesn't get much press reporting in our media...
> I also 'get' from the report below that these Meskhetian may not actually
> still speak their original Turkic dialect; language maintenance for these
> deportees typically collapsed because of the dispersement.  I met Koreans
> in Russia in 2002 who all spoke Russian; I wonder how many Chechens still
> speak Chechen?
> Hal Schiffman
> >From the Philadelphia Enquirer,  Posted on Thu, Sep. 23, 2004
> A Home in America Displaced for decades, ethnic minority Turks settle in
> the Philadelphia area. The language is daunting, the regulations
> burdensome, but finally they're making a home in this country.
> By Gaiutra Bahadur Inquirer Staff Writer
> They walked two miles under the midday sun - past Rita's Water Ice, past
> pizza and hoagie shops, through a landscape of brick houses, tamed front
> yards, and street signs in a foreign script.
> "Rhawn."
> A right here.
> "I need my car," joked Alibek Lomidze, who had just been turned away from
> the first day of classes at Northeast High.
> "Bradford."
> A left here.
> It was not the first time the 18-year-old, his family or his ancestors had
> had to navigate unfamiliar terrain.
> His family is part of the first wave of 10,000 refugees known as
> Meskhetian Turks, who are expected to be resettled in the United States
> over the next few years. All 82 of the refugees, who had been living as
> second-class citizens in Russia, moved to the Philadelphia area this
> summer.
> They come as the flow of refugees to the United States has slowed since
> Sept. 11, 2001, a result of a labyrinth of new security procedures that
> have nearly halted the influx from the Middle East, South Asia, and parts
> of Africa.
> The Meskhetian Turks are among three major groups that began arriving in
> the United States this year, including thousands of Hmong who were forced
> out of a shantytown settlement in Thailand, and thousands of Bantu, a
> tribe that fled civil war in Somalia a decade ago for refugee camps
> elsewhere.
> The Turks - not warehoused in camps, but eking out marginal existences as
> vegetable farmers near the Black Sea - are coming now because advocates
> pleaded their case in Washington and because, in a post-Sept. 11
> landscape, they were easy to process.
> "They did not pose any sort of a security threat, not coming from a
> country or a group from which terrorists have sprung," said Ralston H.
> Deffenbaugh Jr., president of the national Lutheran Immigration and
> Refugee Service. "It was safe for U.S. interviewers to go there to
> interview them."
> A coalition of local agencies - including an affiliate of the Lutheran
> group, the Nationalities Service Center, and the HIAS and Council
> Migration Services, a Jewish aid agency - has resettled the Muslim
> refugees across the Philadelphia region, which has one of the largest and
> most concentrated populations of Eastern Europeans nationwide.
> Some live in dormitories on the grounds of an Islamic center tucked along
> the Main Line, and a few live amid the farmhouses of Lancaster. But many
> more are close to Russian canteens in the strip malls of the city's
> Northeast.
> "They were basically people without a home," Deffenbaugh said, "and one of
> the things the U.S. can offer sometimes is a home for the homeless."
> Over three days in the winter of 1944, soldiers acting on orders from
> Joseph Stalin encircled the houses of 120,000 Muslims in the mountains of
> Meskhetia, a part of the former Soviet republic of Georgia near the
> Turkish border. At gunpoint, the soldiers herded the Meskhetian Turks, an
> ethnic minority, into trains bound for exile 1,200 miles away in Central
> Asia.
> The displacement started a refrain of loss kept up over six decades as
> houses were confiscated, deserted, or sold for nearly nothing.
> "We had one hectare of fruit and vegetable gardens," said Khamdi Karimov,
> who was part of the relocation as a 14-year-old. "All that we left behind,
> and we did not get one penny."
> Now 74 and a patriarch among the refugees here, he remembered the exodus
> as he sat in his bare-walled apartment in Bustleton.
> It took three weeks to get to Uzbekistan in cold, claustrophobic railroad
> cars. The bodies of people who died along the way were thrown onto the
> tracks. At journey's end, they emerged to the new quarters that Stalin -
> who some thought wanted to clear the way of sympathizers, should he decide
> to invade Turkey - had dictated for them. "There was no floor," Karimov
> recalls. "No windows. No roof."
> They did not stay there for long. They built lives, and they built new
> houses, only to quit them in 1989 during a pogrom led by Uzbeks in which
> 100 Turks died and the rest were scattered. Some fled to Azerbaijan. About
> 17,000 settled in Krasnodar, a region near the Black Sea in Russia.
> Karimov's four sons, all here now, were among them. So were Alibek Lomidze
> and his family.
> "What country are you from?" Pat Ryan, head of Northeast High's program of
> English for Speakers of Other Languages, had asked Alibek's family earlier
> that day.
> "Russia."
> "How long have you been here?"
> "One month and two weeks."
> "You speak English very well."
> "I've been studying. Watching TV."
> "What's your name?"
> "Samet Lomidze. In America, Sam."
> Ryan turned to the others to glean their levels of English comprehension.
> "Aynura," declared Alibek's sister, a 14-year-old stylishly dressed in tan
> capris and pink-and-white sneakers.
> "Ilkhom," their cousin said.
> "Alibek. In America, Ali."
> The young man who, two months ago, knew America only through dimly
> understood Eminem lyrics, was mystified by the baggy jeans that are the de
> facto uniform at the high school. He was neatly arrayed, as he would be in
> Krasnodar, in black slacks, a white shirt, and elfishly tapered black
> shoes.
> "How do you feel about living here?" Ryan asked them. "Are you excited
> right now? Are you missing your country? Do you feel sad?"
> They were silent.
> "Did you go to high school?" Ryan pursued. "How many students were there?"
> "1,000 students," said Samet, Alibek's brother.
> One thousand students had elected Samet, 16, student council president,
> only to see the principal strip him of the title because of his ethnicity.
> In Krasnodar, it was common for Meskhetian Turks to be segregated by
> classroom.
> ("I was hurt," Samet later said of the overturned election. "But I
> understood there was nothing I could do.")
> Ryan explained that they would be taking three periods of English a day,
> as part of the beginner's ESOL group.
> "Wait. Wait," Samet said. "We know eight languages."
> "Very good - four," Alibek added. "Turkish, Russian, Uzbek, Azerbaijani."
> "You know," Ryan told them, "we have many students from Russia and
> Uzbekistan. You will do very well here, I know."
> By now, Samet and Aynura Lomidze were in class.
> Alibek, however, had been turned back from the high school, unregistered,
> because his immunization card was a continent and an ocean away, left
> behind in Russia.
> Already a high school graduate, already disappointed that he placed in the
> beginner's ESOL class, Alibek was crestfallen. He knows what it's like to
> be without the right documents.
> The regional government in Krasnodar would not grant the Turks propiskas,
> the registration cards that prove a permanent stake in the country.
> Without one, Alibek - the grandson of a World War II soldier who lost an
> arm fighting for the Red Army - could not go to college. Nor could he join
> the army, a requirement for all adult males not in college.
> Without the card, his father, Aybek Lomidze, could not own land. He could
> not even sell the cucumbers he grew on rented land at market, but had to
> sell cheaply to wholesalers.
> The Meskhetian Turks navigated streets where police could demand propiskas
> - or fines equal to half a month's salary, in their stead - of the Turks
> carrying as their only ID relic passports from the Soviet Union.
> "This only, we had," said Aybek Lomidze, 46, through a translator. "We
> don't have anything else but the passports of a country that doesn't
> exist."
> "We had a feeling all the time that we were illegal there," his wife,
> Zarema, explained. "Thank you for the American government that they
> accepted us. We don't have citizenship yet, but we have documents that say
> that we can live here."
> A few days later, they'd come to see the forgotten immunization card as
> just a small snag along the way. Alibek's uncle, who arrived this month in
> Pennsylvania, would be able to deliver it to Alibek, who finally started
> class this week, on Tuesday.
> But on that first day of class, Alibek and his parents did not know what
> would happen. Sweaty and burdened - by the snafus they have to untangle,
> the English they have to learn, the new lives they have to invent - they
> were focused only on arriving.
> The trio walked for an hour; SEPTA is a luxury they cannot afford. Not at
> $2 each way for three children, every day. That would eat up half their
> monthly stipend, as refugees, from the U.S. government. The children will
> walk to school until Aybek finds a job.
> But the distance is nothing compared with the three generations of
> dispossession that has brought them here, to a section of the city with
> bookstores piled with texts in Cyrillic and a convenience store called
> Odessa. About 40,000 immigrants from former Soviet bloc countries live in
> the Northeast.
> Now, his parents by his side, Alibek Lomidze pointed two blocks ahead to a
> high-rise where Russian echoes through the hallways. There waited an
> air-conditioned apartment paid for by a charity, with couches and beds
> donated from neighbors who once were refugees, too.
> "Home," he said, with relief.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 2004 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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