More than 30,000 Ahiska Turks have been granted Turkish citizenship, the head of The World Union of Ahiska Turks, which serves members of the community in nine countries, said on Wednesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave special priority to the plight of the community, with the latest efforts being in 2015 to facilitate of the group’s settlement in Turkey, Fuat Ucar told Anadolu Agency in the western province of Bilecik following an event.
Ucar highlighted that 3,000 people in 677 families had been brought to the central Sivas province, and said the procedures for their citizenship along with social security, work permits and retirement rights have been ongoing since Sept. 2018.
Apart from some 100,000 Ahiska that had migrated to Turkey after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was a large Ahiska population residing in various towns in eastern Turkey, he noted.
Ucar also underlined that the Ahiska had been living outside Turkey for 74 years, and the community had seen exile three times over the last century in their various countries of residence, never “cutting ties” with Turkey.
“Wherever they live -- in nine countries at the moment -- the place in their hearts is Turkey,” he added.
Some 92,307 Ahiska Turks were expelled from Georgia’s Meskheti region by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1944, according to the World Ahiska Turks Association.
During a near-40-day period of deportation from their homeland to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, around 13,000 Ahiska Turks lost their lives due to hunger, cold weather and diseases, the association said.
Turkey has voluntarily accepted thousands of Ahiska Turks upon President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s instructions.
Today, around half a million of Ahiska Turks live in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, the U.S. and Ukraine.