Friday, May 25, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Will There Be More Ethnic Deportations in Russia’s Future?

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 25 – Krasnodar officials are celebrating the near completion of the deportation of Meskhetian Turks, who fled to that southern region illegally in the early 1990s, to the United States, and they are telling anyone who will listen that their approach to immigrants has become the basis for Moscow’s policies in the past.
Given that and the high-profile American involvement in this action, there is every reason to believe that Russian officials elsewhere will come to view such expulsions as a legitimate way to reduce interethnic tensions rather than as an update of the tragic and deadly deportations of peoples under Stalin.
In the current issue of “Nezavisimaya gazeta – Regiony,” journalist Mariya Bondarenko describes the problems illegal immigration posed for Krasnodar, what officials there and in the United States have done, and how others may now consider extrapolating this experience (
As the Soviet Union collapsed, more than 12,000 Meskhetian Turks fled into that southern Russian region after officials in the Georgian government refused to allow members of this group to return to their historical homeland from Central Asia to which they had been deported at the end of World War II.
The arrival of the Meskhetian Turks and other groups from the Caucasus at about the same time on an illegal basis not only increased economic competition and ethnic tensions in Krasnodar but also helped power the rise of Aleksandr Tkachev, the openly xenophobic leader of that region.
He demanded and got tough new regulations – including regional citizenship -- that not only prevented the absorption of outside groups into the Krasnodar population – including administrative punishments for those who provided the immigrants with housing or transportation -- but set the stage for their expulsion.
In order both to prevent an ethnic explosion there and also to reduce pressure on the Republic of Georgia, with which it has been closely allied, Washington arranged for the Meskhetian Turks to resettle in the United States en masse. The humanitarian impulses behind that arrangement, however, were undercut by Tkachev’s behavior.
He and his officials created their own migration inspection service, special convoy companies, and even three “deportation centers” in Krasnodar, Sochi and Armavir to speed the departure of the Meskhetian Turks. Moreover, his government routinely made notoriously xenophobic remarks about them.
At least partially as a result, “Nezavisimaya’s” Bondarenko says, these “radical measures were supported by the majority of the indigenous population of the kray,” many of whom were angered by the rise in prices and ethnic tensions that the earlier arrival of the Meskhetian Turks had led to.
Now, officials there claim, inter-ethnic tensions have “markedly fallen,” especially in the four regions where most of the Meskhetian Turks had been camping out for the last decade or more. And officials say that with the deportations it has “become much easier to restore order” than it was when they were there.
Human rights activists have pointed out that the actions of the authorities in this case violated not only the Russian Federation’s own constitution but also international norms of human rights. Indeed, some activists equate what the Krasnodar has done -- with the help of the U.S. -- to “Stalinist means of deportation.”
But Tkachev and his people are without any regrets, and they pointed out to Bondarenko that many other aspects of the kray’s approach to illegal immigrants, such as restricting their access to public markets, have become Moscow’s policies for the country as a whole.
Clearly, Tkachev and those who support him would not regret if what they are doing in the present case again proved influential at the all-Russian level and may even expect, given the American involvement, that the current deportation will lead to more of them in the future.

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