Unrequited Love for a Homeland

Author: Dina Oganova


Sarvar Safarov loves his homeland - even though this devotion is hardly mutual as his homeland, Georgia, does not consider him a citizen.

In 2008 Sarvar left Azerbaijan, where he’d lived most of his life, and moved to Akhaltsikhe, a town of 17,000 people with a sizeable Armenian community in Georgia’s south-west. An ethnic Meskhetian Turk born in Kazakhstan, he felt he was returning home.

An ethnic sub-group of the Turks, Meskhetian Turks have historically lived in Samtskhe-Javakheti, a region in southern Georgia also called Meskhetiya-Javakhetiya. In the autumn of 1944 Joseph Stalin planned an offensive to occupy part of Turkey and a community close to whom he considered the enemy, and was a hitch to the Soviet Union’s war plans. On November 14 the Soviets started a mass deportation of the community - in 24 hours, 115,000 people living in 220 villages were rounded up, taken away from their houses, herded into freight train wagons, and taken to the heart of Central Asia. There, they were placed into a special so-called, “settler regime.” It took ten years before their case was acknowledged. After Stalin’s death, families slowly started leaving the Central Asian plains but were still not allowed to return to their ancestral lands which was deemed a sensitive border zone, hence off limits to any kind of human resettlements. Many then moved to Azerbaijan - the closest they could get to their ancestral land.

Savar’s family was one of them - as a schoolboy he left Kazakhstan and relocated to Azerbaijan in 1959. Decades later, when the occasion to finally relocate to Georgia came, he grabbed it.

“I always knew that it will be finished, I knew that the Soviet Union will break down, and everything will change, but what happened then? Nobody in Georgia remembered us,” laments the 65-year-old Emergency Room doctor.

After Georgia’s Rose Revolution in early 2000s an opportunity arose. In 2007 a bill opened the window for the repatriation of the Meskhetian Turks to Georgia - those who wished to return could go to Georgian consulates between January 2 and December 31st, 2008 and register their intention. It was a too short window and not all went according to the plan - a few got to know about the possibility, even fewer managed to gather the required documentation and land a Georgian passport. Sarvar tried to gain the citizenship of his ancestors but to no avail.

“The only one thing that I really dreamt of was to become a Georgian citizen. As of now, I am still a citizen of Azerbaijan. We love our homeland, that’s why we came to live here. The most important thing for us now is that Georgia recognizes us as its children.”

Sarvar Safarov, an ethnic Meskhetian Turk, who moved to Georgia from Azerbaijan in 2008.
Sarvar, 65
Sarvar and his wife Gulsina preparing dinner.
Gulsina, 61
Three generations of women in Sarvar’s family - Gulsina, her daughter-in-law Mukhabbat (center) and grandaughter Maya - cook for dinner.
A traditional table for preparing pelmeni, dumplings consisting of a filling wrapped in thin, unleavened dough which are a common dish in former Soviet Union countries.
Gulsina and Mukhabbat
Sarvar's oldest son Eldar - the 39-year-old used work at a local police station but is currently unemployed.
Sarvar's grandson Merab, 4
Sarvar's granddaughter Maya, 12
We are a non-profit media organization covering the topics and groups of people that are frequently ignored by mainstream media. Our work would not be possible without support from our community and readers like you. Your donations enable us to support journalists who cover underrepresented stories across the region.