Number 258 | February 27, 2014
On February 27, the Ahiska Turkish American Community Center (ATACC) in Dayton, Ohio opened a photo exhibit in the U.S. Congress to raise awareness of the Ahiska Turkish community's history and the ongoing discrimination against Ahiska Turks living in Russia. The exhibition was opened with a reception, sponsored by TCA, which marked the Ahiska Turkish community's first event on Capitol Hill. The opening was attended by several journalists, human rights activists and members of Congress, including Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO).
The exhibit displays photos of the expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Ahiska Turks from their ancestral lands in the Ahiska (Meskheti) region in (then) Soviet Georgia by Joseph Stalin to other Soviet controlled regions in Central Asia. The forced deportations caused the death of 40% of the entire Ahiska population. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ahiska Turks once again became unwanted in the former Soviet states. They were withheld full citizenship rights by the new Republics and faced discrimination and persecution. In other words, Ahiska Turks became “heimatlos” in the countries in which they had lived for generations, losing their citizenship rights and facing severe discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity and religion. Ahiska Turks are an ancient Turkish ethnic group who are by and large Muslim and speak a Turkish dialect similar to Anatolian Turkish.
As a result of these grave humanitarian concerns, in 2003, the State Department granted thousands of Ahiska Turks refugee status and the right to become American citizens. Nearly 15,000 have since settled in the U.S. and have become productive citizens of the communities they live in. Within a year of its founding, in 2008, TCA established the Ahiska Turks Assistance Grant to help the Ahiska Turkish community settle and become integrated in the Turkish American community and American society at large.
Many of the nearly 80,000 Ahiska Turks who continue to live in Russia face discrimination and persecution. Today, Ahiska community leaders in the U.S. are working to reestablish P-2 refugee status for Ahiska Turks who still face such hardships in Russia.
The Ahiska Turkish community’s immigration experience mirrors the historical immigration patterns to the US. They fled persecution and discrimination and have come to this country with no language skills and few transferable jobs and skills. Reestablishing their lives in America and integrating into American society in a short period of time is demonstration that the American dream continues to exist today.