BITLIS, Turkey (AA) – Around 300 people from a Turkish-speaking minority region of eastern Ukraine have marked the start of Ramadan in their new Turkish homes.
Seventy-two Ahiska Turk families are living in Turkey under asylum measures adopted in April last year, settling in new homes located in Turkey’s eastern province of Bitlis.
Last week, the Turkish government finished a new accommodation complex ordered by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Ahiska Turks in the district of Ahlat.
Anadolu Agency visited the new complex and interviewed the new residents on the first day of Ramadan.
Hamza Ayazov, 72, cried while describing what he had gone through during a long, painful journey to Turkey. He said that their community was first expelled from Georgia during World War I and had been forced to live in Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine.
“We suffered a lot. I hope now we can settle here permanently. I feel like I am coming back my hometown”, Ayazov said.
He expressed his gratitude to Turkey’s government adding: “May Allah bless both Turkey and President Erdogan.”
An elderly woman, Hanzade Aripova, 88, also said that she and her family had been expelled and persecuted by since she was 10 years of age.
“Turkey gave us a new motherland and our freedom. Now we can live in a Muslim country without hiding our faith and beliefs”, she said.
Aripova added that she and her community were always praying for Turkish officials and the people.
Ahiska Turks fled their homes during the recent conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern region of Ukraine, of which Sloviansk city was a part.
Last April, Turkey enacted measures allowing at least 3,000 Ahiska Turks to be legally accepted by the government as asylum seekers.
Ahiska Turks, also known as Meskhetian Turks, were expelled in 1944 from their homeland – the Meskheti region in Georgia – by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, in an attempt to remove Turks from the shores of the Black Sea.
They faced discrimination and human rights abuses before and after deportation. Those who migrated to Ukraine in 1990 settled in shanty towns used by seasonal workers.