The term Meskhetian Turks refers to a group of people in Russia (especially the region of Krasnodar) who have faced a long history of discrimination and displacement.
The traditional homeland of the Turks is the mountain region of Meskhetia in the present day Republic of Georgia. Part of the Ottoman Empire centuries ago, the region eventually became part of the Soviet Union and its large communist system. With this long history, the Turks have a mix of cultures and traditions: Turkish language, Russian schooling, Islamic beliefs, traditional close-knit families, rural and urban backgrounds.
Along with many other ethnic minorities at the time, nearly the entire Turkish population (almost 100,000 people) was forcibly moved by Stalin and his army in 1944. This move was quite a traumatic event for the population as they were placed on crowded trains in freezing weather and forced to leave behind their homes. Many died along the way. The group was placed in the area that is modern day Uzbekistan where they would have to fend for themselves to survive. (Most of the adults and older children arriving to the United States today were born in this region.)
Unfortunately, just as the Turks were beginning to rebuild their lives in diaspora, ethnic tensions began to grow between the newcomers and established groups in the area. In 1989 there was a violent pogrom (a term referring to organized violence against a defenseless community) in which angry Uzbek mobs attacked homes and communities of the Turks. In the face of the escalating violence, most of the Turk population fled east to Russia. Once again, therefore, the Turk population was forced to leave behind the lives they had established and start over in areas throughout the region. Just after this move, however, the Soviet Union collapsed and broke into many individual nations. This was a significant problem because it left the Turks without the security of ties to any country. While most Russian states agreed to incorporate the Turks who had moved there as citizens, others like Krasnodar refused to grant any official recognition to the over 17,000 Turks in their area. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan and Georgia had become their own countries and would not recognize the families who had left as citizens either. This circumstance essentially made the Turks stateless and without the protection of a country.
Since this time, the Turkish families have been forced to live and work as constant "visitors" in the region of Krasnodar. Their status as second class outsiders affords them little protection from harassment, bribery demands, and even state-sponsored violence. Without passports and other documents, the Turks stay hidden in their homes in constant fear of being thrown in jail without cause or recourse. Not being allowed to hold jobs, most of the Turks have had to work as day labor in agriculture. Xenophobic tensions toward the Turks have grown in recent years, setting the stage for another violent confrontation. Based on these circumstances, the Meskhetian Turks (as those eligible for resettlement were labeled) were finally granted refugee status under the US refugee program.
From the start of their resettlement, the Meskhetian Turks showed that they were eager to get established on their own in America. Their past circumstances affected their ease of resettlement. While some had been living in a small rural villages and others had had experience in large cities, the fact that they were coming from a European background meant most of the group members had access to education (at least to primary) and were familiar with western lifestyle. That is not to say there were not challenges in learning differences in the American system, however. The Russian system was obviously much more socialist than our own, and the Turkish families have had to adopt new ways of thinking in relation to work, property, and responsibility. Family and tradition are still very important for the group, and they have had to adjust to the separation and distance that are a part of the resettlement process. (At one point, the entire population of many thousands wanted to all be settled together in Philadelphia!) They have also had to learn to accept differences in the roles of women from their traditionally conservative culture to the more independent.
Probably one of the biggest challenges the group now faces, however, is simply coping with accepting the slow pace of getting established in America. The group wants to reach a comfortable level quickly, but there are a lack of resources and opportunities to do so. As with most refugees, they face barriers in seeking work and dealing with problems due to their lack of English (though they have shown a fierce determination to learn it quickly) and experience. Some come from professional or skilled backgrounds and face the frustrating, even discouraging, realization that they must enter low entry-level jobs and might never be able to get back to doing the work they had before. Others find the complex nature of urban life a harsh contrast to their farming background that complicates their ability to adjust.
Despite these challenges, however, the Turks have endeared themselves to resettlement staff and volunteers alike with their openness, hospitality, and desire to make a good life for their families.