The Meskhetian Turks in the Oklahoma City area recently came together to celebrate the arrival of several members of their community from the Russian republic who have been granted refugee status by the United States government. In keeping with their Turkish heritage, a large cloth covered with a variety of foods was placed on the floor and people sat around it and ate and drank fruit juices and tea. The food consisted of Turkish pastries and bread and many Russian dishes as well. A mullah read a passage from the Koran as people began to eat.

And the varying degrees of assimilation into American life of the female attendees was evident in their attire, with many of the older women wearing kerchiefs while some of the younger ones had their heads uncovered and wore pastel Abercrombie shirts. Most Meskhetian Turks are fluent in both Russian and Turkish, and the attendees spoke both of those languages interchangeably during the festivities. The guests included a surprising numbers of citizens of the Turkish republic who live in the Oklahoma City area and are college students, professors, businessmen and professionals. Several of them were members of the Turkish Armed Forces who are being trained at military installations in Oklahoma.

All of the guests displayed generosity and hospitality to the few Americans who were present, and would put a plate piled high with food in front of them and say “eat.” When one such guest sought temporary respite from their hospitality by going outside where some men were smoking, he soon found himself surrounded by several young boys with steaming plates of meat pies who directed him to “eat.” The Meskhetian Turks were initially residents of a mountainous region in the Soviet Republic of Georgia that adjoins Turkey. In late 1944, dictator Joseph Stalin ordered that they be deported en masse to Soviet Central Asia on the grounds that they were “enemies of the state.” Historians are still perplexed by Stalin’s rationale for that action, since many Meskhetian Turks served in the Russian Army with distinction and German armies were never close to the part of Georgia that they inhabited. In 1956, several years after Stalin’s death, his successor Nikita Kruschev loosened the harsh rule that the Meskhetian Turks were subject to but did not permit them to return to Georgia, and most of them remained in Soviet Central Asia in the Uzbekistan region. In late 1989, violence was again visited upon the Meskhetian Turks as the Soviet Union began to disintegrate. Some of their Uzbek neighbors began a murderous rampage against them and other minorities, and many Meskhetian Turks fled to neighboring Russia and Azerbaijan.

As documented in a report prepared by the U. S. State Department, they are subject to mistreatment and official harassment in both places, and since they are not citizens they have virtually no legal rights in either state. Many of them have been granted refugee status in the United States as a result, and have been resettled in Oklahoma City and other places where local officials have agreed to assist in that process. Catholic Charities of Oklahoma has aided them by providing them assistance in finding jobs and also English language classes. And by all accounts the Meskhetian Turks have adjusted well to Oklahoma, with employers reporting that they are serious, hardworking individuals who do not need much supervision. Those in the community who have school age children report that they children are treated well in local schools and are learning English faster than the adults are. Several months ago, a married Meskhetian Turkish couple arrived in Oklahoma City who are expecting a child. While they had been married in a Muslim ceremony last year in the Russian Republic, they had been unable to obtain a marriage license from the Russian government, and the couple feared that their child would not be able to bear his or her father’s name as a result. Oklahoma County Court Clerk Patricia Presley agreed to assist them by explaining the necessary procedure to them for a wedding in Oklahoma through a volunteer interpreter and also obtained the services of an Oklahoma County judge who was willing to conduct the wedding ceremony for them. The couple seemed surprised that a government official would go out of her way to help them, and after they had exchanged vows the bride said through her interpreter that in Oklahoma she and her husband had been treated well, “but in Russia we had no dignity.”

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