Over 300 Meskhetian Turks from the Turkish-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine have arrived in eastern Turkey’s Erzincan province where they will live under the country's recently-adopted asylum measures.
Two Turkish Airlines planes carrying 327 people from Sloviansk city departed from Kharkiv International Airport and landed in Erzincan, where the Turkish government prepared over 30 residential buildings for the new arrivals.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan, Erzincan Governor Suleyman Kahraman, and several locals welcomed with flowers the two groups, which included women and children at the Erzincan Airport.
“Turkey has embraced us. May Allah bless Turkey and our Turkish brothers,” 89-year-old Ilimdar Nuriyev, the oldest member of the group, told Anadolu Agency at the airport.
The Meskhetian Turks have fled from their homes during the conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern region of Ukraine, of which the Sloviansk city was a part.
More than 6,000 people have lost their lives, and 1.4 million people, since April 2014, according to the UN, have been internally displaced in the conflict.
Sabir Suleymanoglu, the other member of the group, said they have realized their ancestors' dreams to return to their motherland by coming to Turkey.
"We have experienced many difficulties there...We did not know what we would do later there until Turkey embraced us," Suleymanoglu said, adding: "We will live the rest of our lives here. All the Meskhetian Turks, hopefully, will return here".
In April, Turkish Council of Ministers enacted measures allowing at least 3,000 Meskhetian Turks to be accepted by the Turkish government as legal asylum seekers.
Saffet Safarov, wearing a T-shirt with an image of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he was very happy to return to Turkey, adding: “[President] Erdogan protects us”.
“Houses of around 3,000 Meskhetian Turks [in eastern Ukraine] have been damaged. They were not able to do agriculture there anymore and could not take care with their animals,” Can Tezel, Turkish ambassador to Kiev, said.
Kahraman said that they will help Meskhetian Turks. "We will do everything for our Meskhetian Turks brothers in order not to make them suffer here," he said.
According to Tezel, around 9,000 Meskhetian Turks live in Ukraine.
Meskhetian Turks, known also as Ahiska 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.