Excuse the flag-waving…

by Nathan Hamm on 8/15/2004

But, I’m a little bit proud to be an American this weekend.

I visited one of the Meskhetian Turk refugee families this weekend to show the grandparents of the family where they could use certificates to buy fresh produce (Helping immigrants use welfare? What the hell kind of Republican am I?). I failed in my primary mission, but nevertheless stuck around for the inevitable invitation to come in for tea.

The man I spoke to for a couple hours was old enough to have been born in Georgia and remember the deportation to Uzbekistan. He didn’t go into details beyond saying that Stalin moved them. He told me about his fellow Turks being once again forced to move to a new country. He told me about all the travails of life in Krasnodar–not being able to get a job, having to pay exorbitant bribes to sell things in the market, being refused service in stores, and having to endure Cossacks stealing and ransoming livestock.

He said that when the United States said they could come to America, they were ecstatic. Many Russians only despised them more for that.

Even though he’s been here a short time, he is very appreciative that the US is so willing to help him and his family. He said that despite working for 30 years, he never received a single kopek of his pension. Within days of arriving here, he was all set up to receive one. As soon as his son is working, he said that he’ll be happy and know that everything will be fine.

To put it best, he kept saying “Thank you, America.”

He must have told me that about five times. I’m a pretty stoic person, but hearing the trials of this man’s life was pretty moving, and his appreciation of our willingness to help was heartfelt.

I can’t help but think about how highly this program speaks of us. That the Meskhetians are being resettled here even though they aren’t a trendy cause or a headline-grabbing group of people means that, if not the government as a whole, at least the State Department deserves some recognition.

I know that these programs are going on all the time, but for a few reasons, I find this one particularly noteworthy. At a time when it is accepted in some quarters that the US is trying to destroy Muslims, that the same government is resettling, giving money to, and finding jobs for about 10,000 of them because no one wants them is quite instructive. We told these people that we’d find them a home, and when we couldn’t, we offered one.

You can easily find people who are paranoid and angry about the program, but to me, it is precisely extending a hand to those in need for nothing in return, even when we have no common bond of ancestry, language, or history, that sets the United States apart from most of the rest of the world. It may not impress the critics of this country, but I find these seemingly small acts that are repeated over and over again around the world, from the Foreign Service Officer who advises a democratic movement to the Peace Corps Volunteer teaching sanitation in a village a half-day’s walk from a road, to be reason enough to pat ourselves on the back.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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