Meskhetians in the Press

by Nathan Hamm on 8/18/2004 · 1 comment

There have been a few stories about the Mesketian Turks in Philadelphia in the local press as well as a story from the BBC (which Andy sent me).

I did not realize, but the stories make clear, that all 84 of them in the pilot program are part of one extended family. So, it makes sense that the guy in the fourth of these pictures looks familiar to me. All one big family spread out over the area. They will try to move them all into the same part of town, and some of them already have jobs. Check out some of the stuff in the extended entry.


Lomidze’s 9-year-old daughter, Sevda, had little to say about the place she left behind. She’s more interested in the future.

Sevda and her two older sisters are excited about the mall, pop stars Pink and Britney Spears, and starting school.

Sevda, a straight-A student, wants to be a teacher. Fifteen-year-old Ilmira thinks she’ll attend culinary school someday. Alime, 12, doesn’t know what she wants to be yet, but she’s looking forward to taking a bus to school for the first time.

In Krasnodar, they had to walk. Often at the end of that walk, Karimova said, Russian students blocked the doors and the principal called them derogatory names.

Crying and comforting her mother-in-law in Turkish, Gulchan Lomidze didn’t want a visitor to leave without hearing one more story.

When Gulchan Lomidze’s 7-year-old daughter needed an operation, no Russian hospital would admit her without proper documentation, she said. One doctor finally agreed to treat the girl after the family paid thousands of rubles, but it was too late, she said. The girl died the next day.

Everything will be better here, the family says. They will have jobs, homes and pensions. Their children will go to school. In five years, they can apply for U.S. citizenship.

Lomidze’s 73-year-old father, Isamidin Lomidze, has fled every country he’s lived in. He doesn’t think he’ll have to move again. He places his right hand over his heart: “Thank you, America, thank you very much.”

I met Isomuddin and, as I mentioned, he, like his daughter, wants people to know what their lives have been like.

It’s nice to hear the optimism in the kids, something I noticed in the BBC coverage.

The IOM officials here have launched an educational programme aimed specifically at the Turks.

The new settlers are shown videos, offered books, brochures, even games – all about their new life in America.

“I have only seen the US in the movies,” says Dilaver’s 18-year-old son Sadykh.

“But I know that I’ll be just fine. I hope to become an NBA player or a marine. And I also want to try a Big Mac – this is what they eat there, right?”


I like the story from the Philadelphia Daily News as well.

Fourteen-year-old Khamdi Karimov was living on a farm in the former Soviet Union, while two older brothers served in the Red Army against the Nazis. Soldiers charged into the village and ordered his people to abandon their homes and crowd into boxcars.

During the three-week train ride to desolate Central Asia, Karimov huddled with his family in a corner of the car, clutching bags of clothes and food. A hole in the floor served as a bathroom, and the temperature was cold enough to freeze bread. At station stops, soldiers carried out corpses of children and the elderly, and left them near the tracks.

The forced exile would never end for Karimov and about 100,000 Meskhetian Turks. Many established new lives in other countries. But thousands, including Karimov, were uprooted again during the fall of the Soviet Union and forced into areas of Russia that did not want them.

Denied citizenship and the right to work, Karimov and his people faced daily harassment and threats.

“They treated us lower than humans,” Karimov said last week, speaking in broken Russian.

Now, 60 years after that horrific train ride, Karimov has made his final journey — to Philadelphia. Taking pity on this stateless, persecuted group, the United States has agreed to accept thousands of Meskhetian Turks as refugees. For the first time since childhood, Karimov has a place to call home.

Khamdi is one of the people I met last week and he and his son are very outgoing and friendly. The Daily News also caught up with the young man who is the reason that they all came here.

In February, the State Department began interviewing Mesk-hetian Turks in Krasnodar for the new refugee program. The first group came to Philadelphia because of a local connection. Karimov’s grandson, Sakhrab “Sasha” Mamidov, is a former Drexel University student now living in Elkton, Md.

Mamidov, 26, came to Philadelphia from Uzbekistan on a student visa in 1998 to study computer science. He recently married an American citizen and is now a legal permanent resident.

Mamidov has been helping local social-service agencies contracted by the federal government to resettle about 70 relatives, now scattered across the area from Villanova to Bucks County. The following agencies are helping the refugees: Lutheran Children and Family Service; Catholic Social Services; Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and Council Migration Service; Jewish Family and Children’s Service, and Nationalities Service Center. Another agency has placed 10 refugees in Lancaster.

The Meskhetian Turks are learning English and finding work, mostly in manual labor, like cleaning and stocking shelves. They can apply for citizenship in five years.

About 11,000 Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar are eligible to move to America, a State Department spokeswoman said.

Mamidov hopes to persuade his parents, still living in Uzbekistan, to come here.

Mamidov’s father was a toddler in Meskhetia during the first exile. The little boy was separated from his mother during the chaos of being forced on the train. For years, the boy lived on the street. He did not find his mother until he was 32, after he married Karimov’s daughter.

Mamidov said his life has been easy compared to that of his parents and grandparents.

“What my grandfather saw in his life, I cannot describe it,” Mamidov said. “I’m glad they are here. The way our people work and what they’ve done in their life and what they’ve gone through, they deserve to be here.

“Here if you work and you live honest like our people do, you will have a future. In Russia, they didn’t have a future.”

The entire story is definitely worth reading.

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This post was written by...

– 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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{ 1 comment }

Nathan August 23, 2004 at 12:48 pm


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