Staunton, October 29 – Turkish police have begun detaining emigres from the North Caucasus on suspicion of connections with terrorist groups. The diasporas have responded by collecting signatures on appeals to the government calling for the end of these detentions and respect for the lives of the people involved.
Many North Caucasians have fled to Turkey over the last two decades because of Russian oppression in their homelands and because there are significant émigré communities there they can join. (On the history of these, see Lowell Bezanis, “Soviet Muslim Emigres in the Republic of Turkey,” Central Asian Survey, 13:1(1994): 59-180.)
If Turkey ceases to welcoming to these communities, that could lead either to the flight of many of their members to the countries of Western Europe or to more violence in the North Caucasus, if people there feel they have nowhere to go and thus must fight for their rights in their own lands.
The Kavkaz-Uzel news agency reports today that there has been a minimum of several dozen detentions of North Caucasus emigres including Circassians, Chechens, and other groups by the Turkish authorities in recent days. Among those arrested, some of whom have been released, are women and children as well as adult males (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/311739/).
Many of those rounded up, Ali Viskhadzhiyev of the Chechen diaspora group Kavkazder says, have legal residence status in Turkey and have not been charged with any crimes. They have been arrested only on suspicion of contacts with extremist groups, something that has added to fears in these communities.
In the last few days, émigré groups have turned to the Internet to collect signatures on petitions to the Turkish authorities asking that their compatriots be released (twitter.com/hashtag/Kafkasyal%C4%B1MuhacirlereSahipC%C4%B1k?src=hash and change.org/p/kafkasyali-muhacirlerin-haksiz-iadesinin-durdurulmasini-talep-ediyoruz).
These efforts have garnered more than 1500 signatures so far, and activists have handed over the petitions to Turkish immigration authorities. Some activists, including Erol Karayel of the Cherkesfed group, say that officials have promised that they will look into the cases and sort things out.
But this has done little to calm the fears of the North Caucasians in Turkey. One of them, who identified himself only as Tamerlan, spoke for many when he said the following: “When I left home, I had a choice to go to Europe and ask for asylum or go to Turkey to which at that time many of my friends were going.”
“I chose Turkey although I had all the things needed to get asylum in Europe. I wanted to live in a Muslim country where I could freely practice my religion and where my daughters would not have their hijabs torn from their heads in school. Now, I understand this was a mistake, but I cannot do anything to change it,” he concluded.