Even after Stalin’s death in 1953, Meskhetians, a Muslim people who speak a Turkish dialect, were allowed to live anywhere in the Soviet Union except for Georgia itself. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a few hundred Meskhetians started to trickle back, in search of their roots. Instead, they found problems.
Many Christian Georgians termed the Meskhetians’ return to their native Samtskhe-Javakheti region in southern Georgia "the Turks’ second great invasion" - a reference to Ottoman Turkey’s takeover of Samtskhe-Javakheti in the 16th century. That prejudice still lingers.
Despite it, a few thousand Meskhetians now live in Georgia. The Georgian government says that it has laid the groundwork for more to return this year.
Osman’s village of Abastumani in Samtskhe-Javakheti is one of the few places where these exiles have returned to their truly ancestral land. The ruins of the house where Osman was born lie just a stone’s throw away from his current dwelling. But as Osman and other Meskhetians are learning, the divide that keeps Meskhetians strangers in their own land is wide, and it remains difficult to bridge the gap.
Temo Bardzimashvili is a freelance photojournalist based in Tbilisi.