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Minority fleeing Ukraine hope Turkey is their last stop
 By Nilay Kar Onum
ISTANBUL

 “There was always a fear of death due to bombardment there, which we cannot forget,” says Elmira Elisova, a Meskhetian Turk, who recently settled in the eastern Turkish province of Erzincan.

Elisova is just one of thousands of members of an ancient ethnic-Turkish minority who have fled their homes in Ukraine because of the conflict which erupted in April 2014 between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Since April 2014, more than 6,000 people have lost their lives, and 1.4 million people, according to the UN, have been internally displaced in the conflict.

Over 400 of Meskhetian Turks, the majority of whom are from Donetsk, were brought to Erzincan in December last year, where the Turkish government prepared residential buildings for them.

They have been living in the city under Turkey’s recently-adopted asylum measures.

Elisova -- an attorney by trade -- along with her two children, have been living in Erzincan for over a month and cannot forget what she experienced in Donetsk city.

"We saw bodies lying on the ground there and bombings. These were frightening things that you never want to witness in your life," she says.

According to her, when she arrived in Turkey -- which she describes as a "motherland" -- a new chapter opened for her family.

"When the plane landed at the airport, the first thing that came to my mind is ‘there is no war any more. I am in a safe place’," Elisova says.

Thirty-seven-year-old Nergis Suleymanova, a nurse, holds similar views:

“The day when we arrived in Turkey was the most meaningful day of my life. Words fail to explain my feelings at that time. I cannot forget that day,” Suleymanova says.

Talking about her new life she says: “It was our dream to come to Turkey, during the conflict and establish a future for our children. We are thankfully in peace and comfort right now."

Suleymanova came to Turkey along with her three children but her husband is still in Donetsk.

Over 2,500 more Meskhetian Turks are to be brought to Turkey within two months, says Fuat Ucar, general secretary of the Istanbul-based World Meskhetian Turks Association.

Suleymanova's husband is expected to be among them.

The ethnic community is very hopeful of future in Turkey.

“I could not have worked there. My plan is to do my job here and to stay here permanently,” Elisova says.

“To become a Turkish citizen is very important for us at the moment, to be able to establish a stable life here. I am looking forward to having this,” Suleymanova adds.

They will obtain Turkish citizenship within a year, Ucar says: "Officials are doing their best to accelerate the process," he added.

Around 60,000 Meskhetian Turks have been living in Turkey since the 1990's, according to the Istanbul-based federation.

Over 40,000 are living in western Bursa province while Istanbul hosts around 10,000 Meskhetian Turks.

They also reside in Antalya, Ankara, Izmir, Aydin and Canakkale provinces of Turkey. Azerbaijan also hosts members of the ethnic community.

This moving and relocation reflects the reality of life for Meskhetian Turks.

In 1944, they were expelled from their homeland -- the Meskheti region of 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. In that period, they went to mainly three countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

However, some experienced another migration in 1989 when ethnic clashes started in Uzbekistan and they travelled to eastern Ukraine in 1990.

Some of them have seen three deportations in their lives while the others have endured two separations.

However, their goal is the same: not to live through another migration.

“It is never easy to continually migrate,” Elisova says. “You leave everything; home and neighbors behind. It is a very sad thing.”

"I believe this will be our last stop and we will not be forced to go anywhere anymore," Suleymanova adds. “Our biggest wish is this for now.”
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