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  HOME PAGE 02/12/2021 01:14 
25.11.2021 11:12 News >> When India, Turkey Joined Hands To Save Kazakh Refugees

When India, Turkey Joined Hands To Save Kazakh Refugees

Journey of Kazakh Turks, escaping Chinese, Russian wrath reminds bridge of humanity between India and Turkey to save their lives.

During his recent visit to Turkey, Kazakhstan's president recalled the painful events of Kazakh refugees escaping the Chinese and Russian wrath from 1940 to the 1950s. They had taken a long, unending, and harrowing journey from their homes in East Turkestan to Turkey via Tibet, India, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
They got their first shelter in the Indian-administered Kashmir region, where they stayed for two years. In 1949, India and Turkey had to follow the repercussions of the Soviet and communist China's major crackdown of several Turkic ethnic communities in their countries.
By late 1950, thousands of Kazakh Turks were heading towards Indian borders via Tibet to seek shelter after towns and villages fell under communist China's control. At least 18,000 Kazakhs were heading towards India, traveling from Altay village, then part of the short-lived State of East Turkestan. In those anxious times, hundreds died due to the Soviet and communist China's brutal repression, hunger, illness, and harsh weather, and hundreds were left behind to face the wrath of China's massive military.
India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a humanist, had sympathized with the fall of Tibet to the Chinese control. Only 7,000 Kazakhs managed to reach India via Tibet. Official Turkish accounts say only 1,850 survived. Once they were at peace, they started searching for a safer and permanent home where they could reunite with their co-ethnic, linguistic communities.Many left for Saudi Arabia; some to Pakistan and many arrived in Turkey via Afghanistan. At least 350 of them stayed in Srinagar, capital of Kashmir, and in Leh, the headquarters of the Ladakh region until they knew that Turkey was admitting Kazakh Turks.
A prolonged communication process started in late 1950, revealing their memories of pain, suffering, sense of homeliness in India, and eventual happiness of finding a home in Turkey.
The Kazakh communities live happily in various parts of Turkey, mainly in Istanbul's Zeytinburnu district, Kayseri province, or Altay, the first village specially established for them some 350 kilometers (270 miles) away from Ankara. Most of the refugees of the 1950s have either died or are very old. But neither they nor their second and third generations have forgotten their parents' journey to reach Turkey.
-First group leaves hometown Barkul
The first Kazakh group led by Ali Beg Hakim, Delilhan, Sultan Sherif, and Hussein Tajji left their hometown Barkul in 1950. The communist Chinese forces were chasing them; the Soviet troops were everywhere, and the Tibet guards were unwilling to trust anyone. Abdul Sattar, a merchant-disguised Kazakh, had first met Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual leader, to brief him about the situation in East Turkestan and got permission to go to Kolkata from Lhasa. However, Dalai Lama was himself surrounded by yet to unfold crisis.
When Ali Beg Hakim, Delilhan, Sultan Sherif, and Hussein Tajji reached Chushul -- the Tibetian-Indian border -- on Aug. 15, 1951, the American agent Douglas Seymour Mackiernan and Dalai Lama were aware of their arrival. Yet, they had to spend more than two months there to wait for verification and identification. Once they arrived at Chushul, the Indian border force also denied them entry.
Ali Khan desperately tried to explain to Maj. Naransingh, commander of the Indian army, about the plight of 2,000 people with him. Mohammed Emin Bugra, a Turkestani or Uyghur who was the first who had to flee to India first in 1940 and then again in 1949, was already in Srinagar. When Bugra came to know about the Kazakh arrival, he immediately wrote letters to the Turkish Embassy in New Delhi and went to seek the help of Nehru. The Indian side was already following the development and was sympathetic to the Kazakh people's suffering. Nehru, in a telegram on Aug. 29, 1951, granted Delilhan and his group permission to enter India and stay in Srinagar until they found a permanent place.
Delilhan replied with gratitude and asked for further help on Sept. 29, 1951, to save another group of children and women after him. In Ankara, the Turkish Foreign Ministry was receiving information from several Turkish embassies about the Kazakh refugees and recommended to the prime minister to start identifying and verifying Kazakh refugees who wanted to come to Turkey. The Kazakh families lived in Kashmir for two or three years, and some families lived there longer. They learned Urdu, Hindi, and English very well. Some Kazakhs in Turkey still speak and write Urdu and watch Bollywood movies to remain in touch with their Indian memories.
The story of Kazakh refugees traveling thousands of kilometers from their hometown Altay to a makeshift village Altay in Turkey has been documented by several Kazakh scholars like Abdulvehap Kara of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul, and autobiographies such as the one written by Delilhan.
The Kazakh families residing in Istanbul's Zeytinburnu carefully preserve these memories, photographs, and documents. Indian and Turkish diplomatic archives have also documented dozens of papers of a prolonged bureaucratic process to facilitate the Kazakh emigration. Nehru had a sympathetic view of the crisis resulting from the expansion of Chinese communist forces until Tibetian borders. Soon Dalai Lama himself would be sheltered in India, and Tibet would lose its autonomous status.
-India closely monitors developments
Prime Minister Nehru, who was also holding the portfolio of foreign ministry, was closely following the developments of Kazakh refugees. According to the Indian Foreign Ministry's papers of the 1950s, Nehru was told that many Kazakhs found it challenging to adjust to India's weather conditions. They requested Indian authorities to help them reach Turkey, where other Kazakh refugees were arriving from various countries.
Hundreds of papers were exchanged within and between Indian and Turkish officials to address the agony of the stateless community. At least three main problems have frequently appeared in those exchanges of letters and documents -- the arrival of all Kazakh refugees from Tibet; their resettlement in a safe and suitable country; and the future of their children and their education.
Delilhan's account and the interaction of Bugra with Indian leaders highlights the role of Nehru in opening the Indian border for their safe transit. Both Indian and Turkish officials addressed this challenge proactively to help the distressed Kazakhs. As per the memoirs of Delilhan, he and Isa Alptekin had frequent meetings with Indian officials to address their problems. The Turkish foreign minister quickly accepted the request to permit and help the schooling of 600 Kazakh children from India and Pakistan.
On Jan. 18, 1952, the Turkish cabinet approved the request for the emigration of 1,850 Kazakhs coming from India, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. By 1953, most Kazakhs started arriving in Turkey. On July 9, 1954, Alptekin again informed the State Ministry in Turkey that there were at least 200 more Kazakhs still left behind in different cities of India and wanted to come to Turkey. He thanked the Turkish government for saving them from being treated as foreigners and letting them feel at home. As a result, various batches of remaining Kazakhs from India, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, arrived from 1959-1960.
When the Kazakh refugee resettlement in Turkey was being approved, most of the refugees were left with no financial support to travel. On Aug. 19, 1952, Prime Minister Nehru promised to bear the travel expenses to help refugees reach Turkey. On July 23, 1952, Indian Deputy Secretary Fateh Singh informed Turkey that many Kazakh refugees had not got Turkish visas because they did not have any identity cards in India. He recommended that all Kazakh refugees be given some identity cards that they could present to the Turkish Embassy during their visa application. Some elderly people were also given documents to travel for Hajj. In July 1952, a group of four Kazakhs, led by Sharif Taiji, had left for Hajj from Bombay, now Mumbai – India's commercial capital.
-Bond of cooperation between India, Turkey
However, the Indian Foreign Ministry received information from the sons of Sharif Taiji that the port authorities had confiscated their Hajj passports. The Indian government immediately inquired about the matter and found that the elderly people had forgotten their passports on the dock. The passports were directly sent to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to be delivered to those pilgrims. On Sept. 15, 1953, Ali Beg wrote to the Indian prime minister that 124 visas had been approved, but 16 Kazakh, including him, had not been granted the visa.
He sought the intervention of Nehru to get the Turkish visa. As all Kazakhs who were asked to reach Bombay to take their flights to Turkey, Beg and his family members were to leave Kashmir without having a Turkish visa. He wrote another letter to the prime minister requesting financial help to stay in Bombay while waiting for his journey.
Several books and novels, mostly in Turkish and Kazakh, have been written on this painful journey. These documents and archives, now available with both Indian and Turkish governments and the Kazakh Turks now living in Turkey, remind the strongest bridge of humanity that had brought people and governments of India to Turkey together to save the lives of innocent people.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Anadolu Agency -



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