To the east of Ajaria lies the region of Javakheti,which is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians. Javakheti Armenians frequently complain of neglect by the central government and fear for their futures. Many Georgians fear that granting autonomy to Javakheti, as many of its residents have demanded, would lead to the region being taken over by Armenia.
The Samtskhe area of Javakheti was also the homeland of the Meskhetian Turks, a Muslim people speaking a Turkish dialect, before Stalin deported them to Uzbekistan in 1944. Several thousand Meskhetian Turks have returned since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but many Christian Georgians have been hostile.
The Georgian government put in place a legal framework in 2007 to facilitate the return of the Meskhetian Turks, setting conditions that returnees would have to meet. The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) has advocated that Mesketian Turks who wish to return should be able to do so, or given the option of integration and naturalization in their current home countries. The HCNM funded a guide to explain the relevant Georgian law and assist those seeking to return. The HCNM added that repatriation would have to be carefully thought through and supported by international assistance to avoid undermining inter-ethnic relations in the area.
Nino Bolkvadze (r), National Programme Manager for Georgia with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, meets Meskhetian Salim Khamdyev in the village of Abastumani, Samtskhe-Javakheti region, Georgia, 9 July 2008. (OSCE/Pavlo Byalyk)
The need for the Georgian government to respond to the displacement of thousands of ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia and South Ossetia during and after the 2008 war made it even less likely that the Meskhetian Turks would get the necessary support for their integration.