Turkey on Sunday marked the 77th anniversary of the deportation of Ahıska Turks during the Soviet era, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
On Nov. 14, 1944, around 100,000 Ahıska Turks were deported from their ancestral lands in Georgia's Meskheti region to distant parts of the Soviet Union, the ministry said.
"Today Ahıska Turks, scattered across nine countries and numbering up to half a million people, never forgot their suffering and the importance of being united," the ministry said.
Despite harsh conditions, they preserved their identity for all those years and passed on their cultural heritage to future generations, it noted.
Turkey will continue to follow closely the return of Ahıska Turks to their motherland and to give necessary support to its kinsmen, it said.
"We share the pain of our Ahıska brothers and sisters who were forcefully deported; women, elderly and children, without differentiation," the ministry said.
"On the 77th anniversary of the deportation of Ahıska Turks from their homeland, we commemorate the ones who lost their lives with respect and mercy," it added.
Meskheti, a region now located on Georgia's border with Turkey, was left to Russia following a war between the Ottoman Empire and czarist Russia in 1828-1829.
After World War I, the region, which was now within the Soviet Union, was given to the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. This marked the beginning of many years of suffering for Ahıska Turks, like many other Turkish and Muslim communities in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
After Stalin signed an exile order for the Ahıska Turks, despite their service to the Soviet army fighting Nazi Germany in World War II, over 86,000 Ahıska Turks were expelled from their homeland to distant lands within the Soviet Union.
Thousands of Turks and Muslims living in the Meskheti region were loaded onto wagons just hours after being informed of their forced migration, not even being allowed to pack their belongings.
During their deportation, which lasted more than a month, nearly 17,000 Ahıska Turks lost their lives due to hunger, cold and illness.
Those who survived were forced to remain in various regions in Central Asia, where a further 30,000 died due to hunger and disease.
The Soviet administration forced Ahıska Turks to work the most labor-intensive jobs, regardless of age or gender, and barred them from leaving their designated areas, punishing violators by exiling them and their families to Siberia for 25 years.
Under Stalin, the Soviet authorities claimed that the Ahıska Turks had collaborated with Nazi Germany in WWII, when in reality they had actually been on the frontlines with the Russians.
With the dissolution of the USSR, it was understood that these charges were false and that the real aim was different.
According to Soviet records, the exile of the Crimean and Meskhetian Turks was meant to ethnically cleanse the Black Sea regions of Turks.
Today, approximately 20,000 people live in the Meskhetian region, though a very small number of the population are Turkish.
The majority of Ahıska Turks still live where they were exiled or in the countries they later migrated to.