It took a river for a small plot of land to change hands and it was the good will of bureaucrats to take it back. Four decades after it was forced to cede a small plot of land to Georgia, Turkey took it back after Tbilisi and Ankara sealed a deal on the matter last week.
The transfer of 15 acres of land was literally a natural action as the plot in question was suddenly in Georgian territory when a small river changed its bed and divided the land located in Ardahan, a Turkish town on the Georgian border, in the 1970s. This is the same Ardahan that late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin reportedly sought to retake from Turkey in the 1940s, at least according to former British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. Stalin told Bevin at a Moscow meeting in 1945 that Ardahan and Kars, another Turkish province he claimed to be heavily inhabited by Georgians and Armenians, should be returned to the Soviet Union, according to the minutes of the meeting released by the U.S. Department of State.
Stalin's homeland, Georgia, agreed to return the privately owned land divided by the Çaksu river, which serves as a natural frontier between the two countries that enjoy close ties since Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union. Turkish and Georgian delegations met at the Türkgözü border crossing between the two countries and agreed upon a man-made change to the riverbed. The sides signed a protocol on the matter. Under the protocol, unnatural flora in the river strewn with bushes, grass and other debris will be cleared and overgrown trees will be shaved off to prevent them from blocking the riverbed. A new course will be set for the river so that the plot, the size of 15 football fields, will be back on the Turkish side.
It is a dream come true for 78-year-old Süleyman Çelik, a villager who owns the land. "Losing my land gave me great pain. I repeatedly contacted authorities but to no avail. I wrote to the authorities in Ankara and finally they sent a delegation here in 2013. They checked my claim and then a committee of Georgian and Turkish officials was set up. They now help me to reclaim my land. I thank everybody who helped me. I thank the state," he said. Çelik said his land, though not cultivated for decades, was very fertile, adding he plans to keep cultivating crops once he officially retakes ownership in the coming days.