Time to Go

This blog has come to the end of its expected “lifetime” as I am not in Georgia anymore (for now). This message aims at closing it with a (nice) word.

It has had a “life” that represents very well how work went on – or did not go on – in 2011…

Still, I hope the information collected and presented in these posts could somehow help some of you understand a little bit better what is going on in some communities in Georgia.

Thank you to all those who replied to my many questions and provided me with material for writing the posts!

An thank you to those who checked the posts on a regular basis for following this blog 🙂

March 8, 2012

Road to Kazbegi, November 2011.


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Kists – A Video

In May 2011, I published a post with a series of links to videos about the ethnicities of Georgia made by Multiethnic Georgia. Here is, again, the video about the Kists to support the post “Young Kists in Pankisi Gorge”.

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Young Kists in Pankisi Gorge

I had many conversations about Pankisi Gorge with my friend Bella, general manager of the “International Union of Young Caucasians” (see previous article posted in April 2011). She is a Kist herself. In a few words, here is a short reminder about who the Kists are.


Pankisi Gorge. View of Duisi.

Kist people belong to the larger Caucasian ethnic group called “Vainakh“ just like the Chechens from Chechnya and the Ingush from Ingushetia. All three peoples, Chechens, Ingush and Kists, are Vainakh people and share similar cultural features.

The term “Kists” refers to ethnic Chechens who came from Chechnya to settle in Pankisi Gorge in the 18th century. It is the name that the Georgians originally gave them. The Kists have now become Georgian citizens; they speak Georgian and bear Georgian surnames.

The Kist community also managed to preserve its original Chechen dialect, culture and traditions. Most members of the community are bicultural and bilingual, and a large number have also lived in Chechnya at some point.

Bella expressed her own identity feeling like this: “I have two homelands, Chechnya and Georgia; but my first home is the Caucasus…”

Kist people are Caucasian mountaineers about whom Bella also said: “the Kists are proud people, honest and fair, with a hard, austere, cold character. They don’t like expressing their feelings. They know the value of friendship; they are even able to give their life for the other if they are a true friend. They are also very hospitable, and they respect their elders and traditions. ”

Throughout time and until now, traditions like hospitality, friendship, mutual help and blood feud have remained. Kist people are proud to show how they can still respect them while coping with modernity and the changes which come along.


Tradition and Modernity in Pankisi.

Once, Bella accepted to answer specific questions about how it is nowadays to be young in Pankisi, and about what difference it makes to be a girl.

How is life in Pankisi for the youth of the Kist community?

Bella: Young people are mostly busy with school and doing sports. In their 12th and final school year, they prepare for the national high school final exam to get into university. However, the majority of youth does not wish to study and generally engage in rural affairs. Sometimes, unfortunately, they just do not do anything…

After graduating from high school, what kind of opportunities do Kist youth have?

Bella: The young may go on studying at university or other more technical education institutions. Those who failed to enter university usually have two options: go abroad or stay in the village and help their parents. In their free time, most young people just loaf around because there is no opportunity to do something else… although I guess that if you really want to, you can always improve things… The thing is, they probably do not want to change things, or do not have the will to do it themselves…

What is the position of women and young women in the Kist community nowadays? Do young women encounter specific difficulties?

Bella: Kist women are more or less respected in their society: they must earn the respect they receive. This means there are some restrictions for girls. Kist girls are not allowed to stay inactive all day; they should always be busy doing something. They should not go out if it is late and they are unaccompanied. Even during day time, a girl should actually not go out unaccompanied. It is not necessary, but it is much preferred, otherwise it could look indecent and the image of the girl would become suspicious. It is also indecent for a normal Kist girl to have a boyfriend. However, a Kist woman is not limited in society. She can work, engage in public activities or just be a housewife, as she wishes. She can ride horses, do sport, study abroad, go anywhere she wants; but she must also behave correctly and has to know her place, for her image must not be corrupted if she does not want to lose the respect the local society has for her. In the Kist society, there is much subtlety; if one does not live among Kists for some time, one can hardly understand how society functions…

And what about girls kidnapping in Pankisi: Is it still a tradition in use?

Bella: Kidnapping the girls is a very old tradition which is still used sometimes, even today… There are specific reasons for using this tradition nowadays: if a boy likes a girl but she does not, or if she does like him back but her parents do not accept the union, then it is likely that a boy will try a bride kidnapping…

How do Kist youth manage to combine their traditions and modern way of life in 2012?

Bella: The Kist youth society can be divided into three groups which reflect how the youth deal with traditions and modernity. The first group is a religious group which follows a movement of Islam called “wahhabism” that does not correspond to old Kistian traditions. A second group is made up of young Kists who adhere to what the Kists consider to be “traditional Islam”: It is the Islam which was formed in the Caucasus and combines religious elements as well as the traditions of the Caucasian people. And a third group includes all young Kists who have become similar to Europeans, I mean that they behave like European youth, dressing the same way, talking like them and having values and mindset similar to theirs.


Tradtional Kist Costumes.

@ Many thanks to Bella Borchashvili for her time, her answers and her pictures! —


Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge: An Ethnographic Survey by Shorena Kurtsikidze and Vakhtang Chikovani, available at: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/64d7v9hj

Ethnic Groups in Georgia #5 – Kists by Geotimes with information from ECMI, available at: http://www.geotimes.ge/index.php?m=home&newsid=9724

And a series of articles to be found in our good old Wikipedia:

Kist people, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kist_people

Nakh peoples, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakh_peoples

Vainakh mythology, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vainakh_mythology

Vainakh languages, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vainakh_languages

Vainakh social organization scheme, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vainakh_social_organization_scheme.JPG

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Multiculturality in Current Affairs: Inter-religious Debate in Georgia

On July 5, 2011, a legislative amendment of the legal status of Georgian religious minorities in the Civil Code of Georgia was passed by the Parliament in Tbilisi. Its adoption triggered a heated public discussion on inter-religious issues.

“Interfaith,” Design by vaXzine

The legislative amendment passed by the Parliament on July 5, 2011, changes the legal status of Georgian religious minorities. It now allows them to be registered under a legal status of entities of public law. Until today, religious minorities could only register under a legal status of entities of private law, which did not make them be symbolically recognized as national religions.

Following the adoption of the amendment, a heated debate was triggered. Indeed, it noticeably prompted a quick reaction of the Orthodox clergy of Georgia which considers that the amendment has been passed ‘hastily’ and ‘without proper consultation of the Georgian Orthodox Church’. The Orthodox clergy therefore asked for more time to be allocated to public discussion. And the discussion has been going on ever since.

According to the constitution and the constitutional agreement with the state [concordat], the Georgian Orthodox Church actually enjoys a special legal status. With the adoption of the amendment, it feels that this special status is threatened.

However, also according to the Georgian law, every religious group is supposed to be equal before the law. And the special status of the Orthodox Church theoretically does not limit the freedom of faith of other religious groups, which is, in practice quite, different from the point of view of religious minority groups.

The choice of the religious minorities that should be entitled to be registered as entities of public law is one of the biggest issues for the Georgian Orthodox Church. It insists on the importance of the ‘historic ties to Georgia’ as it is mentioned in the law. Among numerous minority groups traditionally established in Georgia we can quote the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Baptist Church as well as the Muslim and Jewish communities or the Yezidi Kurds.

Another concern of the Georgian Orthodox Church is that this new legal status for religious minorities could pave the way for claiming the ownership of religious minorities over disputed churches. This issue is of specific importance to the Armenian Apostolic Church and Roman Catholic Church.

Sadly, after the adoption of the amendment, inter-religious and inter-ethnic hatred immediately started in parallel to the public discussion in Georgia. Hate speech was heard in the statements of various political and public figures.

Clip art in Discovery Education’s Clip Art Gallery created
by Mark A. Hicks, illustrator.

To keep up with the debate:


And here is a list of articles posted earlier in the month:

July 5, 2011
Bill on Legal Status of Religious Minorities Passed with Final Reading

Georgian Church: Suspend Legislative Procedures on Legal Status of Some Religious Groups

July 11, 2011
Georgian Orthodox Church Softens Stance


October 27, 2009
U.S. Annual Report on Georgia Religious Freedom

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Multiculturality: Building bridges between Georgian and European cultures

Martyna Skura, from Poland, arrived in Georgia 4 months ago. She is an EVS volunteer* working full-time during 9 months for the organization Women’s Hope based in Akhaltsikhe, Samstkhe-Javakheti. On Friday, July 15, 2011, I visited her office. She accepted to comment on the intercultural aspects of her placement in a Georgian NGO located in one of the regions of Georgia.

Locating Poland: presentation of Poland, its culture and tradition during a workshop at Women’s Hope

Up until a month ago, Martyna was the only foreign person, along with 2 American Peace Corps ** volunteers, settled permanently in Akhaltsikhe for working purposes. For such a small Georgian town as Akhaltsikhe, located in a rather isolated mountainous region of Georgia, the presence of 3 foreigners was already a great number of new faces in town.  But a month ago, 3 more workers from America, New Zealand and South Africa arrived in the frame of ‘Teach and Learn with Georgia’***, a Georgian governmental program, to teach English at the local police station during the summer and in school later on in the fall. The number of foreigners living in Akhaltsikhe then reached 6 people.

For local people, the coming of foreigners who settle for a while in their region remains an unusual phenomenon that triggers interest and questions. ‘Why did you come to Georgia?’ or ‘What are you doing here?’ or ‘Do you like it here?’ are among the most common questions a foreigner living there will be asked. Indeed, in a country which is still a country of emigration and where unemployment affects a large part of the population, it is definitely intriguing for the locals to see people from abroad arriving and settling.

Mostly, local people take it for granted that all young foreigners are English teachers. Martyna, however, came to Georgia to develop the partnership and EVS* exchanges between her sending organization – Center for Youth Co-operation and Mobility****– based in Gdynia, Poland, and the Georgian regional organization Women’s Hope of Akhaltsikhe. She also focuses her daily work, since March and week after week, on the programming and organization of workshops aimed at teenage girls aged 15 to 25 who visit and volunteer at Women’s Hope on a regular basis.

Theory-and-Practice Workshop: How to Prepare a Presentation and How to Speak in Front of the Group – the girls presented their own topics on that day.

The workshops that Martyna organizes can take an unexpected turn, as her idea is to adapt as much as possible to the needs and wishes of “her girls”. She pays particular attention to the topics approached, as they must appeal to them.

Girls may ask for a topic to be touched upon, or Martyna can just decide to organize a series of workshop that she will have determined as ‘needed’. Martyna thus decided to have a series of theory-and-practice workshops aimed at improving the public speaking skills of the girls who have to do oral presentations frequently. Also, she organized a “Polish Month” to introduce participants to various dimensions of her home country, and thus raise awareness and interest about interculturality in a much more interactive way that TV can offer – TV remaining a main source of culture and interculturality in the region. Twice a week, moreover, Martyna allocates some of her time to an English conversation group.

Learning how to cook Polish: preparation of dumplings with strawberries in the frame of the cooking workshop of the Polish month organized by Martyna

Polish presentation on June 1, 2011. Trying Polish food is part of the game!

Polish presentation: matching portraits of famous Polish figures with their biographies

Martyna highlights the following: working as a foreign volunteer in the local community goes along with quite many difficulties, mainly connected to culture and language. In her Georgian experience so far, communication, organization and cooperation appear to be aspects particularly culture-related.  Getting the girls to come to the office, or simply getting her message across, for example, can be a real challenge and take ages till things become clear and agreed for everyone. Fortunately, a well-known platform called ‘Facebook’, among other means, was found as a solution for better coordination…

If overcoming difficulties is time-consuming and implies a change in her priorities as well as in her vision of her own education and her understanding of the way she’s been taught to do her professional work before, Martyna says she learns in Akhaltsikhe what real patience is. She also observed already how small actions can be as determinant as bigger actions – but in a much more successful way, achieving change and progress step by step, at the local level, without any rush.

Most importantly, Martyna thinks that her presence in their town is what makes a real difference in the daily life of the teenage girls she works with. And the continuous dialogue they have together makes it a true intercultural and learning experience for both sides.

Summer school organized by the organization PH International in Akhaltsikhe: Martyna took part as a moderator, organizing workshops about American culture and history. Here: eating the farewell cake with a pupil!

Precisely, girls see through Martyna that there is “another way” to act and behave in life: Martyna, aged 26, is not married and has no children yet, and as a woman manages successfully to live on her own, abroad as a matter of fact – needless to say that all this is a rather atypical situation for a girl her age living in the regions of Georgia. Through Martyna, girls meet new people more easily, including foreigners who sometimes come and take part to the activities organized in the office, and thus open for them further windows on a world of possibilities.

If it took Martyna’s girls a long time to become more familiar with her and her way to be, she can now feel that a relationship based on mutual trust has been established. Girls dare to speak more openly, and even speaks in English without blushing. They feel more confident, which is already a victory for Martyna. And her message is finally conveyed. A couple of weeks ago, when the girls made so good use of the public speaking methods provided in the workshops during their own presentations, Martyna almost cried – for it was one of the first signs of effectiveness she perceived.

In the next months of her EVS in Georgia, Martyna plans – even though you don’t really manage to plan anything in this country – to meet even more people from different backgrounds, whom she would probably never have met somewhere else. And of course, she wants to further get to know the Georgian culture, a discovery that she really enjoys. In any case, she is ready to ‘expect the unexpected’, a motto that she created for herself, and that matches very well the reality of Georgia.

* Further information about the European Voluntary Service (EVS) is available at: >http://ec.europa.eu/youth/youth-in-action-programme/doc82_en.htm<
Nb. Georgian projects are now is the process of being registered in the database.

** Further information on the American volunteering program ‘Peace Corps’ is available at: >http://www.peacecorps.gov/<

*** Further information about the program ‘Teach and Learn with Georgia’ is available at: >http://tlg.gov.ge/<

**** Further information about the organization ‘Centre for Youth Co-operation and Mobility’ is available in English and Polish at: > http://www.cwm.org.pl/index.php?lang=2<


Further information on the organization Women’s Hope can be found on its Facebook  profile (in Georgian) available at: > http://ka-ge.facebook.com/people/Qalta-Imedi-Wh/100002016777519<

Martyna Skura runs a blog  (in Polish, and maybe in English soon) about her discovery of Georgia and her impressions in general. The blog, ‘Women in Georgia’, is available here.

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Kvemo-Kartli: Between Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Georgian Azeris

Who are the Azeris of Georgia? Ramilya Aliyeva, Georgian-Azeri journalist from the Georgian region Kvemo-Kartli now established in Tbilisi, took time to explain the situation of the Azeri community living in Georgia. It was on Saturday May 28, 2011. Our friend Ali from Azerbaijan kindly translated our conversation from Azeri into English.


GO Group media, a media organization working in the Caucasus and introduced to me by Ramilya, runs a project in Georgia whose goal is to send cohorts of journalists to the Kvemo-Kartli region. This project is a sign which shows that otherwise, Georgian journalists don’t write and broadcast much (or at all) on topics related to the issues, problems and hopes of the Azeri community in Georgia. Mainly, it is said that the use of a different language (Azeri vs. Georgian) prevents communities to interact with each other. This creates a shared lack of knowledge, which expectedly leads to mutual detachment and tensions. The introduction of the project published by GO Group on their website states this fact very clearly.

Georgian Azeris, though, make up the second largest ethnic community living in Georgia – which makes it hard to believe that the national media can forget them so easily. Moreover, they are the largest community settled in Kvemo-Kartli, a region of Georgia located South of Tbilisi, at the border with Azerbaijan.

Figure 1. Mag of Georgia with Kvemo-Kartli, in grey

In this region, according to Ramilya, although Georgian Azeris could say a lot about their condition, they don’t shout their clamor too loud – unlike the Armenians of Samstkhe-Javakheti. ‘Georgian Armenians are sometimes considered as too demanding, but at least they get something at the end of the day’, Ramilya says. ‘The Georgian Azeris, however, don’t speak up, and consequently don’t get heard’. In spite of their many problems, their voice almost never reaches the capital – which is only located 30 kilometers far from Marneuli, the main city in Kvemo-Kartli. There is also no denying that the Armenian-Georgian civil society is much more developed that the Georgian-Azeri civil society.

Ramilya acknowledges that Azeris are reluctant to speak up partly because they still feel under pressure, as an ethnic community. Indeed, during the era of the 1st President of independent Georgia – Zviad Gamsakhurdia – Azeris would be evicted from their own private houses and later on expropriated in the benefit of Georgian ethnic people. Azeris would back then live under the fear of ‘the Georgians [that] are coming’, and somehow, this fear remains today. Azeris actually consider that such events could happen again and live with this psychological burden.

As it was observed in the censuses afterwards, many Azeri ethnic people ended up leaving Georgia during the term of Gamsakhurdia. Actually, during Soviet times already stigmatization of Azeris living in Georgia was a common phenomenon. Ethnic members used to either work in the fields or in the sector of construction, and had no other opportunities. When in the army, Azeri men would only be offered to do menial jobs – in reality they did not even have the choice.

Today, discrimination is seen as an ‘ongoing’ heritage. Those who remained in Georgia feel they are still treated as ‘guests’ in their own country – or in other words, as ‘second-class citizens’, in a country where ethnicity is sometimes used as a political argument.

All pictures posted below were found on and copied from the GO Group media website and belong to GO Group media. They were taken in Kvemo-Kartli. Further information about the pictures as well as related pictures are available at: > http://www.gogroupmedia.net/Pages/Missions/Mission.aspx?id=17 <

Above: women

Above: home

Above : prayer

Above: young girl


Minority Rights Group International is an NGO that works with minority groups all over the world. On their website, they offer a short brief on the Azeri community living in Georgia.

As mentioned above, the organization Go Group runs a project with the Azeri community of Kvemo-Kartli. Further information is available here.

Many thanks to Ramilya Aliyeva for detailing so precisely the issues of the Azeri community of Georgia –

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A minority from Dagestan living in Georgia: the Avars

Aida Mirmaksumova, originally from Dagestan, lives and studies in Tbilisi. This year, she will graduate from the International School for Caucasus Studies of the Ilia State University. For her master’s thesis, she focused her work and research on a community called ‘Avars’, actually a minority group from Dagestan settled in Georgia. On June 15, 2011, I met Aida in her office and discussed with her the situation of the Avars of Georgia.

Up until 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were around 1.000 Avars living in the village of Tivi in the Eastern region of Kakheti in Georgia. At the beginning of the 1990s, however, it happened that a lot of them went back to Dagestan. It was the era of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the 1st President of independent Georgia – who remains infamous for the great pressure he put on minority groups during his governmental term. Nowadays, only 400 to 500 Avars remain in Tivi.

Map of Kakheti

Avars are settled in a few villages which can be counted on the fingers of a hand – Tivi, Saruso, Khentlis Kure or Chantliskure – in a region close to the Georgian border with the Tlyarata, Tsumada and Tsunta regions of Dagestan. Currently, the roads from Georgia to Dagestan are closed, and people willing to reach Dagestan must travel via North Ossetia or Azerbaijan first.  The trip is not impossible; it is just made longer for geopolitical reasons.

Beyond politics, the truth is that the general trend among young people of the Avarian community is to emigrate to Dagestan, where they receive support from relatives to find jobs and make a living. They say they prefer this way of life, rather than a life in Georgia where they claim they cannot benefit from the same rights as Georgians.

In the Avarian villages of Georgia, the way of life as it is today still matches very traditional social and gender patterns, as well as the requirements of the common religion, Islam.

Men meet to discuss the issues of the community – they have a special bench in the village for this, which is referred to as ‘birzha’ in Russian – whereas women lead the life of housewives. As they are Muslims, they wear scarves, and skirts are preferred to trousers, even though rules are not so strict anymore and women can now go bear-head and with trousers as well. One rule remains, though: women do not drink and do not smoke.

Interestingly enough, Avarian communities practice endogamy, which corresponds to the practice of marrying within one’s own circle of relatives. Prohibited in many other societies, it is accepted in Dagestan and Avarian societies. In some Georgian-Avarian villages, also, ‘bride-napping’, in which a man kidnaps the woman he wishes to marry, is still tolerated. In the recent times, this solution has been turned by youth into a way aiming at avoiding the organization of an expensive wedding.

This video (above) was shot by the cameraman of the Caucasian House in 2009, the secret of it being that the wedding was ‘replayed’ especially for the shooting. Indeed, the real wedding had taken place earlier, but for the visit of Caucasian House delegates, villagers agreed to show what a traditional Avarian wedding was like. And this is how, luckily, this element of culture is now available to a larger audience – as it was posted on… Youtube.com!

Literature available on Avars is to be extended, as it is rather scarce according to Aida Mirmaksumova. She is herself thinking of, maybe, in the near future or later, dedicating a PhD-research to this topic in which she has grown more and more interested in the course of her 2-year master’s degree in Caucasus studies.

Moreover, Aida has already started being committed to the process of making Avars wider known: recently, she was noticeably invited, as a guest speaker, to introduce the young audience of the Tbilisi Caucasian House to the Avarian community of Georgia. The lecture was completed, on June 30, with a field trip to the village of Chantliskure – where the shooting of the video above was made two years ago.

With the goal of fostering relations between Avars of Georgia and the Caucasian House, the trip gave the opportunity to guests and hosts to further pass on what seems to be their main message: Georgia is well and truly home for the Avars, and they wish for themselves and for all nothing more than… peace in the Caucasus.

Above: Village of Chantliskure

Above: House in Chantliskure (1)

Above: House in Chantliskure (2)

Above: Inside an Avarian House

Above: Avarian women doing traditional craft work

Above: Avarian child wearing the traditional costume

Above: Chantliskure, located close to the mountains


Aida Mirmaksumova writes an online travel journal about her field trips to Kakheti, where she meets with various Avarian communities. Her blog is available in Russian at Miramax – a live journal.

The webpage of the International School for Caucasus Studies at Ilia University is available in Georgian, Russian and English here.

Many many thanks to Aida Mirmaksumova for her time, explanations and pictures –

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