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.
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 <
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 –