Kurdish Youth Union: Pilgrimage to Kurdistan

A bunch of members of the Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia went on a pilgrimage to Kurdistan in April this year. On June 13, 2011, they organized a public presentation of their trip to Iraq and Turkey for their fellow participants to the Caucasian Peoples’ University at the Caucasian House.

From April 16 to 24, participants to the Kurdish language, history and Yezidi religion course organized by the Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia took part, along with senior members of their community, to a pilgrimage to their main religious center located in the Iraqi Kurdistan: Lalish. During their stay there, they also crossed the border to visit Turkish Kurdistan.

This pilgrimage was organized on the occasion of ‘Sarsal’ or ‘Charshama Sarsale’, the Yezidi New Year. For all Kurds who took part to this trip, whether young or older, it was the first time they set foot in Kurdistan. Their visit was supported by the Yezidi clergy of Lalish which already looks forward to welcoming Yezidi Kurds from Georgia more often in the future.

On Monday, June 13, at the Caucasian House, the room was crowded with young participants to the Caucasian Peoples’ University, as well as with friends and guests who had all come to attend the Kurdish youth’s presentation of their experience.

Supported by photos, videos and music, their presentation provided space for discussion with the audience. All were curious to know more about Kurdistan, the feelings of young Georgian Kurds in the historical homeland, or the state of relations between Muslims and Yezidi in Iraqi Kurdistan. Provided answers were considered with great attention and interest, thus making the Kurdish youth’s initiative a successful attempt to reinforce intercultural dialogue.

Many many thanks to the Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia for their presentation and pictures –

Further information can be found on the Union of Kurdish Youth of Georgia website: http://sarhad.ge/main.php?mode=3&cat=main&sub=2&lang=en

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Learning Georgian with Young Repatriated Meskhetians

On Thursday, May 26, 2011, together with Jana Kowalova, EVS volunteer at Caritas Georgia, and Teona Zhuzhunadze, local volunteer for the organization Toleranti, I took part to a Georgian class organized for young repatriated Meskhetians living in Akhaltsikhe. This article hopes to introduce you to the population of repatriated Meskhetians established in Georgia. It does not pretend to go into the many details of their history, for it is particularly dense and intricate.

In Southwestern Georgia, in the region of Samstkhe-Javakheti, is located the historical region of Meskheti, whose inhabitants are referred to as Meskhetians.

F.1. Actual region of Samstkhe-Javakheti                                                                                     F.2. Historical region of Meskheti

In 1944, Muslim Meskhetians from Meskheti were one of the 8 ethnic groups which were deported to Central Asia by Stalin for (geo)political reasons. Some families suffered later on the pogrom of Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan in 1989, as well as further deportations and migrations, and as a consequence deported Meskhetians now live dispersed in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia. Some also successfully applied for the status of refugee in the United States of America.

As for the families which decided to return to Georgia, they are referred to as ‘repatriated Meskhetians’. In the last decades, there were different waves of repatriation to Georgia, whether governmentally organized or corresponding to a “self-repatriation” migration scheme. Some families returned in 1985 already, whereas others arrived just 2 years ago. For the most part, they settled in different regions of Georgia, in Samstkhe-Javakheti, Samegrelo or Shida-Kartli.

The repatriation of deported Meskhetians is a very sensitive political issue. Since 1999, Georgia is part of the Council of Europe and due to facilitate the repatriation of deported Meskhetians. Ever since, although the country was urged to take swift action several times, few steps have carried forward the establishment of a proper administrative repatriation procedure, which explains the general difficulty to discuss the situation of those who have returned.

In Samstkhe-Javakheti, the regional association “Toleranti” provides families of repatriated Meskhetians with legal counseling, medical assistance and language support. In the frame of its 3-year project “Provision of humanitarian assistance to repatriate Meskhs and prevention of “self-repatriation”, the association noticeably organizes classes for young repatriated Meskhetians twice a week. Youth who attend the classes hope to improve their chances of success at school, where they receive tuition in Georgian, and to support their integration in the community.

Considering how motivated they are to learn Georgian, and as quickly as possible, this integration is usually 100 % successful.

Above: Yunus, Yashan and Yakob with their Georgian teacher Nino

Above: The full class of young repatriated Meskhetians

Also, in Akhaltsikhe, repatriated Meskhetians are recognized for their hard work. Families of deported/repatriated Meskhetians are traditionally farmers and work in the fields. Among those who returned, many bought houses with land in order to grow fruit and vegetables and prepare dairy products from the milk of their cows, both for their own consumption and for selling to the neighbors and locals, sometimes even on the markets when the production is good.

The family of Yunus and Faia, established in the Freight Station settlement of Akhaltsikhe, is a successful example. After two years in Georgia, they feel well integrated in their neighborhood. They have their own garden, orchard and fields, from which they manage to have two productions a year, and thus make a living.

Above: Faia on that day, the farm had had many new chicks

As many others however, one thing prevents them from totally feeling home in Georgia: they are waiting for an answer to their application for the Georgian citizenship, which they sent two years ago. Without citizenship, they are not fully-fledged citizens in Georgia, and therefore struggle to have access to basic services like medical assistance. They have no choice, though: just like the others, they have to wait, without timeframe – this means a life of uncertainty in the long-term…

Beside the regional association Toleranti, other organizations try to voice the needs and protect the rights of repatriated Meskhetians, like the organization ACF – Action Contre la Faim whose current project, like Toleranti’s, is funded by a macro-grant of the European Union.

Nevertheless, for the Meskhetian issue remains a political issue, supporting this population is an every-day challenge.

Above: Freight Station Settlement in Akhaltsikhe

Sources :
Samstkhe-Javakheti map [online] available at: < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SamtskheJavakhetiLocationinGeorgia.svg >
Meskheti map [online] available at: < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MeskhetiHitorical.jpg >

Many thanks to Teona for her precious help; to Nino for having us in her class; to Faia for receiving us so warmly at her place; and to Jana for her translation from the Russian language into English –

LINKS

For further information about the classes given at Toleranti:
“I like Georgian classes”
[online] Available at: <http://toleranti.ge/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=313%3A2011-06-07-12-47-26&catid=70%3A2011-01-05-11-59-25&Itemid=82&lang=en>

For further information about the political context of the Meskhetian issue, an article of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty slightly outdated (2005) but careful enough in its wording:
Georgia: Leaders Remain Noncommittal on Meskhetian Repatriation Issue
[online] Available at: <http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1057117.html>

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News from Tsinubani – Georgian-Armenian village in Samstkhe-Javakheti

On April 14, 2011, I visited for the first time the Georgian-Armenian village of Tsinubani, in the countryside near the city of Akhaltsikhe (see post published in April, “Celebrating « Georgian Language Day » in a Georgian-Armenian Village”). On May 25, 2011, I returned to the village with EVS volunteer Jana Kowalova and met with kids and teachers again.

There is no more snow on the roads leading to Tsinubani now, all trees, mountains and fields have gone green, and summer is almost in the air. The 3 pupils of the 12th class have already graduated and do not attend classes anymore. They are working hard on the preparation of the entrance exams to the university, which they are currently taking with one exam every day. We briefly saw them as they happened to visit the school at the lunch break, and they seemed quite confident about their performances and expected results.

On Wednesday, EVS volunteer Jana Kowalova organized activities for the 5th and 11th class – only 2 pupils make up the latter class… Jana’s idea, on that day, was to make the children work on intercultural differences. The exercise consisted in trying to re-organize a series of pictures according to the country where they were taken and the activity which they showed – which was not always easy for the pupils of the 5th class. Kids were then given time to comment on the differences and similarities between Georgia, Senegal, Mongolia and the Czech Republic. Interestingly enough, those countries sometimes seemed to be more similar than expected!

One of the two groups of the 5th class – trying to get pcitures organized…

Only 2 pupils in the 11th class – the job was quickly done !

Many thanks to Jana Kowalova and the school of Tsinubani –

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Akhaltsikhe Youth Center: Armenian youth get active in Samstkhe-Javakheti

On May 25, 2011, I visited the Youth Center of Akhaltsikhe together with Martyna Skura, EVS volunteer based in Akhaltsikhe, Samstkhe-Javakheti, where she works for the local women’s organization “Women’s Hope”. A sunny evening gave us a good opportunity to meet with a bunch of young Armenians, find out more about the Youth Center and discover the Armenian heritage surrounding the center under their enthusiastic and well-informed guidance.

Upon our arrival at the Youth Center around 6 pm on Wednesday, May 25, 2011, a crowd of boys and young men was standing in front of the gate, smoking cigarettes, chatting and laughing, simply enjoying their daily community meeting. In a room of the Center, some girls and women were rehearsing Armenian songs around a piano – mainly for the purpose of local church services.

Armenian youth come to the Center every day. Getting there is easy for all – it is located in the center of the town, in a rather large, old building which was rearranged into a community center to offer space and facilities for community meetings and youth activities.

Almost every day, youth can attend Georgian and/or Armenian language classes, as well as Armenian dance and/or music classes. They also have access to computers and internet for free. In such a small town where private houses remain the main places dedicated to meetings, the Center also offers to youth another space for gathering and dialogue, outside of the family circles.

On that day, EVS volunteer Martyna Skura and I, soon joined by Czech EVS volunteers Jana Kowalova and Tomas Czyz, met with Vova, Ono, Tiush, Ashot, Eduard and their friends, all of them being young Armenians from Akhaltiskhe. Between the Russian, Georgian, Armenian and English languages, we managed to communicate fairly well during several hours and a good Georgian supper.

Under their guidance, we visited the Armenian Church as well as the Memorial of the Armenian genocide marked by an Armenian cross, called “Khachkhar” in Armenian, both located on the hill just above the Youth Center. This informal Armenian heritage tour brought up a range of historical and regional issues going from the migration of Armenians from Turkey, back then, to the migration of Armenians to the Russian Federation nowadays – all topics were discussed in a very friendly and open manner.

Among the new friends we made, Tiush is the only one who does not live permanently in Akhaltsikhe. He was born in this very town, but moved to Yerevan with his family when he was 6 years old. If he is definitely proud to be Armenian and to live in Armenia, and hopes to go and work in Russia, he told us – and tells everybody whenever he can – that for him, the region of Akhaltsikhe remains the best place in the world.

Nb: the Akhaltsikhe Youth Center was named after Charles Aznavour, famous Armenian-French singer whose family came from Akhaltsikhe.

Many thanks to Martyna, Jana, Tomas, and especially Vova, Ono, Tiush, Ashot, Eduard and their friends with whom I spent time in Akhaltiskhe and thanks to whom I have become more familiar with the reality of the local Armenian community

LINK

The Akhaltsikhe Youth Center has a website. Unfortunately, it seems not to be working at the moment. Let’s hope it will be functional again soon!

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Samstkhe-Javakheti: a mostly Armenian-populated region

As part of my volunteering activities at PMMG (Public Movement “Multinational Georgia”), a Georgian NGO whose mission has been to protect and represent minority groups of Georgia since 1999, I regularly go to the region of Samstkhe-Javakheti (see map below, in grey) where Georgians cohabit with Armenians. This article is a brief reminder of key regional facts.

Samstkhe-Javakheti is one of the 9 regions that divide the territory of Georgia, located in the West of the country along the southern border with Armenia and Turkey. An incredible 3-hour marshrutka journey through the mountains of Georgia separates the capital city, Tbilisi, from the main city of the region, Akhaltiskhe (meaning “New Castle”).

Samstkhe-Javakheti is home to a very large community of Armenians, with approximately 95,000 mainly Armenian speakers – according to the International Crisis Group – however likely to be Georgian citizens with Georgian passports.

The Armenians living in Samstkhe-Javakheti make up a compactly settled minority group of Georgia. It is therefore a region where the issues of integration, language and minority rights remain paramount.

Here is a series of photos taken in the city of Akhaltsikhe – it will surely help you better picture the region of Samstkhe-Javakheti:

Akhaltsikhe, view from the castle – April 14, 2011

Akhaltsikhe – May 25, 2011

Akhaltsikhe – April 25, 2011

Akhaltsikhe, Armenian church (rather Georgian, for some) – April 25, 2011

Akhaltsikhe, from the top of a hill – April 25, 2011

LINK

On May 23, 2011, the “International Crisis Group” published a briefing entitled “Georgia: The Javakheti Region’s Integration Challenges” that correlates the integration of the Armenian community of Javakheti with the stability of the region. Click on the link to have access to the website.

Source: Map of Samstkhe-Javakheti [online] Available at: <http://www.eafjd-georgia.ge/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11%3Ajavakheti-research&catid=3%3Aevents&Itemid=7&lang=en&gt;

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“Multi-ethnic Georgia”: a series of videos

This post provides you with a series of videos presenting the key features of different minority groups and ethnicities of Georgia – all videos were posted on www.youtube.com by GeoMartial, under the title “Multiethnic Georgia”.
Informative and well-made, I thought those videos could add up to the content of this blog and to your knowledge of communities living in Georgia. Enjoy!

KURDS


OSSETIANS


AZERBAIJANIS


JEWS


KISTS “VAINAKHS”


UKRAINIANS


UDINS “CAUCASIAN ALBANIANS”

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