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Showing posts from 2015

Radicalization in Georgia: a self-fulfilling prophesy?

Georgia's Pankisi Gorge has been portrayed as a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. Its ethnic Kist residents suffer poverty and discrimination – a distant government and sensationalist media coverage alienate them further.
A narrow valley in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, Pankisi Gorge is back on the local and international media radar. In fact, Pankisi has been the centre of attention for the past year after it wasdiscovered in June 2014 that Abu Omar Al-Shishani, a leading commander in Islamic State, was born and raised here.

Lithuania needs to listen to its Poles before the Kremlin does (Jun 2015)

Lithuania's Polish and Russian minorities are oddly friendly with each other, which is causing a headache for the Lithuanian government. Here's how to avoid a potential disaster.
Vilnius (Wilno), the capital of Lithuania. Wikimedia. Public domain.Poles are the biggest ethnic minority in Lithuania. There are over 200,000 Poles (6.6% of the population) and 177,000 Russians (5.8%) in the country of 3 million people. Russians are scattered throughout the country, but Poles are concentrated in south-eastern Lithuania and comprise a local majority in the Salcininkai (Soleczniki in Polish) and Vilnius (Wilno) districts, which both comprise the Vilnius region.

On the road. A story of one Iraqi refugee in Georgia (Jun 2015)

According to the estimates from the UNCHR, as of December 2014 there were over 1200 asylum seekers and over 800 refugees in Georgia. 26 year old Mustafa Shalan is one of them. His story, which he told me one spring afternoon in a sunny balcony in the center of Tbilisi, is a tale of a young man seeking a place to settle, as he is no longer welcome at home. Mustafa Shalan is an Iraqi citizen, but his family had to leave the country when he was a child. A couple of years in Jordan followed, and later his family, seven children in total, settled in Syria, Damascus.

Georgian Muslims are strangers in their own country (Mar 2015)

The Republic of Georgia is an avowedly Christian country, but one out of every ten Georgian citizens is Muslim.
The Republic of Georgia is an avowedly Christian country, but one out of every ten Georgian citizens is Muslim. Eye-catching headlines in recent months have touched on the ethnic Chechen and Kist villages of Pankisi Gorge in the country’s north-west. A small number of residents have left for Iraq and Syria, to fight and die for ISIS. But the story of Islam in Georgia today neither begins nor ends with foreign jihad.

Pankisi residents want moderate Islam lessons to counter radicalism (June 2015)

PANKISI, DFWatch–Pankisi residents suggest to counter radical Islam by providing moderate Islam lessons for the young generation. Recently, four people were detained for recruiting new ISIS members in Pankisi Gorge. Journalists on a media tour here organized by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting just before the detentions found that locals were concerned about the rise of radicalism.

Zezvaoba (June 2014)

The last Sunday of May is a day of celebration in the Tush villages Kvemo Alvani and Zemo Alvani in Kakheti. Zezvaoba is the festival to honour the warrior Zezva Gaprindauli, who lead the Tush alongside the Georgian army against Persians at the Bakhtrioni battle in 1659. The main part of it is horse race, where Tush and Kists, a local minority group similar to Chechens, take part.

Asureti – a German village in Georgia (May 2014)

In the 1940s, there were over 20,000 Germans living in Georgia. Today almost none are left. Stalin deported them in 1941-42, and barely anyone came back. Now, Germans are rediscovering this part of their past. Manfred Tikhonov (67) moved to Asureti from Berlin over a decade ago. He is spending his golden years making Georgian wine and restoring a 100 years old German house in Asureti, 20km southwest of Tbilisi.

Tsalka – a Greek ghost town in Georgia (Apr 2015)

Tsalka in southern Georgia used to be home to more than twenty thousand Greeks, but today there are only 1,500 left. ”My parents, grandparents and great grandparents, they all were born in Georgia. This is our home. Sadly,all my children have left the country,” says Julieta Chamuliyeva. We met her in a restaurant she owns in the center, called ‘Pontia’, which was opened in 1992 by her now late husband Slavik Chamulyiev. It offers a meeting-place for Tsalka’s Greek community, and is used for birthday parties, Greek and Georgian national holidays and funerals.

Preventing child brides in Kvemo Kartli (Mar 2015)

“The man thinks that she is still a child, she doesn’t know anything, and that is a good thing for her,” says Samira Bayramova, a women’s rights activist in Marneuli working to prevent young girls from becoming child brides. “Mothers-in-law support this as well, because they hope to raise those girls their way and teach them what they want,” she continues.

Meskhetians are denied residency permit in Georgia (Mar 2015)

Meskhetians who are being repatriated to Georgia are facing obstacles when trying to obtain a residency permit. Now human rights groups are defending their cases in the courts. Iunis Arifov has been living in Akhaltsikhe for the last eight years. He is one of the Meskhetians, who decided to come back to their forefathers’ land. However, he is not able to become a Georgian citizen, as he has Azerbaijani citizenship, and has problems renouncing it. As a repatriate, he will get Georgian citizenship as soon as he renounces his current citizenship, but the two-year period to do it has expired and neither him nor his family managed to do it.

Weak ruble and new immigration law impacting Armenians in Georgia’s south (Dec 2014)

It is a hard winter for ethnic Armenians living in Georgia’s southern Samtskhe-Javakheti region. The fall of the ruble has led to less money being sent home from relatives who have found jobs in Russia, and Georgia’s new immigration law is forcing people to acquire a residency permit, which they are not guaranteed to get even after paying all the fees.

Armenians in Akhalkalaki struggle to learn Georgian (Dec 2014)

The Armenians from Samtskhe-Javakheti have a dilemma: They feel isolated from Georgian society because they don’t speak the state language, but at the same time they don’t have enough motivation to learn it. Shushana Shirinian, a journalist from Akhalkalaki, has lived in Georgia for all her live, but she does not speak Georgian. However, she needs it on a daily basis, because of her occupation.  “All official information and the majority of news are in Georgian, so one must know this language to follow what is going on in the country,” Shirinian explains.

Pankisi youth choose radical Islam over grim reality (Nov 2014)

The people in Pankisi Gorge have been under increasing scrutiny for the last few months, as fighters from this region have become high-ranking commanders in the forces of the Islamic State. Pankisi is merely a 34 square kilometers cut into the GreaterCaucasus Mountain Range in northeast Georgia. Out of the population of just a few thousand, the majority are Kists, an ethnic group related to Chechens. Like Chechens, the majority of Kists are Sunni Muslims, but at the same time the variety of Islam practiced here has been highly influenced by Vainakh religion and rituals and indigenous beliefs of highland Georgians. However, things started changing after the second Chechen war, when a more radical form of Islam reached this valley from the north together with the flood of Chechen refugees.

Pankisi women challenge traditional law (Nov 2014)

Centuries-old mountain traditions and customs still regulate daily life in Pankisi, a valley in the northeast of Georgia populated by Kists and Chechens. Now the old ways are challenged by a new women’s council. Traditionally, the highest decisionmaking body has been the Council of Elders, which maintains order by dealing with social and economic issues, such as land disputes or conflicts between families. The Council of Elders used to deal with more delicate issues, like blood revenge, as well.

Deadly bridenapping in Kakheti (Oct 2014)

When a young man was murdered last weekend in Kazlar, an Azeri village 40km east of Tbilisi, it could have been one among many stories of violence and homicides in rural Georgia, but the circumstances of this case makes it stand out. 21 year old Ulpukar was killed because of a love affair with an underage girl. The murder took place as he allegedly was attempting to kidnap her.

Kobuleti, where Muslims are not welcome (Oct 2014)

In the past couple of years, Muslims in Georgia have experienced more and more animosity directed toward them. In 2012, Muslims were opposed when they tried to open a mosque in Nigvziani; in 2013 villagers in Samtatskharo were not allowed to performFriday prayers for a period of time; soon after a scandal broke in Chela, when a minaret was dismantled. And now another conflict has caught the public’s attention in Kobuleti, where the local Christian majority has started opposing the Muslim minority’s plans to open a religious school in their neighborhood.

Being a foreign ‘gogo’ in Georgia (Sept 2014)

It is always challenging to be a foreigner. But being a foreign woman in the Caucasus is even harder. “You will see that in Georgia women are treated like queens, like princesses”. This was one of the first sentences I heard when a Georgian man picked me up at Tbilisi airport in 2010. Sadly, my experience in this country never lived up to this statement.