IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 98: Conflict is brewing in southern Georgia


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Subject: IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 98: Conflict is brewing in southern Georgia

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IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 98: Conflict is brewing in
southern Georgia


WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 99, September 25,
2001

MOSCOW STEPS UP 'WAR ON TERRORISM'  Following the terrorist outrages
in America, Russia looks set to step up its operations against Chechen
civilians. By Marina Rennau in Tbilisi  (See related story: US
Anti-Terrorism Plans Get Central Asian Backing:
<http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/rca/rca_200109_69_1_eng.txt> )

SHEVARDNADZE TURNS BACK ON REFORM  The Georgian president looks to
have made a decisive break with would-be reformers. By Jaba Devdariani
in Tbilisi  

AZERI ARMY DEATH-WISH  No-one in Azerbaijan is prepared to take
responsibility for the increasingly parlous state of the armed forces.
By Kjamal Ali in Baku  

HIDING IN HISTORY  Conflict is brewing in southern Georgia - not that
you would know from reading the local press. By Mark Grigorian in
Akhalkalaki  

...................

HIDING IN HISTORY

Conflict is brewing in southern Georgia - not that you would know from
reading the local press.

By Mark Grigorian in Akhalkalaki  

Many in Samtskhe-Djavakheti are unready to admit that the Soviet Union
broke up a decade ago. Travel down to this south Georgian region and
you'll step back in time.

Only one cracked, rutted, pot-holed road joins the region with the
rest of the country. Besides the bus from Tbilisi, which runs
alongside the River Kura to Georgia's southern border with Armenia,
few travel along the 250 km artery.

In Djavakheti,  you'll find banners draped across the streets, and
decorating the fronts of hotels and municipal buildings, singing the
praises of the USSR, "Glory to the Soviet peoples - builders of
Communism!", "Glory to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union".

In keeping with the general myopia, the local paper, Arghalujts, based
in the administrative centre of Ninotsminda, hardly addresses the
issues of the day.  News to Djavakheti's hacks  - a gaggle of elderly
men in linen suits and straw hats sitting in a sea of old newspapers
and broken typewriters - are stories about events of 1945. Other
features go back further - to 1918.

Granted there are pieces on characters still alive - profiles of the
two leading lights in regional agriculture. But if you didn't know
this, Arghalujts could just as well have come out in the days of
Stalin. The Soviet Union is gone but noone has told the journalists
here.

With their head buried so deeply in the sand, prospects of any sort of
real journalism are grim.

The fact that the majority ethnic Armenian population in the area is
leaving in droves - partly because of the privations suffered here but
mainly out of fear that returning Turks will trigger off a conflict -
barely gets a mention.

Armenians flooded into the region to escape Turkish pogroms in 1918.
Now that Georgia plans to reintroduce Meskhetian Turks - forcibly
deported by Stalin in 1944 - they fear they'll be surrounded and
afforded no protection by the Tbilisi authorities.

"If they return, we will be surrounded by Turks," said an Armenian in
Akhalkalaki. A Russian military base there gives local Armenians a
sense of security. Moscow's influence is evident everywhere. People
pay with Russian roubles; they smoke Russian cigarettes; and car
registration plates are in Russian. 

But with Moscow under pressure to pull its forces out of the region,
Armenians are edgy.

"People are afraid that if the Russians leave they will have no
protection against the Turks, " said Karine Khodikian, editor of a
newspaper in Armenia's capital Yerevan.

"We are not armed," said a grey-haired man talking to his friends in
front of a local museum in Akhalkalaki. "When the Russian soldiers are
gone one Turk with a machine gun could shoot up half the town."

Besides fears of ethnic conflict, the miserable life people lead here
is driving away the young. Electricity, for instance, is on for just
three hours a day. If you want more then you have to pay 20 US dollars
to local mafia for more.

Gesturing to his two friends, the man outside the Akhalkalaki regional
museum said, "Of the three of us here, one has two daughters in
Russia, the other's only son has also gone. My daughter is in Moscow,
and now my son is going to join her. Only the dead in their graves are
left here, and us ..."

A Yerevan-based analyst feels radicals in Armenia may exploit the
exodus of their ethnic kin to call for the Djavakheti's secession from
Georgia. "I am afraid we'll have a repeat of Karabakh there," he said. 

As a result of the abysmal economic conditions and the escalating
ethnic tensions, the region appears to be becoming increasingly
unstable. The local newspaper may choose to ignore what's going on but
the authorities in Tbilisi cannot afford to - unless they're prepared
to see it turn into the next Caucasian conflict zone.

Mark Grigorian is a freelance journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia

********** VISIT IWPR ON-LINE: www.iwpr.net ************** 

IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service provides the regional and
international community with unique insiders' perspective on the
Caucasus. Using our network of local journalists, the service
publishes objective news and analysis from across the region on a
weekly basis.

The service forms part of IWPR's Caucasus Project which supports local
media development while encouraging better local and international
understanding of the region.

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Editor-in-chief: Anthony Borden. Managing Editor: Yigal Chazan;
Assistant Editor: Philip O'Neil; Commissioning Editor: Marina Rennau
in Tbilisi; Associate Editors: Ara Tadevosian in Yerevan, Shahin
Rzayev in Baku and Zarina Kanukova in Nalchik. Editorial assistance:
Mirna Jancic and Heather Milner. To comment on this service, contact
IWPR's Programme Director: Alan Davis alan@iwpr.net

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) is a London-based
independent non-profit organisation supporting regional media and
democratic change.

Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH, United
Kingdom.
Tel: (44 207) 713 7130; Fax: (44 207) 713 7140. E-mail: info@iwpr.net;
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The opinions expressed in IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service are those
of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the
publication or of IWPR.

Copyright (c) IWPR 2001

********** VISIT IWPR ON-LINE: www.iwpr.net **************

IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 99

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