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Thousands left without Georgian citizenship - Special Report

Thursday, 18 November 2021 14:40 hits 310 times
Presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili. Pre-election campaign in Akhalkalaki
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Presidential candidate Salome Zurabishvili. Pre-election campaign in Akhalkalaki

Thousands of people born and raised in Javakheti are left without Georgian citizenship. The government requires them to pass the language test to restore citizenship, but locals above 35-40 years cannot speak Georgian. They cannot because it was not taught in school and there was nobody around to communicate in Georgian. They cannot be members of the universal healthcare program, creating a new financial burden for them during the pandemic. More than 3000 people are disconnected from political life, not being able to vote.   

Kamo Simonian, 63, has not yet paid the debt he loaned for surgery two years ago. He was charged 6000 for the cardiac stent, even though government funds 80-90% of the price for citizens of Georgia. Kamo was refused to receive aid because his citizenship was terminated back in 2013. 

After the war in 2008, it became harder for Georgians to visit Russia and work there. Many Javakheti residents work in Russia to support their families. We do not have alternative jobs. Therefore, locals started receiving Armenian citizenship. Unlike Armenian, Georgian passport only allowed a person to stay in Russia for three months. I left the Georgian border with Georgian access. I entered Russia from Armenian with an Armenian one - Kamo Simonian, living in village Zhdanov, was notified upon the termination of his citizenship by the Ministry of Justice the same year.

According to the amendment of organic law or Georgia, Georgian citizens cannot be citizens of other states since 2013. This is because Georgians, who had citizenship of any other state, left Georgian citizenship automatically.

Zhora Antanosian, 38 lives in Zhdanov as well. He also received a double-citizenship from Armenia in 2013. „The only thing I could do here was working as a shepherd. I have two children. I went to Russia to support them. A year later, returning to Georgia, I was notified that my citizenship was terminated“.

There are no statistics available to know the exact number of people with terminated citizenship, but more than 20 live in Zhdanov.

Gurgen Ezoian used to work in Akhakalaki hall of justice on citizenship and migration issues. One of every four visitors addressed us with problems regarding the Georgian citizenship.“

 Salome Zurabishvili, a presidential candidate, supported by the government, visited Javakheti in October 2018. She promised locals to provide double citizenship after becoming the president.

Enzel Mkoian, a deputy of Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki, told locals that he had already delivered papers of more than 1500 people who would receive double citizenship once Zurabishvili became the president. Salome Zurabishvili received almost 60% of the votes in Javakheti.

Georgian law allows receiving citizenship by birth or naturalization. The president can grant citizenship or reinstate in exceptional cases. A person looking should address Public Service Development Agency and take Georgian language exam. In 2020, 7123 people addressed the agency to receive, restore, or keep Georgian citizenship.

Kamo Simonian took the exam twice, paid 250 Lari, but failed both times: I have spent my whole life here. I was working on the collective farm. A man should receive a pension for his work, but I will not receive it. I took the exam twice, paid 250 Lari but failed because I can’t speak Georgian. When I was in school, the teacher of Georgian language was Armenian, and we had only one lesson a week. How can I learn it? Doukhobors lived here, communicating with us, and we learned Russian. If we lived with Georgians, I would speak Georgian now. I tried preparing for the exam, but it’s impossible if you can’t understand the language.

My wife, children, grandchildren are citizens of Georgia. If it helps, I will terminate my Armenian citizenship, which I received only to work in Russia in the first place“.

Zhora Antanosian failed the exam twice as well. He does not speak Georgian. „I had finished school 20 years ago. If I did not speak Armenian for 20 years, I would forget it too. In my time, nobody required knowledge of the Georgian language. I can read and write in Georgian, but that’s all. I work the whole day and have no time to learn test questions. I will try to prepare in winter. I am not going to leave my country anymore, but I need to be a citizen. I have a residence permit now“.

What does Georgia offer to Javakehtians to learn the Georgian language?

In 2010 Georgia started the 1+4 educational program. Ethnical minorities can receive higher education using this program. Students study the Georgian language during the first year and, in case of getting 60 credits, continue learning on their desired faculty. The number of students taking part in the program gradually increases.

State Administration School, named after Zurab Zhvania, offers Georgian language courses in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Kvemo Kartli, and Kakheti. Teaching centers are located in Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, but not everyone can use this opportunity. Public transport does not operate in villages, and taxis are expensive. After the pandemic, the online lessons started, but in villages, internet connection is poor or non-existent. 

Gurgen Ezoian thinks that the language exam should not be mandatory for everybody. The procedure should be simplified for elderly people. In addition, the state should establish a more flexible approach.“

The older generation received the education in USSR on post-Soviet 90s when the educational system could not meet basic demands. These people never had an opportunity to learn Georgian; therefore, they cannot speak it now. In addition, Georgian and Armenian villages are distant from each other, and their communication is poor. Neither a local government nor economic relations create the possibilities for communication. Therefore, it is important to understand that the local community is not guilty of a lack of knowledge. Instead, we address the government to either establish exam concessions for the people who chose to survive, or set the legal regulations and dismiss the exam for them,“ - says Tamta Mikeladze, Equality Policy Programme director at Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center.

According to the census of 2014, 45000 people live in Akhalkalaki and 24500 in Ninotsminda. More than 90% of them are ethnic Armenians. Only 12% can speak Georgian. The primary sources of income are stock-raising and potato farming. 

According to the data from Javakheti communal organization, more than half of employable work in other countries, mainly in Russia.

Javakheti is often considered a dangerous region as if pro-Russian sentiment is strong and can be a basis for particular political objectives. However, the connection with Russia is primarily economic and not political. Of course, there are groups in Javakheti financed from Russia, but locals do not support them. Therefore, the attention to Javakheti as a potential threat, I think, is exaggerated. Even if there are ties with Russia, we should blame Georgia for leaving Javakheti without financial and political support.

For years Georgian government allowed the clan of Mkoian to rule the region using criminal and violent methods. Therefore, the issues we find in Javakheti, such as cultural isolation, lack of democracy, labor migration, are caused by Georgia. We should also mention media and nonparticipation of ethnic minorities in Georgian information and communication area,“ - states Tamta Mikeladze.

In Javakheti villages a large proportion of residents cannot watch Georgian channels.

Ilo Kardava

Reporter-Translator at mtisambebi.ge, holds a bachelor’s degree in Politics from Tbilisi State University. He works on political and social issues, essential events from Greater and Lesser Caucasus regions. E-mail: iloqardava@gmail.com

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