Protesters against Namakhvani HPP move to the center of Tbilisi
Large-scale protests against the construction of the Namakhvani hydroelectric power station in western Georgia continues on May 24 in Tbilisi. Thousands of protesters marched from Republic Square to the Dry Bridge area, and from there to Freedom Square.
The day before, they set up tents on Republic Square; they say the next step is to block the central Rustaveli Avenue until the government fulfills their demands.
The main demand of the activists, who call themselves “Guardians of the Rioni River”, is to immediately stop the construction of the hydroelectric power station dam on the river. Other requirements include:
- cancel the agreement with Turkish company ENKA, which is the main contractor in the construction of the HPP, as well as all other agreements and documents related to this project
- ENKA must leave the gorge of the Rioni River
- the declaration of a moratorium on new projects in the energy sector
- the resignation of Minister of Economy Natia Turnava
- the initiation of a criminal case not only against Minister Natia Turnava, but also against everyone who signed specific documents
One of the organizers of the protest, Varlam Goletiani, accused Parliament Speaker Kakha Kuchava of promising to discuss the problem with activists, but never did so
Kuchava, in turn, called the format of the meeting proposed by the activists “non-constructive”. “It is impossible to discuss issues with hundreds of people at the same time,” said the speaker.
“Come to us, not to the parade, on Independence Day on May 26”
“As a wise community, we try not to take drastic action and we are trying to solve the problem peacefully. May 26 [Independence Day of Georgia] is our day, we urge everyone not to come to the parade, but instead to join us and show that our country belongs to us,” Varlam Goletiani said from the rostrum of the rally.
Freedom Square in Tbilisi has been closed since May 22 in connection with preparations for the celebration of Georgia’s Independence Day.
The Namakhvani HPP would become the largest single energy project in the history of the country since the declaration of independence. The project is being implemented by Turkey’s largest construction company, ENKA, at a cost of $800 million.
However, ecologists and local residents have many questions about the project. They fear that large-scale hydropower will threaten the small valley, introduce seismic risks, change the microclimate, damage unique grape varieties and wine production.
The government, which is the main lobbyist for the project, says the danger is exaggerated and that in a few years Georgia will face serious energy security problems without the appearance of new hydropower plants.
Since October 2020, protests against the Namakhvani HPP project have been held in the Rioni River valley. Then the protest expanded and moved to the city of Kutaisi, which is 10 kilometers from the construction site. Since May 23, thousands of protests have been taking place in Tbilisi.
This film by Elena Asatiani is about the ‘Guardians of the Rioni Valley,’ how they have linked their lives with the protest of the gorge against the hydroelectric power station: