Information vacuum - it’s when Azerbaijanis learn about the developments in their own country from foreign TV channels
Photo : Aynura Alieva
It is only 35 minutes’ drive from Tbilisi by a route taxi. But those who live here say, they have no information on what’s going on in their own country.
There is everything here to some extent: TV, Internet, newspapers. But here come two questions-what type of media are they and who can read or watch them.
5, 10, 20, 25 years of Georgia’s independence, numerous different state-run and private projects and programs, huge funds spent on them-but they still can’t solve a problem with information vacuum that country’s ethnic minorities have to live in. In this case, the matter concerns the Azeris in Kvemo Kartli.
The primary and overriding reason is still the same and same simple- about 200,000 Azerbaijanis, who densely reside here and represent the vast majority in the region, don’t know Georgian language.
People can’t solve this problem independently
Amil Mammadov, 29, is a resident of Kutliari village, Marneuli municipality. His village is located at about 20-km distance from Marneuli regional center. It takes him 15 minutes to get to the regional center. The road has been rehabilitated just recently. Before that, those 15 kilometers were a complex of potholes, that took one at least an hour to overcome.
Today the road has been put in order; the municipal transport runs on schedule-a bus shuttles once in three hours. But only until 6 p.m. However, the majority of villagers say, they are quite happy, because they didn’t have even this until recently.
Amil got married a month ago. The first thing he did after the wedding was that he made efforts to bring to right his young wife’s documents. He really wants her to have a career. He himself travels from the village to Marneuli three times a week to attend the Georgian Language House’ courses. He wants to learn Georgian.
He has always felt the need for knowledge of official language. But he hasn’t always had a chance to learn it. In his words, the teaching level at school was extremely low. “For so many years at school, alphabet was the only thing we learned during the Georgian language classes, says Amil.
The environment is no less important. After the school, he graduated from medical college in Marneuli. It was very hard, because the academic process was in Georgian language which he didn’t know, and part of the lectures were in Azerbaijani and Russian languages. There was no point dreaming about higher education. But he wanted it very much.
Marneuli town is distinguished among Georgian regions by its multinationality. There are 73 villages and 137,314 residents. Azerbaijanis make 83,1% and the rest are Georgians, Armenians, Greeks and Russians.
“When I finished school, I had no idea about Georgian language. And my younger brother has gone through the same path after me. Even now, the quality of education in our school hasn’t improved much. Recently, I’ve had to apply to the State Register for documents and I couldn’t explain, what exactly I needed. It was so humiliating, says Amil Mammadov.
Thank to Azerbaijani TV channels
Amil is an important source of information for his family and fellow villagers, because he travels to Marneuli quite often. And every time he gets backs, he shares with his neighbors the most topical news from the center. All residents gather to listen to him, as he substitutes both, a TV-set and the newspapers for them, because Georgian national TV channels and the major online publications are available only in Georgian language and therefore they are useless sources of information to the locals.
And the situation is the same in all villages of the district. The farther is the village from the town, the more isolated it is in terms of getting information.
“There is a shop in the village center, which is a ‘get-together venue’ for the local men. They gather there and discuss things they’ve heard from others. That’s how the candidates and parties were discussed throughout the entire campaign period. We get some additional information from the Azerbaijani TV channels. Thanks to them, they provided a lot of reports on Georgia in the campaign period, says Amil.
Chaihana as a source of information
“Azerbaijani community has been long forgotten by Georgian journalists. The editors would immediately say: ‘what to do if they don’t know Georgian’… But that’s just an excuse, invented to conceal the information,’ says Zviad Koridze, an expert.
“Political parties managed that situation petty well, when they wanted to get their votes in elections- all their promo materials and leaflets were translated into Azerbaijani and Armenian languages. And the media can do the same, they should proceed from reality.
But they don’t do that. So, chaihanas (teahouses) do that job in Marneuli in their stead. There are many of them in the town and they are the major place for men to gather and discuss things.
There is a sound of domino ‘bones’ rattling and discussions on past elections in Marneuli’s most popular chaihana.
A middle-aged man in a white shirt skillfully combines dominoes with tea-drinking. His name is Suleyman Chobanov, one of the chaihana’s frequenters. A few years ago, it was Chobanov, who served as the main source of information for the teahouse visitors. He was then the editor of the Azerbaijani ‘Zeka’ (‘Intelligence’) newspaper. However, the newspaper hasn’t been issued for many years. So, it’s not he who informs the chaihana now, but rather the chaihana that informs him and the rest of the locals.
“There isn’t a single newspaper in Azerbaijani language in the region. I don’t watch the national TV channels, because I don’t understand a word in Georgian language. So, I have to believe in things that I hear in chaihana. And here everyone presents the news the way he understands it. Everyone is overinterpreting things his own way,
“Chaihana is the only source of information for us, a young guy in the red sportswear joined the conversation.
Marneuli has its own, local broadcaster -‘Marneuli TV’. Every evening, the TV channel staff prepares a 15-minute news program in Georgian and Azerbaijani languages in a small editing room and studio. Their ‘newsroom’, also a chaihana, is located on the ground floor of the broadcaster’s office.
“We provide digital broadcasting, whereas the population use satellite broadcasting en masse. So, we work just for a few. And we can’t shift to the satellite broadcasting, since we don’t have enough funds for that, says Shalva Shubladze, ‘Marneuli TV’ director, a white-haired man, who has 9 children.
Woman and News
Women don’t go to chaihanas in Marneuli. It’s an unwritten law-women are forbidden to visit teahouses. It’s unacceptable not only for men, but also for women themselves.
Gyuldekin Abasova, 46, is a shop assistant. She’s smiling when answering the questions. The shop owner provided her with a small TV-set. She is watching Azerbaijani ‘A-TV’ channel the whole day. She is a devoted fan of this TV channel. And she also has her favorite program.
“I watch only Azerbaijani TV channels all the time. As for the developments in Georgia, I learn about them from my husband in the evening, he will bring the news from chaihana, says Gyuldekin.
Another opportunity, ‘Marneuli’ community radio, has occurred just recently. The radio station provides Internet-broadcasting in Azerbaijani language. The radio staff comprises 10 people. Kamila Mammadova, a young woman, is the radio station director.
“Azerbaijani and Georgian journalists work at the radio station. We discuss problems and share everyday stories. For example, there is a man in Marneuli, who has been selling ice-cream for 40 years already. Marneuli residents first heard about him from our program. 90% of radio’s programs cover the community issues, says Kamila Mammadova.
So, the young generation is trying to change something, to ‘link’ Kvemo Kartli to the rest of Georgia. But they still have little opportunities. So, obviously, it’s unlikely that there will be any changes in the near future.