What problems are Georgians in Abkhazia faced with?
Georgians from Gal region talk about their problems
Lack of agricultural equipment, restrictions, and a closed border – these are the problems that the residents of the Gal district of Abkhazia, inhabited mainly by ethnic Georgians, are faced with. Almost all of the people that JAMnews has spoken with refuse to talk on camera and only agree to have their comments published anonymously.
Shortage of agricultural equipment
On Monday at two o’clock in the afternoon, men gather at the administration of the village of Khatskha (formerly Chuburkhinj) of the Gal district. Employees of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization are expected to arrive from Sukhum soon. As part of the Integrated Pest Management through Farmer Field Schools in Abkhazia, they deliver lectures to farmers in 108 villages.
Gal (Gali in the Georgian version) region is an administrative unit in Abkhazia located next to Ingur ( Inguri in Georgian) river which is considered to be the dividing line after the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. According to the 2011 census, 98.21% of the population residing there consists of Mingrelian Georgians. Inguri hydroelectric power plant, the main source of energy in Abkhazia, is also located in the Gal district.
“What is crop rotation? Here we are used to planting the same crop every year, but this is wrong”, says one of the project participants, Leri Shonia:
“Crop rotation is an alternation of crops in a simple way. You planted a tomato in one year, you won’t get a tomato in the second year. Or rather you will get it, but you will have to water it with the chemical. If something is not clear, ask again, I will explain it to you in Mingrelian”.
The audience – mostly men, are all wearing masks – gathered in a semicircle, listening to the lecture. Seven or eight men are sitting a little further away at the table, they do not hear the lecture from there, but they do not particularly strive to either.
“There is no equipment in the village, not a single tractor, what are they going to dig?,” one of the men asks:
“Previously, we would at least have them during the season works, it was possible to hire them for money, but now no one does it anymore”.
Overhearing our conversation, one of the women approaches us: “I have a sister who lives in Ochamchira [the neighboring area] and she says that our tractors are working for them! The equipment we get is allocated from the budget, but it works in other regions. Now is the corn season, we have already plowed the land, but have not sown yet, we are waiting”.
“When it comes to corn, if you don’t plant it now, in 10 days it will already be too late. So why should I pay for the work, I’d rather not plant it at all”, adds another man.
When asked to give an interview on camera and talk about their problems, they wave their hands at us negatively. “Who should I talk to? How many times have we talked about it already, what is the point. How long have we been waiting for what they promised us?”, they say laughing.
“There are no large farmers in our village. One died, the rest left. Those who are younger go there [to Georgia – author’s note], but they also die of hunger there. I’ll be buried soon, and you are asking me to talk about my problems. What’s the point? Nothing is going to change!”
“This is why they are giving us masks, to keep us quiet!”, residents of Gal are joking.
I keep asking for a comment on camera and one of the men can’t stand it.
“What can I tell you? Nobody has a passport! They don’t give us passports! And without a passport, what can we do? “
“They should open the [Georgian-Abkhazian]border!”, adds another man:
“Everyone, the whole world has opened the borders, what is going on here?
“Why do you need an open border if you don’t grow anything for sale?”, I ask.
“I’ll explain. What costs 500 rubles here, costs two rubles there. We used to bring potatoes, corn, anything we wanted from there, but now there is nothing and it has been like this for two years already”.
“Are there really no workarounds?”
“Only across the river, four people drowned there, did you hear?”
“It doesn’t matter how we plow”, another man says:
“The most important thing is the document! They don’t give us passports, they don’t give us Form 9, they don’t let us vote, they don’t let us register anything in our name”.
Paperless residents of Gal region
“You know what? Here, even a cow has its own number for Inguri pass, a document! And we are sitting here, us, who have lived here all our lives, with no documents at all!”
During the conversation, the organizers of the lecture told us several times that we were distracting the listeners, as my respondents got nervous and raised their voices. I went into the administration building to talk to one of the employees there.
“We have 3,600 people living in our village. Almost all of them are citizens of Georgia, and only 50 people have an Abkhaz passport. Now, while the restrictions are in force, only pensioners and large families can cross the border”, says one of the employees.
The issue of certification of residents of the Gal district is a rather problematic one. Former President Alexander Ankvab was forced to resign due to the fact that he massively issued passports to residents of the Gal district, ignoring the fact that they were citizens of Georgia.
The next president, Raul Khajimba, launched a passportization procedure, during which Abkhaz passports were withdrawn from Georgian citizens, and residence permits were issued in return. This deprives them of the right to vote in elections and the right to own private property in Abkhazia.
“Why are we indignant. Here we are given a residence permit, 3,000 people have already received it somewhere in our village, this is a document for temporary residence, and we were born here, grew up here, we want to live here for the rest of our lives, why the residence permit? Now we have lived with a residence permit for five years, well, we will live for another five, and then what? They won’t give us passports anyway, just another residence permit”, the administration official continues.
“An Abkhaz passport is needed to go to Russia. Some of those who grow tangerines or walnuts, if they have a car, prefer to take it there, but they cannot go. In some residence permits, there is a dash in the ‘citizenship’ column, and with such a document they are allowed to enter Russia, but if the ‘citizenship’ column has Georgia in it, they cannot go”.
“They say that if you go to Russia, to the Georgian embassy, which is now located in the Swiss embassy, and request a renunciation of citizenship, then you can get an Abkhaz passport with this paper, but I don’t know any people who have done that. I’ve heard that one person did it, but got nothing in return”.
At the end of the lecture, one of the Sukhumi guests says, referring to the head of the Gal district, Konstantin Piliya, that the issue of certification will soon be resolved: “How we do not know yet, but the solution is already there, it’s just a matter of time”.
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