Tbilisi: Reconnecting Akhalkalaki

The Messenger, Georgia
April 15 2005

Reconnecting Akhalkalaki

Government officials and local residents offer recipe for bringing
the remote region back into the social and economic life of Georgia
By Keti Sikharulidze

Bad roads and the lack of a railway line are two of the many problems
in the Javakheti region, a region that local politicians and
government officials note is disconnected from the rest of the
country for much of the year.

Besides transportation woes, the region’s difficult socio-economic
condition is compounded by language problems since the region is
heavily populated with ethnic minorities who speak little Georgian.

“The government should work out a special program and solve these
issues on a state level. These problems are in every Georgian region
but in our region it is more complicated, partly owing to the severe
climate but mostly because of the lack of Georgian language,” a
member of Parliament from Akhalkalaki Melik Raisian told The
Messenger on Thursday.

With the aim of working out just such a program, MPs, government
officials and international consultants gathered on April 14 to
discuss Interregional Social-economic Integration of Javakheti
(Ninotsminda and Akhalkalki) regions at a conference organized by the
European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI).

“Earlier there was a very large knowledge gap in Tbilisi about the
region while in the region there was no knowledge about what was
going on in Tbilisi,” ECMI’s project manager Mikael Hertoft told The
Messenger, “ECMI’s task is to help fill this gap and hold
constructive dialogue.”

Deputy Head of the State Road Department Giorgi Tsereteli said on
Thursday the government intends to rebuild roads in the Javakheti
region, connecting Tbilisi-Tsalka-Ninotsminda, as well as
Akhlakalaki-Ninotsminda-Armenian border. The projects, he said, would
be made possible by the U.S. financed Millennium Challenge Georgia

“We have not implemented such a major project in Georgia yet. The
project is still is on the drawing board and will be ready soon.
Construction will start in 2006,” Tsereteli told The Messenger.

Tsereteli also stated that road works will start from May that will
be funded by the central budget. “We will simply carry out repairs of
roads to maintain those parts of roads that can still be saved,” he

“GEL 1.9 million lari was allotted from our budget to rebuild roads
and make the necessary traffic signs. With this money we intend to
pave five kilometers of road to Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki and on
the other parts we will fill in potholes,” Tsereteli stated.

Hamlet Movsesian, the majoritarian MP of Akhalkalaki region, noted
that the Tbilisi-Tsalka-Akhalkalaki road is always blocked during the
winter by heavy snow. In addition, he says funds from the Millennium
Challenge program should also go to rebuilding the
Akhaltsikhe-Akhalkalaki road.

“This road is never closed during the winter … otherwise the
government will need to spend lots of money to keep the roads clear,”
said Movsesian.

Representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture said on Thursday
that they want to make the region the country’s main producer of
potatoes in order to support its agriculture..

“We also intend to create an agricultural service center in
Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki which will serve farmers with tractors
and other agriculture equipment, “the deputy minister of agriculture
Nugzar Sarjveladze told journalists.

As for language problems, the Samtskhe-Javakheti is seeing a renewed
effort by the government to teach the Georgian language.

The government has already opened a “Georgian House” in the
Akhalkalaki region where residents can study Georgian free of charge.

Georgian teacher Dali Aghdgomeladze says that although some people
were skeptical, afraid they would forget their own first language,
Armenian, she has nevertheless seen an increase in enrollment at the
language center.

She says local residents and particularly students became very
interested in studying Georgian after President Mikheil Saakashvili
stated on a trip to Akhalkalaki that the government would give
privileges to those students who intend to study at Tbilisi
universities and institutes.

“As a result many young people started studying Georgian language at
the Georgian House. There are four groups of children of all ages
both young and old,” said Aghdgomeladze

Aghdgomeladze states the government intend to open a similar center
in the Ninotsminda region which is densely populated with Armenians
as well. But she said local interest in learning the language remains
the key factor: “If the people do not desire to learn Georgian, our
interest alone is not enough to do anything.”

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