Saturday, September 29, 2007

Georgian and Armenian life

Yesterday's demo seems to have gone off fairly peacefully. US media report a crowd of 1500, Russian media tell us that 10,000 demonstrated against Sakaashvili. I was there - the US media are nearer the mark. By the time the concert started the road had re-opened and it was business as usual. I heard another theory about Okruashvili's outburst against the President; this suggests that he knew that he was going to be arrested for corruption etc, so he said this stuff to make his arrest look political. Machiavellian, no? In this case I take back any words involving 'banana' and 'republic'.

Today Armenia Now reports that the Georgian government is planning to demolish the Armenian district, Havlabar, around the new Cathedral in Tbilisi (photo courtesy of Ham) and to construct an 'elite district'. Opinions vary, from yes, it's time they pulled down the old houses (an Armenian living there) since they lack all amenities, and people are supposed to be compensated or get accommodation in the new district. Other's say it's anti-Armenian, as proved by the fact that a seminary attached to the cathedral is being built on an old Armenian graveyards, and bones have been littered everywhere. (A story the Jews of Vilnius can tell, too, so the Jewish diaspora outside Lithuania says). Someone says that the President suggested the Armenian diaspora is paying for this little exercise.

So of course I had to go for a run and take a look. It needs to be said that the area behind the cathedral is like a village, with mud roads and I dread to think what the domestic facilities are. There are all individual houses, but quite closely together, not surrounded by high walls and strong gates like in richer neighbourhoods; nor are any large farm animals visible. It's a very poor but also very interesting little neighbourhood.

If I were them, I would not look forward to any significant compensation, though, particularly if the Armenian diaspora is involved. There were horror stories when a similar large scale deconstruction/reconstruction took place in the centre of Yerevan, where on occasion laws were changed so people's property could be taken from them with little or no compensation. And even in Vilnius there are shady goings-on in the district of Snipiskes where wooden houses, in a perfect little rural location (though with a slightly shady reputation here and there) very close to the city centre, have a habit of going up in smoke. Insurance cover is often lacking...and even if an arsonist is identified, the compensation is minimal.

The land here in Tbilisi is worth a fortune - as I discovered when I turned a corner and found myself behind the new presidential palace/offices currently being constructed. Suddenly everything became clear! Clearly it would be an ideal location for lobbyists and all the usual presidential hangers-on to have nice offices, somewhere to have a civilised lunch and it's not far from the Tbilisi sea, so a good place to live? Maybe if the existing residents really get a place in the new developments, they might enjoy them (running water, electricity etc), and who is to say if they would lose more than they will gain. It's just that the phrase 'we've been robbed' does not get out of my mind...