Azeri minority report from Georgia
The town of Marneuli is less than an hour’s drive from the Georgian capital, but being here is like traveling into a different country.
Peaceful and relaxed to an outside observer, on the inside, the town is in the midst of a long-running struggle.
The Geyrat Movement operates here, aiming to protect the interests of thousands of Azeris, living in Georgia.
The movement’s leader Alibala Askerov spent the last 15 years fighting for his people’s rights and though he acknowledges that some progress has been made the fight is far from being over.
“There are several issues we want paid close attention to: education of our youth, land division for our people, the problem of language, and jobs for our population,” lists Geyrat Movement’s claims Alibala Askerov.
The main issue, Alibala believes, is the language barrier. 85 per cent of the population in Marneuli speaks Russian, the only foreign language they know, aside from their native tongue.
More than half a million Azeris who live in Georgia feel that their basic right – to know their language – is being denied. Most of them do not know Georgian, and feel like foreigners in the country they were born and raised in.
Citizens of Marneuli are discontent that the Georgian school day is three hours longer than Azeri schools, which in their opinion means that Georgian culture, history and literature is important, and Azeri is not.
Citizens say they feel that they depend on someone. Young people cannot find jobs and have nothing to do.
Yet some Azeris feel that the problem is not that of the Georgian government, but lies with the Azeri population itself.
“The language barrier is a huge block. Georgian is a state language, and when they hire someone for a state job, they expect him to be able to read and write in Georgian,” explains Ali Mamedov, Chair of the Institute of Civil Society of Kvemo Kartli.
Alibala Askerov feels differently, saying Azeris live in Georgia and love it no less than Georgians. “This is our homeland. I, personally, would die for this country, but it, too, must do something for me,” he believes.
However so far it seems like the relationship between Azerbaijani population and the Georgian government is a one-way street.