Ethnic Armenian, Tsopi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian
It might be no surprise for some that ethnic groups can and do live side by side in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, but the situation is not so clear in the regions of Armenia, Azerbaijan or Georgia. But, perhaps, that in itself is a stereotype put into circulation by many. Armenians and Azeris, for example, have long maintained that while both lived side by side in urban centers such as Yerevan and Baku prior to the Karabakh conflict, they did not in rural areas. To some extent this is true, but not entirely.
In Marneuli, a city of around 20,000 people, residents say as much as 15-20 percent of the population is ethnic Armenian. The rest are ethnic Azeris. Moreover, despite the line from nationalists on both sides that neither group can be trusted, Armenians from Armenia actually have to pass through regions where most of Georgia’s 280,000 Azeris reside to reach Tbilisi, and they do so without problems. Moreover, at Marneuli’s market, Armenian, Azeri and Georgians trade side by side.
Ethnic Azeri, Marneuli, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian
Georgian blogger Dodka tweeted her impressions while visiting the town for Transitions Online’s Steady State.
Around 35 kilometers south just a few kilometers from Georgia’s border with Armenia, the situation becomes even more intriguing as small pockets of ethnic Armenians can be found in mainly Azeri villages. In Tsopi, for example, about a third of inhabitants are Armenians from around 150-200 families. All live side by side and speak the others’ language. Of course, things are far from idyllic in the village with unemployment high and the school particularly in dire need of attention.
School, Tsopi, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian
Nevertheless, both Marneuli and Tsopi, along with many other examples of peaceful coexistence between minority groups, including those otherwise in conflict elsewhere, perhaps highlight the influence of the media in countries such as Armenia and Azerbaijan in shaping perceptions and attitudes. Indeed, it could be argued that journalists have effectively become combatants, pushing negative information and spreading partisan information rather than remaining neutral.
Over the coming days and weeks this blog will highlight such examples using new media and social networking tools and stories, photos, and video as a continuation of a brief cross-border exercise undertaken in September. Follow us on Twitter @caucasusproject.