Across Continents

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Under occupation

"Georgia is one of the most invaded nations on earth" advises the Department of Tourism and Resorts. Most recently by Russian Federation forces in August 2008. The war was swift – just five days – before a ceasefire was agreed. Whilst the conflict no doubt helped make people more aware of Georgia, what is often not appreciated is that it remains an occupied nation, in part at least.

Russian forces control a swathe of land in central Georgia, north of the M27 east-west arterial road that links the Capital Tbilisi with Turkey and eastern Europe. South Ossetia. Travelling from Gori eastwards to the Capital, there are few clues as to the occupation, and of the recent conflict. No obvious fortifications on either side, no bomb damaged buildings, no menacing tanks. Just a European Union Monitoring Mission field office in Gori, part of the ceasefire arrangements.

Whatever the merits of the recent conflict, there is an inevitable human cost. Getting some measure of the impact on families – presumably some are split between the occupied and unoccupied territories – is difficult, my Georgian very limited at best. But what is certain is that there are quite a few people displaced by the war, obliged to live in newly built communities.

I’d found one of these settlements on the outskirts of Gori, and spotted others on my way towards Tbilisi. Hard to recognise as such, these are not tented encampments but neatly built single storey houses. Admittedly quite small, but, ironically, appearing far better than many of the other houses I’d seen.

Do I feel threatened, concerned the conflict may re-ignite, suddenly finding myself trapped? Not at all, the situation feels very stable, indeed, you have to look very carefully for clues as to the occupation. It’s certainly not a reason to not visit Georgia, and I wouldn’t hesitate to return. Far from it, plan to come back when my venture is complete.


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