On December 28, the Georgian parliament adopted amendments to the “Electoral Code” that resulted in the unification of the Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda electoral districts into one majoritarian district which will be represented in the parliament by only one deputy instead of the previous two. This law comes into force in 2016.

This changes have upset the local government leaders, many residents of the Akhalkalaki municipality, as well as the parliament deputy from this district Samvel Petrosyan who was elected by majoritarian rule. They feel that this law is violating their rights as national minorities. This concern was raised during the Town Hall meeting on January 16, 2016. According to jnews.ge, during the meeting, a decision was made to send a letter of appeal to the President of Georgia, speaker of the parliament, and the prime-minister with a request to review the law.

It has to be mentioned that this law has a prequel: in 2012, the current Ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvli, then working at the Center for Human Rights, appealed to the Constitutional Court with a suggestion to ensure equality and level the number of voters in all electoral districts of Georgia. The Venice Committee also suggested to minimize the inequality between electoral districts since in some electoral districts there were only 5000 voters, while others have hundreds of thousands. Responding to this, the Constitutional Court has set the quota for each electoral district to have 47 thousand voters. This led to changes in the boundaries of electoral districts. As a result of these changes five electoral districts (approximately 17 villages) were removed from the Akhalkalaki electoral district and included in the Borzhomi electoral district. Such changes were received very negatively by many residents of the Akhalkalaki municipality.

Parliament deputy from Akhalkalaki Samvel Petrosyan is cited by jnews.ge commenting on these changes: “The Venice commission has recommended to keep the boundaries of electoral districts unchanged if there are national minorities living there. However, the court has overlooked this recommendation and has accepted only the quota approach. I think that the legislative body – the Constitutional Court, should not have applied such a one-sided approach to this issue”.

In Ninotsminda, this news was received differently: “I cannot disapprove of this, because these are European standards; there is no other way. The parliament adopted it in three readings; the Constitutional court has approved it; there is no higher authority,” comments Henzel Mikoyan, parliament deputy from Ninotsminda municipality. According to the MP, the government promised that Javakheti will have the privilege of having two deputies – one elected by majoritarian rule and the other one by party lists.

Javakheti residents were pleased with the news of the possible visa liberalization with Russia for Georgian citizens. Many hoped that the abolition of the visa regime will ease their lives. Lack of employment in Javakheti is an issue, and many would like to leave for Russia for work, but cannot do so because of the visa regime. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently stated that the abolition of the visa regime with Georgia is possible only with the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In this regard, the process of visa regime liberalization reached again an impasse.

Georgia has adopted a new law “On Development of Mountainous Regions”. The law was adopted in July 2015; however, different sections of it come into force at different times. This law applies to Javakheti as well and can contribute to the stimulation of socio-economic processes in the region. The Akhalkalaki municipality has already started the process of preparing the paperwork which will grant the populations of this region the status of residents of a mountainous region which provides exemption from income and property tax.

For 2016, 1 million 700 thousand lari (about USD 650 thousand) has been allocated to infrastructure development in Ninotsminda from the Regional Development Fund. 2016 is the third year for the “Spring Work” program that is being implemented all across Georgia – including Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda. In the framework of this program, farmers receive agricultural vouchers for the treatment and fertilization of their land. The goal of the program is to develop agriculture and not leave the land unplowed. Study of the rural households began in Akhalkalaki on January 21. This year about 250 randomly selected households will be studied. This sample survey of the households is conducted by the National Agency of Statistics of Georgia, which will examine the following issues: the quantity and productivity of the cultivated land; the quantity and quality of the fertilizers; the availability, procurement, murrain, and breeding of livestock; and other data.

On January 23, following the recommendation of the Ministry of Health, classes were suspended at schools for three days because of higher than 20 percent rate of absentees due to illness. 22 schools cancelled classes in Akhalkalaki. To make up for the missed time, classes will meet on Saturdays. “Schools are free to decide when to start making up for the missed classes. This will happen at the convenience of each school. Probably the makeup classes will be scheduled after the weather gets warmer. Schools will develop the schedule on their own,” – said the director of the Akhalkalaki Resource Center for Education Narcis Karapetyan as reports jnews.ge. From February 3, in an attempt to prevent an epidemic of influenza kindergartens were also closed for a week.

The work on mapping for the sake of tourism development was completed in five villages: Gumburdo, Apnia, Havet, Gogashen and Davnia of the Akhalkalaki municipality. The map was created at the request of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development.

Valuable evidence of the history of Javakheti are stored and exhibited at the only Local History Museum in Akhalkalaki that was found in 1965. However, currently the museum is in need of reconstruction and it does not have central heating as well. The seven exhibition halls of the museum present various exhibits include agricultural items, handwoven carpets and fabrics and precious Church books.

The views expressed in the “Monthly Review” section of “Stories” may be different from the views of the editors of the Caucasus Edition.

The guidelines applied to publications by the editors and authors of the Caucasus Edition can be found at: http://caucasusedition.net/glossary-and-guidelines/.

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