15 Jan 2016
The Region of Shida Kartli: Zardiaantkari Village – January 2016
The region of Shida Kartli is located in the central part of Georgia, and its administrative center is the town of Gori. Most of the population is Georgians and Ossetians. Shida Kartli abuts South Ossetia. The 2008 military conflict drove here many refugees from the South Ossetian territories and destroyed the infrastructure and economy of the region. Local residents and the forcibly displaced people have faced many domestic, financial, social, and psychological problems.
The village of Zardiaantkari in the Gori municipality can be considered a micro-portrayal of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. Prior to the outbreak of the conflict in the 1990s, the Ossetians and Georgians were living together in the village. According to the national census conducted in 1989, 173 people, mostly ethnic Georgians, lived in the village of Zardiaantkari. As a result of the hostilities, most of the Ossetians were forced to leave, but part of them returned in 1997. The houses of those who never returned still remain abandoned. According to the results of the national census of 2002, the village had 117 inhabitants of which 68 percent were Georgians and 32 percent were Ossetians. During the 2008 war, 90-95 percent of the population left the village and, like other displaced people from Shida Kartli, were temporarily sheltered in the other regions of Georgia.
At this point, it is difficult to quote the exact number of inhabitants of the village since the population is constantly moving between Zardiaantkari and Gori. Approximately 18 Georgian and 6 Ossetian families live in the village now. 20 families, who left the village, now live in the building of a kindergarten in Gori. After October 10, 2008 when the Russian forces left the territory of Shida Kartli, part of the local population was able to return to their homes. However, this was not possible for many of Zardiaantkari’s residents since the village became a buffer zone, and the houses of the Georgian population have been looted completely.
The situation in Zardiaantkari changed only in the spring of 2012, when four years after the war the Georgian side managed to regain control over the village. Despite this, the village was at no time considered an occupied territory, and the population did not receive the status of the forcibly displaced. For four years, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association unsuccessfully tried to assist the residents of Zardiaantkari in obtaining an IDP status. Only in 2013, the Constitutional Court granted the petition of the Association.
In its petition, the Association pointed out that the law on “Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories – Refugees” was amended in 2011. It provided a refugee status only to people expelled from the occupied territories thus discriminating against the population of the municipalities of Gori and Kareli, who could not return to their homes because of immanent risk. The Constitutional Court agreed with the Association and recognized the relevant provision of the law unconstitutional. As a result, all persons whose houses are not included in the boundaries of the occupied territories, but at the same time are on territories lacking effective control of the Georgian authorities, will receive the refugee status.
During the four years of the litigation process between the Association and the Ministry, Zardiaantkari came under the control of the Georgian side. Local residents come to the village, but do not stay here for long, due to a lack of basic living conditions. Currently the electricity supply has been restored in the village. Most of the remaining families receive social benefits and in the winter of 2013, the remaining population of the village received 200 lari to purchase of firewood, and during the 2013-2014 academic year, three students from Zardiaantkari received full scholarship to study at the universities.
Despite all of these measures, until today Zardiaantkari remains in a poor condition, affected by the conflict, and its economic viability is threatened. Part of the houses in the village were blown up, and some were burned. Almost all the houses are completely looted; the roofs of the houses are damaged by shells and are leaking. Major repairs to the houses are required. There is a need to restore the collapsed walls, lay down flooring, and install windows. Clearly, no works alleviating the consequences of the 2008 war were carried out in the village, except for the provision of a little slate to the two families who were to repair their roofs. Only three families, whose homes were completely burned down, received a compensation of 15 thousand dollars. In 2013, with the aim of improving the living conditions of the families remaining in the village Zardiaantkari, the International Committee of the Red Cross renovated one room in each house. In September-October 2014, during the monitoring mission by the Ombudsman’s representatives, most of the rehabilitated buildings proved to still need repairs since the water leaks into the renovated rooms through the damaged roofs. Water is the biggest problem of the village. Due to the absence of irrigation water, people cannot engage in agriculture, and pastures are inaccessible.
Because of the harsh socio-economic conditions, most of the Zardiaantkari residents have chosen to stay in the building of the kindergarten in Gori. Even people who had returned to the village, do not give up their rooms in the building of the kindergarten in Gori because of the fear of renewed hostilities. They want to retain a guaranteed shelter in case of war and another forced relocation. It complicates the operations of once one of the most prestigious kindergartens in the city, as one part of it is occupied by the displaced people. The life of Zardiaantkari residents in the building of the kindergarten is also not easy. The windows are broken, the sewage system and the water pipes do not function, there is lack of sanitation, garbage is laying around the lobby and in the yard, the basement is filled with water, the bathrooms are out of order, the floors are damaged, and the hallways have no windows. Only one room is allocated per family that serves as a kitchen, living room and bedroom. The residents are worried that the area is not protected, and that there are drunk young people in the area at nights.
As mentioned before, Zardiaantkari residents do not have the status of forcible displaced people and thus do not receive the corresponding social benefits. The residents sheltered in the kindergarten building are also deprived of the benefits of other government programs that are available for the conflict-affected populations, for example, a program that provides firewood. There is no gas heating in the kindergarten, and the tenants cover the electricity charges themselves.
In addition to household problems, for several years now the residents of the village face the problem of detentions by the Russian military for what the latter consider violations of the border. The detained residents of the villages along the border are taken to a pre-trial detention isolator in Tskhinvali and released after paying a fine.
Today, the village is almost empty. Most of the residents have left, there is no gas, water, shops, pharmacies, nothing is left. And no one now needs the apples that used to earn a living here.
The village is like an old woman, tired of life, who buried her children and even her grandchildren. Gray, bruised and covered in rags, she is living out her remaining time under the weight of the memories and weakness… This is the image of the once happy and prosperous Georgian village Zardiaantkari in the Gori district, caught in the zone of the South Ossetian conflict.
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