Tbilisi has condemned the opening of a Russian-language school in Akhalgori, a predominantly ethnic Georgian-populated area in Tskhinvali region, as continuation of Russian occupation and a step towards factual annexation of the area.
Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili said the decision “is a manifestation of the ongoing policy of russification” and the “true face” of Russian occupation.
“They are depriving local kids of the right to receive education in their native language … there is also no Ossetian school [in Akhalgori], which is very symptomatic; what this policy entails should also be clear for the Ossetians – that this is in the interests of neither Georgians nor Ossetians,” Tsikhelashvili noted.
Tsikhelashvili said banning of education in one’s native language is a “grave” violation. “People living in Gali (the predominantly Georgian-populated area in Abkhazia) and Akhalgori are not allowed to communicate in their native language; which fits neither in international, nor in moral norms,” she added.
Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani echoed Tsikhelashvili’s sentiments, telling reporters that the move is an example of Russia’s “attempts towards factual annexation” of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, and “a gross violation of fundamental norms.”
The Moscow-backed Tskhinvali authorities opened the new school building in Akhalgori on September 5. According to the Russian “ambassador” to the region, Marat Kulakhmetov, who was present at the opening ceremony, the school construction was financed by the Russian Federation within its Social and Economic Development Investment Program.
There are currently six Georgian schools in Akhalgori Municipality; one in the town of Akhalgori and five in villages Ikoti, Balaani, Korinta, Akhmaji and Zemo Boli.
According to Soso Tsotniashvili, the head of the Educational Department at the Tbilisi-based Provisional Administration of South Ossetia, the language of instruction in the first six grades of these schools was transferred from Georgian to Russian beginning from 2017.
The move followed the pattern established in the Gali District in Abkhazia, where 31 Georgian schools remaining after the war of 1992-1993 were gradually moved to Russian-language schooling. The last 11 Georgian schools in the Gali District were abolished in 2015.