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Georgian Students May Lose Gali Residency if they Study in Georgia Proper

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Abkhazia authorities that collaborate with Russian occupation ponder plans to “integrate” ethnic Georgian residents of Gali district through series of further restrictive measures, Temur Nadaraia, Gali district chief announced in an interview.

Speaking to Sukhumi-based “Nuzhnaya Gazeta”, Nadaraia said “the main task is to integrate population [of Gali district] into Abkhaz ethno-cultural and political space.”

He claimed, that although collaboration authorities took measures to establish local television and are opening a radio station, if the district residents “live in Abkhazia, but go abroad [to Georgia proper – Civil.ge] for shopping, wedding or work, you cannot achieve much with information tools.”

He confessed to a constant feeling that “Georgia has designs for Gali district,” the majority of whose population is ethnically Georgian. “[Georgians] are interfering in our internal affairs. This refers to education, healthcare,” he said, referring to the initiatives of the Georgian government to ease access to these services for the occupied region’s dwellers.

Speaking of education, Nadaraia noted that “[Georgians] come up with preferential policies for aspiring students that graduated schools in Abkhazia in our district, so that they enter Georgian higher education institutions”.

“160 pupils went to study to Georgia – dwellers of Tkvarcheli* and Gali districts, while 30 went to study in Abkhaz [higher education] institutions. All of our attempts to integrate region’s population is blocked by these kinds of decisions by Georgia”, Nadaraia complained.

*Georgia does not recognize Tkvarcheli district, created by Abkhaz in mid-1990s on the expense of Gali and Ochamchire municipalities, as an administrative unit. See more on the changed district boundaries under Russian occupation on the map below:

Nadaraia said Sokhumi is planning to match the Georgian offer. “Thanks to Aleko Alekseevich [Gvaramia, rector of Sokhumi-based Abkhaz University] we had a deal with Abkhaz State University. Now dwellers of Gali district will enter Abkhaz State University and Sokhumi Open University for free”, he noted, adding that such incentives might not be sufficient and proceeded to elaborate more repressive measures.

Nadaraia reminded that “the vast majority of those that went to Georgia to study have the residency permit in Abkhazia, but based on paragraph 11 of Article 10 of the “Law on Legal status of foreign citizens,” the persons with the residence permit who reside in Abkhazia for less than 6 months, will lose their right of residence.”

“We would like to tell high school students that, of course, you have the right to choose [to study in] Georgian universities, but in six months [after you leave], your residency right will be revoked and you will [have to] come here as foreigners with visas. This will be one of the measures we will be forced to take”, Nadaraia noted.

As an additional step for restricting the ethnic Georgian students’ ability to access to the Georgian universities, Nadaraia laid out the plans of ceasing teaching Georgian language in favor of Megrelian – which is not used in education system – in Abkhaz public schools.

Megrelian, as well as Laz and Svan languages, are closely related to Georgian and make Kartvelian language family, indigenous to the South Caucasus. Megrelian that enjoys coexistence (diglossia) with Georgian, is primarily spoken by ethnic Georgians of Samegrelo and Abkhazia regions. According to Abkhaz sources, more than 98% of Gali district’s 30000 natives are ethnic Georgians.

“The second [measure], that still needs further discussions is that we may ban teaching Georgian at schools. Our laws and constitution does not oblige our state to take care of the Georgian language. This was a goodwill of our state, but given the fact that district’s majority population is comprised of Megrelians that speak Megrelian, we will substitute Georgian with Megrelian.”

“Megrelian is a mother tongue for local population and we give the right to children learn it at state schools. Georgian side must understand that  if it will interfere in our internal affairs, our reaction will be adequate… and we will take measures to preserve our statehood,” Nadaraia added.

Over the last four years, Moscow-backed authorities of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region have successfully squeezed their mother tongue out the last remaining Georgian-language schools in Gali and Akhalgori districts, switching instead to the Russian language.

According to the Reconciliation Minister, there were 58 schools in Gali district before 1990s, among them 52 were Georgian, two Russian, three Georgian-Russian and one Georgian-Abkhaz. 31 Georgian schools remaining after the war of 1992-1993 were gradually moved to Russian-language schooling in Gali district. The last 11 Georgian schools were also abolished in 2015.

Georgian Foreign Ministry reported two years ago that “drastic changes were made” in the curriculum of those 11 schools, which were  considered as all-Georgian before; Russian language teaching was introduced in the first four grades, while all subsequent entry-level classes started teaching in Russian.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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