The Georgian Public Defender and the Councils of National Minorities and Religions released a statement on March 26 in support of the quarantined residents of Marneuli and Bolnisi municipalities. The Councils, run by Tolerance Center under auspices of the Public Defender, together with the Ombudsperson expressed their concern about the “xenophobic attitude” towards ethnic Azeri citizens following the lockdown of Marneuli and Bolnisi municipalities due to the occurrence of community transmission of COVID-19.
The Ombudsperson and the Councils noted that unfortunately, locals of Marneuli and Bolnisi municipalities “face an increased risk today compared to the rest of Georgia.” Therefore, they “urge everyone to show solidarity in this situation and refrain from encouraging intolerance and discrimination towards ethnic minorities.”
It is noteworthy that the discriminatory attitudes towards ethnic minorities periodically emerge in Georgia. However, the criticism based on ethnicity or other personal characteristics is particularly alarming in the current situation, when all people, regardless of their origin, are equally vulnerable to the risks associated with the virus,” reads the statement.
Prime Minister Gakharia’s press briefing about placing on lockdown the said two municipalities was shortly aired in Azerbaijani language, which prompted some of Georgian Facebook users to bash ethnic Azerbaijani compatriots for their poor command of the Georgian language. Furthermore, a number of social media users ascribed inconsiderate behavior of the Covid-19 patient from Marneuli to her ethnic origin. Ethnic Azerbaijani civic activists reported that some of the users went as far to demand expulsion of ethnic Azerbaijani citizens of Georgia from the country.
According to the latest 2014 General Population Census of Georgia, Marneuli Municipality is home to 104,300 inhabitants, while Bolnisi Municipality is inhabited by 53,590 persons. The two municipalities are densely populated by ethnic Azerbaijani community of Georgia. Azerbaijanis make up around 80% of Marneuli Municipality.
Georgia is home to 233,000 Azerbaijanis, who account for 6.3% of the country’s 3,7 million people.