Election campaign banners by the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, a nativist Kremlin-friendly opposition party, which scaremongered the Turkish occupation of Adjara region and sparked outrage, were removed on August 29.
One of the banners allegedly spotted on the road near Sarpi, a village bordering Turkey, depicted the map of Georgia with Adjara marked in red, similarly, as Russian-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. It showed three arrows pointed at the region from the Turkish side, with the text reading “Defend Adjara! Defend your share of Georgia!”
Adjara, the southwesternmost region of Georgia settled by Adjarians, a subgroup of Georgians, was held by the Ottoman Empire for over 300 years until the Sublime Porte ceded the province to the expanding Russian Empire in 1878.
Both, the ruling Georgian Dream and opposition parties decried the content of the banner.
Salome Samadashvili, MP from the United National Movement party, wrote that the move was a direct and open crime against the state. “If left unpunished, this would only mean an abolished state,” she added.
MP Elene Khoshtaria from the opposition European Georgia party also shared the controversial image. “This is what the Russians pay for! There is nothing to investigate,” she said, adding that the party is fueling up a feud through lies.
Irakli Kobakhidze, leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party and former Speaker of the Parliament, decried the banner as “Russia-commissioned” and as “a grave provocation against the country”.
GD’s MP Mamuka Mdinaradze also voiced his concerns, saying that he initially thought of the banner as “fake”. “This is a Russian order against Georgia!,” he wrote. Mdinaradze pledged that “a political response will follow”, involving “specific actions” such as the removal of the banners.
Shortly after the reports came out, Irakli Kupradze, a majoritarian candidate in Batumi from Lelo for Georgia party, went live on his Facebook page showing himself tearing down the banner. In a separate Facebook post, Kupradze said that “traitorous politics can never set the foot in our state”.
Lelo for Georgia’s actions was later slammed as a populist move by Georgian Dream MP Rati Ionatamishvili, claiming that Batumi City Hall was already on its way to remove the banners.
Batumi City Hall, on its part, released a statement saying that, as a legal response to unauthorized ads, banners have been removed on two locations, as per norms specified under the Georgian legislation. The City Hall noted that a respective offense report has been drafted, which subsequently will be submitted to the Batumi City Court for review.
Inashvili Speaks of Provocation, “Turkish Expansion” in Adjara
In response to the outcry, MP Irma Inashvili called the banner controversy a “provocation” aided by her main foes of the choice – “the Saakashvili-Bokeria” duo, the leaders of UNM and European Georgia parties. She said in the initial banner project, as approved by the party council, Adjara was not colored in red like the Russian-occupied regions, although there still was an emphasis on the region.
MP Inashvili noted that the Alliance has been openly discussing the “economic and ideological expansion” of Turkey in Adjara for years.
She then seized the moment to slam the Georgian Dream party, that on August 29 coincidentally held presentation of its Adjara majoritarian candidates near the Batumi port, noting that holding the event with Turkish ship in the background, which very well “fits into the rhetoric of the [Georgian] Dream leaders”.
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