Massive violence erupted today in the southern town of Dmanisi of Kvemo Kartli, as dozens of locals were seen confronting each other with sticks and stones. Police forces intervened today in an attempt to defuse the tensions and separate confronting parties, but with little success initially, as locals managed to break the police chain multiple times.
As no official reports about casualties are yet in, media footages show persons injured during clashes, including police officers. Videos also show damaged cars. At present, the situation has relatively calmed down.
Two groups of locals of ethnically mixed town reportedly hit the streets this morning following the last night’s physical violence at a local shop, when the refusal by local vendors to give away alcoholic drinks on credit reportedly led to repeated incidents of violence, involving dozens. The Ministry of Interior said, “on May 16, locals had a banal altercation in Dmanisi which escalated into a group violence.”
The violence of yesterday stopped after the police intervention, and the situation temporarily calmed down overnight as police interrogated suspects. Police said today it had identified those involved in the initial violence, and “all necessary investigative and procedural actions are carried out.” According to Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri, no arrests have been made yet.
Police Warns against Ethnic Tensions
Dmanisi Municipality, including the town of Dmanisi, is settled with both ethnic Georgian and Azeri populations. Some media sources reported that today’s clashes ran across ethnic Azeri and Georgians (primarily environmental migrants, resettled from Western Georgia’s mountainous Svaneti region in Dmanisi decades ago) lines.
Local government, police, as well as locals who witnessed the initial shop violence on May 16 rule out ethnic tensions as the primary cause of the violence. But incidentally, media reports say, the shop is owned by an ethnic Azeri family, while the dissatisfied customer(s) have ethnic Georgian background. Dmanisi Municipality Mayor Giorgi Tatuashvili told Rustavi 2 TV that local authorities were working towards settling the situation, and slammed “speculations,” including in media, about ethnic triggers.
The Interior Ministry called on confronting parties to “obey to lawful orders of police and remain calm not to contribute to growing the conflict started on banal grounds growing artificially into the ethnic confrontation.”
Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri and State Security Service Chief Grigol Liluashvili visited Dmanisi today amid disturbances. Minister Gomelauri said that specific “forces and groups” attempt to move things into “ethnic confrontation,” something that authorities “will not allow” to happen. “Ethnic Azeris are our citizens in the first place, secondly, Azerbaijan is also our strategic partner and our ally, our neighbor … and they are our friends, we should not allow this,” he added.
The Minister also noted that the increased police presence since yesterday turned out to be insufficient to handle the “rapidly created” chaos on the ground.
Camilla Mamedova, Director of Marneuli Community Radio, told Civil.ge that as per her knowledge the Georgian authorities are trying to handle the situation by involving local influential persons, also relatives and acquaintances of the opposing sides, instead of pursuing legal means. According to Mamedova, this can only defuse the confrontation temporarily, and the tensions may later flare up again “unless we take care of the issues of integration in such settlements.”
Opposition politicians slammed the authorities for failing to properly react to and prevent the disturbances after the initial violence.
Giga Bokeria, leader of the European Georgia party, said the developments present “the biggest threat for the interests” of Georgia. „The way the events unfolded, the statements we hear, the attitudes that circulate, these are extremely concerning,” he said, calling on police authorities to “leave the observer role.”
Republican Party’s Tamar Kordzaia said the conflicts originating “on banal grounds” cannot be “lightly observed.” “The situation in Dmanisi is very tense and can indeed grow into ethnic confrontation,” the MP warned.
Responding to the criticism, the representatives of the ruling Georgian Dream party called “ethnic confrontation” discourse unacceptable.
“Of course, it is unacceptable to wrap this incident and present it as a confrontation on ethnic grounds,” said Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Archil Talakvadze. “This is detrimental for our society and this is certainly an attempt by the [government] opponents to mislead the public,” he noted.