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Azerbaijani Georgians accuse authorities of whitewashing promotional video

10 July 2018
Screenshot from Kvemo Kartli promotional video (/YouTube)

A promotional video for Georgia’s southern Kvemo Kartli region has met with backlash after online commenters pointed out a lack of Azerbaijanis or Azerbaijani culture visible. The video was released on 5 July by the Governor’s Office of Kvemo Kartli, a region with a 42% Azerbaijani-Georgian population, and included multiple shots of Georgian Orthodox churches and people dressed in traditional Georgian outfits.

Critics of the video said it should have reflected the region’s diversity, but failed to provide any visibility to local Azerbaijanis or their culture. According to the 2014 census, ethnic Azerbaijanis, the largest ethnic minority in Georgia, make up 42% of Kvemo Kartli’s population, while 43% of the region’s population are Muslims.

[Enjoy images from OC Media from the annual Nowruz celebrations in Marneuli]

The less than 100 seconds of footage shows local infrastructure, nature, cultural events, and artifacts of national cultural importance — with at least nine shots exclusively related to Georgia’s Christian heritage — with few, if any, references to ethnic Azerbaijanis living in the region.

The video contains eight shots of crosses and churches (Governor’s Administration/YouTube)

The Governor’s Office replied to online criticism by explaining that the video was shot with a drone available to them ‘at that moment’ and promised to shoot ‘more diverse’ videos in the future. Speaking to local community station Radio Marneuli, Rusudan Gogoladze, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, admitted the video ‘definitely’ did not portray the ‘whole region’.

One Georgian Azerbaijani from Kvemo Kartli, Elmeddin Memmedov, asked that an alternative video be produced. Memmedov told OC Media he couldn’t see the Kvemo Kartli he knew in the footage. ‘It is one of the [most] multicultural and multi-ethnic regions. Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Svans, and Russians live here. I’m afraid to see a video of the whole of Georgia similar to this in the future’, Memmedov told OC Media.

Speaking to OC Media, Eljan Gajiev, a Georgian Azerbaijani from Gardabani currently studying in Tbilisi, said he was disappointed with the disadvantages faced by ethnic Georgians living in Azerbaijan, which was  used by some online as justification for the lack of Azerbaijanis in the video. But, he said, ‘the neighbouring country is irrelevant. We always respect people in our country, their culture, customs, churches, and expect the same from others’.

On Monday, the Facebook page of the Supreme Spiritual Directorate of All Georgia’s Muslims, a Marneuli-based NGO (not to be confused with the official Administration of Muslims of All Georgia), posted their own, modified version of the video. This version included local mosques, Azerbaijani carpet-making, and ethnic costumes and dances alongside the churches and traditional Georgian costumes of the original.

The organisation was among several to win a recent case in the Constitutional Court against exclusive tax privileges granted to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Despite their significant population, the level of political participation by ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia has been low in the past, both in national politics and also in the local, self-governing bodies of Kvemo Kartli.

According to the Tbilisi-based Tolerance and Diversity Institute, after the most recent local elections, ethnic Azerbaijanis were not proportionally represented in any of the municipal councils of Kvemo Kartli where they represent an actual majority. An ethnic Azerbaijani was elected Mayor of Marneuli for the first time in 2017.

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