Defusing conflict in Tsalka district of Georgia: migration, international intervention and the role of the state

Type Book
Title Defusing conflict in Tsalka district of Georgia: migration, international intervention and the role of the state
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
Publisher HeinOnline
The Tsalka district of Georgia, situated in the west of the province of Kvemo Kartli, is home to a
highly diverse population and has, since Georgia gained independence, been affected by three
interconnected and potentially destabilising trends. First, after the collapse of the USSR, the local
economy disintegrated. During the Soviet era, Tsalka had been a highly productive agricultural
region, but after the Soviet internal market broke down and the roads and railway links fell into
disrepair, most inhabitants of Tsalka district were forced to eke out a subsistence living from what
they could grow and raise on their own parcels of land. Secondly, the state-society relationship in
Tsalka district has changed radically over the last twenty years; from a highly regulating state in the
Soviet period, to its virtual withdrawal in the 1990s and early 2000s, to a re-establishment of state
authority in the aftermath of the November 2003 ‘Rose Revolution’. Finally, Tsalka has been the
epicentre of successive waves of in-migration and out-migration; from a large-scale exodus of
Greeks that began in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and continues
unabated today to the rapid in-migration of Georgians from Adjara and Svaneti that began to gain
pace in the late 1990s and reached its peak during the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan
(BTC) oil pipeline in 2003-2004.
Some observers have used the term ‘ethnic conflict’ to describe the sporadic incidents of
inter-communal violence that have occurred in Tsalka district in the last few years (for details see
below). Such a categorisation does little to help us understand the causes of tension in this hitherto
forgotten corner of Georgia. In this paper, I will show how conflicts in the region are the combined
result of a) changing and dysfunctional patterns of state penetration, b) an unregulated influx of
newcomers into the villages of Tsalka district, and c) poor mechanisms of communication between
the different communities that inhabit the district and a consequent lack of any effective
mechanisms to defuse conflict. The conflicts are not so much ethnic conflicts per se but rather the
result of a struggle for scarce resources between communities that are isolated from one another
against a backdrop of weak and unpredictable state regulation.
This paper is divided into three parts. The first section is mainly descriptive; its goal is to
provide a general overview of the main economic, demographic, and political trends in Tsalka
district from the late Soviet period until the present day. The second section is more analytical; it
analyses the real and potential arenas of conflict in the district, namely conflicts between
communities and conflicts between communities and the state. It also looks at the impact of
international organisations on the conflict dynamic by focusing first on the construction of the BTC
pipeline by a consortium led by BP (British Petroleum) and then on the initiative of the Greek
government to reduce conflict by supporting local law enforcement bodies and helping to regulate
migration. The third and final part will summarise the main causes of conflict in Tsalka district and
will provide recommendations for the Georgian government and for the international donor

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