His nom de guerre is Omar al-Shishani (Omar the Chechen), and he has gained a fearsome reputation as a commander in the dreaded terrorist jihadi group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But al-Shishani is no Chechen. His birth name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, and he is a citizen of Georgia from the Pankisi Gorge, a remote corner of this South-Caucasus country.
They came with bags full of cups of urine and left them in a heart shape for the prime minister to see. But this protest in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, against drug testing was not about lifestyle choices. Rather, the scores of protesters are part of a growing movement seeking the decriminalization of marijuana as a civil right.
Georgia has held transparent elections and it has pledged to create an independent court system and to honor media rights. But when it comes to government policy on illegal narcotics, the South Caucasus country is still not ready for European integration, experts contend.
For many in Georgia, Russia’s annexation Crimea is reigniting fears about separatism rooted in ethnic conflict and Kremlin meddling. But now Georgians aren’t just worrying about the breakaway entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, they also are concerned about the loyalty of the predominantly ethnic-Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti.
In 2013, as Syria’s civil war raged, 23-year-old Samar Abaza opted, like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, to flee his home for safety abroad. Yet unlike most of the estimated 2.5 million Syrians who are now refugees, Abaza sought to build a new life in Abkhazia, another contested land.
A classic conflict is building in Georgia that pits matters of general interest against private gain, revolving around what many archeologists contend is the world’s oldest gold mine. Scientists and others want to preserve the area for further excavation and study. But the company that holds the mining rights to the site is more interested in seeing its investment pay off.
From the shores of the Black-Sea resort town of Gagra, situated in the separatist territory of Abkhazia, you can see the glow of the Olympic flame in Sochi, just under 60 kilometers away. For many locals, the light in the night serves mainly as a reminder of unmet expectations.
The last time 76-year-old Venera Oshoridze saw her son, Kakha, was September 15, 1993.
A pensive 20-year-old who loved his friends, his mother’s fried potatoes, and dreamed of going to college, Kakha volunteered to fight in the Abkhaz war just days before Tbilisi lost the battle for Sokhumi on September 27, 1993.
In 1972, legend has it, Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky insisted on featuring bottles of Borjomi mineral water in his science-fiction classic Solaris to emphasize that the beverage, a Soviet cultural icon, would exist far into the future. He was right.