The Russian-owned mining company RMG Gold this past Saturday, December 13, overlooked an earlier court order and went ahead and started working a piece of Georgian land, Sakdrisi, that many archeologists claim contains the world’s oldest known gold mine. Opponents to the mining operation are putting up a fight, but, as yet, the economic odds appear stacked against them.
The battle began in July 2013, when Georgia’s Ministry of Culture abolished Sakdrisi’s seven-year-old status as a permanently protected historical site. The decision produced a sharp reaction from local civil society activists and international academics.
In June, the Tbilisi City Court overruled the Ministry of Culture’s decision about Sakdrisi’s status, putting a hold on mining operations. RMG Gold and archaeologists were supposed to discuss a compromise, but, apparently, matters were taking too long for the mining company, believed to be one of Georgia's largest taxpayers.
Unexpectedly, the culture ministry late last week gave the green-light for mining operations to start up again.
The archeological site sits on a 22.24-acre plot of land believed to contain 75 percent of an estimated 20 tons of gold. At $38.83 per gram, that’s nothing to sneer at.
Gold happens to be one of Georgia’s top ten exports and brought in $3.52 million in 2013, or 2.9 percent of the country’s total export earnings. As of earlier this year, RMG, which owns the plot of land on which Sakdrisi stands, has invested $300 million into the cash-strapped Georgian economy, according to Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili.
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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.
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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.