“[Other] people feel sorry for us,” laments Nana Kakhniashvili, a Tserovani resident from the South Ossetian village of Kurta. “When I was on a minibus traveling by the settlement, I heard people saying they could never live there . . . they did not know one [IDP] was sitting right next to them.”
Kakhniashvili is a journalist and works for the “Liakhvi Gorge,” a state-funded magazine distributed for free among Tserovani’s inhabitants. Similar publications try to “reconnect the disconnected,” as people had to start from scratch, building a new community around a common fate.
Tserovani is rigorously planned; its perpendicular streets form a neat grid. Yet the invisible network among its residents is more complicated. The settlement brought together people from various villages, forcing them to shape new relations with new neighbors. Tserovani, with its artificial atmosphere, provides a dramatically different background in the photos residents snap for the new photo albums they’re compiling.
“It is neither your usual Georgian village, nor a [new] city. I still have trouble with the local geography,” explains 40-year-old Nana Chkareuli, the founding director of For a Better Future, an NGO which works mostly with youth and women.
In this eerie landscape, employment remains one of the biggest challenges, notes Chkareuli. People were pushed into a new territory where making ends meet is a struggle. The small garden at the back of each cottage provides basic crops. Some people set up small shops in the village, others managed to find employment in either Tbilisi or Gori.
The IDPs travel there on public transportation with highly subsidized fares, but most families rely on a monthly allowance of 45 laris ($18.52) that the Georgian government grants to each IDP. As of December 2016, the number of registered IDPs in Georgia was 273,944; mostly hailing from Abkhazia, Georgia’s other separatist region.
Most of those born in Tserovani still take pride in their roots. Ask nine-year-old children where they’re from and they will most likely tell you the names of their parents’ villages in South Ossetia. For those who recall the past, their original village is an integral part of their identity, including their past worklife. Adjusting is hard and memories are precious.
“They come in the form of dreams. That’s the only thing left of my village,” sighs Kakhniashvili.
The human connection is everything here. People depend on each other. Yet the traditions linked to each village are disappearing. Cemeteries, for instance, are on the other side of the adminstrative border with South Ossetia and most residents cannot travel there to commemorate their deceased; a practice central to Georgia.
“Still, I hardly know anyone who would leave the camp,” says Chkareuli. “[This] is a traditional country and when I go out, I want to see people I know, who share my story. Sometimes I think that young people should not be dwelling in the past. They should free themselves for the future, but I [also] realize how important it is for them to know as much as they can. We live in an occupied country and their generation will be dealing with this problem. They should be thinking about the past, as we all do.”
“New Photo Albums” compiles people’s visual memories, juxtaposing past and present. Those earlier images and memories help Tserovani’s residents live in the present and build a new future.