When the global pandemic hit Georgia, one of the most affected areas was Marneuli Municipality, a region close to both the Armenian and Azerbaijani borders.
After several residents tested positive for Covid-19, over 137,000 people—the population of the municipality - were subjected to some of the strictest quarantine measures in the country for 56 days.
Most of the restrictions mirrored the quarantine measures enforced elsewhere in Georgia: all non-essential businesses were closed, and people could not leave their communities. Limitations on travel made working in the fields, a core part of the economy, difficult. In addition, the ban on large-scale events, like weddings and funerals, made it impossible for locals to hold their traditional celebrations.
But as the first part of the country to experience total lockdown, the situation in Marneuli district was unique in many ways, and the experience highlighted several long-standing issues facing the local population.
The municipality is predominantly populated by ethnic Azerbaijani and Armenian citizens, and the fact that this region was the first to be hard hit by the virus fed a wave of anti-minority hate speech on social media.
The situation was further complicated by the fact that many local residents do not speak Georgian, the state language. While some effort was made to inform residents in Azerbaijani and Armenian, in reality many residents depended on Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian media outlets for news, and missed reports and useful information that affected them directly.
Restrictions on movement also made it difficult for Marneuli residents to sell their produce in the capital Tbilisi and other areas, which prompted some small protests.
I have spent time in villages in the municipality every month since 2018 as part of my PhD research on mobility and translocal practices of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Marneuli. The weeks of quarantine between March and June were the first time I was not able to visit the area. Once restrictions were lifted, I returned to speak with residents in several villages—including Dashtapa, Shulaveri and Zemo Sarali—to learn how the strict lockdown affected them.