AN ARCHITECT'S OBSESSION WITH A REFUGEE SETTLEMENT
Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia
20+ still images available in color
Created May 2019
Once lauded as an architectural achievement, the Industrial Pedagogical Technicum complex was completed in 1978 by Georgian Architect Nikoloz Lasareishvili. Upon completion, the Technicum complex included a main block, auditorium, industrial workshops and a student dormitory.
Since the collapse of the USSR, and the early and turbulent years of Georgian independence, various parts of the Technicum have been inhabited by Georgian refugees from Abkhazia. Again after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, the Technicum became home for refugees from Samachablo. Both groups are living in the building side-by-side, with partitions and separate entrances.
As a part of the Tbilisi Architecture Biennial, Thomas Ibrahim collaborated with Artist Gio Sumbadze, Architect Givi Machavariani, and Architect Claudio Vekstein to bring life into the building. The first step was to make the Technicum Auditorium terrace accessible, by adding a staircase.
With the help of Tbilisi City Hall and funding from the Open Society Georgia Foundation, they were able to clean and illuminate the terrace for the first time in decades.
Since the inaugural exhibition, connections have been established between the urban community and the minority community in the Technicum.
The children living in the building and attending the onsite school, Abkhazia School No. 2, have new role models and teachers from the local universities.
Ibrahim's latest onsite project is to build a kid's playground on a shaded plot behind the school. He plans to have the grounds ready for an opening on World Refugee Day, 20th June, 2019.
Ibrahim walks the hallways of the settlement to rally support from the residents, he finds Giorgi, a carpenter by trade, and his son who volunteer to help.
Nino has lived in the settlement, an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) from Abkhazia since 2008, unable to return to the place of her birth now a breakaway State.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia
10+ still images available in color
Created May 2019
The break-up of Soviet Union in the early 1990s was accompanied by rise of ethnic tensions in many former Soviet States. Ethno-political wars erupted forcing more than 280,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) to flee their homes. The Russian-Georgian war of 2008 centering on the issue of South Ossetia resulted in another wave of displacement. Today, most of the IDPs are being prevented from safe and dignified return to their places of origin. Many of the refugees are stateless which means they lack basic documents like a passport or a national ID card. This prevents them and their children from going to school or getting proper health care. NGOs like the IRC in Georgia are working to raise attention on this issue on national and international level, as well as assisting stateless persons in the country by providing legal support.
Qeti learns to play the piano under the patient gaze of her mother, Nana. They are IDPs from South Ossetia who arrived in the Tserovani Refugee Settlement in 2008.
Nana was pregnant with Qeti when she arrived in the settlement and gave birth to Qeti at the settlement's basic but serviceable clinic.
This is the Tserovani Community Center which has the only piano in the settlement and where Qeti come several times a week for piano lessons.
Outside, Qeti's brother, Dato rides a bicycle on loan from the Community Center.
Down the road, Qeti's father, Levan sells fresh produce from the boot of his car.
Qeti's uncle, Vakho waits at the local bus stop, hopeful for itinerant work.
After waiting all these years to return to their home in South Ossetia, the family has begun resigning to the idea that this 57 sqm temporary abode might well be their permanent home.
There are 2,000 identical temporary abodes in Tserovani, families in similar if not identical situations to Qeti's.
PROTEST IN PANKISI VALLEY TURNS VIOLENT
Birkiani, Republic of Georgia
20+ still and moving images available in color
Created April 2019
For most of the Christian world 21st April 2019 was Easter Sunday. That morning, the mostly Muslim residents of the Pankisi Valley were woken up by a door-to-door messenger, family friend, or foreboding text, bearing news that the Georgian government was sending 200 special force troopers to the valley to protect the facilities and workers of the proposed Khadori 3 hydropower dam, a construction project that the Pankisi residents have been vociferously against. The events that unfolded are reminiscent of the parable of David and Goliath.
Pankisi residents observe as the Georgian police form up in their ranks outside the Khadori 3 hydropower dam construction site in Birkiani, Georgia.
With sticks and stones, other Pankisi villagers open up a second front and face off with heavily armed Georgian police in riot gear and armored vehicles.
Violence breaks out when the Georgian police reject the Pankisi residents' demand to leave Birkiani.
The Georgian police retaliate with tear gas and rubber bullets forcing the villagers to retreat.
An elderly villager is overcome by tear gas. She's helped moments later by a friend.
Pankisi womenfolk, old and young, played an integral part of the protest. Going so far as to insert themselves between the Police and their menfolk to act as a buffer.
As the leaders head to the negotiating table, the menfolk of the predominantly Muslim population of Pankisi gather for noon prayers.
Just as noon prayers end, the Georgian police sends in armored reinforcements.
Violence resumes as the Pankisi villagers attack the convoy with Molotov cocktails, sticks, stones and brawn.
After a brief but tense negotiation, the Government eventually relents and decides that unless 90 percent of the Pankisi locals agree to the dam, construction will not be allowed to go ahead. Two young Pankisi villagers stand defiantly atop an overturned Police vehicle.