COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown of Marneuli and Bolnisi municipalities, the peripeteias associated with the Nariman Narimanov monument, and the events surrounding David Gareja, have uncovered a deep and veiled problem of decades of inequality and racism in society. Although the state legislation of Georgia has been trying to develop a policy of equality for minorities for years, the construction of a multi-religious and multiethnic state and the real integration of the minority community still remains a problem. From the 1990s to the present, Georgia has not been able to overcome the narrative of ethno-religious nationalism that ‘Being Georgian means being Christian’ and the rest is ‘a guest’ and ‘the other’. The discourse – ‘Us’ and ‘Others’, like other minorities, applies to the Azerbaijani community in Georgia, but in the conditions of the pandemic, it particularly affected them. The fact that the Azerbaijani community is considered a ‘foreigner’ by the public, along with belonging to a different ethnic group, is often facilitated by the lack of knowledge of the Georgian language and the adherence to Islam. In the eyes of the dominant ethnos, the Azerbaijani community was and is considered to be a stereotypically, backward and underdeveloped entity. According to Kamran Mammadli, one of the Azerbaijani activists, they were a tamed ‘sheep-breeder’ community. The low level of community integration, for many officials or politicians, is usually the fault of the Azerbaijani community and the line of accusation runs through ignorance of the state language. And the problem of language ignorance is presented as if the community itself does not want to learn the state language and integrate. The state views the minority community exclusively through the prism of security policy. The basis of such an approach is the narrative established in the 90s of the last century, as if there was a threat of separatism in the Azerbaijani community, just like in the Armenian community. It is fair to say that the Azerbaijani community has never given any specific, tangible reason to any of the authorities, and it would be perfectly legitimate to measure their loyalty to the Georgian state in exactly the same way as any other ethnic group living in Georgia, including Georgians.
The Georgian Orthodox Church plays an important role in deepening ethnic-religious nationalism. The Church’s designation of minority-populated areas as ‘Christian territory’ is indicated by the activity of local dioceses and clergy in Kvemo Kartli and the tendency to erect Christian crosses in Muslim villages.
Along with the xenophobic statements made against the Azerbaijani community during the pandemic, the continuation of the narrative of ethno-religious nationalism is the peripeteias associated with the Nariman Naromanov monument and the issue of David Gareji. Behind these issues, in addition with the cultural dimension, lies the issue of political representation, monoethnic and mono-religious domination.VIRUS-OF-URGENCY-Part-2-1