Vale and the border issues

By Ila Sikharulidze

My project in the working group was related to the small Georgian border town of Vale. I
spent just 5 days there to explore the situation at the border and to get to know the impact of
the Covid-19 on the everyday life of locals. When I started walking in the streets and talking
to people, I realized that it is impossible to analyze the current situation without learning about
the recent past. During the unstructured interviews more and more people mentioned the
border in Atskuri. Step by step I received information about the border issues during the Soviet
Union. I was told that when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union the whole Samtskhe-
Javakheti region was a closed area since it had a border with Turkey. So the whole territory,
included the small town of Vale, was under strict control. But it was perceived by the locals as
a privilege – they could travel anywhere. On the other hand, guests needed a special invitation.
Later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the border post was removed and soon the border
at Turkey was opened. Interestingly locals were hoping to take advantage of new perspectives,
but it seems that despite the fact the opened border enabled them to travel to Turkey to work
and to trade, they are still thinking about the Soviet times with nostalgia. If we take into
consideration the fact that after the collapse of the Soviet Union the mining industry was
stopped and most of the population of Vale was left without jobs (to say the least), these
sentiments seem normal. While trying to get information about the Covid-19 impact, I was
also eager to analyze how locals perceive borders. From the anthropological perspective, 5 days
of fieldwork is nothing to grasp the real meanings behind people’s actions; it isn’t even enough
to get the trust of locals (that’s why some people considered me as a spy), but still, this short
period time provided me with some insights about the relationship between the population of
Vale and the border for several decades. To conclude, I can say living in a closed area meant
to be protected by the government – everybody knew each other and the crime wasn’t
common in Vale. They couldn’t cross the border at Turkey – they knew, that there are Turks
on the other side of the border, but these different groups weren’t going to meet each other.
On the other hand, this region was separated from the rest of Georgia. So during the Soviet
Union, both of these borders were perceived not as barriers, but as protection.

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