Russian School Opens in Akhalgori

A Russian-language school was opened yesterday in the town of Akhalgori (also called Leningori) in the Tskhinvali Region. Before the 2008 Georgian-Russian War, Akhalgori was a majority-ethnic Georgian settlement, but the Georgian population was largely forced to flee from violence and ethnic cleansing, resettling as internally displaced persons in other parts of the country.

“The opening of a Russian school in Akhalgori is a continuation of a policy that has been carried out for years – this is a manifestation of Russification policy,” said Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality.

Tsikhelashvili said that the real face of the occupation is the fact that in the region where a Georgian population and ethnically Ossetian population lived together harmoniously, a Russian school is now opened, and children are prohibited from studying their native language unless they know Russian.

She continued, “I think not only for ethnic Georgians or for those who are constantly discussing the [territorial and human rights] violations and problems [of the occupying regime], but for the Ossetian population, it should send a very clear message about what Russian policy really is, and that it does not serve any of us – including the protection of Ossetian identity.”

“We talked about these issues at yesterday’s NATO-Georgia Commission session. A lot of time was devoted to [discussing] the process of Russification in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, especially in Gali and Akhalgori. Limitations on education in the native language is one of the most severe forms of [this policy’s] manifestation, because it applies to children – in kindergartens, in schools – and their parents. In Gali, and now already in Akhalgori, people are not even allowed to communicate with each other in their native language. It does not align with international, civil, or human norms. It is an open advertisement by Russia that their only interest is Russification,” said Tsikhelashvili.

Georgia’s Foreign Minister Davit Zalikiani also reacted to the school’s opening, calling it “a continuation of the de facto annexation and occupation. This is part of the illegal process that is taking place in the occupied territories, both in the Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia, where education in the Georgian language is actively prohibited. Naturally, this is a gross violation of international norms and we are constantly discussing it. Our main message to our strategic partners is that this issue should be permanently on the agenda of their relationship with Russia.”

By Samantha Guthrie

Photo: State Ministry for Reconciliation and Civic Equality

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