Tserovani: from settlement to town

Second article published at the Observatori about the Georgian IDP settlement of Tserovani. The settlement is located 22km from Didube’s bus and metro station in northwest Tbilisi. Buses leave almost every hour and prices are around 30 cents of Euro per person for half an hour trip. Tserovani inhabitants’ use marshutkas (minibuses) daily to go to work to the capital. Some others, work in the neighbouring areas of the settlement, but there are also those working in many of the facilities the settlement offers these days.

Author: Luís Vilachá

Tserovani is currently the largest IDP settlement in the republic of Georgia. Since the war ended, eight thousand people live distributed in 2002 cottages. When the settlement was built, each family were entitled to one individual cottage of 400 m2 which includes the cottage of around 60 m2, a yard and a little garden. I came to visit Tserovani to discover a bit more about the settlement but also to talk with some of the people working for the main NGO at the settlement. When walking through the streets of Tserovani is easy to see how differences in the cottages are starting to emerge after nine years. Some of the cottages have been enlarged gaining some space by removing the garden that surrounded the cottage. Others, are severely damaged or even abandoned.

I came to speak with Nana Chkareuli, Executive Director of an NGO called, For Better Future (FBF) and with Ekaterine Zaridze, Project Officer of the same organisation, to learn about their work in the settlement, but also to understand better how important international support is to implement different cultural and socio-economic activities for the IDPs living in Tserovani. This organisation was founded a little bit more than 9 years ago, in August 2008, right after the August War in between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Georgia ended with Georgia losing control over the territory of South Ossetia. The origins of FBF are tighten with the origin of Tserovani as a settlement. During our visit, Nana explained us how the organisation was originally founded in 2002 in Akhalgori as, Youth Association of Akhalgori, was forced to moved together with many ethnic Georgians to the current settlement of Tserovani, becoming an internally displaced organisation. Since its foundation, the organisation has among its focus women and youth empowerment through different cultural and educational projects thanks to international aid.

After an initial meeting at their office, located in cottage number 1624, Nana and Ekaterine explained us how inside the settlement, there is representation from the Georgian government through the displaced Akhalgori municipality. These days, the city of Akhalgori is located inside the occupied territory of South Ossetia (Tskhinvali region for Georgians), the municipality and its political representatives are also displaced and operating in Tserovani since the end of the war. While walking through the settlement, they explained how having a presence at the camp does not mean providing with large quantities of economic support. In fact, the economic aid given by the state to the inhabitants of Tserovani represented in 2017 a monthly stipend of 45GEL (14€) which is assigned to each person per family living in the cottages. For those facing unemployment, the retribution is around 1200GEL (390€) a month.  While we talk, Ekaterine explains us how the government has initiated a scholarship program for young students to attend University in equal terms as the rest of the country. She explained us how this program together with the International support provided by different international actors such the United States, the European Union and private donors play a key role for the development of the settlement by funding cultural, educational and economic programs.

Since 2013, and thanks to the American Embassy in Georgia, FBF runs the ‘’Bookmobile project’’, which according to Nana has been one of the greatest successful education projects funded by international aid. The project consists in an old American school bus that travels every week to the IDP settlements of Tserovani, Tsilkani, Prezeti, and Galavani providing with English classes and several other cultural and sport activities among the youngest inhabitants. In 2015 they started organising summer camps to train the IDP kids in topics such peace building, gender equality, leadership, communication, bulling, healthy lifestyle etc.

Ekaterine is Project Officer for the social entrepreneurship projects developed by FBF. Since the foundation of the settlement different national and international funding, such as the Danish Refugee Council, USAID or European donors among others, have helped promoting and fostering different social and economic opportunities for the inhabitants of the settlements. As Ekaterine explained us that social entrepreneurship is meant to help setting new start-ups and strengthen businesses both on Georgian controlled zone and in the South Ossetian villages. During the visit, we visited one of the most successful projects they run these days, which is the Enamel Jewellery Social Enterprise “Ikorta”. We visited the workshop where the jewelleries are being made and met some of the participants in the project. While inside the cottage, Nana explained us that their goal is to provide IDP women with professional training to increase their employment opportunities and financial independence. The Jewellery is handmade in the ateliers of cottage number 1624 by women living in the settlement of Tserovani and sold in different markets around Tbilisi and Georgia, but also at the American Embassy in Tbilisi and in the Georgian Embassies around the world. The profits of the sails go directly to support and strengthen FBF’s new projects.

FBF also focus in International youth exchanges thanks to EU and US funding projects such the European Voluntary Service (EVS) or the American Peace Corps Partnership Program, where international volunteers work developing the education and cultural projects that are already taking place in the settlement. The visit ended with a small chat about the organisation’s goals. Nana explained how since 2017 they are also focusing on financial training and counselling regarding legal, economic and social matters and they are eager to implement in the future activities in between the Administrative boundary line (ADL) that currently divides Georgia and South Ossetia.

After finishing the visit to FBF, we went for a small walk around the settlement before taking the last marshutka back to Tbilisi. While walking through the rows I realized the importance of being the largest IDP settlement in the country, especially regarding national and international attention, in terms of political and socio-economic support. Companies such Barambo chocolate factory, Zedazeni Beer Company and Natakhtari Brewery have their factories located no more than 20 minutes by car or bus from the settlement. Today, supermarkets, banks, government offices, public schools, but also kindergartens, music schools or even a small hospital only open for emergencies (complicated issues are treated at Mtskheta Hospital), can be found when walking in the rows of the settlement offering jobs to many of the people living in Tserovani, which gives the strange feeling of being more on a city than in an IDP settlement.

After almost a decade living at the settlement, attachment to Tserovani is increasing, as more and more people have either no hope to return, or are just comfortable within their new situation. The image of Tserovani as a dormitory city outside Tbilisi within the next decades is growing as we were explained during our visit. However, it is among elder generations, where feelings such melancholia exists, as they still have hope to go back to Akhalgori.


Further information:

IDMC (2014) Georgia IDP Figures Analysis. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Available: http://www.internal-displacement.org/europe-the-caucasus-and-central-asia/georgia/figures-analysis

IDMC (2016) Conflict and violence displacement figure. Georgia. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Available: http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/georgia/

Ikorta (2017) About ikorta. Available: http://www.ikorta.com/about.html

FBF (2017) Home. For Better Future. Available: http://www.yfbf.org/

Goderdzishvili, Teona (2015) From Camp to town; The urban changes of Tserovani. Chai-Khana. Available:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P9vCGYjpLY