Georgia’s parliamentary elections will take place on October 8th, and election campaigns have been taking place across Georgia for several months now, including in areas inhabited primarily by Azerbaijanis.
The European Center for Minority Issues in 2012
prepared a report
on the issue after it participated in a monitoring mission of the 2012 parliamentary elections. The report stated that in Marneuli, 43.98% of the city’s Azerbaijani residents voted. In Bolnisi – 48.44%. In Dmanisi – 53.47%. The report even noted that these numbers may be slightly inflated due to difficulty in data collection and questions of transparency in the voting process.
The national average voter turn out is a little higher than 60%.
Moreover, the report mentioned that the number of ethnic minority members elected to the Georgian parliament has halved since 1995, when 16 members of the parliament were from Georgia’s ethnic minorities.
So, just why is Azerbaijani participation in Georgia’s political life so low?
A Lack of Trust in Elected Officials
“Whoever gets elected won’t be of any help to us,” said Mahir Khalilov from Qizilhajili in the Marneuli region.
“We have problems with access to gas, water and electricity. And you can see the state of our roads for yourself. It’s been years that we’ve had these problems and even when they say that they’re going to fix it, they don’t. Unemployment is also a big issue. Be it city or country – wide elections, I don’t believe that voting will do any good. I’m not going to vote.”
A resident of Fakhrali village (Bolnisi region), Senan Qurbanov, is a fourth-year student at Tbilisi State University, where he studies law. Qurbanov says that there is no interest in the national elections in the regions because their elected representatives don’t fullfill their promises.
“What’s interesting is that 50% of the population voted in Azerbaijani – inhabited areas in the 2012 parliamentary elections. However, last year,
municipal elections brought out only 32% of the people.
The reason is that those elected never fulfill their promises. While the person is still a candidate, they make a lot of promises. But after the elections, they forget their obligations. This repetitive practice lessens the belief and trust of the people in the power of voting. And what’s worse is that the parties are uninterested in creating any semblance of political consciousness in the people… They sometimes bring in brochures, but people throw them out without even having read them.”
Language Barrier Leads to a Lack of Information on Party Candidates and Platforms
Another resident of Marneuli, Aslan Badalov, says that he doesn’t have any information about newly – formed political parties.
“We’re not interested in the new political parties, we don’t know anything. We have never seen any of these politicians in our city. Why should we vote for them?”
However, according to the head of Marneuli region “Georgian Dream” party headquarters, Atiran Giorgadze, this is not true.
“Azerbaijanis actively participate in elections, and party members that know Azerbaijani are often sent out into Azerbaijani – speaking villages and towns to speak with the people and distribute information.”
Giorgadze denied that there is a language barrier that prevents Azerbaijanis from participating, and claims that if there is, then it is the fault of such individuals themselves.
“There are a number of programs in place for ethnic minorities in the country to learn Georgian. If they don’t learn the language and thus can’t participate in politics, that is their own fault, because the needed conditions and programs are already in place.”
Yakob Asanidze, the overseer at Marneuli’s 22nd district polling station, says that all documents pertaining to the election process have been translated into Azerbaijani and Armenian, and therefore the language barrier should not be problematic for voters at the booth.
Araz Mashov, a representative of the political party, Girchi (Pinecone), says that despite certain measures taken by the government to spread knowledge of Georgian, these have not solved the problem, and very few Azerbaijanis have learnt the language in recent years.
“Azerbaijanis are not active in the political process because few of them know Georgian. If they did, they’d be better able to voice and convey their demands to those in positions of authority.”
In 2009, the Ministry of Education introduced a quota system in order to help ethnic minority students continue their post-secondary education in Georgian universities. In a nutshell, this affirmative action scheme assigns 12 percent of all bachelor or academic certificate level academic placements to students with an ethnic minority background. Armenian and Azerbaijani students each are allocated 5 percent of all academic placements, and Ossetians and Abkhazians get 1 percent each.
These students can get into university by simply passing a General Skills exam in their mother tongue, but they then have to spend an extra year learning the Georgian language before they can start their selected study programs. The program, referred to as “1+4”, will continue until the academic year of 2018-2019.
Despite programs such as “1 + 4”, only 6 percent of Azerbaijanis in Georgia know the state language.
Azerbaijani Women Absent From Politics
In the history of Georgia, no ethnic Azerbaijani woman has never been elected to the parliament. Although this year, there is one Azerbaijani female candidate, Samira Ismayilova, running in the parliamentary elections, in general ethnic Azerbaijani women do not actively participate in political processes in the country.
The head of Georgia’s “Active Women Association”, Gultekin Mustafayeva, says that the main reason is a lack of education.
“Ethnic Azerbaijani women often marry early on and do not finish their education. At the same time, they don’t know the language, they have families and children and they cannot find the time to be interested in politics. The majority of Azerbaijani women don’t vote. And those who do, often vote as their husbands or fathers tell them to. The number of women who vote according to their own political convictions is very few.”
Low Political and Judicial Literacy
Political expert and main advisor for Paata Burchuladze’s “The State For The People” movement, Aqit Mirzoyev, says that political literacy is low in ethnic minority areas, and when faced with certain issues, some ethnic groups may prefer to have dealings with someone from their own linguistic or cultural circle.
Burchuladze added that there is a certain amount of confusion when it comes to how to approach municipal and regional authorities to solve certain problems. This is a remnant of the transitional years from after Georgia’s independence in 1991.
“In the period of Soviet government, all questions were directed to the municipal authorities. Now, questions concerning land, water and gas have been divided into separate departments. Every ministry has its own function, and society still cannot come to terms with this. A lack of political and judicial literacy is working against the people and creates barriers. What to ask and from whom – they don’t know.”
Azerbaijanis in Georgia are more interested in political processes occurring in Azerbaijan
According to Aqit Mirzoyev, a number of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia identify themselves more as Azerbaijanis than as Georgians. Despite the fact that many of them have lived in the country for many years, they are more interested in the political, social and cultural processes happening in Azerbaijan than those of Georgia.
“Ethnic Azerbaijanis mostly emigrate to Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia. Those who stay in Georgia think of themselves as Azerbaijani citizens. This mentality tends to weaken government attempts to integrate them into Georgia. It’s a pity that they don’t think of themselves as citizens of the country.”
Meydan TV correspondents took a survey in Marneuli region, and asked 50 Azerbaijanis their opinions and beliefs about the electoral process.
Thirty-nine percent of them had absolutely no idea about new and emerging political parties such as Girchi and Paata. Thirty said they were not interested in participating in the national elections. Forty-one of them thought that the past elections and representatives had brought no noticeable difference to their lives. Thirty-eight said that those elected were not interested in them. Thirty-five thought that the language barrier prevents them from being more interested in politics.