2023 9 Georgia Tbilisi

They are our friends

Dogs and cats are present in every country, in every city. Where things are not going well, they look physically bad with scruffy fur. And they are scared. It is not difficult to imagine why this state comes about.

Flower marker Tbilisi

Georgia and most notably Tbilisi however, is different. Although poverty is palpable here, stray animals are well cared for. Cats often wear a collar. Dogs even make a habit of sleeping in the strangest places. Just on a lawn in the middle of a traffic junction or on a wall next to a busy street. They are indeed left alone and indeed treated with respect. Tbilisi, the city of sleeping dogs, Georgia. country of happy animals.

In front of the Liberty Square Metro

When it rains they take the bus

“The dogs are dogs from the street (note: not street dogs) and they belong there. We give them meat, there are water bowls in many places and if they have a chip in their ear (which most have) then they have been vaccinated.” If something happens, you will have to go to the doctor yourself, but it is a pleasant idea. The friendliness is completely reciprocal. When the waitress puts the leftover food in a bowl by the door, the dogs behave very nicely. No barking, begging or stealing, no, they quietly wait their turn.

When it rains they enter a bus. In Moscow, there is a similar situation where the dogs even ride the metro long distances to commute to the markets where the food is (and back to their sleeping place). The attitude towards the free roaming cows, horses and pigs in the countryside is very similar. Culture can be judged by how the elderly and animals are treated.

Rustaveli Avenue

Shovi, Racha Valley

Dying pianos

In contrast to the animals, life is hard for pianofortes. Many eateries have wooden classical pianos. In many cases, the instrument is outside. It is common knowledge this is fatal and it shows. Pianos are often of unclear Eastern European origin (Belarus, Oktava and similar names) and they have 3 pedals. All would be fine if at least the right one (which controls the damping) would function. But dampening is the first thing that no longer works due to all the humidity and humidity differences. If the hood is also removed even rain has free access. A collection of dying animals it seems, a piano protection organization should be founded.

Desperate musicians

In addition to the instrument itself, the players (often women) are also to be pitied. Making an almost unplayable instrument sound at least somewhat acceptable. The audience actually only pays attention to their cell phone, the wine and the food (in that order) and also sometimes talks to their table companions. The repertoire shows that the pianists are classically trained. Eastern Bloc pungeant red or peroxide blond hair and a smoked through complexion are traces of a hard life in which much was missing. The tip box remains mostly empty as the artists blend in with the background. At least it is work. Piano and pianist entangled in a hopeless and dreary dance.

The house on Vertskhli 27

Apart from the dogs and the pianos Tiblisi has an abundance of derelict old buildings most of them in the old town and dating back to the end of the nineteenth century. Some can speak if you listen well.

One of them was built in 1867, on Vertskhli Street nr. 27. Probably a wealthy Armenian trader moved to the city and commissioned it. The two-storey building with a below-ground floor and servants’ quarters had some 20 rooms in total. The David stars in the balustrade indicate a Jewish family that later lived on the second floor. Ethnic or religious groups all had their distinctive marks engraved on their houses: Christians e.b. had a little Jesus figure carved in the wood.

Communism arrives in Georgia: Kommunalka

In the period following 1921, the resident families were evicted or fled (or may be executed as a class enemy) by the communist Bolshevik regime. Whatever happened, the building became a “kommunalka” housing some 20 families or more, each family being allocated one room. The room was “written on their name” by the state and they paid a nominal small fee for this privilege.

Presently Artem has the ground floor together with his wife and little daughter and his mother. “My great-grandfather was one of the first inhabitants of the kommunalka, he had just one of the rooms to his disposal for his whole family. He came from Rostov on the Don and was quite wealthy there, so it must have been quite a change. The origins of this great-grandfather, however, go back to an Azerbaijani enclave in Armenia.” Like most of his compatriots, Artem identifies firstly as Georgian but is still attached to his Armenian background.

Judging by the fall in wealth and class, the reasons for the relocation are not quite clear but must have been serious. Most probably food shortage was the reason. It is not improbable this coincided with the Holodomor (artificially created famine) Stalin inflicted on the “kulaki”, the more affluent farmers (and traders), especially the Ukrainians.

Reasons and magnitude of migration

In any case, life in Georgia was better. The promise of a better life is the ultimate reason for (permanent) migration. Better can be a more fortuitous life, more wealth or at least a better basic coverage of life necessities. The average size of migrating populations is rather stable and surprisingly low: 3%! (ref 1)

More notable, of course, are the extreme variations caused by an acute danger to escape (war, earthquakes) or force (deportation by e.g. the tsar). In those cases the migrants are: fugitives respectively exiles. Statistics indicate the magnitude of these in the order of 0,5%, again with large fluctuations. In Georgia a priority of the government is to educate the minorities in Georgian, thus facilitating integration and at the same time preventing Russian interference  as happened in South Ossetia and Abchazia.

First day to school
First day to school

The dismantling of the Soviet Union

Artem’s father was later born and raised in the building.
In the nineties he bought out other families’s “right to live” in the rooms, thus reducing the number of occupying families again to 2. The cellar/basement rooms were by that time unlivable and used as storage for just about anything imaginable. “The nineties were a desperate period; so anything could be needed in future”

sulphur baths dating from Soviet period in a progressive state of decay

Very little has changed on the building, hardly any maintenance took place on the main structure but it still stands. The top room of the servant’s quarter however is derelict and uninhabitable; the lower one is presently being internally renovated, leading to the collapse of a wall.

The ownership structure is diffuse as those living in the building are not proper owners. They thus wait for the government to renovate the main structure. This is, however, not on its priority list.

The circle closes

Artem decided to leave Tbilisi to study in Rostov, where he met his wife and lived for some years. In 2022 he moved back, moving in with his mother, once again closing the circle. Life was better in Georgia. The second floor is now in use as a guesthouse, again each room is allocated to 1 or 2 tourists, but just for a few nights.

Tbilisi now

Artem: “ So far it is okay to live here, we will see what the municipality will do. It is a good place to bring up my child”.

Ref 1 How migration really works  Prof. H. de Haas www.heindehaas.org


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