MHC Research Trio Spend Summer in Georgia
Guruli ’07 (left) and
Ally Neher ’07
Two Mount Holyoke
students and a Russian professor learned this summer that sometimes
what is described as ethnic conflict often has its roots in competition
for scarce resources, made scarcer by environmental degradation.
Nino Guruli ’07,
Allison Neher ’07, and Russian professor Stephen Jones
were in remote regions of the Republic of Georgia, where a new
government was installed in 2003 after the peaceful Rose Revolution.
The Mount Holyoke team found that the cause of much of the ethnic
tension in the region is a lack of basic resources.
argue that social and economic issues are more important than
ethnic issues," Jones said.
The three were
there to test the theory that environmental degradation aggravates
or acts as a causational factor in acute conflict. They visited
regions where clashes between Armenians, Greeks, Georgians, and
Azerbaijanis have resulted in riots and killings.
mudslides and flooding caused by illegal logging and a hydroelectric
dam in the mountains of Svaneti and Ajaria left many Georgian
residents homeless, the government resettled these displaced
people in Tsalka in homes that had been abandoned by Greeks and
Armenians who believed they’d have better economic opportunities
in their native countries.
But the remaining
Tsalkan population, which is mostly Greek and Armenian, believed
it had claims to those homes, according to Jones, and conflicts
flared between Tsalka’s ethnic groups. In May of 2004,
the government sent troops to the region after people were injured
during a fight at a soccer match.
The crime rate
in poverty-stricken Tsalka is high, further straining relations
between ethnic groups, according to Guruli.
the Mount Holyoke team found that local Armenians—who
Georgians anticipate will demand autonomy and ultimately become part of Armenia—are
more interested in getting potable water, decent schools, and adequate roads
that will enable them to conduct business with the Georgian capital and other
Georgian regions than they are in autonomy.
the Armenians of Akhalkalaki believe their roads are poor because
they receive less from the central government than ethnic Georgians,
even though many Georgian regions are just as poor. They trade
mostly with nearby Armenia, but this reinforces Georgian fears.
see them as practical and not trustworthy," she said.
a family in Akhalkalaki, where unemployment hovers around
70 percent, is even more difficult because over-fishing
and pollution have depleted fish
populations, and high fertilizer use in the past has reduced soil quality,
issues are increasingly recognized as a cause of ethnic conflict,
but in underdeveloped countries people often fail to make the
connection, according to Jones.
it’s not recognized at all," he said.
Neher went to Georgia with grants from the Center for Global
Studies Summer Fellowship program, and from the dean of the College's office.
Neher said she and Guruli wanted to go to Georgia because both are interested
in working in development aid. The trip opened their eyes to some harsh realities,
how long could I do this? It’s so intense. How long before
I become numb to it?" said Neher. "But we realized
On the Web:
Center for Global Initiatives
to News & Events