2005 / Volume 10, Number 2
Explorers: Nino Guruli ’07 and Ally Neher ’07
Ethnic Conflict in Eastern Europe
Guruli ’07 (left) and Alison Neher ’07
Two Mount Holyoke
students and a Russian professor learned last summer that 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
in the region is a lack of basic resources.
that social and economic issues are more important than ethnic
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.
severe 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
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
to Jones, and conflicts flared between Tsalka’s ethnic groups.
In May 2004, the government sent troops to the region
after people were injured
a fight at a soccer match.
The crime rate in
poverty-stricken Tsalka is high, further strainingrelations
between ethnic groups, according
In Akhalkalaki, 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.
Guruli said 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
Armenia, but this reinforces Georgian fears.
Feeding a family
in Akhalkalaki, where unemployment hovers around 70 percent,
is even more difficult because overfishing and
pollution have depleted fish populations, and high fertilizer
use in the past has reduced soil quality, Jones said.
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.
Guruli and Neher went
to Georgia with grants from the Center for Global Initiatives’ 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, she said.
“I wondered: how long could I do this? It’s so intense. How
long before I become numb to it?” said Neher. “But
we realized we could.”
On the MHC
for Global Initiatives
- Winter 2005 Index