Georgia’s Internal Affairs Ministry has deployed a 200-strong troop unit to the town of Tsalka, after at least 10 local residents were injured in clashes between ethnic Armenians and Georgians. The ministry plans to send in police reinforcements as well.
Tensions and incidents of low-level inter-communal violence are frequently reported from the town and villages in the Tsalka district. The latest incident erupted in the local stadium after a football game on May 9.
The area’s ethnic composition is uniquely intricate. Situated in the Kvemo-Kartli region, where Azeris form the single largest population, the Tsalka district is populated predominantly by Armenians, along with Greeks, Georgians and Azeris.
The Tsalka district is located close to the predominantly Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Javakheti region. Tsalka’s Georgian residents originate for the most part from Ajaria and Svaneti, and were resettled in Tsalka at the state’s initiative after landslides that devastated their native villages. Georgian authorities have been planning for some time to conduct an up-to-date census of Tsalka’s population.
On May 18 on an inspection visit to Tsalka, Internal Affairs Minister Giorgi Baramidze announced that the ministry’s troops will remain stationed there on a permanent basis. “There is still fear and mistrust, which will take time to eradicate,” he declared. Illegal possession of arms by local residents also poses a serious problem, though “not as acute as it has been portrayed to be.”
Baramidze and other Georgian officials announced plans to increase local police salaries and improve equipment, as well as to clarify the legal status of Georgian residents as “ecological resettlers” by passing new legislation. (Prime-News, Rustavi-2 TV, Civil Georgia, May11-18).