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From All Walks of Life, Young People Unite to Bridge Divides in Georgia

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One of the biggest problems is communications with government offices, so if we continue talking with them, we can solve a problem.
Rashan Ziadaliev
KARe participant

Born and raised in Georgia, Rashan Ziadaliev has immense pride in his country, choosing a career in civic engagement and activism to strengthen its democracy. But as an ethnic Azerbaijani, he says his pride is often questioned, an unfortunate reality that many members of ethnic minority groups face.

Rashan is part of the 6 percent of Azerbaijanis that make up Georgia’s population. Throughout school, he encountered peers and teachers who stereotyped him as not knowing Georgian and not being a Georgian citizen.

“We have a lot of disinformation in Georgia,” Rashan said. “There are so many stereotypes [about ethnic Azerbaijanis and ethnic Armenians], whether it is that we don’t know the Georgian language or don’t want to learn the language.”

Maya, an ethnic Georgian, didn’t experience discrimination personally, but she was also troubled about hatred toward minority groups. She was frustrated when she discovered that there was no kindergarten in an ethnic Armenian village, leaving nearly 40 children without an education. 
“There was nothing for them,” Maya said. In response, she helped launch an advocacy campaign, equipped with the knowledge she gained from the IFES-supported “Knowledge, Advocacy, and Responsibility engagement" (KARe) program, which is dedicated to broadening the inclusion and participation of Georgia’s ethnic and religious minority populations.

After participating in KARe training, Maya was inspired to establish a Youth Center in her home city of Borjomi. She coordinated with her peers from the local youth center to knock on doors to petition to build a kindergarten in the village. Some people scolded and accused them of being a part of an opposition or political group. Ultimately, under her leadership, local civic activists have achieved the required number of signatures, with a kindergarten set to be built.

In his community, Rashan has seen first-hand how difficult it is to reach out to the government for support and access information about political and electoral processes. Since some members of minority groups speak Georgian as their second language—or not at all—it is hard to find resources.
“We know political leaders in Armenia, in Azerbaijan, or in Russia, for example, but in Tbilisi, we don’t know,” Rashan said.

Rashan, like Maya, aims to bridge the gap between government and minority communities. As part of the KARe program, he launched an awareness and voter outreach campaign leading up to the 2020 parliamentary elections, creating social media posts and videos to engage members of minority communities. 

Rashan hopes that with now-established connections with other advocacy groups and government officials, such as members of parliament, he can come up with solutions to the problems that members of minority groups face.

“I sent [a member of parliament] our research, and after that, we organized another meeting,” Rashan said. “One of the biggest problems is communications with government offices, so if we continue talking with them, we can solve a problem.”

IFES works in Georgia under the USAID-funded EPPS program. To date, its KARe initiative has supported over 100 youths through a series of intensive trainings and activities strengthening advocacy skills, networks with municipal governments, and community-based civic education efforts.