Tamada Travels: A Camel Looks for Love in the Caucasus
Episode 6: For a country, like Georgia, keen on promoting its European credentials, a camel attack in the center of its capital city is not exactly the most expected event.
The July 1 incident happened outside Tbilisi’s most pretentious district, Vake, which is better used to stilettos than to hooves.
Tbilisi last saw camels a century ago, when it was a layover point for Europe-bound caravans from Central Asia and the Middle East.
The bizarre news left many residents wondering whether the past was repeating itself.
The camel’s owner, Swiss citizen Roland Verdan, who goes by the name Gorhan, would only be too glad. He is on a decades-long mission to bring back nomadic values, and part of that is accepting camels as they are.
“If there is [a] fight between man and animal . . . [the] human is always guilty,” he commented, as Chini, the 14-year-old female camel blamed in the case, stared intently at this reporter from behind his back.
Gorhan, who entered Georgia via Turkey, now lives in an abandoned Tbilisi hippodrome with his travelling zoo of several goats, dogs, cats, hens and, of course, Chini, a mix of Bactrian and Dromedary bloodlines.
Gorhan claims that the untimely passing of her “husband” brought Chini to the brink of suicide and that he needs to find her a new mate before she attempts to get on with her life.
Tbilisi Zoo Director Zurab Gurieli also presumes that Chini is in the right and commented to EurasiaNet.org that passers-by should not have approached the animal.
Gorhan faces a fine of up to 1,300 laris (over $700) “for causing health damage,” a Tbilisi police representative said, adding that the victim, a 70-year-old man, has only minor facial injuries. A court will set the exact amount of the fine.
How Chini managed to enter Georgia, though, might come to mind.
International and local laws define a camel as a domestic rather than an exotic animal, Gurieli said. If her owner has the proper veterinary documents in hand, Chini can see the world just like any other household pet.
That means that Gorhan is not likely to face any other penalty for the attack in Tbilisi so long as Chini keeps munching on the hippodrome’s grass, and not on humans.
The recent incident aside, Gorhan says he feels welcome in Georgia. Joggers and passers-by with dogs stop for a chat and children come to stare at Chini. Georgia’s National Tourism Administration even gave him an award as The Most Extravagant Traveller.
He thanks former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, a fellow animal-lover, for letting his caravan squat at the former hippodrome, property now owned by Ivanishvili.
Now Gorhan hopes that the billionaire will help him realize his dream of restoring caravan routes and setting up a large caravanserai in Tbilisi for spiritual travellers to hang out. The camels, he says, are great for therapy as well.
Gorhan was hoping to hook Chini up with a male camel in Russia, but Russian border guards, ever suspicious of visitors (two or four-legged) from Georgia, would not let him in. Gorhan now hopes to go matchmaking in neighboring Azerbaijan. “Thank you, Muslim country,” he said of Azerbaijan for allowing him entrance.
“It will be like Ali and Nino [a 1937 novel by Kurban Said about the love affair between an Azeri man, Ali, and Georgian woman, Nino],” Gorhan said. “The girl is coming from Georgia, the boy is waiting in Azerbaijan. It is so romantic.”
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