A decade ago, it was just another down-at-heels vacation destination. But the Black Sea resort town of Sochi has been transformed by hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics. And now, it aims to become a Russian version of Monte Carlo.
When Rasulov Bakhtier arrived in Abkhazia in 2012 as a migrant laborer, he had no idea he would be prohibited from returning to his native Uzbekistan via Russia. As a result, Bakhtier, a construction worker and father of two, now finds himself among hundreds of “guest captives” in the separatist enclave.
The booming rhythms and bass beats of electronic music go on for 24 hours a day in a small village on Georgia’s Black Sea coastline, and the reverberations are being felt across this South-Caucasus country.
Below Tbilisi’s Rose Revolution Square and its shiny Radisson-Blu Hotel lies a crumbling, urine-dappled, underground labyrinth with bunker-like hideaways blaring Turkish and Middle Eastern dance music. Some allegedly are not just venues for drinks and stripteases.
His nom de guerre is Omar al-Shishani (Omar the Chechen), and he has gained a fearsome reputation as a commander in the dreaded terrorist jihadi group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But al-Shishani is no Chechen. His birth name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, and he is a citizen of Georgia from the Pankisi Gorge, a remote corner of this South-Caucasus country.
They came with bags full of cups of urine and left them in a heart shape for the prime minister to see. But this protest in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, against drug testing was not about lifestyle choices. Rather, the scores of protesters are part of a growing movement seeking the decriminalization of marijuana as a civil right.
Georgia has held transparent elections and it has pledged to create an independent court system and to honor media rights. But when it comes to government policy on illegal narcotics, the South Caucasus country is still not ready for European integration, experts contend.
For many in Georgia, Russia’s annexation Crimea is reigniting fears about separatism rooted in ethnic conflict and Kremlin meddling. But now Georgians aren’t just worrying about the breakaway entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, they also are concerned about the loyalty of the predominantly ethnic-Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti.
In 2013, as Syria’s civil war raged, 23-year-old Samar Abaza opted, like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, to flee his home for safety abroad. Yet unlike most of the estimated 2.5 million Syrians who are now refugees, Abaza sought to build a new life in Abkhazia, another contested land.