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Tbilisi: The Resistance

Demonstration in front of the government building. Photo: Peter Nasmyth
Demonstration in front of the government building. Photo: © Peter Nasmyth

Most protests took place in the capital of Georgia: Tbilisi. It has been the capital of Georgia for over 1.400 years. When Nasmyth arrived in 1989 for the first time, he stands on the balcony of his hotel overlooking the city. (This hotel will be a refugee shelter for displaced people from the civil wars of the 90s for the next 15 years):

I looked out over the city of one and a quarter million. A metropolis razed to the ground, its identity plundered so often, its survival seemed miraculous. Bar its rebuilt churches, old town fortress and wall, almost no building prior to 1795 stands in Tbilisi due to the ferocity of the final Persian invasion.

[p. 55]

Meanwhile the streets of Tbilisi flicked by a terrible speed… Occasionally drivers would stop in the middle of the road, swing open their doors and gesticulate angrily about each other's driving, swing their doors shut and continue on just terribly themselves.

[p. 62]

Walking through the streets of Tbilisi Nasmyth explores the many facets of Georgian history:

Thickets of tall, white tower-blocks – the proud spires of Socialism… graceful pastel-painted buildings and avenues date back to 1801 when Georgia officially joined the Russian Empire and Tbilisi's Old Town, a maze of higgledy-piggledy homes, wooden back alleys and Persian balconies crashing into each other beneath a fourth century cliff-top fortification – the Narikala fortress.

[p. 57]

But in 1989 the new yearning for independence began and Tbilisi became the centre stage of these events. Nasmyth witnessed the huge street protest, when hundreds of thousand expressed their anger over the killings of innocent protestors on 9th of April to the streets:

To mark the occasion a sea of olive-skinned humanity had risen up from all corners of Georgia, to converge in Tbilisi and this Soviet building right before me – built, like many government buildings in Georgia, on the site of a former cathedral.

As the chants filled my ears, I realised these people emptied their lungs with a crucial declaration of separation from the culture they despised. They shouted to restore self-respect. Within these cries also stirred the determination to believe in what they euphemistically called a "free" future… As one Georgian friend said later of that time, "even if we didn't quite know the meaning of the word "free", we were calling for the freedom to make our own mistakes, not theirs."


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