Monday, December 17, 2007

Batumi, Not Quite Sure If It Is A Republic of Ajaria, Georgia

Georgia is popular with backpackers mainly for the renowned hospitality and friendliness to be found in the villages of its mountains. Wine flows, songs are sung and the guest is shown the warmth of Georgian hearts and homes. That is why many travellers come here in droves. In the summer.

In winter the tourist gets to freeze his arse off in crumbling bus stations just to be told that the road is snowed in or that the risk of avalanches is too great. From personal experience I know that Georgian mashrutka drivers are fearless creatures who believe their beat-up Ford Transit can handle like a rally car and who augment their courage with frequent swigs of chacha (local homemade voddie). If these fellows say you can't get somewhere it's sound information indeed.

If the mountains won't come to Mahomet then Mahomet can do as he bloody well pleases. If Arabin can't go the mountains he sods off to the seaside. Hence I am in Batumi, Georgia's answer to Mallorca. Here I can watch the Black Sea form under a palm tree. This is actually wise as it's sodding raining here.

Being confined to drinking Turlkish coffee and eating cheesy pastries in cafes I got to writing mainly to avoid having to answer inane questions from teenage sailors in the Georgian navy. As is my habit, I started to ponder the reasons for this region being as it is.

A map and a glancing knowledge of history helps to undertand this neck of the woods. The Caucasus is a mountainous area (easy to defend, a fucker to conquer) that links the Black Sea to the Caspian. Its neighbours include the Turks, the Persians and the Russians, all of which have a tendency towards empire building and all equally aware of the need to secure this area if they want to fuck over their rivals. Cue a rich history of invasions and dust ups. The aggro more or less ceased when the Russkies won and the area had the joy of spending many years of fun as part of the Socialst Brotherhood and get to see many fuckugly concrete monuments getting built on their soil.

The disparate peoples of the Caucasus somehow managed to a sense of self despite the imposition of dullness from Moscow. When the Soviet empire went tits-up the culturally and ethnically diverse groups of this area finally had the freedom to do what they wanted. They had a fight

Armenia and Azerbaijan had a war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Various ethnic cleansing attempts on both sides kicked off this war. The Azeris had the advantage of better economic resources, more military hardware and the not-so-discrete assistance of Turkey. The Armenian fighters had an assorted bunch of homemade weapons so naturally the Azeris lost and gained a large quantity of that Caucasus specialty; internal refugees.

The Azeris seem particularly bitter about this. Having an entry stamp to Nagorno will get you refused entry to Azerbaijan and an Armenian one guarantees you a fun time at the border. I have been told about the evils of Armenia more times than I wished I had whilst in Azerbaijan. One woman even gave me an earful on the sequence of names on my guidebook. The Armenians don't really seem togive a toss as they focus their hatred towards Turkey plus they didn't have their army arse-raped by a bunch of ragtag guerillas.

Georgia hasn't fought with its neighbous as it was too busy fighting itself. Beyond fighting in Tbilisi for control of the state there was a number of regions who reckoned they should be countries. Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ajaria all decide to secede and it went as peacefully as you can imagine. Georgia got its own lot of internal refugees. The place I am in agreed to be a half-arsed Auonous region with the Georgian government after the Rose Revolution but there are elections coming up so it's possible the newly rebuilt bridges to Batumi might be blown up again.

In case some of you might be thinking that maybe these countries would have been better off staying within Russia you only have to look to the North to the earthly paradises of Dagestan and Chechnya to see how well that idea holds up.

Anyways I now have to think of stuff to do in Batumi that doesn't involve getting soaked. I am toying with going to the Stalin Museum. The one in the mustachioed murderer's bithplace cost a very capitalistic $15 so I gave it a miss but the local hommage to Georgia's most famous child is reputedly quite cheap. Part of the Georgia tourist experience is being told nice things about one of the most reviled men on the planet or so I've been told by assorted denizens of the Baltic States that seem to be the only folk aside from me stupid enough to go to the Caucasus in winter.

Take care,



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