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Georgia is distinguished by its diverse intangible cultural heritage. All regions of Georgia make impression with unique traditions and forms of expression, performing arts and custom - a living form of inheritance that is delivered from generation to generation. Cultural identity, which is developed in ethnically diverse region, is exceptionally interesting. Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia and especially its municipal city of Akhalkalaki, where Georgian and Armenian people live together for ages, is very rich with cultural diversity and community spirit.
The culture in this region is shaped by the diverse mix of customs and traditions of the ethnic minorities. In addition to the fact that the intangible cultural heritage is passed from generation to generation, over time the forms of expression are also updated in order to make these traditions viable and maintain the cultural identity of the region. This processes is further supported by the Adult Education Centre which was created to give opportunity to the local population to obtain education and get involved in various civic activities. The Adult Education Centre is supported by the EU and its mission is implemented within the ENPARD.
Thanks to the financial support of the European Union, young people in Akhalkalaki now have the opportunity to learn for free how to knit rugs, carpets and tapestry with Georgian-Armenian ornaments and to maintain their traditional activities. In addition, integrated interethnic events allows the representatives of different ethnic groups to implement joint activities, which supports their rapprochement and women’s economic empowerment in the region.
The municipality of Akhalkalaki consists of 22 administrative territorial units, which includes 64 villages and town Akhalkalaki - the administrative centre of the municipality. The majority of the population in the municipality is ethnic Armenian (93.8%), while ethnic Georgians consist 5.7% of the whole populations and 0.5% include other ethnic groups. Akhalkalaki youth are mainly employed in the agricultural sector, but their involvement in other areas is also noteworthy for socio-economic development of the community.
“Long-term observation made it clear that young people had a desire to learn some details of the intangible culture and traditional activities of our population, but there was no way to satisfy this desire in our town. We decided to help them make their wishes come true and offered them educational courses that would enable them to learn new skills”, says Shorena Tetvadze, director of the Akhalkalaki Adult Education Centre and an initiator of the project.
The Akhalkalaki Adult Education Centre has been operating since 2006. With the financial support of various donors, the centre offers language courses, trainings in financial education and accounting. Legal consultations and other services, which will contribute to the personal development of the population, are also available at the centre.
Shorena Tetvadze joined the centre as a teacher of Georgian language and since then she has been implementing various activities for locals. Over time, the courses offered by the centre became more and more popular, though it should be noted that the trainings were mainly technical.
“I had a desire to revive our activities. Due to the fact that the interest of local people was very high in handmade items, I decided to be developed in this direction. The centre was already very popular and had lots of beneficiaries, so the potential for advancement was noticeable. Moreover, establishment of various art courses would help to increase the awareness of the region's traditions, which is also important for maintaining our cultural identity”, says Shorena Tetvadze.
The Akhalkalaki Adult Education Centre took part in the grant competition announced within the EU-funded ENPARD project Promoting a New Rural Development Approach in Akhalkalaki. The project is implemented by the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs and Georgian Rural Development Department (GRDD/GIPA) in partnership with Mercy Corps, ELVA and West Cork Development Partnership.
The project aims at promoting a bottom-up, inclusive rural development approach in Akhalkalaki that fully engages all communities in the municipality, and specifically women and youth. To achieve this goal a Local Action Group was established in Akhalkalaki – a representative body, which unites local communities. The LAG has successfully created the local development strategy for Akhalkalaki, which is a vision of promoting economic, social, cultural and ecological development of Akhalkalaki municipality and improving the quality of life of its population. The local development strategy has been developed using a consultative process and broad involvement of local population, communities, international organisations, individuals representing different section of the Akhalkalaki municipality and the members of the Akhalkalaki Local Action Group (LAG).
Within the EU grant competition announced in accordance with the priorities defined by the strategy, Akhalkalaki Local Action Group has selected 16 initiatives for rural development, including the Akhalkalaki Adult Education Centre project, which includes free courses for carpets, rugs and tapestry.
“The initiative proposed by the Akhalkalaki Adult Education Centre was in accordance with the main criteria of the grant competition. In addition, the project idea corresponded to the priorities of the Akhalkalaki local development strategy. In particular, the initiative included increase of women's employment potential, promotion of tourism and cultural heritage, restoration of forgotten traditions and customs”, says Makhare Macukatov, Vice Chairman of Akhalkalaki Local Action Group.
“On the one hand, women of all generations can acquire a new profession, develop it independently in the future and gain their own income. On the other hand, popularisation of souvenirs or handmade items will contribute to the development of tourism and increase awareness of Akhalkalaki municipality. Tourists, who used to stop their tours at Vardzia, will be interested to continue their journey and visit our town as we also will have much to offer”, he added.
Within the grant competition the committee examined the activities of the centre. Finally the initiative was financed and with the ENPARD support they purchased the necessary technical equipment and training materials (sewing and knitting machines, threads) that are required for development of the knitting skills.
Currently, ENPARD-financed art courses allow up to 20 beneficiaries to study knitting of rugs, carpets and tapestry with Georgian-Armenian Ornaments. Only the first stream of beneficiaries are attending the 18-month course. Learning knitting is free for all - there is no age restriction. The local Georgian and Armenian teachers, who showed desire to revive traditions of Georgian-Armenian ornaments, share their knowledge to the beneficiaries. Every teacher has many years of experience in this field and knowledge that was given to them from their grandparents or other ancestors.
„One of the main functions of Art Courses financed by the EU in Akhalkalaki is to improve relations with ethnic minorities. Our Georgian and Armenian beneficiaries attend classes together, study together, share experiences and knowledge, which brings them closer”, says Shorena Tetvadze.
The beneficiaries of the art school are mainly women. They learn handicraft, embrace a new profession, which will significantly contribute to their employment in the future. After successful completion of the 18-month course, each of them will be able to be self-employed or sell their own handmade items.
It is also important that the Akhalkalaki Adult Education Centre plans to organise exhibitions and sales in the municipality as well as outside of it. Establishment of a social enterprise is also under consideration, which would increase the employment opportunities for beneficiaries.
Preservation of cultural heritage is not the only direction that is supported by the Akhalkalaki Local Action Group. Support for economic and social development and promotion of tourism are the main objectives of the municipality development strategy. With the support of the Akhalkalaki Local Action Group number of initiatives have been financed by EU that support development of services and agriculture in the region, youth involvement and improvement of environmental conditions.