In the Georgian village of Ergneti, many still look at the South Ossetian peace process down the barrel of a gun. But villagers and the Georgian government hope that, one day, progress will be measured by growing trade at the local market.
Located between South Ossetian and Georgian checkpoints on the road between the Georgian regional center of Gori and the Russian city of Vladikavkaz, Ergneti today is one of the coldest spots in the frozen conflicts involving Georgia and the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. That wasn’t always the case: the town was once the site of one of the largest wholesale markets in the Caucasus.
A decade ago, thousands of ethnic Ossetians, Georgians and others used to mingle and trade freely each day, despite the territorial conflicts among them. Then, in 2004, the government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili closed the market down on the grounds that it was a smuggling den that was costing the Georgian state $120 million per year in lost tax revenue.
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Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Justyna Mielnikiewicz is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi.