Residents of a village on Georgia's border with Turkey have blocked a road in protest against a wave of cattle rustling they blame on Turkish criminals.
On May 28, around 70 residents from Sulda, a village in Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region, blocked the road leading to Turkey, detaining ten trucks. Residents say eight farmers were attacked in their sleep and bound with handcuffs while four Turkish-speaking criminals took the 63 cattle and sped off into Turkey.
Locals say the border has been a source of crime since it opened in 2015 and are demanding the government provide more security in the area.
“There were three or four of them, armed, riding horses and speaking Turkish,” a villager, Giorgi Kelvishvili, told the local media outlet Jnews. “They bound [the farmers'] arms and legs. We learned about it an hour and a half later and informed the border guards, but it was already too late.”
The nearby border crossing, between Çıldır in Turkey and Kartsakhi on the Georgian side, was reopened in 2015 amid growing ties between Tbilisi and Ankara after being closed for 10 years. Georgia’s leadership has been deepening relations with Ankara in recent years to attract investment and further its own NATO ambitions.
Locals, though, say the opening of the border has brought increased crime, corruption, prostitution and damage to the local economy. Protesters are demanding heightened security and police checks, including patrols by conscripts from villages on the border.
“We ask you to give us time, your demands are just,” member of parliament Enzel Mkoyan promised at a meeting with protesters in Sulda. “I see horror in your eyes and I understand that you are worried for your families. I promise to submit your complaints to the president, prime minister and our top leadership on June 1.”
The protests also were joined by herders from Georgia’s northern mountainous province of Tusheti who are grazing their their livestock in Javakheti for the summer.
Georgian law enforcement officers, in cooperation with their Turkish counterparts, launched an investigation into the matter and have so far recovered 20 of the stolen animals. Police say the animals will be returned immediately and further investigations will be ongoing.
Thefts in the area have been commonplace, with similar protests both last year and in 2015. In 2015, residents threatened to obstruct the construction of the new BTK railway line which passes through the region unless authorities took action.
The region is heavily populated by Armenians, many of whom are direct descendants of people fleeing the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 Armenian genocide.
Bradley Jardine is a freelance journalist who covers the Caucasus.