Thousands of protesters try to storm Georgia parliament

Policemen attempt to block protesters during a rally against the visit of a Russian delegation near the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia. (Reuters)
Updated 20 June 2019

Thousands of protesters try to storm Georgia parliament

  • Tens of thousands rallied in Tbilisi, demanding speaker Irakli Kobakhidze step down after a Russian lawmaker addressed the country’s parliament from the speaker’s seat
  • The Russian MP’s presence in Georgia’s parliament prompted outrage in the ex-Soviet nation which in 2008 fought and lost a brief but bloody war with Moscow

TBILISI: Thousands of protesters attempted Thursday to storm the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi, furious that a Russian lawmaker addressed the assembly from the speaker’s seat during an international event.
Demanding that the parliamentary speaker resign, about 10,000 protesters broke riot police cordons to enter the parliament courtyard, an AFP reporter witnessed. Police pushed them back, but several protesters continued trying to enter the building.
Earlier, tens of thousands rallied in central Tbilisi, demanding speaker Irakli Kobakhidze step down after a Russian lawmaker controversially addressed the country’s parliament from the speaker’s seat.
Russian Communist lawmaker Sergei Gavrilov was speaking during an annual meeting of the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO), a forum of lawmakers from predominantly Orthodox countries.
The Russian MP’s presence in fiercely pro-Western Georgia’s parliament prompted outrage in the ex-Soviet nation which in 2008 fought and lost a brief but bloody war with Moscow over breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
A group of Georgian opposition lawmakers demanded the Russian delegation leave the parliament’s plenary chamber.
Many protesters held Georgian and EU flags and placards that read “Russia is an occupier.”
“This is a spontaneous protest by ordinary Georgians, it has not been organized by any political party,” an MP from opposition European Georgia party, Giga Bokeria, told AFP at the rally.
Georgian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili — widely believed to be calling the shots in Georgia as the leader of his ruling Georgian Dream party — said in a statement that he “fully shares the sincere outrage of the Georgian citizens.”
He added that he told the speaker to suspend the session.
“It is unacceptable that a representative of the occupier country chairs a forum in the Georgian parliament,” Ivanishvili said.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.