The Sisters from Akhalkalaki

Author: Arus Hakobyan


For Aksana Gigolyan, choosing where to study is an identity dilemma.

The 18-year-old ethnic Armenian lives in the village of Khulgumo, in Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region, and would like to follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Seda, and enroll in university in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Like many of their peers, the two young women want to integrate into Georgian society, but their parents and others of that generation fear that, once in Tbilisi, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive away, their children will gradually distance themselves from their Armenian roots.

Ethnic Armenians like the Gigolyans make up 4.5 percent  of Georgia’s population of 3.7 million people. Many mainly speak Armenian.

For that reason, many ethnic Armenians from Samtskhe-Javakheti, like the Gigolyans’ parents, usually have attended university in Armenia, which borders their region.

To enroll in a Georgian university, teenagers often need to attend Georgian language courses since their limited knowledge of Georgian would not allow them to pass the entrance exams.

Yet despite the linguistic difficulties, the younger Gigolyan is set on Tbilisi rather than Yerevan. A university education is cheaper there and a Georgian degree unlocks employment opportunities within Georgia more easily.

Nonetheless, their parents still fear that the loss of their identity will be the ultimate cost.

June 2018, Identity Edition