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Georgia: Political minefield offers rich pickings for jokes

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The 14th century Tsminda Sameba church is overlooked by 5047-metre Mt Kazbek. Photo / Thinkstock
The 14th century Tsminda Sameba church is overlooked by 5047-metre Mt Kazbek. Photo / Thinkstock

There's little work available in the Georgian town of Kazbegi, just 20km from the Russian border. The two nations are not on speaking terms at present so the border is closed.

Kazbegi is now without its usual rumble and belch of trucks, buses and vans - it's a forlorn place where men sit in doorways with nothing to do.

So I'm not altogether surprised when the Jeep drivers tell us it's not safe to walk up to the 14th century Tsminda Sameba church that sits perched on a hill overlooked by 5047m Mt Kazbek, Georgia's highest mountain.

"There are two bears on the path," they tell us, seriously.

"We should take the Jeeps to be safe."

So we do.

Interestingly the black-robed priest and his small flock of pilgrims who take the path arrive safely at the church - maybe they had a higher level of divine protection.

The closed border is a graphic example of why the Caucasus would be no place to cut one's teeth in the field of international relations.

While Georgia and Russia are at loggerheads, Georgia and Azerbaijan are talking to each other so their borders are open. But don't even contemplate trying to cross from Azerbaijan into Armenia - those two nations are bristling with tension over disputed territory.

Armenia is however, friendly with Iran, which in turn is regarded a little guardedly by Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, Armenia and Turkey are caught in long-standing enmity. And to compound things further Armenia and Georgia are possibly a little envious of the Azeris' oil-fields, while Georgia and Azerbaijan seem a little miffed about the amount of money Armenia receives from its wealthy diaspora.

It's rich pickings for collectors of national jokes too.

Georgians, for example, are teased about their claims to be the first to make wine, along with several other "firsts".

The region is the political geographer's paradise - a soap opera of kinship, enmity, envy, spies and the usual pot pourri of other human emotions that can both divide and unite.

But political minefields seem a long way away up at the little stone church of Tsminda Sameba where the wind billows the priest's gowns and Mt Kazbek and its snowfields loom on the skyline on a cloudless blue Caucasian day.

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