Late in the night of March 22, the municipalities of Marneuli and Bolnisi in Georgia were cut off from the outside world. They are under quarantine after a woman who was admitted to a hospital in Marneuli was found to have coronavirus.
The woman was transported to Tbilisi and is in critical condition. It is unclear who she caught the infection from. Before the onset of symptoms, she had contact with several dozens of people.
Entry into the quarantine zone is restricted by police, military and specialists. Only local residents are allowed in, and only after their temperatures are checked, documents inspected, and cars disinfected. A field hospital in Marneuli has been repurposed as a quarantine hospital.
The situation is aggravated by the fact that the majority of the region’s inhabitants are ethnic Azerbaijanis, many of whom do not know the Georgian language, which is why they are often poorly informed about the situation in the country.
Journalist and activist Shalal Amirjanova from Marneuli tells JAMnews about the situation in the region as it faces a localized epidemic.
Yesterday afternoon, we found out that a woman from Marneuli was diagnosed with coronavirus.
She used to be a neighbor of mine. She has been suffering from heart failure for many years, and as far as I know, she has had heart surgery three times.
She often travels to Azerbaijan, where she has relatives.
She lives in Marneuli, along with her brother’s family. He has a large family.
Right now, people in Marneuli are celebrating the holiday of Novruz-Bayrami.
Last Tuesday was Charshanba – one of the important holidays during Novruz. On this day, everyone goes to visit one another.
A close relative of the woman told be that on March 11, she was at an annual memorial service for one of her family members. And before that, she was visiting a relative in Azerbaijan.
On March 18, her condition worsened and she was hospitalized. She could not breathe and everyone thought that it was because of her heart problems.
By the time she made it to the hospital, her situation had already become quite dire.
The woman was lying in the hospital for several days and no one could figure out what was happening to her. Doctors only tested her for coronavirus when her condition became very serious.
There were no less than 200 people at the memorial service she attended, including residents of other cities and villages in the region.
After arriving from abroad, this woman was in close contact with everyone in her family, as well as with neighbors and other nearby relatives.
Novruz-Bayrami is also a holiday with a lot of physical contact – according to tradition, people are supposed to hug and kiss each other several times.
The hospital in which the woman was treated is one of the largest clinics in Marneuli.
Now, the whole city is being quarantined. As a result, many people have been locked into the hospital – both medical staff and other patients.
Many people visit this hospital, which means that now the whole region is in danger.
More than 100 thousand people live in the municipality of Marneuli. The Kvemo Kartli region, where the city is located, has a population of 423 thousand
When people woke up on March 23, they found that the city had been shut off from the rest of the world.
That night, the military entered the city with heavy machinery.
Now, all entrances and exits are shut off.
However, at first glance, it seems that ordinary daily life continues for citizens of Marneuli. People walk around in the street, go to shops, visit each other’s yards and talk to each other.
Many locals are ethnic Azerbaijanis who do not know the Georgian language. Almost no one watches Georgian TV channels. Information is learned mainly from Azerbaijani channels.
That is why many people still have a poor understanding of the situation at hand.
For instance, this happened to one of my neighbors this morning — a young mother living alone with her children. She said that she read on WhatsApp that something had happened in Marneuli. My mom explained to her that we are in a quarantine and should not go outside.
And my neighbor is not the only such case.
Despite the fact that the coronavirus has been in the country for about a month, this young woman simply has no information about it. She has no idea what she needs to do to protect herself and her children from the virus.
Most people, of course, have heard that some dangerous virus is spreading all over the world, including in Georgia, but they do not have any official information, and rumors are spreading far faster.
No one paid any serious attention to the virus until a resident of Marneuli fell ill.
Life in the villages goes on as usual. My friends tell me that people there still gather together regularly.
It is spring and many are out in the fields. Some do not have time to watch TV, because they are cultivating the land and growing vegetables.
This morning I spoke with my grandmother, who lives in one of the villages near Marneuli:
“We heard on the Azerbaijani news station that Marneuli was closed off, is everything alright there?” She asked me.
Many Marneuli residents, especially young people who actively post on Facebook, are unhappy with the measures the government has taken.
They say that authorities need to take more strict control over the situation.
Novrus Mehdi from the village of Algeti calls on the authorities to pay more attention to the villages:
“Attention, authorities! In Marneuli villages, people are not complying with quarantine rules! Everyone is outside! Please ensure the safety of the population and send representatives to the villages to educate them!”
And Mariam Kveladze from the village of Tsereteli had this message:
“The police must go to the villages and the city of Marneuli and monitor those living there … People are still walking around in the streets …”
I try to social distance and stay at home, but I also want to do something to help people.
I was up all night translating information and documents from city hall to distribute among the Azerbaijani population, which does not speak Georgian.
If necessary, I am ready to go to the villages, with the appropriate safety equipment, and explain to people how to protect themselves from the virus.
Rashan Ziyadaliev, a civic activist from Marneuli, has launched a volunteer campaign. He says that they are going to go door to door around all the Marneuli villages in order to inform people of the situation in the Azerbaijani language.
“We are turning to organizations for help, and as soon as we have the transport and the necessary equipment, we will start traveling there in small groups,” says Rashan.
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After Hagia Sophia, Turkey’s Erdogan turns another former church into mosque
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday ordered another ancient Orthodox church that became a mosque and then a popular Istanbul museum to be turned back into a place of Muslim worship.
The decision to transform the Kariye Museum into a mosque came just a month after a similarly controversial conversion for the UNESCO World Heritage-recognised Hagia Sophia.Both changes reflect Erdogan’s efforts to galvanise his more conservative and nationalist supporters at a time when Turkey is suffering a new spell of inflation and economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.But the moves have added to Turkey’s problems with prelates in both the Orthodox and Catholic worlds.The Greek foreign ministry called the decision “yet another provocation against religious persons everywhere” by the Turkish government.’Steeped in history’ The 1,000-year-old Kariye building’s history closely mirrors that of the Hagia Sophia — its bigger and more famous neighbour on the western bank of the Golden Horn estuary on the European side of Istanbul.The Holy Saviour in Chora was a Byzantine church decorated with 14th-century frescoes of the Last Judgement that remain treasured in Christendom.It was originally converted into the Kariye Mosque half a century after the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.It became the Kariye Museum after World War II as Turkey pushed ahead with the creation of a more secular new republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.A group of American art historians then helped restore the original church’s mosaics and opened them up for public display in 1958.But Erdogan is placing an ever greater political emphasis on the battles that resulted in the defeat of Byzantium by the Ottomans.Turkey’s top administrative court approved the museum’s conversion into a mosque in November.”It’s a place steeped in history which holds a lot of symbolism for a lot of different people,” said 48-year-old French tourist Frederic Sicard outside the building.”For me, (these conversions) are a little difficult to understand and to follow. But we would visit if it were a mosque. We might just have to arrange visits around prayer times.”‘Shame for our country’The sand-coloured structure visible today replaced a building created as a part of a monastery when Constantinople became the new capital of the Roman Empire in the fourth century.It features a minaret in one corner and small cascading domes similar to those of other grand mosques whose calls to prayer echo across the hills of Istanbul.But inside it is filled with magnificent frescoes and mosaics that represent some of the finest examples of Byzantine art in the Christian world.Turkey’s tumultuous efforts to reconcile these two histories form the underpinnings of the country’s contemporary politics and social life.Opposition HDP party lawmaker Garo Paylan called the transformation “a shame for our country”.”One of the symbols of our country’s deep, multicultural identity and multi-religious history has been sacrificed,” he tweeted.Ottoman Empire historian Zeynep Turkyilmaz called the conversion “destruction” because the building’s walls are lined with Christian art that would have to be either covered up or plastered over — as it was by the Ottomans.”It is impossible to hide the frescoes and mosaics because they decorate the entire building,” the historian told AFP.Yet some locals fully supported the change.”There are dozens, hundreds of churches, synagogues in Istanbul and only a few of them have been opened to prayer as mosques,” said Yucel Sahin as he strolled by the building after the morning rain.”There is a lot of tolerance in our culture.”(AFP)
Turkey’s Erdogan announces historic natural gas discovery in Black Sea
A handout photo made available by the Turkish President Press Office shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan takes part of a video conference with Turkish drilling vessel Fatih during a press conference as he announces the biggest natural gas discovery in history in Istanbul, Turkey, 21 August 2020. ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey had made a historic discovery of gas in the Black Sea, but would still speed up contentious exploration in the Mediterranean that has pitted it against Greece and the EU.Turkey hopes the discovery can help wean it off imported energy, including from Russia, which comes at a high cost at a time when the local currency is weakening and the economy is more fragile because of the coronavirus.Erdogan said the 320-billion-cubic-metre deep sea find was made at a site Turkish vessel Fatih began exploring last month.He added that he hoped to see the first gas reach Turkish consumers in 2023, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the modern republic.”Turkey made the biggest discovery of natural gas in its history in the Black Sea,” a delighted Erdogan said during a speech in Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace.”My Lord has opened the door to unprecedented wealth for us,” he enthused.The Fatih, Turkey’s first drilling vessel, is named after Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Ottoman Sultan who conquered Constantinople — current-day Istanbul — in 1453.The vessel made the discovery in the Tuna-1 field off the coast of Eregli town in the northern province of Zonguldak after beginning the search on July 20, Erdogan said.’Reasons to be cautious’The Turkish lira gained value against the dollar on Erdogan’s promise on Wednesday to report “good news” on Friday, but fell after the size of the find was less than half of that suggested in initial reports.Analysts were also wary of overplaying the discovery’s significance, pointing out that deep sea drilling is expensive and takes time.”There are reasons to be cautious,” said Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.”For one thing, it will take time for the necessary infrastructure to be put in place before the gas can be extracted,” he said in a research note.Tuvey added “the boost to Turkey’s external position may only be temporary.”Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund, tweeted the discovery was “not bad at all (but) not a game changer either.”The volume of gas announced by Erdogan would cover Turkey’s total natural gas needs for six years, at current consumption rates.High energy import billTurkish Finance Minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, speaking aboard the Fatih, said the discovery and future potential finds could reduce Turkey’s import-heavy trade balance by cutting its high energy import bill.Turkey’s energy import bill corresponded to two percent of total economic output last year, according to Capital Economics, with most purchases coming from Russia, Iran and Iraq.Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Authority said in January the country’s annual cost of energy imports was between $12 billion and $13 billion (10.2-11.1 billion euros).This month, Erdogan ordered the resumption of controversial energy exploration off the southern coast close to a Greek island in disputed eastern Mediterranean waters.The issue has put Turkey on a collision course with Greece, Cyprus and the European Union, and exacerbated tensions with France, which has stepped up its military presence in the region.But Erdogan showed no sign of yielding to the EU’s repeated call to immediately end the eastern Mediterranean search.”We will accelerate our activities in the Mediterranean with the deployment by the end of the year of (drilling ship) Kanuni, which is currently under maintenance,” he said.”God willing we expect similar good news,” Erdogan added.Turkey dispatched the seismic research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by warships to the region on August 10, angering Greece who said the move threatened peace.
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