Our Team & Stories
We had to leave Akhalgori after the Russian army arrived in August 2008. We faced an uncertain future; chaos throughout the entire country; adapting to a new living environment, new people, and problems; and, of course, a divided society. I found it difficult to realize that this new situation was what we were left with, and I needed to learn joy, happiness, and how to fight from scratch.
Up to 8,000 people who miraculously escaped from the war started living in the Tserovani IDP Settlement. They had lost their loved ones, faced physical and mental injury, and on a daily basis they had to deal with the consequences of war. The new environment was very stressful. At the beginning, we unwittingly waited for help, which was destroying me. I felt very insulted if someone pitied me. I cannot wait for or depend on someone. My friends used to call me and offer help but I didn’t need any. I just needed a job; it didn’t really matter what kind of job it was. I needed to work in order to get my confidence back. But at the same time, all my dreams, plans and ideas were connected to Akhalgori. One day, I attended a training about developing social enterprises, and I was inspired to implement it in our IDP settlement. That was the start of Ikorta.
Today, we are far more sustainable than we could have imagined a few years ago, and we are fighting for development and the next steps of improvement. Ikorta is a beacon of hope and faith for those people who are at the critical stage of their lives and for whom the future is difficult to imagine. We are an example that if you have patience and dedication, then there is no challenge you cannot overcome. People contact us not only to talk about the hardships we faced but they also ask us to share our success. Ikorta gave me opportunity to be proud of us.
Our past is our experience. We remember and we try to express our attitudes and feelings with our art. That’s why for the 10th anniversary of the 2008 August War, we created poppy pins. People who buy the pin not only support the social enterprise, but they will remind the world that tragedy occurred 10 years ago, and now they support the creation of a better future.
*Mtskheta-Mtianeti Regional Hub aims to strengthen not only IDPs but also civil society in the region by supporting community members and local initiatives.
All of the places saved in my memory since childhood are now occupied. My mother is from Liakhvi Gorge in the occupied Tskhinvali region. She has six siblings. My father is from Ksnis Valley in the occupied Akhalgori region. He has five siblings. Between my mother's and father’s families you cannot find a person who was not an IDP after the August 2008 War.
Ten years later, I don’t know how to describe the days immediately after the war in a few sentences. The first thing I remember was food being cooked in a large pot for many people and begging the Lord to save our lives. Then there was a difficult transition period before and after moving to Tserovani. I could not understand how a dirty, muddy field could be turned into a settlement. But after 10 years Tserovani is green, settled and developed. If before we only talked about our troubles, now there are many things to be proud of.
At Ikorta, we have talented artists who create various types of jewelry that is then sold as souvenirs in many tourist shops across Georgia, and also given to diplomatic guests during their visits. I have the pleasure of being a manager of this enterprise and have the opportunity to learn, develop and contribute to the development of Ikorta. I joined the team recently. When my husband asked me for my first impression, I answered that God created this enterprise for me. I still think so. I always thought that making money at work was not the first priority, and now I realize it’s not even the second or third! At Ikorta you get so much warmth, care and love that you will never be able to put a price tag on it. Despite everything, Ikorta gives me the opportunity to look at everything in life with hope and to never lose belief in the future.
I have many reasons to say loudly: I love Ikorta and its people!
My family has suffered from war twice. First, in 1991, when we needed to escape Tskhinvali, my brothers and I were kindly taken to my aunt’s home. Then again in 2008 we experienced war, and we moved to the Tserovani IDP Settlement. Everything I loved, everything that was precious, the places where I spent my sweet childhood were taken away; it was all gone.
In Tserovani, I accidentally found out that the organization For Better Future offered a cloisonné enamel course with the financial support of the Women’s Fund in Georgia. I decided to learn how to make enamel jewelry. I attended classes attentively; I didn’t even miss one. I hoped it was the opportunity to get out from my situation. Cloisonne enamel turned into art therapy for me. By the end of the course I was offered to work at Ikorta full-time by Nana (Chkareuli).
While thinking what to create in order to interest customers, I decided to use chokha, which is a traditional Georgian outfit, white tulips, and blue tablecloths as themes in my jewelry pieces. It’s sort of my niche. I really enjoy doing this and I’m especially excited by the fact that both Georgians and tourists like my work. I work long hours because I enjoy it.
In the beginning there were only four employees at Ikorta; now there are 10. We create a special, comfortable, family atmosphere where we support one other. With our work, we have the opportunity to make contributions to different events. For example, we designed poppy pins to memorialize the 10th anniversary of the 2008 August War. Those who remember this tragedy can purchase our pins.
At first, I was a little bit nervous about how we would manage to develop Ikorta, but Nana was so optimistic about the future and she spread her positive energy. From then on, we shared her attitude.
Now, many people have heard about Ikorta. We often host foreign guests at our jewelry-making workshops, where guests can create pieces by themselves, with our help. It enables them to learn about the art of enamel’s cultural history and enjoy creating jewelry with their own hands.
I think the development of Ikorta is very encouraging for other people in our settlement as well. We would like to support them and be able to show the world that we are not just IDPs, and we managed to recover both our lives and work.
During the war in 2008, I was an 11th-grade student. After fleeing my home village, I lived in many different places, changing schools more than 10 times. I finished my senior year of high school at the recently built school in the Tserovani IDP Settlement. After high school I attended Ilia State University, but I was drawn to art. I transferred to the Academy of Arts with a focus on ceramics. During my four years at university I was commuting daily from Tserovani to Tbilisi in order to attend classes.
Unusual changes happened around me and I was not an exception. Slowly, we developed our new home in the settlement, and we somehow managed to settle down. When Ikorta had an open call for an enamel jewelry-making course, I didn’t think twice and applied right away. Through this course, I joined my very warm and hard-working colleagues, who had just started their lives from scratch like me.
Later, I started processing what happened to us. My self-expression was completely connected to the topic of occupation and displacement. In 2017, my senior thesis was about “2002 houses”. It was dedicated to the houses that suddenly disappeared one day in the occupied territory and reappeared another day in Tserovani. One day, when I realized I could not remember the address of my house in the village, a project idea was born; I wanted to create sign for every Tserovani cottage that included the current address of the cottage and the address of the families’ lost home in the occupied territory.
2018 was the 10th anniversary of the war and I really wanted to create something special for this date. The world celebrates the memory of the war heroes with red poppies, and recently this tradition became popular in Georgia as well. To commemorate our war heroes, we decided to create poppy pins as enamel jewelry. Those who would like to respect the memory of heroes will be able to carry a beautiful, long-lasting, enamel pin, instead of cotton or paper.
In 2008, I was only 33 years old. I had gone to school and university, and at the same time, I had a family and children. All of my failures, successes, happiness and pain were connected to Akhalgori. Suddenly, because of the war, everything was destroyed. Those were terrible days, but I had three children and I did not have the luxury to panic and despair.
From the beginning, starting over in the Tserovani IDP Settlement was very hard. Everyone was confused and scared; we could not see the new cottages as our homes. We had a hard time understanding that we had to stay there. Everything was new and unusual for us, but when we saw familiar faces and that everyone shared the same pain and sorrow, there was a little bit of relief.
Soon, after moving to Tserovani, I had my fourth child. I spent all my time taking care of my family. For the kids, it was also difficult to adjust to the new environment. When the kids grew up a little bit, I had more free time, and I decided to find a job. By profession, I am a German language teacher but don’t really have practical experience. Whenever I thought about what kind of job I was looking for, it was always very hard to think about because the labour market was competitive and my skills were not consistent with employer requirements.
Exactly at the time of my job search, the Ikorta social enterprise started and it served as a very important place in my life. My whole family was supporting me. My kids are also actively involved in my activities, and they try to help me find new ideas so that my jewelry is more interesting for the customers. I’ve worked here for the past two years at Ikorta and it has become my second family. This is a job I like coming to. I know I learn something new every day, and everyone is my friend and supporter.
I think from the beginning, settling down in Tserovani was very hard for everyone. In just a few weeks, we left the place that was the whole world for us and moved to the site where there was a meaningless atmosphere and empty walls. Nothing reminded me of my childhood memories, and I could not understand why some people were born with unequal rights. How come someone could deprive me of my right to move freely? At the time of the war I was only 12. The only relief for us in that situation was the fact that we hadn’t lost people along with our houses. We tried to survive all together.
I think every IDP overcame the situation differently, but for some it was much harder. When you are not yet an adult you definitely try to find comfort in a new and strange situation. Going to a new school was not easy for me, but fortunately, there were several programs that helped to promote the socialization and development of Tserovani youth.
Later, I joined the Ikorta social enterprise, which significantly changed my life. Since it was my very first job, I had to overcome many obstacles. However, finally I ended up in the jewelry-making course that brought me into the Ikorta family. The warmth and openness of my colleagues makes it the most pleasant and comfortable job. Ikorta’s happy and welcoming attitude became its calling card.
Moreover, I always like to mention that I am experiencing my dream job, and it enables me to express myself in any way and in any form. Working with enamel jewelry really gives me this opportunity.
It was November 2008 when my mom was invited to receive the keys to our cottage in the Tserovani IDP Settlement. It was cold and rainy. I am not sure why none of my family members accompanied her on this “important day.” I was looking forward to her coming back in order to share her impressions about our new home. She did not want to talk about the negative aspects. Mom was only focusing on the positives, and she was describing everything nicely. She was trying to be upbeat about our new situation.
A few days later I also arrived in Tserovani, where everything was the same: houses and streets with unknown neighbours. I could not believe I was in this place where once there were fields of poppies. I thought that I would never be able to find home again, never remember my own street. I wanted to escape from this black and white world.
But at the same time I remembered clearly the moment when, while leaving Akhalgori, we met Russian tanks accidentally. They had blocked the road, and I thought that that was the end. I closed my eyes and waited for things to happen. That was a terrible moment. Thank god we left our homeland peacefully, but we left with guns aimed at us. This situation forced me to adjust to a new reality.
I clearly remember that my whole family celebrated New Year together in Tserovani. It was the most cold, formal and sad celebration that I have ever had in my life. However, as the years passed in my new home I have felt family, warmth, and unity again. I am trying to see more positives and become more thankful to God. I am trying to feel the importance of peace and freedom. As never before, I became stronger, more motivated and purposeful.
It's already been 10 years, but it seems like yesterday. Bombs, tanks, the faces of desperate people, tearful children, burnt and abandoned houses that lost their life and soul, dead people and stories. We remember it, because nothing can help us to forget the pain, and we relive it. The word refugee is associated with war, death, seized houses, suffering, and pain. But there are sweet memories behind it - our stories and childhoods that stay forever in our heart.
Yes, I am a “child of war” too. I even became a refugee a few months before I was born during the 1991 war in Tskhinvali. My family became IDPs in the 90s. I was raised in Tbilisi. For the first time at the age of six, I went to visit beautiful Znauri, my family’s village in the occupied region of Tskhinvali. The times when my family and I were able to visit the house in Znauri were my happiest times, the best memories of every day, minute and second. However, after the war in 2008 no one was allowed to cross the occupation line into the Tskhinvali region. Being unable to visit Znauri brought me back to my childhood and made me dream about my village again. The small house sunk in beautiful nature, the smell of other antiquities, the other history, and the other world. It was part of my life that was taken away in just one day.
My story of the settlement in Tserovani is slightly different from the other inhabitants. Each time I passed by the settlement I thought that life in this place would not be possible and nobody could be able to live there. I thought I would only be able to work and progress in Tbilisi. But fate brought me to Tserovani. I married a man from Tserovani and moved there to start a family in 2011. During the first days it was hard for me to recognize houses, and I could not go to the store without knowing which street was which. Every time I walked outside, I saw my own childhood in the eyes of the children who had experienced war, and on the faces of adults as well - my parents' gaze and desire to return to their homes.
Soon I realized that life is not as monotonous in Tserovani as it looks from the highway. Most importantly I realized that I could do many things without living in Tbilisi. A one-month free course in Ikorta was announced, and of course without thinking too much, I applied right away. My interest and willingness to learn brought me the desired result. I've been a member of Ikorta's family for about a year now. I am happy because this is the job I was dreaming about, I can definitely say that. The hours spent in the enterprise are pleasant. This job is not about income for me; it's more about relaxing and art-therapy, forgetting all the bad things around you. During the process of working on silver, you are in your own world; you call your muse and create a piece of art in order to relive forgotten history and memories.
Ikorta gives me the opportunity to continue life with the beautiful memories of the past and remind everyone about our history and pain.