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PM appeals to public to choose between cultural heritage site and income of 3,000 families

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, December 22
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili appealed to the public to make a choice between an archeological monument that he considers to be a sterile, less important historical object, and the fate of 3,000 families in the Bolnisi municipality, all of which are linked to the gold mine operated by the company RMG Gold.

The launch of mining work by RMG Gold at the Sakdrisi -Kachagiani gold mine has already resulted in large-scale rallies. Sakdrisi, which might be the world’s oldest gold mine, is being defended by the Sakdrisi Protection Committee, composed of NGOs, environmentalists and ordinary citizens.

The Prime Minister recognized Sakdrisi as a “painful issue” and stresses that the status of its historical heritage was fairly removed from the site. He says that the status was removed by former President Mikheil Saakashvili as well.

“Our scientists have concluded that it is a historical monument, not part of our historical heritage. Even under the previous government the status was removed. Thus, I cannot understand why our opponents, including Saakashvili, are condemning our actions,” Gharibashvili said.

He stressed that a lot of money has been spent in the rehabilitation of Georgia’s cultural monuments under the Georgian Dream government. “Thus, accusations that we ignore Georgia’s cultural heritage are incorrect,” Gharibashvili said.

Gharibashvili stated that owing to large-scale speculation over the site, the company RMG Gold is on the verge of bankruptcy, which will potentially leave 3,000 families of Bolnisi region without income.

A statement concerning the issue has also been made by President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who stressed that any civilized country is obliged to take care of its cultural heritage.

“The Sakdrisi gold mine is one of Georgia’s ancient monuments belonging to the country’s cultural heritage. We ought to protect each sample expressing our identity and protect our identity in this way,” Margvelashvili said.

The president stated that the proceedings regarding the Sakdrisi mine case are in progress at the court.

“Everyone must wait until the process is concluded by the court, but mining activities at the site are unacceptable before that,” the president said.

The National Agency for Cultural heritage of Georgia gave permission to RMG Gold on December 13 to begin mining for gold in Sakdrisi.

For 10 years, Professor Thomas Stoellner, a leading specialist in mining archaeology from the University of Bochum, Germany, has been studying the archaeological record at Sakdrisi together with his Georgian colleagues.

"When we went to do the first survey we found hammer stones - typical mining tools - thousands of them," says Prof Stoellner, who believes that tunnels inside the hill date back 5,400 years.

"At once I realized the importance of the site. When we got the first carbon date values back, and they were around 3,000 BC, it was clear that this was an exciting find which had never occurred in pre-historic mining."