Georgia builds 'tourist paradise' near conflict zone

The roar of machinery mingles with the cries of gulls hovering over the beach as swarms of construction workers build a huge new tourist resort - on the edge of a conflict zone.

The village of Anaklia lies in a Black Sea coastal region which saw fighting with separatist militiamen less than three years ago, and Georgia is building the multi-million-dollar resort there in the hope of luring holidaymakers to the frontier of the rebel-held territory of Abkhazia.

Russian troops who guard the disputed borders of Abkhazia are stationed just across the river from Anaklia, but despite the security concerns, Georgia's larger-than-life President Mikheil Saakashvili has defended the grand scheme as a "response to occupation and destruction with construction and development".

This is Saakashvili's latest pet project after the high-profile reconstruction of Georgian towns like Batumi and Sighnaghi, and he brought in one of his favourite architects, Spaniard Alberto Domingo, to transform Anaklia's landscape.

Domingo has reshaped the beach, built a new seafront promenade, turned a large wetland area into a big public park and designed a 555-metre-(yard)-long pedestrian footbridge that will leap across the mouth of the Inguri river.

This summer, a new airport will also allow sunbathers to fly directly from the Black Sea shore to the snow-capped mountains of nearby Svaneti to ski.

The construction of the bridge, two imposing hotels, a yacht club and several cafes is due to be completed by June 2011.

But this is just the beginning, said the head of Georgia's Investment Agency, Keti Bochorishvili, and "even more ambitious projects" are to follow.

The government has offered investors a package of attractive bonuses, such as nearly four hectares of seaside land free and a tax waiver for 15 years, which has already attracted interest from business groups from the US, China, India, Turkey, Israel and Ukraine as well as from local companies.

Bochorishvili said the project would help to attract much-needed foreign investment, boosting the economy and creating new jobs.

In Anaklia, just as in the rest of Georgia, high unemployment is a burning issue, and locals were understandably delighted by the prospect.

"Anaklia was a godforsaken corner and now it is becoming so beautiful. There will be tourists from all over the world and new jobs for us. What else we could dream about?" said 32-year-old Anaklia resident Raul Shelia.

President Saakashvili's opponents, however, described the project as a "sham without substance".

"A resort cannot exist near a conflict zone," said Levan Berdzenishvili, one of the leaders of the opposition Republican Party.

"It is an unimaginable waste of energy, time and public funds."

The Anaklia resort complex is clearly intended to be politically symbolic.

The government believes that it will help to show people in impoverished Abkhazia that life would be better within an economically-successful Georgian state rather than in an isolated breakaway enclave which Tbilisi describes as territory "occupied" by the Russian troops stationed there.

"Of course, this touristic project fits our soft power approach towards the occupied territories," Saakashvili said.

"It is a long term approach obviously that finally will allow the peaceful reintegration of all Georgian regions."

But officials in Abkhazia argue that Georgia has been strangling the region with an economic blockade for many years, and that Saakashvili's project is simply political posturing.

"The Georgian president is only working for populism and not for the real benefit of people living in Georgia," said the foreign minister in the Abkhaz rebel government, Maxim Gunjia.

Backed by Russia, Abkhaz separatists waged a civil war with Georgian forces in the 1990s that killed several thousand people and drove 250,000 more, mostly ethnic Georgians, out of the region.

In the aftermath of the brief war between Georgia and Russia in 2008 over Abkhazia and another separatist province, South Ossetia, the Kremlin recognised both regions as independent states.

Instead of fighting again, Saakashvili says he now wants to make a peaceful appeal for unity to those living on the other side of what he calls the new "Berlin Wall" - the disputed frontline which lies so close to his new tourist hotspot of Anaklia.

"We are telling our fellow citizens beyond this irrational Berlin Wall erected on a sandy beach that we will all be part one day of the same future," he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee