Tiflis Hamkari (union of Tbilisi caretakers) was founded in March 2005 by Alexander and Tsira Elisashvili. Its name was adopted from “Tiflis,” which only changed to “Tbilisi” fairly recently , in 1936 (I’m not really clear on the reason for this). “Amkari” (archaically, “hamkari”), was used historically to describe craftsmen’s guilds in Tbilisi. The word is of Persian origin, literally meaning joint action. Historic hamkari united artisans by craft, while Tiflis Hamkari seeks to unite residents by their love for the city. Their mission statement is as follows:
- Tbilisi as a city where urban historic and cultural heritage is protected
- A city where development and modernization are undertaken with respect to historical and cultural values, in accordance with European standards and active legislation
- A city that is governed by accountable, local authorities
- A city in which inhabitants are actively interested in and involved in urban development, particularly in the protection and preservation of Tbilisi’s unique, authentic urban environment and cultural heritage
- To support awareness for Tbilisi citizens regarding Tbilisi’s historic and cultural values, and their greater involvement in its maintenance
- To actively participate in the municipal decision-making process, and to carry out public monitoring to ensure that the protection of Tbilisi’s unique urban fabric is taken into consideration during the inevitable process of urban development and modernization
- The Culture Education Program, aimed at raising awareness by providing diverse information on the city to the broader public. One component is the library program, a series of multimedia publications about events, people, and buildings throughout Tbilisi history. Another is the map project, intended to provide both locals and tourists with high-quality self-guided walking tours of the historic districts.
- The Public Monitoring and Advocacy Program, the primary goal of which is to make municipal authorities more accountable and the decision-making process concerning urban development more transparent.
Problems that need to be addressed:
- The non-transparent and inaccessible decision-making process (for urban planning and heritage management)
- The passive attitude uninformed citizens; indifference towards our common living space and cultural historical heritage
The organization is distinguished by a high degree of self-mobilization and public activity on the part of the volunteers. It wasn’t until 2010 that the organization even received international funding–today, it continues to operate largely on local donations of time, labor, and money. As such, Tiflis Hamkari is a wonderful example of a locally-led NGO promoting the growth of civil society by uniting Tbilisians about a common grievance: urban planning, particularly where it affects historic districts, has been at best non-transparent and at worst destructive on several layers.
Some examples of their activity:
In 2006, the organization began to protest the possible re-naming of Leselidze Street, directed not only against this particular case, but against hurried and non-transparent decisionmaking related to street, square, and building names throughout the city.
In 2007, Hamkari began collecting historic signs from around the city, producing an exhibit that was displayed at the Tbilisi History Museum and added to the museum’s urban history collections.
Since 2010, the organization has protested the destruction of Gudiashvili Sqaure, one of the most picturesque assemblages of historic buildings in the historic Sololaki District.
In 2011, the organization field a case against the Ministry of Culture for the illegal de-listing and subsequent gutting of the Imeli building (formerly the Institute of Marxism and Leninism). This protest continues into 2012, with a threat of demolition in order to make way for a Kempinski luxury hotel in place of the historic building.
Unfortunately, Tiflis Hamkari does not yet have an active website, or much material in English. But you can follow their activity on facebook, and stay tuned for future developments.
Elisashvili, Alexander. “Role of Civil Society in Heritage Protection, Case: Tiflis Hamqari—Union of Tbilisi Caretakers.” International Conference: Community and Historic Environment 20-22 September 2011, Proceedings.