Author: Tigran Amiryan
Contemporary city is a layered memory of and about people who lived and keep living there. On the one hand present-day multi-ethnic capital of Georgia boasts with various peoples in the social, political and cultural life of the city. On the other hand, however, multi-ethnic and multicultural city serves as a means of preserving the memory about national and confessional communities.
A cast of reality, photograph of any city – Tbilisi being no exception- hides the polychromy and polyphony of the mosaic of rich and complex past.
Urban surface of Tbilisi, like skin, is dotted with healed scars as signs of mnemonic ways of (dis)remembering. Soviet past left massive lacunae by destroying ordinary people’s monuments – tombs of ethnic communities who lived in the city. Confessionally and ethnically different cemeteries are organically formed ensembles of citizens’ memory. In Soviet times, these cemeteries would often be destroyed to be substituted by such project constructs as parks, gardens, fountains, etc.
Despite this destructive power of Soviet reconstruction of urban space, Tbilisi today is home to the Cemetery of Kukia – an amazing site that unites the memory of peoples different in their national, religious, and social background. Here one can find tombstones with chiselled names of Georgians, Armenians, Poles, Jews, Czechs, Greeks Latvians, Italians, French, Germans, Assyrians, Russians, Ukrainians, Yazidies amongst others. Here lie both rich and poor, famous and undistinguished. Kukia was initially a cemetery of a few confessionally different communities yet over time it has lost clear boundaries becoming one territory of memory, a mosaic of different biographies of people who once lived in Tbilisi.
Like human memory, not only can the urban space of Tbilisi remember but also it can forget. The memory of a multicultural city is a glance cast upon the past. Just like we strain our memory not to forget the rich mosaic of cultures, languages, alphabets, so do we squint our eyes looking for inscriptions from afar. Human memory and urban memory change and weaken – like human eye this memory is subject to the consequences of short- and farsightedness.