August 26, 2008
Couple returning to war-torn Georgia
Homer grads have lived in the eastern European country over the past nine years
Photo provided by Steven Denkenberger
Amy and Steven Denkenberger stand on a balcony in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in summer 2007. The couple returned to Homer three weeks ago to visit family, a week before conflict broke out between the former soviet country and Russia. They have lived in worked in Georgia for the past nine years.
Despite the recent conflict and turmoil in Georgia, Steven and Amy Denkenberger plan on returning to the country next week to resume their lives in the former Soviet republic.
Not returning isn’t an option for the couple, who have lived in the country the past nine years.
“That’s our home ... Many things are different in Georgia, but we love (the country) so much,” Steven said.
The couple were in the middle of buying a house in the country when they first learned of the conflict that erupted Aug. 7. Steven had called a business partner in Georgia whom Steven was going to have sign for the house.
The associate asked if he had seen the TV.
Since then they have followed the daily updates on the situation.
“Thankfully all our friends are accounted for,” Denkenberger said.
Steven and Amy, both graduates of Homer High School, returned from the country of Georgia for a visit to the United States one week before the current conflict broke out between Georgia and Russia.
Once a small nation few could point to on a globe, Georgia has become a center of global politics since disputes between Russia and Georgia over the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke out in military conflict.
The Denkenberger family of Steven and Amy and their two daughters, Natasha and Zoe, live in the capital city of Tbilisi and returned to visit the United States three weeks ago. They said they usually return to the United States for Christmas, and had not been back to America during the summer for several years.
Steven Denkenberger works for an architectural group in Georgia. The firm has about 30 employees, with Denkenberger being the only non-Georgian. He said as far as he knows, no buildings the company has been working on were affected by the events over the past couple of weeks, as most of the fighting took place in South Ossetia.
Though Georgia has been impacted by the events, Steven and Amy Denkenberger said so far they expect their lives and jobs to continue on as normal.
“We have several large clients. One Georgian developer, he said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t stop working,’” Steven said.
He added that the Bank of Georgia, another client, also told his firm to continue work on current projects. Steven said Georgians are hard working and will continue on despite shakeups of the last two weeks. “I wonder if it’s almost seen as a test.”
Amy said that through friends she has heard there is less food available on market shelves in Georgia, and she expects that with the refugee situation there to be some infrastructure problems. But she noted those issues should get resolved with Russia withdrawing troops and refugees returning to their homes.
Amy also said that she had read that some travel for Americans outside Tbilisi will have greater restrictions.
Steven said they knew no one first-hand who had been hurt in the conflict but described the Georgian community as close-knit, and that some employees he worked with had relatives in Gori, a city occupied by Russia during the fighting. But he added many Georgians have family homes in the countryside and have been able to leave the cities until the situation settles.
Amy Denkenberger works for Chemonics, an international development consulting company, and also works through a contractor for the United States Academy for International Development, a group that, according to its Web site, is an independent federal government agency that receives foreign policy guidance from the secretary of state. Her current job is working for legal reform in Georgia to improve the business environment.
The issues that created the conflict are nothing new according to the Denkenbergers, and Amy and Steven first moved to Georgia after Amy got a job providing relief for the country’s refugees after civil wars involving the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“Tensions, issues between its relationship have always been there,” for the nine years the Denkenbergers have lived in Georgia, Steven said.
Recently they had noticed enough of a change in the atmosphere of the country that they and their children carry security cards when going out that provide information on their backgrounds and nationality.
Steven said the family will return to Georgia next Tuesday. Americans were only allowed back into Georgia on Saturday after previously being evacuated during the conflict.
While Amy said she could not comment on the political situation due to her job, Steven sympathized with Georgia.
“Russia has used every available measure to extend power,” Steven said, noting that Russia had in the past cut off fuel and energy supplies until supply lines were reworked to go through other countries.
Russia has also imposed food embargoes, and banned flights between the two countries.
He did not feel he could make any definitive statements on the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but they did want to be independent, under control of neither Georgia nor Russia. Russia has pledged its support for independence in each region.
Steven said the family has lived in Georgia before and after the Rose Revolution, a movement in 2003 during which Georgians protested what was believed to be a rigged election, a new government was instituted. Since the revolution Steven said the government is comprised of young, energetic leaders looking for Western-style reforms.
“It’s the ability of the U.S. to relate to Georgian character,” Steven said, stressing Georgians’ similarities to Americans. “They’re creating a country out of the ashes of the Soviet Union.”
Steven did not think the United States’ response to war would create resentment in Georgians, and that the United States’ current effort to deliver support to the region has helped create a buffer between the two opposing sides.
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