Celebrating Sanctuary

Dissident artists find freedom of expression in Ithaca. 

By Kerry Barger ’11

In 2006, Irakli Kakabadze and his wife, Anna Dolidze, who was pregnant at the time, fled their home country of Georgia after receiving anonymous death threats. Kakabadze, an author, poet, playwright, and peace activist, had written a newspaper editorial calling for the government to apologize for its repressive actions during an ethnic conflict in the early 1990s. Subsequently, Kakabadze was jailed five times and beaten into a severe concussion for his beliefs and publications. Knowing his family’s safety was at stake, he escaped to the United States, where he currently lives in Ithaca as part of the City of Asylum network.

Throughout history, artists and activists like Kakabadze have been forced to seek refuge in other countries for fear of persecution by their governments. The City of Asylum organization provides exiled writers with sanctuary in U.S. communities so that they can express themselves without fear of censorship. The first City of Asylum program was established in Las Vegas in 2001. Ithaca is one of four U.S. cities that currently participates in the program. It has granted asylum to four artists since its inception, also in 2001.

 On November 6, 2010, the Ithaca City of Asylum program celebrated its 10th anniversary at the local Kitchen Theatre Company on West State Street. The event, which was free to the public, featured readings from more than two dozen writers, many from the Ithaca College Department of Writing.

“It’s a pleasure to have this program still standing strong after 10 years of service to the Ithaca community,” said chair and founding member Barbara Adams, IC associate professor of writing. “We’re proud to have so many gifted writers with us here today.”

Participants read short stories, poems, and personal essays in honor of Kakabadze and the three other writers who have sought asylum in Ithaca: Sarah Mkhonza, Swaziland; Reza Daneshvar, Iran; and Yi Ping, China.

Ithaca professor of writing Katharyn Howd Machan, who was named the first poet laureate of Tompkins County in 2002, was one of the first writers to read at the event. Cory Brown, who teaches creative writing and literary theory at the College, read his poems, “The Young and the Dead” and “It’s Late April and It’s Snowing.”

Kakabadze advocates resolving conflict nonviolently through the creative arts. He teaches a course called Peace-Building and Creative Arts at Cornell University; his wife, Anna, is a doctoral student at Cornell Law School.

“It is important not to be hopeless…not to be cynical,” Kakabadze told a Cornell Chronicle reporter, “because there is a chance always for peace.”

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