On a sweltering mid-summer afternoon in Marneuli, 40 km from the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the small park in front of the town’s cultural centre is nearly deserted.
A freshly-painted merry-go-round and child-sized electric cars stand idle as families shelter indoors from the oppressive heat of daytime.
In the centre of the park stands a grey statue on a shiny black plinth. It shows a half-length figure, clutching a book in one hand and leaning on a ledge with the other with his chin lifted slightly, as if addressing followers. At the base of the plinth, several bright red plastic tulips lie heaped in a small pile.
This unimposing monument to Nariman Narimanov – a 19th century ethnic Azerbaijani writer, teacher and later Bolshevik – is at the heart of an ongoing controversy that has spotlighted deep-rooted ethnic and political tensions.