MINELRES: Fwd: Caucaz.com: No way out for the Javakhetian Armenians

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No way out for the Javakhetian Armenians

Article published in 21/12/2005 Issue

By Albertine GIAN in Akhalkalaki

They request the intervention of the European Union and international
human rights bodies as mediators in their conflict with the central
Georgian government. In Javakhetia, where the majority of the population
is Armenian, the identity crisis is at the heart of the problem.

Vahag Tchakhalian, aged 23, is the president of the ‘Armenian Youth
Sports and Culture Union’. In March 2005, he founded the alliance of
village and town representatives and various organisation leaders from
the Samtskhe-Javakhetia region, in a movement called ‘United Javakhk’.

The main aims of this organisation are the preservation of the Armenian
community through the safeguard of its secular culture, its unique
language and the apostolic Church, as well as the defence of the rights
of Javakhetian Armenians and the socio-economic development of the
region.

Following the example of the Samtskhe-Javakhetia administrative
organisation, “United Javakhk” seeks regional autonomy. It is the only
judicial solution to be backed by most, and has the aim of defending the
Armenian community against Georgian assimilatory nationalism and against
the danger of increased Turkish presence in Javakhetia.

Javakhetia’s economic slump also needs to be urgently addressed in order
to stop the emigration of its people to Russia. The stakes are high, on
demographic, cultural, economic and social agendas. It is a battle on
all fronts that the Javakhetia Armenians must wage alone. The future
looks bleak. Here’s why.


What kind of difficulties do the Armenians in Javakhetia have to face?

In 1995, the Georgian authorities artificially divided areas with a
majority of Armenian people into various administrative entities. Thus,
the district of Tsalka, with a high population of Armenians, belongs to
the Kvemo-Kartli province. On the other hand, the district of Borjomi,
with a high population of Georgians and with no relation whatsoever with
the Javakhk, was made part of Samtskhe-Javakhetia province, whose other
districts are Adigeni, Akhalkalaki, Akhaltsikhe, Aspindza and
Ninotsminda. As a consequence, the percentage of Armenian and Georgian
population in the region is 60% and 40% respectively.

In public bodies, the percentage of Armenian personnel is infinitely
lower and does not correspond to the higher percentage of the Armenian
population. Thus, within the administration of the province, only two in
every twenty employees are Armenian. Moreover, in comparison with other
regions of Georgia, Javakhetia is in a very difficult socio-economic
situation. In this part of the country, natural obstacles (e.g.
difficult climate, low temperatures, mountainous terrain, etc.) do not
play a role as major as other more subjective factors, such as the
calculated “negligence” of Georgian authorities with regard to the
problems in the region (e.g. the appalling state of the roads, customs
barriers, etc.) and the smothering of a certain number of Armenian
entrepreneurial initiatives.

Up until recently, when electricity generated in Armenia was not yet up
and running, power cuts in the Javakhetia region were commonplace. The
power line coming from Armenia that supplies the region’s electricity
has still not been legalised by the Georgian government. Unemployment
rates in that region reach 100%, pushing unemployed men to emigrate to
Russia. This happened in the past with the dissolution of the USSR, when
around 25% of the region’s population emigrated. The Georgian
authorities have cut government help for the creation of new local jobs
to a minimum.

Ever since the Soviet period and especially since independence, the many
governments that succeeded each other in Georgia have pursued this
political direction, with the slogan “Georgia belongs to Georgians”. In
Samtskhe-Javakhetia, it is obvious that the government wishes to totally
dislodge the Armenians in the region and to destroy their culture. To
this end, they use all possible means, backed by the police forces. More
violent and methodical approaches have been adopted ever since the ‘Rose
Revolution’ and the accession to power of Mikhael Saakashvili.

Four recent events are evidence of this. In June 2005, the director of
the only Armenian school in Akhaltsikhe, Liouba Matevossian, was fired.
Robert Mouradian, who is not fluent in Armenian and who has a bad
reputation, was named in her stead. Following the orders of Youri
Pogossov, the current leader of home affairs in the Akhalkalaki
district, the police of Akhaltsikhe resorted to violence when school
children and their parents demonstrated against the authorities’
arbitrary decision in this matter. 

Another event happened in June 2005. Members of the special intervention
group of the Georgian Interior Ministry in the Tsalka district stopped
the car of 26-year-old Vladimir Nazaretian. When he protested, the
special forces opened fire. Vladimir was hit in the chest and in the
leg.

On August 13th, a group of Georgian ecclesiasts and students, escorted
by the police forces of the region, went to the Armenian village of
Samsar. They announced that a political decision had been taken in the
highest circles regarding the construction of a Georgian monastery near
the village, which already boasts an 11th century Armenian church. On
August 16th, after three days of unsuccessful negotiation, the villagers
were forced to throw out the disruptors.

The last events happened when members of the Interior Ministry, acting
on the orders of the Ministry, opened fire on the unarmed inhabitants of
Akhalkalaki who were demonstrating against the unfounded closure of
several shops in their town.


Are you satisfied with the representatives of the Javakhetia region in
the Georgian parliament?

No. The representatives of the Javakhetia region are extremely passive
with regard to the defence of the rights of the Armenian community.
Following the lead of the Armenian authorities, they do not see any
political problems within Javakhetia. During debates in the Georgian
parliament regarding the more serious problems faced by the regions and
national minorities, the position of the Armenian delegates is contrary
to the interests of the Armenian community. 

For example, when the parliament debated the question of the suppression
of property tax, an essential part of the regional budget which is not
put into the state’s coffers, not one of the Armenian delegates spoke
out against that decision. Similarly, when the Georgian parliament
forcefully ratified the convention for the protection of national
minorities, without having adopted the 10th and 11th articles which
state that national minorities may rightfully use their native tongue,
not a single one of the five delegates spoke out against the exclusion
of these essential articles.


What do you think of the construction of a railway line linking the
towns of Kars, Akhalkalaki and Baku?

The people in Javakhetia disapprove of this project. In the first place,
if it did happen, the number of Turks in the region would rise
dramatically. With this in mind, I would like to state the following
fact, which is not widely known. Between 1918 and 1920, during the
Turkish invasion following the genocide of Armenians in western Armenia,
the Turkish army massacred more than half of the Armenian population in
Samtskhe-Javakhetia, i.e. nearly 40,000 people. The authorities in the
independent republic of Georgia, not only failed to defend the Armenian
community in the region, but actually helped to kill the Armenians by
giving the order to shut the doors and preventing refugees from entering
the safety zones in the centre of Georgia. This is why an increased
presence in the region of Turks, the country which carried out the
genocide and which still refuses to recognise it, would be unacceptable
for the Armenians of Javakhetia. 

Secondly, carrying out this project could increase the immigration of
Meskhet Turks to Javakhetia. Turkey desires this, in spite of the fact
that Meskhet Turks were expelled from the Aspindza district, where
mainly Georgians live at present. Therefore, this project would directly
threaten the safety of the Armenian people. Bearing in mind what I said
previously, the Armenian community in Javakhetia would not allow the
project to go ahead. 


Did you take part in the forum held on 23 and 24 September in
Akhalkalaki, following which a resolution demanding autonomy for
Javakhetia was adopted by the majority of the organisations present?

Of course, but I was not able to sign the resolution. I took part,
albeit passively, in the forum during which the essential interests of
the Armenian community in Javakhetia were debated. Creating an
autonomous Armenian region, encompassing the areas of Akhaltsikhe,
Aspindza, Akhalkalaki, Ninotsminda and Tsalka, seems to be the only way
of ensuring the physical, demographic and cultural security of the
Armenian majority in the region.

Demanding the autonomy is not only supported by the Council of
Organisations of Samtskhe-Javakhetia, as the Georgian authorities would
have you believe, but also by the whole of the Armenian community in the
region. Within a multi-national Georgia, constructing a stable state is
only possible on the basis on a democratic federal model where all
citizens, no matter their nationality, would have equal opportunities to
preserve their national identity. But today, the Georgian political
elite are on a path of imperialistic chauvinism with Russo-Byzantine
tendencies, leaving national minorities with only the choice of
emigration or assimilation. 


What do you think of the offer made to both the secessionist republics
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Adjaria of a statute of autonomy
within Georgia?

If widespread autonomy can be given to 20,000 Ossetians under the
pressure of force, why should the same not be true for the 150,000
Armenians living in Javakhetia alone? The Georgian authorities do not
have the moral right to refuse the request of the Javakhetian Armenians.
Mainly because following the collapse of the USSR, during the last 14
years, when other national minorities took up arms against the Georgian
authorities, we were patient, in spite of the fact that we were the most
powerful community, the best organised and with the greatest number of
people. Even today, when we are faced with events such as those seen in
the Armenian community of Nakhitchevan, we are patient. But no one knows
how long our patience will last… 


Apart from Javakhetia, are there are other major Armenian communities in
Georgia?

Armenian populations can be found in Adjaria (before the collapse of the
USSR, there were 25,000 Armenians, now there are just 15,000). There is
a major community in Tbilisi, although their numbers have been halved
since 1991. In addition, Armenians live in just about every district in
Georgia and they are either partially or completely assimilated. For
example, catholic Armenians used to live in the district of Adigueni, in
the Oude village; now you will find ‘catholic Georgians’, a denomination
which was unknown until the 20th century. 


Following the retreat of Russian bases from Akhalkalaki, what role do
you think the Russians will play in Javakhetia in the future?

I would like to extend this question and not only touch on the influence
of Russia, but also that of other major powers. If, in Javakhetia,
political issues can begin to be solved with the support of the European
Union, if living conditions for the Armenian community in the region can
be gradually improved, if Armenians in Javakhetia feel that they have
the same rights and sense of dignity as Georgian citizens, then in these
circumstances, not a single government could fail to exert constructive
external pressure on the regional situation. But if all of these issues
continue as they are today, then exterior pressure could become worse.


Which solutions can you foresee for Javakhetia to overcome the
socio-political crisis that it is facing today?

When the Georgian and Armenian prime ministers met, Zourab Nogaideli,
the Georgian PM, declared that he did not need any help and that
socio-economic problems were being resolved. However, in the course of
the last six months, not a single job has been created at a local level.
In our opinion, the Georgian authorities are not the only ones who are
in a position to solve the socio-economic problems in the region. In
order to find solutions, it is necessary to encourage investment from
the Javakhetian Armenians currently living in Russia and Armenia and
also to attract resources from the Armenian diaspora.


Are the people in the region satisfied with the stance of the Armenian
government on Javakhetia? 

Armenian leaders believe that the tense atmosphere in
Samtskhe-Javakhetia can be explained by the socio-economic problems in
the region and cannot see any political issues.

I am convinced that the Armenian authorities have not been informed of
the widespread abuse of rights in the Armenian minority in Georgia.
However, in order to maintain stable relations with Georgia, they prefer
not to challenge it and therefore state there are no political problems
in Javakhetia. I believe that the Armenian authorities will be forced to
change their position very soon by pressure from those living in
Armenia, from the thousands of Javakhetians and from patriotic Armenian
supporters and those in the diaspora. It would be more sensible and
efficient to recognise the existence of the issues I have mentioned and
to suggest that the Georgian authorities accept the mediation of
international bodies skilled in defending human rights in order to solve
the numerous problems in Javakhetia.


(1) Region with a high population of Muslims (Azeri).
(2) Current president of Georgia, elected in January 2004 following the
resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze.

Interview published in France Armenie, edition dating from 1-15 December
2005. 
The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors. 

© CAUCAZ.COM | Article published in 21/12/2005 Issue | By Albertine GIAN

Copyright © 2006 Caucaz.com All rights
reserved

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