Commentary: A Grim Prospect for Armenians in Georgia

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

While Armenians are obsessed with Turkey’s ill intentions, next-door Christian Georgia is not any less of a danger to Armenia. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet empire, Georgia has been one of the most unstable republics, beset by unrest and shaken by coups and counter-coups from the Shevardnadze administration to Gamsakhurdia and today under Mikhael Saakashvili. But throughout that turmoil, all the Georgian leaders have treated Armenia and the Georgian- Armenian people with the same hostile policy.

Recently, when Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze was visiting Armenia, he was asked about the Javakhk situation and he had the nerve to respond that the name was not familiar to him. That is the region which is densely populated by Armenians and historically has always been part of Armenia. For the Georgian authorities, there is no Javakhk, therefore there is no Javakhk-Armenian problem, while repression mounts in the region and activists are jailed with trumped up charges. Vahakn Chakhalian, Georgian-Armenian political leader is rotting in jail with a 10-year sentence, while his French-Armenian lawyer is denied an entry visa to defend him.

The Armenian political group “Virk” has been denied recognition, therefore it operates “illegally” in Georgia to defend the trampled rights of the Armenians.

The Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II was planning to pay an official visit to Georgia in October, but the Patriarchate in Tbilisi asked him to postpone that visit to November, most probably because the Georgian authorities are not yet ready to discuss the thorny issue of the Armenian Church in Georgia.

The Armenian Church does not have official status in “democratic” Georgia, which is vying to become a NATO member. Recently the US ambassador in Tbilisi John Bass announced that Georgia’s chances of joining NATO are increasing.

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Georgia is the spoiled brat of the Caucasus, encouraged and patronized by succeeding US administrations. It is clear that the US will turn a deaf ear to the Armenian grievances in Georgia because broader power politics are at play.

For example, just last week, Hillary Clinton called again for the removal of Russian troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a show of solidarity with Tbilisi authorities.

She also stressed the US policy of supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity. Of course, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have declared independence and Clinton’s call amounts only to lip service to the Tbilisi authorities, who are encouraged to continue repressing the minorities in Georgia, which brought catastrophe to the country in the first place.

To add insult to injury, the Georgian authorities have taken another destabilizing measure by inviting Meshket Turks back into the country. During World War II, they were deported to Central Asia by Stalin, who considered them a fifth column in the country.

Deputy Minister of Reintegration Yelena Tertoradze has announced that the policy of repatriation is in place now and that Meshket Turks can return to their former homeland as early as next January.

The target area of resettlement is Javakhk, which will certainly create an explosive situation.

That is also the intention of the Georgian authorities with the encouragement of Turkey and Azerbaijan.

There is already a large Azeri community in Georgia. Ajaria, next to the Turkish border, has a Muslim population. The move further enhances the Islamization of Georgia, hence alienating that country further from Armenia.

Armenian authorities always soft-peddle Armenia-Georgia relations. They have found a face-saving formula, which also fits perfectly in the Georgian scheme of things. They always announce, “There are no problems between the two countries that cannot be solved.”

Yet no problem has been solved and there is no prospect either of solving the outstanding problems.

Armenia has no recourse, no leverage on Georgia to retaliate in kind. The only measure available to Armenia is the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which can anger further Georgian authorities. They, in turn, can choke Armenia’s economic life line with the outside world. Nicaragua and Venezuela recognized the independence of those regions to please Moscow and to displease the West. Yet they are immune to any reaction from Georgia.

Armenia is in a precarious situation to help Georgian-Armenians politically. It has been supporting them economically and culturally. But that is the extent of the help that Armenia can provide.

The Russians unilaterally withdrew their military base from Javakhk, even before the term was up, leaving the Armenians there vulnerable, both economically and physically. They may live to regret the move, but it is too late now.

The Georgian-Armenians are pinning their hopes on American- Armenian lobbying groups since Washington remains the only patron saint of the reckless president of Georgia. Unfortunately that will remain a remote hope because there is no full awareness of the dire situation in Javakhk and even if there was, the lobbying groups have limited resources to meet all the political challenges.

Thus, Georgia remains a major obstacle for the Armenians.