Nationalists agitate for Samtskhe-Javakheti

Following the arrest of two ethnic Armenians in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of the Republic of Georgia, nationalist groups in Armenia plan to hold a demonstration outside the Georgian Embassy in Yerevan on Wednesday. While it is unlikely to be well attended, the activity of such nationalist groups has sharply increased since the short war between Georgia and Russia last August. Chances are that this is no coincidence.

Having openly considered the possibility to use the short conflict over South Ossetia to push for separation from Georgia, nationalist think tanks and analytical centers make no secret of their desire to frustrate good relations with Armenia’s neighbor and are more noticeable than ever before. The secretively funded Mitq Youth Analytical Center, for example, has a map of a "Greater Armenia" on its office wall with the silhouette of a soldier holding a rifle into the air.

Mitq is one of the organizers of Wednesday’s protest.

/PanARMENIAN.Net/ On the initiative of Mitq ananlitical center, Yerkir Union of Public Organizations on Repatriation and Settlement, Javakhk Expatriates’ Community and 20 Armenian NGOs, a protest action will be held in front of the Georgian Embassy in Armenia on Feb. 25. 

“We intend to demand that Georgian authorities release Armenian activists arrested in Samtskhe-Javakheti,” head of Mitq analytical center Edward Abrahamyan told a news conference today.

“These people were arrested for political reasons, being known by their pro Armenian activities,” Abrahamyan said.

Another organization, the Noravank Foundation, also seems more interested in the deterioration of Armenian-Georgian relations rather than in their improvement.  

Noravank Foundation expert Tamara Vardanyan emphasized that Georgia has always pursued anti-Armenian policy.

“Armenians are not mentioned in Georgian text books,” she said, adding that the Georgian authorities have always viewed Armenians an obstacle to consolidation of Georgian ethnos.

More respected and internationally known analysts such as Swiss-Armenian Vicken Cheterian, however, appear to disagree.and say reforms are under way.

A workshop held in November for 30-odd history teachers, textbook authors, and ministry and international experts concluded that the Georgian Education Ministry is moving forward in its efforts to change the way history is taught. At the event, organized by the European history educators’ association EuroClio, Georgian educators presented their ongoing project to develop new textbooks with the aim of giving more space to minorities in the official version of history presented to youngsters from majority and minority linguistic communities.


One thing is clear: In spite of all the difficulties fulfilling the promises of the Rose Revolution, in a turbulent political climate following the catastrophic August war, Georgian education authorities and many educators continue to press for change.

But as one Tbilisi-based foreign journalist said in an email to me today, perhaps the intent of nationalists in Armenia isn’t quite what it seems at first glance.

[…] if I were Russia I’d put my hand into whipping up such sentiments within Armenia. And leave Javakheti itself on the back burner. It serves a nice double purpose, conceivably — keep things off-balance about Karabakh, and prompt Armenians to cling to Russia more for security by having people now go anti-Georgian AND anti-Turk.  Whipping up actual action within Javakheti sounds like a pretty tall order. I mean, I can’t say that [deleted] found the situation was exactly boiling over with rage about "demographic terror," but maybe for these organizations (or "the hand"), it doesn’t even need to be. They can let Javakheti lie for now. That is, if their REAL focus is on domestic opinion within Armenia, and not on Javakheti itself. 

Moreover, even with the Georgian Foreign Minister in Armenia, the same local news agencies which constantly quote organizations such as Mitq neglect to report his words spoken in Yerevan.Thankfully, however, others did

RFE/RL reports that Vashadze and Nalbandian discussed “a number of issues preoccupying Georgia’s Armenian community.” That included the tense situation in Georgia’s Armenian-populated Javakheti region.

“There is no problem of Javakheti, there is a socioeconomic problem in Javakheti, as well as other regions of Georgia,” Vashadze said at an ensuing news conference with Nalbandian. He insisted that the administration of President Mikheil Saakashvili has done a lot to alleviate the plight of the impoverished region’s population in recent years.

“If somebody in Armenia thinks that people are better off in [Georgia’s second largest city of] Kutaisi than in Samtskhe-Javakheti, then they are deeply deluded,” Vashadze said. “I am ready to pay for your trip and take you [to Georgia] and show that.”

Nevertheless, concerns that nationalists might be seeking to provoke confrontation with Tbilisi exist, even if that would mean total isolation and economic collapse for Armenia. 

If the government of Armenia allows the conflict to break out in the Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javaheti, populated by Armenians, and Karabakh scenario to be repeated, this will become political and economic suicide for Yerevan.

“Any military or political activity of Armenia in the Armenian-populated Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javaheti will be equivalent to economic death of Yerevan,” Georgian political scientist on the problems of Caucasus, Mamuka Areshidze, told TrendNews.


However, Russian expert predicts separation of Samtskhe-Javakheti in the future and believes that this will depend on the influence of third force. 

Political scientist Mikhail Alexandrov believes that the Armenians have not yet been put forward demands to secede, but if the authorities of Georgia will not try to find a compromise with the Armenians of Javakheti there is a requirement of office.

Russia may support the Armenians in Samtsakh-Javakhetia region. But this support will be aimed to destabilize the situation in Caucasus. “Russia still has no strategy on what is benefit for Russia. To raise or maintain such steps through third hands is deadly dangerous,” Alexandrov said to Trend News.

However, recent reports which warn of a second Russian-Georgian war also explain why Russia might well be behind part of the activity in Armenian nationalist circles.

The first war — which Felgenhauer predicted long before its onset — was seen as recompense for Russia’s antipathy toward Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his determined pursuit of NATO membership. But Felgenhauer says there is more to Moscow’s long-term strategy: "[Russia] may not like Saakashvili, we may not like NATO, but there is also another thing: Armenia is cut off; [Russian] troops in Armenia are cut off. There’s no transit by land. That means technology cannot be taken out of there for repairs or modernization, and technology cannot be taken in, other than by air. Such a situation cannot last long."

The Armenian bases are important to Moscow, Felgenhauer argues, as a symbol of Russian ambitions in the South Caucasus. Armenia is a close Russian ally, but its isolation could cause Yerevan to "start looking the other way," Felgenhauer says. Russia’s subjugation of Georgia would remove that threat, and would in turn isolate Azerbaijan, which is currently resisting Russia and putting out feelers to the EU and the United States.

A recent article by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) already links the arrest of the two ethnic Armenian activists in Javakheti to the Russian FSB (former KGB).

The lawyer for the two arrested ethnic Armenians, Nino Andriashvili, said they were accused of cooperating with a Belarus-based organisation allegedly set up by Russia’s Federal Security Service, FSB, called the Association for Legal Assistance to the Population, ALAP.


“We all joked that this organisation reminded us of the FSB. And we were very surprised when we found out that they intended to spend so much money,” said the head of one NGO in Samtskhe-Javakheti, who asked to remain anonymous out of concerns that the criminal case might expand to take in other public figures.

“We were told that the possible projects were unlimited, and the money also. I have worked for many years in the non-governmental sector. When has there ever been money like that?”

The ALAP office in central Tbilisi closed a month ago. The telephones were disconnected, and they have not replied to emails.

Regardless, while nationalist elements in Armenia continue to supply sympathetic journalists with subjective and often inaccurate information, the rights of national and religious minorities in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia should be closely monitored by international bodies such as the Council of Europe.

In regions prone to ethnic nationalism and violence such as the South Caucasus, the consequences of not doing so are very dangerous indeed.