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Samtskhe-Javakheti: The next Nagorno Karabakh?

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Blockaded by Azerbaijan and Turkey, and still effectively at war with the former over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia risks fast becoming isolated in a region where the democratization process and the situation with human rights protection is of serious concern. For ethnic nationalists in the South Caucasus, however, such an environment is one to be welcomed. This can particularly be seen in terms of increased activity from nationalist elements in all three republics and especially with the emergence of organizations such as the Mitq Youth Analytical Center in Armenia.

With a well-equipped and relatively costly office situated off Republic Square, the posters on their office walls makes no secret of goals to promote separatism in Georgia and to work against any hopes of a concessionary peace deal with Azerbaijan. Already allegedly attacked by Azeri hackers, the Mitq website is a collection of news items and articles written to achieve those aims, but has so far failed to garner a significant number of readers in a country where nearly all information is seen as propaganda.

In December this writer visited Mitq's office with a film crew from Al Jazeera English and questions regarding their funding were left unanswered by the organization's head, Eduard Abrahamyan, who only said that it comes "from personal resources." Other sources in Yerevan allege that Mitq's financing comes from an influential member of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh War Veterans. Regardless, if one unresolved war with Azerbaijan and two closed borders weren't enough, Mitq has now set its sights on Georgia.

True, the rights and situation of ethnic Armenians living in the country's Samtskhe-Javakheti region have been of concern for some time, but many observers also believe that Russia is seeking to provoke direct confrontation with Tbilisi in order to destabilize the situation and bring about the country's disintegration. In particular, talk of the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks to the predominantly Armenian populated region is of concern to many, and it is this issue that Mitq appears to be seeking to exploit.

/PanARMENIAN.Net/ Samtskhe-Javakhk-Tsalka is a historical region, which has a profound influence on political development of the Transcaucasia, says a statement issued by Mitq analytical center.


We call on the Georgian authorities to understand that Armenia's blockade any anti-Armenian program imposed by Azerbaijan and Turkey will kill Georgia and lead to unpredictable consequences," says the statement obtained by PanARMENIAN.Net.

However, what the organization fails to acknowledge is that the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks is not a plan local design, but rather a demand from the Council of Europe that Georgia is obliged to fulfill as part of its agreement on accession to the international human rights and democracy body. Successive Georgian governments, including that of the current president, Mikhael Saakashvili, have long delayed fulfillment of the obligation precisely because of Armenian and Georgian concerns, as EurasiaNet detailed.

In 1944, tens of thousands of Meskhetian Turks were deported en masse by Stalin from the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of southwest Georgia to Central Asia for alleged security reasons. In 1989, a similar number fled Uzbekistan after being targeted during an outbreak of violence in the Ferghana Valley. Many have since received refugee status and have immigrated to the West. Those who remain in Central Asia tend to suffer from discrimination, according to international human rights monitoring.


[...] For parliamentarian Zviad Dzidziguri of the Conservative Party, which has opposed the bill, the lack of clarity on this count poses a threat to national security. "[T]his is treacherous because the bill doesn't envisage possible complications if, say, 100,000 repatriates want Georgian citizenship," he said on Imedi television on June 14.


Fellow Conservative Party parliamentarian Kakha Kuklava worries that the return of Meskhetian Turks to Samtskhe-Javakheti, a predominantly ethnic Armenian region that borders on Turkey, risks triggering a fresh outbreak of regional separatism. Local tensions ran high in the early 1990s when Meskhetian Turks who identified themselves as ethnic Georgians returned to the region.

"We have a bad experience with minorities in Georgia," said Kuklava. "After independence, Russia used our minorities against us [in the breakaway pro-Russia regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia] and they plan to make another conflict in Javakheti."


Meanwhile, in the deportees' homeland itself, feelings are mixed. Former Samstkhe-Javakheti Deputy Governor Armen Armirkhanian commented that the local Armenian population is not particularly eager to live with a people with whom they share many historical differences, yet noted that the feeling is not universal.

Meanwhile, Georgian and Turkish analysts also acknowledge that repatriation would create significant problems for the country and say that Tbilisi would be better to encourage their settlement throughout Georgia rather than in the specific location of Samtskhe-Javaketi. Pan-Armenian.Net quotes the two as saying that their return would create additional separatist fears in addition to those being promoted by Russian and Armenian nationalist groups.

/PanARMENIAN.Net/ Georgia won't allow compact settlement of Meskhetian Turks in Samtskhe-Javakhk-Tsalka to avoid tensions in the Armenian-Georgian relations and threats to the territorial integrity of the country, a Georgian expert said.


For his part, Turkish expert Ufguk Tavkul remarked that the Georgian authorities, fearing for the country's territorial integrity, will by all means prevent return of Meskhetian Turks. "Given the demographic growth of the repatriates may, they could claim autonomy," he said, Trend Azeri news agency reports.

But as two ethnic Armenians in Javakheti are detained on charges of espionage and forming an armed militant organization in the region, Mitq's Abrahamyan continues to play the nationalist card by warning of a second Armenian Genocide. The same news site carries a report quoting a former Armenian Ambassador who not only lays claim to the region, but potentially risks encouraging a new armed conflict.

/PanARMENIAN.Net/ Present-day Georgia has no right to Javakhk, for no agreement on state border was signed between Armenia and Georgia after the war in 1918, said Ara Papyan, head of Modus Vivendi center, historian and former Armenian Ambassador to Canada.

Mitq's Abrahamyan is even more outspoken.

[...] Under the circumstances, Armenia should take the only outlet to the Black Sea under its political, economic and public control," Abrahamyan said.

As many Georgians are concerned how best to repatriate the Meskhetian Turks without creating additional ethnic problems, the Armenian media and civil society continues to avoid objectively analyzing the situation. And as Armenian nationalists openly boast that "after Karabakh, Javakhk is next," more diplomatic initiatives and sensitive handling by both Yerevan and Tbilisi seems more necessary than ever.


Onnik Krikorian | February 5, 2009 9:41 PM | Reply

Georgia Accused of Bullying Ethnic Armenians

Some Yerevan politicians say arrest of Armenian activists on espionage charges is attempt to intimidate the minority. Politicians in Armenia have been angered by the arrest in Georgia late last month of two ethnic Armenians charged with spying for Russia’s secret services. …
Georgian newspapers have barely mentioned the affair […].

Some Armenian politicians, however, have been furious and said the arrests were an attempt to intimidate their ethnic kin in Georgia.

Georgia’s state minister for re-integration Temur Lakobashvili said Russia had intensified espionage activities in the country since the August war over South Ossetia.


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.

Andriashvili said the two men had admitted being involved in espionage, but denied a secondary charge of planning to create a private army. She said the investigators had a video of the two men discussing the creation of such an army with the local head of ALAP, but that they had not thought he was being serious.


Other NGOs in the region also filled in the forms, though they realised the questions were unusual.

“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.


Onnik Krikorian | February 12, 2009 8:14 PM | Reply


Georgia’s arrest of two ethnic Armenians on espionage charges is threatening to increase tensions in the country’s predominately ethnic Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Although aspects of the case remain unclear -- including an alleged confession -- the arrests have triggered public outrage in neighboring Armenia. Meanwhile in Georgia, many suspect that Russia is somehow involved.


According to Andriashvili, the government’s case against Minasian and Hakopjanian focuses on a questionnaire the two men were allegedly paid to fill out by a Belarus-based non-governmental organization. Little is known about the organization, called the Association for Legal Assistance to the Population (ALAP). Its website is not functioning and there is no listing for an office in Georgia.


The Georgian Interior Ministry’s Khizanishvili would not comment on claims that the government’s investigation focuses on the ALAP, adding that he did not know anything about the group.


Parliamentarian Tamaz Petriashvili, who represents Akhaltsikhe in Georgia’s National Assembly, as well as an acquaintance of Minasian, described the arrests as a "surprise."


Petriashvili suspected that "some people" -- a veiled reference to Russia -- want to create conflict in Samtskhe-Javakheti. Certain groups in the region "are financed as if from Yerevan, but that is not from Yerevan [...]


A representative of the Armenian Foreign Ministry said that the government in Yerevan was monitoring the situation concerning Minasian and Hakopjanian’s arrest. "We watch the developments and are in a continuous daily contact on various levels" with the Georgian government, commented spokesperson Tigran Balaian.


But while Samtskhe-Javakheti is known for its strong Armenian ties, such cultural influences appear slight in Akhaltsikhe, where store signboards are all in Georgian. Georgian town residents interviewed had little or no knowledge of the arrests.

According to Eduard Ayvazian, a computer instructor at Minasian’s center, prior to the arrests, no real tension existed between the town’s Georgian and Armenian communities.

"There is discrimination here, but not strong discrimination," Ayvazian said. "The authorities are afraid that a conflict can start here. But I believe they are moving in the wrong direction with these types of arrests."



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