“Virk” Decries Exclusion of Armenia’s at Conference

AKHALKALAK (A-Info)–In a statement released today–the Georgia-based Virk party decried the exclusion of Armenian representation at an international conference devoted to Georgia’s Javakhk region–populated mostly by Armenia’s.

Titled "The Integration and Development of the Samtskhe-Javakheti Region," the conference was held in Tbilisi–the Georgian capital–on November 19. It was jointly organized by the Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner on National Minorities and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Rolf Ekeus–in Georgia for a three-day visit–participated in the conference. He was also scheduled to meet with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze–Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanidze–Minister of State Avtandil Jorbenadze–and other top officials.

Ekeus is scheduled to also visit Javakhk–which borders northern Armenia.

The Virk party–based primarily in Javakhk but operating throughout Georgia–has been consistently denied political-party status by the Georgian authorities. "Virk" is the historical Armenian term for Armenian-populated regions of Georgia.

The following is the full text of the Virk party’s statement–in translation: It would have been beneficial for all interested parties to afford us the opportunity of presenting our views at the international conference on the Samtskhe-Javakhk region of Georgia–held in Tbilisi on 19 November 2002.

That conference is symptomatic of the socioeconomic and political problems confronting the Armenian population of the Javakhk region and surrounding areas: The issues relating to the majority of the population of the region were discussed in the absence of representatives of that majority–and that has created an atmosphere of mistrust. We wish to therefore convey the position of the Virk political party–which the Georgian authorities have denied registration contrary to the laws of the Republic of Georgia and the principles of democracy and human rights:

a) The fundamental socioeconomic–cultural–and political problems in the Samtskhe-Javakhk region can be resolved only by addressing those problems head on and simultaneously; efforts to circumvent any of those problems will not result in the desired resolution.

b) Integration is not synonymous with assimilation–nor is autonomy with secession. In a democratic society–integration can be achieved only through participation. Policies and practices that pursue assimilation or artificial and forcible changes in demographic realities will only have the opposite effect. Integration requires that both the majority and the minority desire it and be willing to take steps toward each other.

There is no broad sociopolitical consensus in the country regarding the ethnic diversity of Georgia and its internal political and administrative systems. The 1995 constitution does not define the administrative structure of the country–while district-level self-government–in its practical application–does not meet democratic standards. In the Samtskhe-Javakhk region–because of discriminatory laws–the Armenian population is a minority in the district administration. There are no elected bodies on the regional level–and there is no legislative basis for the appointment of governors by presidential decree.

c) That the Samtskhe-Javakhk region has become a center of international attention for foreign and international economic and strategic interests should not be underestimated. The recent arrival of Chechen irregulars in the Samtskhe-Javakhk region only adds to the security concerns of the local Armenian population.

As an organization committed to operating within the Georgian political system and legal-constitutional framework–Virk is prepared to actively participate in the resolution of the fundamental socioeconomic–cultural–and political problems of the Samtskhe-Javakhk region.

Virk party

Akhalkalak–Georgia– 20 November 2002

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