Javakhk Armenians Deliver Strong Message to Council of Europe

Just as the Council of Europe’s Monitoring Committee was to convene on October 24 to review Georgia’s fulfillment of obligations and commitmen’s before the European body–Javakhk’s Council of Armenian Non-Governmental Organizations submitted a powerful memorandum to that committee outlining commitmen’s that Georgia–on becoming a Council of Europe member in April 1999–has failed to fulfill–namely those dealing with national minorities–local self governance–and autonomy.

Pointing to the resulting social and economic decay–they ask that Javakhk be fully integrated into the social–political–socioeconomic–and cultural lives of the country. The stress–however–that integration is not synonymous with assimilation–and that autonomy is a must for the struggling region.

The following is the full text of that Memorandum titled–"The Situation in The Samtskhe-Javakheti Region in Georgia And Georgia’s Obligations And Commitmen’s before The Council of Europe."

As you prepare to hold your next meeting in Georgia–we–the leaders of the Armenian nongovernmental organizations of the Samtskhe-Javakheti territory in Georgia–attaching great importance to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country–wish to bring to your attention the critical situation in Samtskhe-Javakheti–which if left unresolved–could have dire consequences for the population of the territory and for Georgia as a whole.

When joining the Council of Europe in 1999–the following were among the obligations and commitmen’s Georgia undertook:

a) to sign and ratify–within a year after its accession–the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages; b) to sign and ratify–within three years after its accession–the European Charter of Local Self-Government–[…] and in the meantime to apply the fundamental principles of [this] instrument; c) to enact–within two years after its accession–a legal framework determining the status of the autonomous territories and guaranteeing them broad autonomy–the exact terms of which are to be negotiated with the representatives of the territories concerned; d) to amend–within three years after its accession–the law on autonomy and local government to enable all the heads of councils to be elected instead of being appointed; e) to adopt–within two years after its accession–a law on minorities based on the principles of Assembly Recommendation 1201 (1993).

Five years after accession–Georgia has yet to take steps towards fulfilling the above mentioned commitmen’s and obligations. In fact–the process of fulfilling these commitmen’s before the Council of Europe has failed–and–inter alia–has made the situation in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region critical.

The 1995 Georgian constitution does not define the administrative structure of the country and in practice the district-level self-government does not match democratic standards. In the Samtskhe-Javakheti region–discriminatory laws and practices have left the Armenian population far less represented in the district administration. There are no elective bodies on the regional level and there is no legislative base for the institution of state commissioners appointed by presidential decrees. The present administrative structure and the method of governance do not take into account the specifics of the region and do not correspond to the needs of the population.

The system has long demonstrated that it is bankrupt and unfruitful. The Samtskhe-Javakheti region has actually been pushed out of the governing processes of the country.

The administrative governance of the region has been frustrated. At the local level–flagrant discrimination is practiced against the local Armenian population; in contrast to the rest of the country–in the Armenian populated areas of Samtskhe-Javakheti most sakrebulos (locally elected bodies) incorporate several villages–whereas each Georgian populated village has a separate sakrebulo–thus artificially increasing the Georgian presence on the district level.

These measures–policies and practices are in direct contradiction to the European Charter of Local Self-Government–which Georgia had undertaken to sign and ratify within three years after its accession and in the meantime to apply the fundamental principles of this instrument.

No short or long-term socio-economic programs to serve the interests of the population are implemented. The poverty and desperation have reached threatening levels. Educational and cultural conditions are unsatisfactory.

In the last ten months–we have conveyed our concerns and recommendations to the highest authorities in Georgia and to the (now former) Secretary General of the Council of Europe–but to no avail. All of them have failed to even acknowledge receipt of our written communications.

It is crucial to have the Samtskhe-Javakheti region fully integrated in the state–political–socioeconomic and cultural lives of the country. But integration is not synonymous to assimilation–neither is autonomy to secession. In a democratic society–integration can only be achieved through participation. Policies and practices pursuing assimilation or artificial and forceful change of demographic realities can only result in the opposite. Integration requires that both the majority and the minority have the desire for it and the willingness to take mutual steps towards each other.

Under the guise of integration–the Georgian authorities have enacted laws which are contrary to the spirit and letter of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages–which Georgia had undertaken to sign and ratify within a year after its accession–but has failed to do so after over five years following its accession. Furthermore–and in direct contradiction of the above-mentioned Framework Convention and European Charter–the Georgian authorities have recently introduced a draft law on education–which–if enacted–would effectively prevent Georgia’s national minorities–including the Armenia’s–from education at all levels in their relevant regional or minority languages.

There is no broad social-political consensus in the country on political issues connected with ethnic diversity of Georgia and its internal political and administrative systems. The reported Armenian ancestry of politicians and public figures is often regarded to be derogatory. Whereas the existence of a large number of Armenian cultural and religious monumen’s–as well as historical records speak of the fact that in Southern Georgia–including in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region–the Armenia’s are natives–Georgian society regards the Armenia’s in those regions as newcomers. There is recorded evidence of attempts to "Georgianize" these monumen’s. The Georgian authorities are sending contradictory messages on how national minorities can protect and promote their linguistic and cultural rights: whereas–on the one hand–the Georgian authorities are undermining the linguistic and cultural rights of the law-abiding national minorities–on the other hand–in order to appease those who have declared their independence from Georgia–the same authorities promise them to protect and promote their language and culture in return for restoring Georgian sovereignty on those territories.

We are convinced that if Georgia completely and sincerely honors its accession obligations and commitmen’s–especially those mentioned at the beginning of this Memorandum–it would greatly help alleviate the serious situation in Samtskhe-Javakheti.

Hence we appeal to you–the Committee on the Honoring of Obligations and Commitmen’s by Member States of the Council of Europe–to ensure that Georgia honors its commitmen’s entered into on its accession to the Council of Europe. We are at the disposal of your Committee for further elaboration and discussion.

Council of Armenian Non-Governmental Organizations of the Samtskhe-Javakheti Region in Georgia

October 21–2004
Akhalkalaki

The Council attaches its December 30–2003 appeal to then acting President of Georgia Nino Burjanadze; appeal to President Saakashvili to grant autonomy to Javakhk; and letter to Secretary General of the Council of Europe Walter Schwimmer

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