In Talks with EU Caucasus Envoy, Tchoboian Echoes Calls for a Federated Georgia

Hilda Tchoboian with Peter Semneby

BRUSSELS–The Chairperson of the European Armenian Federation (EAF), Hilda Tchoboian met on September 24 with the EU’s special envoy to the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, for talks on the European Union’s policy on the South Caucasus.

Tchoboian relayed to Semneby the concerns of Georgia’s disadvantaged Armenian minority, primarily concentrated in the southern region of Samtskhe-Javakheti and echoed calls for a Federated Georgian state made by Georgia’s embattled minorities in August, after Tbilisi’s ill-conceived invasion of South Ossetia sparked a conflict with Russia.

“Trying to build a centralized, unitary state in the 21st century is simply unrealistic for a diverse, multi-ethnic country such as Georgia” she said.

Ethnic Armenia’s, mainly located in Tbilisi and in the southern region of Javakhk. represent the main minority in Georgia, comprising roughly 10% of the whole population. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, they have endured forced assimilation and discriminatory policies (linguistic, administrative, and religious) as have the other minorities in the country. Most notably, Armenia’s Churches are regularly “converted” into Georgian churches.

Despite the official and unofficial discrimination, ethnic Armenian in Georgia have not advanced any irredentist claims, Tchoboian said, adding, however, that Armenians of Georgia do demand that their collective, democratic, and regional rights be fully respected within the framework of a decentralized, pluralist, and tolerant Georgian state.

“After their [Georgia’s] defeat in South Ossetia, we need to be mindful that nationalistic elemen’s of Georgian society and the Georgian power structures could target the ethnic Armenia’s community as scapegoats” explained Tchoboian.

During the Georgian-Russian, Armenian non-governmental organizations working in Georgia’s Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartili regions issued a joint announcement conflict calling for the formation of a federative Georgian republic, with great autonomies granted to its ethnic populated districts, including the Armenia’s of Javakhk.

A Federated structure, according to the statement would “guarantee the country’s stability and democratic development, re-establish Georgia’s territorial integrity and statehood, as well as resolve ethnic conflicts in an objective, just and legal manner.

“Georgia has compelling interest in moving toward a policy of respect for the rights of minorities–especially those of the ethnic Armenia’s of Javakhk–as per its commitmen’s to the Council of Europe,” Tchoboian told Semneby. “The EU has a vital role to play in implementing confidence building programs in Georgia.”

Also on the agenda of the meeting was a discussion on the recent overtures by Turkey to become a more active player in the South Caucasus.

Tchoboian stressed the imparative to foster regional cooperation in the Caucasus, but noted the many obsticles that stand in the way of stability and cooperation in the the region.

Turkey poses the greatest obsticle to regional cooperation, she said, citing its historic and modern role as a destabilizing force in the Caucasus. In that regard, she expressed the European Armenian community’s skepticism toward Turkey’s initiative to establish a “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform,” citing Turkey’s longstanding support of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and its heavy-handed blockade of Armenia as reasons why Turkey’s cannot act as a neutral party in the region.

“In the context of the emergence of a new balance of power in the Caucasus, Turkey is seeking to create for itself a role as an intermediary between Europe, Russia and the Caucasian States” Tchoboian said. “But its hopes are clearly not supported by the facts on the ground, which include recent statemen’s by its Foreign Minister stressing Turkey’s intention to make Armenia pay dearly for the opening of the border, in particular, by stopping the international process of Armenian Genocide recognition.”

Speaking about recent moves ostensibly aimed at a normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey, Tchoboian noted that many observers consider the apparent goodwill toward Armenia recently displayed by Turkey to be driven primarily by the domestic power struggle between Kemalists and Islamists and their competing efforts to assert primacy in guiding their nation’s foreign affairs, instead of a sincere interest in materially improving relations with Armenia.

At the end of the meeting, Semneby and Tchoboian both reiterated their common interest in seeing regional cooperation return to the South Caucasus.

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