The High Price of Georgia’s Mistakes

It was a few months ago when Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili took to the airways to plead his case to the Western world about Russia’s insurgence into its borders and proclaim his and his administration’s dedication to upholding democracy.

Since then, international organizations and the world figured out that Saakashvili was not only deceiving them, but his policies in dealing with Georgia’s ethnic minorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia smelled of ethnic cleansing, which prompted Russia to take action last summer.

The purveyor of democracy and the last US administration’s choice to lead the troubled Caucasus country is at it again, this time widening its human rights abuses against the Armenian population of Javakhk. Last week, Georgian Interior Ministry forces arrested two Javakhk activists in a very public display of force and subsequently a court in Tbilisi charged them with organizing illegal militant groups and spying.

Grigor Minasyan and Sergei Hakopjanyan must now stay in jail for two months pending a trial. These two are the most recent victims of Georgia’s ongoing harassment of the Armenian population of Javakhk and Georgia proper. Local leaders assert that Tbilisi’s approach to raid and arrest Armenian leaders would stifle the Armenian population, which has been very vocal about ill-treatment by the central authorities. On the contrary, the recent arrests have made the community band together to resolutely object to their government’s treatment of minorities.

Last fall Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan was forced to intervene when Georgian authorities were bulldozing the Norashen Armenian church in Tbilisi. Despite promises by Saakashvili and his newly-appointed prime minister, no action was taken against those perpetrating this attack on historic Armenia monumen’s. This followed a very marred election process whereby the Georgian authorities sought to quash the free will of the Armenian constituents by putting forth their own candidates to represent the Armenian community.

These incidents, coupled by Saakashvili’s promise to resettle Meshkheti Turks in Javakhk proper, a situation that could flare tensions already high in that area.

There will come a time–and that time may be soon–when Armenia’s in Javakhk will run out of patience and seek measures to protect their human rights. Hopefully, calm will prevail and Javakhk leader will be able to come to an understanding with Tbilisi. However, prior actions of the Saakashvili administration have shown that the Georgian authorities are pursuing another agenda that is far from their commitment to democracy and democratic norms.

In the climate of reversing past blunders, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama should revisit the Georgia equation and move beyond the light slaps on the hand the their predecessors delivered to Saakashvili in the wake of growing and continuing human rights abuses.

In the meantime, Georgian authorities should immediately release Minasyan and Hakopjanyan and all others they have arrested on trumped up charges and seek to establish a more proactive approach to dealing with Georgia’s minorities. If anything, the brief yet destructive war last summer should serve as a lesson.

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