Javakhk Must be a Priority at Armenia-Georgia Talks
We are still disturbed that when Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told reporters in Yerevan this fall that Javakhk does not exist, Armenia’s foreign minister Eduard Nalbandian stood idly without countering those dangerous statements.
So, on the eve of a visit by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to Armenia, we hope that Armenia’s authorities will be more forceful in their approach to the plight of Javakhk’s Armenians.
Ahead of the visit Sunday, the Coordinating Council for the Defense of Javakhk Armenians issued a statement calling on Armenian and Georgian leaders to discuss the urgent issues facing the large Armenian community in southern Georgia.
The six points raised by the group are:
- Provide official language status to Armenian for Javakhk
- Provide legal status to the Armenian Apostolic Church of Georgia and to return Armenian churches confiscated during the Soviet era
- End the political persecution of Armenian community activists and leaders and to release Vahagn Chakhalyan from prison
- End the prohibition of Armenian language books, newspapers and publication from entering Javakhk by border officials
- End the ban on entry to Georgia of a group of Armenians who work on Javakhk-related matters
- Reinstate Armenian language classes in Javakhk schools which have been curtailed by the government.
The group urged Armenian and Georgian leaders to address these issues as a basis for normal relations between the two countries and long-term stability in the region.
Official Tbilisi’s persecution of Armenians does not begin and end with Javakhk, but the population of the latter has endured the brunt of the intolerance that has been legislated in Georgian law. The large and growing Armenian communities by the Black Sea, especially Batumi, are also living under severe restrictions by the authorities. In short, Armenians living in Georgia are being treated as second-class citizens with their fundamental rights suppressed under Georgian law.
Armenia served as refuge for people fleeing Georgia, especially foreign diplomats and workers, during the 2008 Georgia-Russia war. Armenia was also impacted the most from that war as the main trade routes to Armenia were shut down. Yet documents released by WikiLeaks this fall attest to the Georgian government’s complete disregard for Armenia’s neighborly behavior and illustrate the Georgian leadership’s inability to coordinate regional issues.
While it is very important to understand that Georgia-Armenia relations are sensitive at best, the government of Armenia has a responsibility toward Armenians living in Georgia, because the threat to that population is grave and poses risks to Armenian national interests.
What looms on the horizon are the construction of the much-criticized Kars-Akhalkalak-Baku railway being funded primarily by Turkey and Azerbaijan; the repopulation of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region by Meskheti Turks (as stipulated by a UN mandate); and the recent decision by Tbilisi to sell off—privatize—the portion of a pipeline that provides Russian natural gas to Armenia.
The world witnessed the instability of Georgia’s leadership during the 2008 war, and efforts to unseat the US-backed regime have proven fruitless due to the oppressive measures used by the Saakashvili regime.
Armenian authorities cannot afford to be idle, as the Armenian community in Georgia—especially in Javakhk—is becoming more and more isolated from the rest of the world and from Armenia itself.
President Sarkisian must heed the appeals by Javakhk Armenians, and by placing those issues on the agenda of talks with Saakashvili, ensure that necessary reforms are enacted to preserve the well-being of Georgian Armenians and Armenian national interests.