US State Department and Javakhk: The WikiLeaks Cables Part I
With the publication of all WikiLeaks cables from the US State Department and its diplomatic missions worldwide, interesting information has become available regarding many issues of concern to Armenia and Armenians. One of these issues is the situation in Javakhk, the Samtskhe-Javakheti administrative region in southern Georgia, bordering the Republic of Armenia.
WikiLeaks published around 100 cables with references to Javakhk, from US missions in Tbilisi, Yerevan, Moscow, Ankara and Baku, as well as the State Department.
The cables from the Ankara and Baku embassies are mainly regarding the Kars-Akhalkalak-Baku railroad construction. There are references to this railroad in cables from the US diplomatic missions in Yerevan and Tbilisi.
The following is a chronological presentation of what the US diplomatic cables contain about Javakhk.
The list starts with a cable from the US Embassy in Yerevan, dated 12 February 2004 (Identifier: 04YEREVAN347), about the official openning ceremony in Yerevan of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun 29th World Congress. In the cable US Ambassador Ordway writes: “Dashnak Party Chairman Hrand Margarayan’s February 6 comments on relations with Turkey, N-K, and Georgia’s Armenian population sparked renewed controversy among Armenia’s political elite. Margaryan declared during his address to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF or “Dashnaksutyun”) 29th World Congress that the GOAM should not entertain closer relations with Turkey, endorsed permanent independent status for all geographic regions involved in the N-K conflict and called for autonomy for the Armenian enclaves in Georgia’s Javakheti region. FM Vartan Oskanian, who himself addressed the meeting before Margaryan’s speech, was quick to distance himself and the GOAM from these statements during press opportunities this week.” Amb. Ordway goes on: “The most unexpected part of Margaryan’s speech was a call for autonomy for Armenians living in Georgia’s Javakheti region. He declared that Javakh (sic) was ‘now a part of the Armenian agenda’ and accused successive Georgian regimes of discrimination and exploitation of the country’s Armenian population. He fell short of calling for an independent state and clarified that an autonomous Armenian region should exist within the Georgian state. Margaryan claimed that the Armenian Diaspora was increasingly supportive of the ARF’s approach to Javakheti.” According to the Ambassador, the “Speech creates headaches for the GOAM.” “FM Vartan Oskanian, who himself addressed the meeting before Margaryan’s speech, was quick to distance himself and the GOAM from these statements during press opportunities this week. Oskanian did not criticize Margaryan’s comments, but went to great lengths to categorize them as ARF opinions that ‘do not reflect Government of Armenia policy.’ MFA spokesman Hamlet Gasparian responded aggressively to the speech by reciting constitutional passages giving the president authority to create foreign policy. Local news outlets carried his closing statement that, ‘[Foreign Policy] issues are a constitutional prerogative of the President,’ not of the Dashnaks,” concludes the cable.
The second published US diplomatic cable with reference to Javakhk, is dated 30 August 2005 (Identifier: 05YEREVAN1576), on the “Kocharian-Saakashvili ‘Unofficial Meetings’.” The confidential cable by Ambassador Evans reads in part: “On August 21, Armenian President Robert Kocharian hosted Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili at his summer residence on Lake Sevan for what Armenian press characterized as an ‘informal’ visit. Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and his Georgian counterpart Irakly Okruashvili also attended. The two presidents met for similar ‘unofficial’ discussions at a Georgian ski resort in April 2005.” Armenian “Presidential spokesman Viktor Soghomonian, who traveled with Kocharian to Sevan, declined to discuss specifics but told us ‘press reports are accurate.’ Previous meetings between the two leaders, Soghomonian said, usually focus on economic cooperation — particularly transit of Armenia’s imports and exports through Georgia — and Georgia’s largely ethnic Armenian Javakheti region.” The cable includes the statement posted on Kocharian’s official website: “Begin text of statement as published (original in English): On August 21-22, President of Georgia Michael Saakashvili made an unofficial visit to Armenia. Michael Saakashvili and Robert Kocharian discussed issues related to the Armenian-Georgian relations and current socio-economic situation in Javakhk at the summer residence of the President of Armenia on the Sevan Lakeshore. At the briefing with journalists President of Armenia said that leaders of the neighboring states should meet more than once during the year. Those meetings can be official or unofficial. The very fact that we are conducting not only official but also friendly contacts with Georgia is a very good sign. ‘I think that relations of the Presidents will have their impact on the relations of common people. Relations between the people of the two states can be established through contacts, reciprocal visits, tourism, business and common interest — all this should be reestablished. It is not possible to do it in one or two days, however it is possible to ruin it in one or two days. We must preserve and cherish the relations that have been built through the generations and do our best to develop them further,” concludes the Armenian presidential statement quoted in Ambassador Evans’ cable.
A 20 September 2005 (Identifier: 05ANKARA5444) cable from the US Embassy in Ankara reports on the Turkish press summary. It includes a headline about “Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan Railroad Project”, according to which “Turkey will host a meeting on September 19 to discuss the developments regarding the Kars-Javakheti-Tbilisi-Baku Railway Project, weekend papers report. The Turkish and Azerbaijani ministers of transportation and the Georgian infrastructure minister will participate in the meeting to discuss the project, which aims to establish a direct railway between Turkey and Georgia and between Turkey and Azerbaijan via Georgia. The three countries signed a memorandum of understanding in December last year to put the project into force. The project will further develop the Eurasia-Caucasus-Asia transportation corridor, and contribute to efforts to revive the historic Silk Road, say reports.”
Next is a confidential report from the US Embassy in Yerevan, dated 27 January 2006 (Identifier: 06YEREVAN119), reporting on the Russian Defense Minister’s visit to Armenia. Amb. Evans writes that the “Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov arrived in Armenia January 26 for meetings with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Serzh Sargsyan, and Chief of General Staff General Mikhael Harutiunyan. Speaking at Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport (extreme weather conditions postponed Ivanov’s flight from Baku) reporters quoted Ivanov saying he planned to discuss ‘the entire complex of bilateral issues.’ Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sargsyan touted ‘Russian-Armenian military cooperation’ as ‘steadily developing.’ Ivanov inspected Russia’s 102nd military base in Gyumri, and announced Russian plans to transfer additional materiel from Georgia.” Amb. Evans goes on: “The Russian base is a component of Armenia’s national security and we still need that base,” Sargsyan told reporters. During his visit, Ivanov inspected the 102nd military base, and announced to press that he observed no problems with base storage depots. According to press reports, Russian General Aleksander Baranov, commander of Russia’s North Caucasian Military District, told Ivanov that 102nd depots have reached 60 percent capacity (following transfers of materiel from the Russian base in Akhalkalaki), with additional storage for additional transfers of materiel from Georgia.”
In a 31 January 2006 confidential cable (Identifier: 06YEREVAN130) from the Embassy in Yerevan, Amb. Evans writes “Coupled with the country’s major source of electricity (the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant), the Hrazdan units will produce enough electricity to cover Armenia’s demand as well as generate a surplus to export to Georgia. While Armenian officials wait for the Hrazdan thermal power plant boilers to heat, Armenia has begun energizing two power lines (a process which can take several hours) to Georgia (one through Alaverdi to Tbilisi and one through Ninots Minda (sic) (Georgia) to Georgia’s ethnic Armenian-populated region of Javakheti).”
Amb. Evans’ next WikiLeaks published cable is dated 5 April 2006 (Identifier: 06YEREVAN489). The Ambassador reports about his visit to “Armenia’s northwest Shirak province;” “During our March 21 visit to Gyumri (Shirak’s capital), Ashotsk (near Armenia’s borders with Georgia and Turkey), and Bavra (on the Armenia-Georgia border), we met with local community leaders and political party officials […]. The potential economic impact of unrest in Georgia’s Samstkhe-Javakheti region (ref B), they said, was a significant issue for Shirak.” “Shirak Governor’s Chief of Staff and Ramkavar Party official Norik Grigoryan added, as did many of the local community leaders and party officials with whom we met, that unrest in Georgia’s Samstkhe-Javakheti region had the potential to destabilize the entire region by closing transit and trade routes. Along those lines, Grigoryan said, proposals to build an alternate railway skirting Armenia would be “disaster” for Shirak.” “Villagers in Bavra and Ashotsk alleged that, since the March 10 protests triggered by the murder of an ethnic Armenian in Tsalka (ref B), border guards had selectively barred Armenians from crossing through the Bavra border checkpoint. According to Grigoryan, officials in the region had been ordered to steer clear of even the perception that the GOAM was contributing to the escalation of tensions in Georgia, which ‘could include’ government orders to prevent ‘criminal elements’ from entering Georgia and further stirring ethnic tensions.”
In a cable classified as confidential from the US EMbassy in Moscow, dated 15 June 2006 (Identifier: 06MOSCOW6358), Ambassador Burns reports that “DAS Kramer accompanied by the DCM called on Russian MFA Fourth CIS Department Director (DAS equivalent) Andrey Kelin June 13 to discuss Caucasus issues. (Kramer met subsequently one-on-one with DFM Karasin on other regional agenda items.) […] Kelin was more frank than most Russians about games Russia is playing to irritate Georgia, putatively in response to Georgian ‘nastiness.’ His hints about the Armenians of Samtskhe-Javakheti and the Azeris of Kvemo Kartli echo calls by Moscow’s chattering class to ‘activate’ those communities against Georgia (something both Armenia and Azerbaijan have always tried to discourage).”
Another “Media Reaction Report” from the US Embassy in Ankara, a cable dated 20 June 2006 (Identifier: 06ANKARA3641) writes that “Radikal reports that, while in Baku, FM Gul was received by President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. The meeting focused on Kars-Tbilisi-Javakheti (Ahilkelek)-Baku railway project. Gul stressed that Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia should come together to overcome several difficulties about the project.”
In a 28 September 2006 cable (Identifier: 06TBILISI2590) from the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Ambassador Tefft reports that “The Georgian government announced the arrests of four Russians and eleven Georgians on September 27, in connection with an alleged espionage ring. […] The Russian MFA issued a statement claiming that the four arrested Russians were in charge of the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases.”
The next day, in a confidential cable from the US Embassy in Moscow (Identifier: 06MOSCOW11029) Ambassador Burns reports that Russian “MFA Fourth CIS (Caucasus) Deputy Director Dmitriy Tarabrin reviewed the diplomatic steps that Russia had or was about to take today in response to the arrests. They are: […] — drawdown of staff and dependents from the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi and Russian military facilities in Tbilisi, Batumi and Akhalkalaki.”
The Kars-Akhlkalaki-Baku railroad project is discussed in a confidential cable (dated 20 October 2006, Identifier: 06YEREVAN1476) from the Embassy in Yerevan, about the meeting EUR DAS Bryza had with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margaaryan on October 4, “to encourage Armenia to work towards free and fair elections in 2007 and 2008 and to discuss energy security and other regional issues.” DCM Godfrey reports that “The Prime Minister was concerned that Armenia was excluded from certain regional projects; he mentioned both the BTC pipeline and the proposed railroad connecting Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey (ref. C) which he said would ‘blockade’ Armenia. He said that Georgia was being cautious about the proposal, but was under pressure from Turkey and Azerbaijan. Markarian called for more international involvement on this issue suggesting that the EU could pressure Turkey to give up the proposal as part of accession negotiations. Bryza said that the U.S. did not support the Kars-Akhalkalaki railroad. He said we saw a difference between the pipeline and the railroad and, while we supported the BTC because of the need to have multiple sources of energy for Europe, we favored a railroad that would link the entire region, including Armenia. Bryza added that while it might be possible to engage on the issue in the EU, it appeared that Azerbaijan was willing to finance the project on its own and was working hard to move it forward.”
Amb. Burns reports in a 15 November 2006 confidential cable (Identifier: 06MOSCOW12457)[viii] from the US embassy in Moscow that Russian “Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov has made himself more available to the media and the general public in recent weeks.” Ivanov has announced that “All Russian troops will depart the Tbilisi garrison by the end of December 2006. Withdrawal from the base in Akhalkalaki will be completed in 2007 and from the base in Batumi in 2008.”
In a 22 November 2006 cable (Identifier: 06TBILISI3069) classified as confidential, Amb. Tefft gives high marks to Saakashvili’s administration. “In place of a nearly-failed state, the GOG has built a cohesive nation with maturing democratic institutions […]. The GOG successfully re-integrated the Adjara region in 2004. Russian bases that have existed in Georgia for over 200 years are being withdrawn and NATO, citing reform progress has given Georgia Intensified Dialogue (ID).” “On May 30, 2005, the Russian and Georgian Foreign Ministers signed a Joint Statement agreeing to a timeline for the withdrawal of Russian military forces from its bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki by October 1, 2007. Russia fulfilled the 2005 provision of the Joint Statement calling for the removal of 40 armored vehicles, including 20 tanks, by the end of October 2005 (slightly behind schedule because of weather delays). Russia fulfilled its 2006 withdrawal requirements ahead of schedule, removing all remaining heavy equipment from Akhalkalaki, as well as equipment and ammunition from Batumi, by mid-September 2006. All remaining Russian military forces and equipment in Akhalkalaki and Batumi are on schedule to be removed from Georgia by October 1, 2007.”
Following the closure of the Russian military base in Akhlkalak, the US starts to show a closer interest with the problems of Javakhk. In a confidential cable dated 27 November 2006 (Identifier: 06YEREVAN1645), US Embassy in Yerevan CDA Godfrey reports: “Georgia’s predominantly Armenian Samstkhe-Javakheti (S-J) region periodically makes news in Armenia, colored by the local perception here that Georgians treat their Armenian minority shabbily. Armenian government officials have not generally complained on this theme, but others, including the governing-coalition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) ‘Dashnaktsutyun’ party, bemoan what they view as Georgian neglect of the impoverished and isolated community. Working together, Yerevan and Tbilisi poloffs recently interviewed the ARF, an Armenian-based Javakheti advocacy group, and local analysts to assess the issue from a Yerevan perspective”. “RUN-OF-THE-MILL POVERTY OR POLITICAL NEGLECT? Though our interlocutors assigned varying degrees of blame to the Georgian government for the socio-economic problems that plague S-J, none let the GOG completely off the hook. Giro Manoyan, a member of the nationalist ARF’s party secretariat (or “Buro”) said that while the Armenian community’s situation has improved under President Saakashvili, conditions in S-J remain worse than that of other poor, but ethnically Georgian, regions. He stopped short of accusing the Georgians of politically motivated neglect, and noted that the GOG is beginning to pay attention to the roads out of S-J, thanks to Georgia’s Millennium Challenge Account. Manoyan said he believed the road would jump-start the region’s revitalization, and that he hoped the next such project would be a joint Armenian-Georgian venture. Up until now, the roads’ poor condition prevented S-J residents from selling goods in Tbilisi, a situation that exacerbated regional poverty in an area without industry, guaranteed electricity or viable infrastructure. […] Shirak Torosian, the S-J-born chairman of the Javakh (sic) Union of Compatriots and a member of the Armenian pro-government Powerful Fatherland party, was less measured in his criticism of the GOG. ‘Nobody wants to help,’ Torosian said. ‘It’s political that infrastructure is not guaranteed for Javakheti.’ Torosian went further than Manoyan on the issue of autonomy, too. At first he said that he and his organization did not advocate autonomy for the region, but then noted that the oft-touted ‘self-determination’ for S-J was really the same thing as autonomy. He said he avoided the word ‘autonomy’ in public because it tended to raise Georgian and Western ire. […] Anna Mnatsakanian from the Armenian Relief Society, a Dashnaktsutyun-affiliated social welfare organization that works in S-J, said she did not think the region’s problems were worse than those of similarly poor areas elsewhere in Georgia. She thought the Saakashvili administration did pay attention to the region, but noted that infrastructure problems were severe. She said that in the winter of 2005, three children died of the flu because there was no ambulance service in their S-J village. S-J. SHOULD SAMSTKHE-JAVAKHETI RESIDENTS STAY IN GEORGIA? […] Both Torosian and Manoyan were adamant that it is in Armenia’s interest for S-J residents to stay put, if only to prevent others from moving in. Both raised the specter of Turkish atrocities past, and fretted over the idea that Meshkhetian Turks or ethnic Azeris might expand into the region if ethnic Armenians migrated south, which would put unfriendly faces at one of Armenia’s two remaining friendly borders. […] Torosian said ethnically Armenian S-J residents are tied to Georgia only by virtue of employment. He said they consider themselves Armenian, and consider where they live to be somehow part of Armenia, but look to Tbilisi for opportunities to earn a living. That said, Torosian said their ties to Armenia are stronger and more compelling. For example, although the proposed Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars railroad will help S-J economically, Torosian said the ethnic Armenians there did not support the project because it bypassed Armenia. (COMMENT: It,s also possible that this is just what Yerevantsi prefer to believe their kindred up north think. END COMMENT.) He said that although he would like the Armenians to stay in S-J, the Georgians were trying to force them out by refusing to help solve their problems. […] Manoyan said he encouraged reluctant S-J residents to learn Georgian so they could obtain an education and participate in politics. ‘I’m not sure they want to learn Georgian,’ Manoyan said, adding that the residents feared losing their Armenian identity because they knew the GOG tended to try to assimilate national minorities, rather than integrate them. He said the GOG should be understanding of the complexities of introducing Georgian as a state language in such an isolated and underdeveloped region. GOAM STAYS OUT OF IT […] Though NGOs and individual political parties are concerned with the region’s problems, the Armenian government is staying out of it. Vartan Hakobian, head of the MFA’s CIS desk, told us that the government views S-J as a strictly domestic Georgian concern, not a bilateral issue. […] Earlier in the summer, a working group of NGOs and others met to discuss Armenia-Georgia issues, focusing in large part on S-J. After the meetings, Hranush Kharatian, head of the GOAM’s national minorities department, told reporters at a press conference, ‘The result of discussion of problems accumulated in Javahk (sic) at the state level would be higher than at the level of experts and NGOs, but we have problems and they need to be discussed.’ BUT THE PRESS DOES NOT […] Javakheti schools were a hot topic in the Armenian press this summer, and continue to make news into the fall. Newspapers have complained that ethnic Armenians have less chance of gaining admission to the Akhalkalaki branch of Tbilisi State University, because of their Georgian language deficiencies. Javakheti activist Torosian was featured in one article published in the Russian-language Regnum news service in June regarding the language battle. Torosian railed against the Georgian requirement that all classes, save Armenian language and Armenian history, be taught in Georgian. The author of the article succinctly described the Javakheti dilemma, writing, “Of course, he who does not want to sell potatoes in Javakh should learn Georgian to be able to integrate into Georgian society and to work in Georgian governmental structures. COMMENT […] Barring any sudden crisis, Samstkhe-Javakheti seems unlikely to become a major political issue for the GOAM any time soon because the problem is not pressing, and boxed-in Armenia knows it must maintain working relations with its northern neighbor (and closest outlet to the sea). Though Armenian NGOs and political parties are concerned about the welfare of their compatriots in Georgia, their level of involvement in the region does not get far beyond a lot of talk, and a little welfare assistance. However, the S-J situation is among other, more pressing factors — such as Georgia’s friendly relations with Azerbaijan, and the fallout of its fracas with Russia — that contribute to Armenians, general dissatisfaction with Georgia. It likely would not take all that much to arouse Armenian indignation on the subject should events turn sour.”
In a “Media Reaction Report” from the US Embassy in Ankara, dated 20 December 2006 (Identifier: 06ANKARA6709), it is reported the “Visiting Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said he considered ‘the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline a guarantee of energy safety and stability in the region,’ adding Georgia was also ready to help the construction of Kars-Javakheti (Ahilkelek)-Tbilisi-Baku railway.”
The U.S. stance on the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku Railroad is part of a cable dated 29 January 2007 (Identifier: 07YEREVAN93) from the Embassy in Yerevan.
Ambassador Tefft, in a confidential cable dated 9 February 2007 (Identifier: 07TBILISI263), reports that in a February 8 meeting with [Tbilisi Embassy] DCM Mark X. Perry, Valeri Chechelashvili, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia expressed strong disappointment that the February 7 meeting of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian President Saakashvili, along with meetings of Energy and Trade Ministers of the three countries, did not produce better results in terms of securing gas supplies for Georgia.” “During the meeting, Saakashvili, Erdogan and Aliyev signed an agreement confirming construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Baku railway (reftel). Chechelashvili said the project was signed by Georgia despite the GOG’s concerns about the impacts on Georgia’s Black Sea ports. The project is important to Georgia’s number one and two trade partners, Turkey and Azerbaijan, and so it will go forward, he said. Georgia is well aware of Armenia’s opposition to the project, and before the deal was signed, Minister of Foreign Affairs Bezhuashvili talked to the Armenian Foreign Minister to allay his fears. President Saakashvili publicly mentioned Georgia’s interest in good relations with Armenia in the presence of both Erdogan and Aliyev, Chechelashvili said. Saakashvili was quoted in reports of the event as saying Georgia does not want any country of the region to be isolated from regional cooperation. Chechelashvili said that Georgia wants to do what it can to help Armenia have transport capacity. For the past year, Georgia has allowed Armenian trucks to use its roads free of transit fees, although this gesture lost importance when the Russians closed the only legal border crossing into Russia in mid-2006. Armenia has reciprocated for Georgian truckers but free transit through Armenia is not especially useful to Georgia, Chechelashvili said. The GOG hopes the project will have positive impact on the impoverished region of Samskhe-Javakheti, where many Armenian people live. The exchange facility from European to CIS gauge railroad track is located in the region and will create jobs. Improved electricity connections to Turkey are expected to help the area as well. Chechelashvili mentioned the $200 million, 25 year, 1% interest loan with no state guarantee required that Azerbaijan is providing to Georgia to fund the railroad project.”
In the “Georgia Bi-Weekly Update April 20, ” (unclassified cable dated 20 April 2007, Identifier: 07TBILISI894) Amb. Tefft reports: “Protesters in Akhalkalaki, an area with a large ethnic Armenian population, called April 14 for the Armenian language to receive the status of administrative language of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, which would permit all official business to be conducted in Armenian. The protest was reportedly organized by local nationalist parties Javakhk and Virk. At the same time, several candidates in May’s Armenian parliamentary elections visited Akhalkalaki to underline their family roots in the area and to promote their candidacies among locals with relatives in Armenia.”
In the confidential cable dated 30 April 2007 (Identifier: 07TBILISI996), Amb. Tefft reports: “Russia appears ready to complete its withdrawal from its military base in Akhalkalaki and to finish removing all heavy equipment from its base in Batumi in 2007. On April 13, the first of five convoys of Russian arms and equipment left the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki for the Russian 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia. According to George Zakarashvili, Director of the Russia Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Russians are withdrawing their personnel and equipment ahead of schedule, and are on target to close the Akhalkalaki base by July 1, 2007.” “Zakarashvili told Poloff on April 26 that Russia was ahead of schedule in its base withdrawal activities. Akhalkalaki will be closed by July 1, he said, which is far ahead of the stated deadline of October 1. Three vehicle convoys of equipment have already left Akhalkalaki and two remain.”
In a confidential cable dated 13 June 2007 (Identifier: 07ANKARA1505) from the US Embassy in Ankara, Ambassador WIlson reports: “Turkish MFA Deputy Undersecretary Unal Cevikoz (a former Ambassador to Baku) visits Washington from June 18-20 for consultations on South Caucasus and Central Asia. Cevikoz is likely to identify the strengthening relationship between Turkey and Georgia as a major component of Turkey’s strategy to promote regional integration and economic development in the South Caucasus […]. REPATRIATION OF THE MESKHETI TURKS […] The repatriation of the Meskheti, or Ahiska, Turks to Georgia from Russia and Central Asia, where they were exiled during Soviet times, is a high priority issue for the GOT. Gul raised the issue with Saakashvili at their May 26 meeting. Despite Turkey’s frustration with Georgia’s inability to pass legislation allowing resettlement, MFA is sensitive to Georgian concerns. MFA officials assert there are approximately 200,000 Meskheti Turks, but it is unclear how many would return. The Turks acknowledge returning to their homeland in the Javakheti region would upset the demographic balance of that ethnic Armenian-majority region. A bill currently in the Georgian parliament aims to resettle the Meskheti Turks throughout Georgia.”
The Meskhetian Turks’ issue in Georgia is reported in the unclassified “Georgia Bi-Weekly Update” cable dated 15 June 2007 (Identifier: 07TBILISI1446). Amb. Tefft reports that “On June 13, the [Georgian] parliamentary foreign affairs committee held a hearing of a draft law on repatriation of the Meskhetian Turks, deported from Georgia by Stalin in 1944. Georgia has an outstanding commitment to the Council of Europe, made in 1999, to complete repatriation by 2011. The Meskhetian Turks, who are now living in Russia and Central Asia, have long pushed to return to their homeland in Georgia, but this prospect has caused fear among ethnic Armenians in Georgia over potential land and property disputes, demographic shifts, and the emergence of a ‘Turkish’ presence in their territory. Many ethnic Georgians are also resistant to repatriation. On June 13, parliamentary discussion of the issue grew into a noisy clash between majority and opposition MPs, with the latter arguing that resettlement in Georgia would distort the country’s demographic balance and exacerbate social and ethnic problems (Note: The majority ethnic-Armenian population of Javakheti, origin of the Meskhetian Turks, does not want them to be repatriated here. End note).”
In a 26 June 2007 confidential cable (Identifier: 07TBILISI1528) Amb. Tefft reports that “On June 14, MCC President John Danilovich, accompanied by Ambassador Tefft, MCC Country Director Colin Buckley and Millennium Challenge Georgia Director Lasha Shanidze, traveled to the ethnic minority region of Samtskhe-Javakheti to meet members of local government and civil society. This isolated and impoverished region of Georgia will benefit from MCC’s planned construction of a new road which will link its main city, Akalkalaki, to Tbilisi and thereby provide a way in which farmers can transport highly-valued local agricultural products, including cheese and potatoes, to larger markets in the capital. Danilovich explained that the MCC program is structured not as an American program to solve Georgian problems but as a Georgian program that allows Georgians to identify and solve their own problems. […] Citing high unemployment as the region’s greatest challenge, all residents expressed concern over whether the road contractor would hire local workers. They argued that unemployment levels were exacerbated this year by the Russian bans which suspended visa issuance and cut transportation links, resulting in 8-9,000 more unemployed from seasonal workers who were unable to travel to Russia. Hamlet Mousesian, the Parliamentarian representing the region argued that the region contained skilled workers and said that he had met with Minister of Education Lomaia to arrange for any professional courses that local workers might need to increase or improve those skills. He noted also that local workers would be cheaper than those from outside Georgia and expressed concern about the political implications in an ethnic Armenian region of bringing ethnic Turks (as the contractor is expected to be) to work on the road. Other questions were about the start date of construction and potential benefits of the road. […] Buckley responded that although the U.S. cannot require contractors to employ locals, contractors make rational decisions based on skill and cost. He noted that the arguments made by the Council represented good reasons to hire locally and added that other projects funded by MCC, employed locals for those reasons. Buckley also outlined MCC’s view of benefits of the road. In the short term, the contractor would need local assistance including housing, food and other services in addition to the possible benefit of local employment. MCC believes that the long-term benefits of the road will be profound as it will make it easier to transport goods to markets in Tbilisi and the region. Although he could not put a start date on construction, he noted that the road would be complete by the end of the MCC compact in 2011. Shanidze said that bids are now being considered and estimated that MCG would know the start date of construction following the conclusion of the tendering process at the end of July. […] Other issues from residents included requests to improve local roads as well as open dairy farms, cheese processing plants and sugar mills which could both take advantage of the regions highly-valued agricultural products and provide employment for the population. Danilovich responded that the region had been awarded two MCC Agricultural Development Assistance grants for such purposes and encouraged individuals to submit applications for funding of specific projects to MCC. Shanidze said that MCG is planning to place a liaison in Akalkalaki and Ninotsminda, in addition to its office in Akhaltsikhe, in order to answer questions and help individuals fill out applications. Buckley encouraged resident also to consider MCG’s public outreach office in Tbilisi as an informational resource. […] COMMENT: The visit of Danilovich and the Ambassador was warmly welcomed by the local community, which continues to suffer high unemployment as a result of the closure of the Russian base this year. This is the biggest issue on their agenda. Interestingly, neither in the town hall meeting nor in the follow-on lunch did anyone raise any concerns related to the minority population and its relationship to Tbilisi. One of the most difficult challenges to overcome, however, a lack of initiative and innovation which is a Soviet legacy in this region. What the population would prefer is for the Government to build factories in which the residents could work. To overcome this passivity, a significant amount of education — including especially from people from the community itself — is needed to encourage people to take advantage of the resources that are available. MCG is working on this and we will continue to as well.”
In a confidential cable dated 27 June 2007 (Identifier: 07TBILISI1542) Ambassador Tefft reports that Samskhe-Javakheti is one of “only six areas [which] have not yet reported an outbreak,”
In a 29 June 2007 unclassified cable (Identifier: 07TBILISI1566) Amb. Tefft reports: “On June 27 Russia officially handed over its military base in Akhalkalaki to Georgia, several days ahead of schedule. Georgian First Deputy Defense Minister Levan Nikoleishvili and Russian Commander of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus Andrei Popov attended the handover ceremony and signed the Act of Handover and Acceptance. The closure and transfer of the base, which was built by Russia in 1910 and occupied by Russian and Soviet forces since that time, began in 2006, following a March 31 agreement between Georgia and Russia on the withdrawal of the remaining Russian forces stationed in Georgia. (Comment: The Georgian Ministry of Defense has not yet made clear its plans for the base, though it is unlikely that they will station troops there.).”
In the 13 July 2007 “Georgia Bi-weekly Update” (Identifier: 07TBILISI1675) Amb. Tefft reports that “The Georgian Government has announced a 10-year energy program, which envisages the construction of a number of new hydropower generation facilities in Georgia. […] The GoG has also signed a memorandum with a Turkish Company, Urban, to build the 78 MW Paravani hydro plant in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region in southern Georgia. Total cost of investment in this project is estimated at USD 100-120 million.”
In the 20 July 2007 confidential cable (Identifier: 07TBILISI1732) Amb. Tefft reports about “Support for Minority Extremists: […] Georgian officials in Tbilisi and Akhalkalaki, as well as local community leaders and political activists, have confirmed that the Russian government has funded radical ethnic-Armenian nationalists in Samtskhe-Javakheti in a bid to destabilize this mutli-ethnic, politically fragile region. Tensions peaked during spring 2006 when scattered violent demonstrations occurred in Akhalkalaki in March (ref K), following the murder of an ethnic Armenian in the city of Tsalka, and on May 2 (ref J), when protesters briefly halted the first stage of Russian base withdrawal. As the withdrawal moved ahead, disturbances in Akhalkalaki dropped off precipitously, lending credence to Georgian allegations that the tensions were being stoked by elements operating from within the Russian base.”
Yerevan Embassy CDA Perina. in a confidential cable dated 7 August 2007 (Identifier: 07YEREVAN1000) reports: “DRAWING ARMENIA AND GEORGIA CLOSER […] FM Oskanian said he had become convinced during his recent trip through Georgia that ‘Armenia and Georgia need to do more together.’ While the FM was not specific, he said Armenia and Georgia should work to ‘take down fences’ and ‘build a common space.’ Oskanian was thrilled that Armenia and Georgia had finally demarcated their border along Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region. As a key next step, Oskanian urged that Georgia, Armenia, and the U.S. work together to rebuild the 24 kilometers of road from Armenia to the Georgian transportation hub of Akhalkalaki, which would then tie Armenia into the road being built between Akhalkalaki and Tbilisi under Georgia’s Millennium Challenge program. Bryza recalled that he had been working in past years with the Armenian-American community to develop such a road project with Diaspora support. Oskanian agreed to pursue this option.”
A cable dated 17 August 2007 (Identifier: 07TBILISI2074) Tbilisi Embassy DCM Perry reports that “on July 19, the USAID-funded National Integration and Tolerance in Georgia (NITG) program implemented by the UN Association of Georgia (UNAG) (http://www.una.ge/eng/) presented the results of a survey of national minorities in Georgia. The survey revealed that the overwhelming majority of ethnic Azeri and Armenian minorities consider Georgia their homeland sharing a strong sense of identification with Georgia among ethnic minorities. However, a lack of Georgian language skills among ethnic minorities was identified as an ongoing challenge to integration. […] The survey was based on interviews with 2,400 people throughout the country, monthly media monitoring, desk research, and focus group meetings. The purpose of the survey was to inform the Government of Georgia (GoG) as it prepares to draft a strategy and action plan for national integration and tolerance in Georgia. The research will also constitute a baseline for measuring the impact of the NITG program and the government’s integration policies. The research results highlighted attitudes on ethnic diversity and integration issues among minority groups in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli, as well across the Georgian population nationwide. Freedom House – Europe assisted UNAG to develop the research methodology and contributed to the survey report. […] The NITG survey results revealed that the overwhelming majority of national or ethnic minorities in southern Georgia consider the country to be their homeland. In the predominantly ethnic Azeri region of Kvemo Kartli, 98% of non-ethnic Georgian respondents considered Georgia to be their homeland. In the predominantly ethnic Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, 80% of non-ethnic Georgian respondents considered Georgia to be their homeland. Given the long history of political, economic, and social isolation of these regions from the rest of Georgia, the results show a reassuringly strong sense of identification with Georgia among ethnic minorities. […] The survey also explored voter participation in the October 2006 Local Government Elections and revealed that ethnic minority respondents registered high levels of voter participation in the elections. In Kvemo Kartli, 76% of respondents said they voted in the elections. In Samtskhe-Javakheti, 81% of respondents said they voted in the elections. These figures imply a high level of confidence in democratic processes in these regions. Attitudes toward ethnic minorities among Georgian citizens in general were also shown to be positive. When asked whether minority rights should be protected in Georgia, 91% of respondents nationwide responded positively. […] Considerable Challenges Remain: While clarifying positive attitudes, the survey data also revealed numerous ongoing challenges facing ethnic minorities in Georgia, including geographic isolation, low levels of Georgian language proficiency, limited language accessible media availability, and poor levels of political representation by minorities. The USG and GOG are actively working to eliminate the physical isolation of ethnic Azeri and Armenian communities. The Millennium Challenge Corporation program in Georgia includes a project to construct a road from Tbilisi to a major city in the minority ethnic Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, and the GOG is investing considerable sums in road infrastructure improvement projects in both the ethnically Azeri Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti regions. […] The low levels of Georgian language skills among ethnic minorities were highlighted in the survey results. Among non-Georgian residents in Kvemo Kartli, 83% of respondents did not speak Georgian. Among non-Georgian residents in Samtskhe-Javakheti, 75% of respondents did not speak Georgian. As Georgian is the official language, the low level of proficiency in Georgian among ethnic minorities is a clear challenge to integration into Georgian society which acts as a disincentive to travel and commerce. […] The survey also revealed numerous other challenges, including access to local media, with over 40% of respondents in both Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti viewing Azeri and Armenian TV; unemployment; and low levels of political representation of minorities’ communities in Tbilisi. (Note: Recently passed legislation requires politicians to be able to speak Georgian to hold office. End note.) […] Conclusion: The NITG survey shows that Georgia is making progress toward greater integration of its ethnic minorities. Ethnic Azeris and Armenians, two of Georgia’s traditionally most isolated ethnic minority groups, overwhelmingly identify with Georgia as their homeland. Furthermore, the USG and GOG are taking dramatic steps to advance the physical integration of these regions through large scale road infrastructure projects. That said, the survey results also show that challenges remain, including low levels of Georgian language skills, poor access to local media, unemployment, and under-representation in the government.”
In a “Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Interest” cable dated 7 September 2007 (Identifier: 07TBILISI2272) Amb. Tefft reports: “Following a series of scandals involving the misuse of public funds by newly elected local officials, the Georgian Parliament recently passed two laws that strengthen the powers of regional Governors, who are appointed by the President, to exercise ‘state supervision’ and ensure compliance of local self-government bodies with the ‘interests, goals and policy’ of the state. Increasing the authority of the Governors may help with the formulation and subsequent implementation of economic development of Georgia’s undeveloped regions. However, this will need to be done carefully as some may claim that these new powers are counter to the goal of decentralizing power from federal to local structures. This cable contains a brief summary of the current regional Governors of Georgia, whose personalities — some of which tend toward that of a local prince, rather than an institutional manager of local self-governance – may prove decisive in the development of Georgia’s regions. […] Giorgi Khachidze – Samtskhe- Javakheti: Samtskhe-Javakheti borders Turkey and Armenia and comprises the largest portion of Georgia’s ethnic Armenians. The region has a strong potential for meat and dairy-products development. It consists of six districts with the total population of approximately 207,598. Giorgi Khachidze was appointed governor of Samtskhe-Javakheti in March 2005. Khachidze was born on February 9, 1974. In 1997, Khachidze graduated from the Tbilisi State University, majoring in biology and journalism. Between 1994 and 2000, he worked for state-run Channels I and II on Georgian Television, as well as for the television companies ‘Ibervizia’, ‘Rustavi-2’, ‘202’. During this time, Khachidze also worked in the press-service of the Ministry of Defense, as well as for radio station ‘105’, radio ‘Rezonansi’, and newspaper ‘Rezonansi’. In November 2002, he founded the Khashuri office of the ‘United Democrats’ party. From November 2003 to March 2004, he was the Deputy Gamgebeli of Khashuri rayon. From March to October, 2004, he was a Member of Georgian Parliament, elected through National Movement party lists. From October, 2004 to March, 2005 he was appointed Governor in Mtskheta-Mtianeti region. Khachidze was also a relatively popular pop-singer and managed to transfer his personable qualities to his managerial work as well. Khachidze is quite liked by the local NGO community, which stresses his regular work with civil society organizations and his focus on concrete achievements. Khachidze’s strongest asset is said to be his ability to work with people, despite their religion or ethnicity.”
The 1 October 2007 confidential cable (Identifier: 07TBILISI2450) reports “that there were plans to open new prisons in Javakheti and Adjara.”
The next WikiLeaked US diplomatic cable which mentions Javakhk is dated 16 October 2007 (Identifier: 07YEREVAN1247) by Perina, the CDA at the Embassy in Yerevan. “President Kocharian made clear to CDA his profound disbelief in Turkey’s sincerity on rapprochement, but grudgingly agreed to hear out any Turkish proposal. […] Kocharian conveyed profound skepticism of Turkey’s good faith. […] Kocharian said ‘You think this is the last opportunity for a generation. I believe there is no opportunity at all for at least a generation. Turkey is not ready, even at the level of society, to reach out to Armenia.’ The proof of this, Kocharian said, is that Turkey is spending so much money to build the railroad to Azerbaijan via Akhalkalaki, bypassing Armenia. There would be no point if Turkey were serious about opening the border with Armenia, which it could do any time it wished.”