Georgia Not Doing Enough in Javakhk, Says International Crisis Group

A young Armenian boy gazes at Armenia from Javakhk (Photo Tamar Yardemian)

TBILISI-YEREVAN-BRUSSELS—In a repot entitled “Georgia: The Javakheti Region’s Integration Challenges” the International Crisis Group stresses that Georgia needs to improve integration of its mostly Armenian-populated Javakheti (Javakhk) region.

“Many Javakheti residents do not feel like full-fledged Georgian citizens. Dialogue with local stakeholders is very important, and flexible language policies, targeted economic projects, and encouraging more involvement with the rest of the country will help Georgia demonstrate its intention to remain a multi-ethnic country where minorities feel welcome,” says Lawrence Sheets, Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director.

The region counts 95,000 mainly Armenian speakers, and its cultural, economic and sometimes political reliance on Armenia could make it more vulnerable to outside interference. However, Yerevan has recently played a stabilizing role in decreasing tensions there. Georgia has also been concerned about Moscow’s influence, especially since the region housed a Russian military base that was only closed in 2007. The 2008 war again increased Tbilisi’s fear that Russia could use the region to destabilize the country, though at present this seems highly unlikely.

“It is in Georgia’s national interest to continue to increase its focus on the region, to build confidence with local leaders and engender a sense of loyalty towards the state”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “It should provide an example of respect for minority rights in a part of the world where minorities who feel discriminated against have all too often been attracted by secession”.

Asbarez will provide analysis on the report but is publishing below the overview of the report.

Georgia: The Javakheti Region’s Integration Challenges

The mostly Armenian-populated Javakheti region, along the southern border with Armenia and Turkey, has been a potential flashpoint since Georgia’s 1991 independence, when a paramilitary group practically ran it, and physical links with the rest of the country were weak. After the 2008 Georgia-Russia war, many outside observers, recalling that there had been violent demonstrations in Javakheti in 2005 and 2006, predicted it would be the next to seek autonomy – or more. But the situation has stabilized. Tbilisi has successfully implemented programs to increase the region’s ties to the rest of the country, stopped projects that were seen as discriminatory and reduced the influence of the few remaining radical groups. It should maintain this momentum and take additional steps to guarantee that Javakheti and its 95,000 mainly Armenian speakers feel fully integrated in Georgia and provide an example of respect for minority rights in a region where minorities who feel discriminated against have all too often been attracted to secession, such as in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Lack of knowledge of the state language (Georgian) and poverty encourages migration from the region to Armenia and Russia. A paucity of media reporting on the isolated area helps reinforce feelings of marginalization. Many Javakheti residents do not feel like full-fledged citizens, so prefer to become involved in the political and cultural life of neighboring Armenia, whose nationalist groups are quick to argue that they are the victims of ethnic discrimination due to Georgian government policies and to amplify their grievances over poverty, unemployment, education and the lack of formal laws recognizing Armenian as a “regional language” in Javakheti. However, the current Yerevan authorities are playing a stabilizing role in decreasing tensions and have arrested alleged Javakheti radicals in Armenia.
Georgia was concerned about Moscow’s intentions in the region, especially as a major Russian military base – a left-over from the Soviet era – was located there. Some Russian commentators speculated that the Kremlin could use its influence in Javakheti to cause Georgia to renounce its NATO membership aspirations. But the base was closed in 2007, and Moscow lost more of its ability to manipulate local grievances the next year, when it committed to Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence. Nevertheless, in Tbilisi fear that Russia could use the region to destabilize Georgia has increased since the war, even though this presently seems highly unlikely.

Although Javakheti poses no immediate threat to Georgia’s territorial integrity, Tbilisi needs to continue to increase its focus on the region, so as to build confidence with local leaders and engender a sense of loyalty towards the state. This would help to avoid interpretations that the local aspects of nationwide problems, such as the economy, reflect ethnic discrimination.

To ensure the political stability and sustainable development of Javakheti and improve regional integration, thereby reducing the region’s vulnerability to destabilization, the Georgian government, with the support of international partners, should:

•provide the public with comprehensive information in Armenian on its policies and facilitate public discussions on issues, such as integration, language and human rights;

•build the capacities of educated and motivated local officials, further training them in public administration while creating an open and restriction-free environment for local business;

•provide long-term budgetary resources to make educational projects such as multilingual schools, teacher training, translation of Georgian textbooks into Armenian and Georgian-as-a-second-language courses more systematized and sustainable; do more to attract Georgian language teachers to Javakheti; and give scholarships for higher education to Javakheti Armenians on condition that they return to teach;

•codify current language and education practices for the minority population in national legislation; honor the spirit of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML) while working toward its ratification;

•encourage more private investment, with a view to bringing the Javakheti economic ultimately to the national level; and

•offer to fund local television stations’ translations of nationwide programs, including talk shows, and encourage the public broadcaster (TV Channels 1 and 2) and other national television stations to improve coverage of Javakheti.

Nationalist groups and media in Armenia should fully acknowledge that Javakheti’s residents are Georgian citizens and refrain from over-politicizing sensitive issues by labeling them cases of ethnic discrimination. Many of Javakheti’s problems are shared by other isolated regions in Georgia. The donor community and international organizations should continue to work with Tbilisi to further develop democratic institutions, judicial independence, rule of law and free media, with a view to improving stability in Javakheti as in the rest of Georgia.


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  1. Avery said:

    ICG is Neocon front organization. Every report it spews out regarding Armenians has to be considered Anti-Armenian, even if at the surface it does not appear to be.
    Neocon’s goal is to weaken and eliminate Armenian presence in the Caucasus, so that they can complete the unbroken Pan-Turanic chain, and thus encircle and threaten Russia (….thru her Southern underbelly).

    This report claiming Georgia is not doing enough is meant thus: Georgia must do everything to eliminate Armenians from Georgia as a distinct ethnic entity – by absorbing and converting them into Georgians.

    Neocons don’t want a repeat of Abkhazia and South Ossetia: they need Georgia as viable state, a future NATO base.

    • Ara Khachatourian said:

      We agree with your observations and once we have read the report thoroughly, we will publish an analysis. Thanks

  2. bigmoustache said:

    i would call arresting community leaders, confiscating and converting armenian churches as counter-productive to say the least.

  3. Arziv said:

    It is very clear and obvious to an neutral observer that the Javak region ought to be returned or annexed to Armenia. This region is another sore thumb inside the eyes of Armenians. The report is a useless exercise in intellectual duplicity. Armenian presence in the Caucasus is an inalienable factor. in any equation pertaining to the area. We depend very much on the awakening of Russia and their capabilities to withstand the predatory forces in the Caucasus. Anyone visiting our capital can not but be flabbergasted and bemused at the huge complex of the american Embassy. In contrast the Russian Embassy occupies a small piece of land. Why does the USA needs such a gargantuan complex in a small country such as Armenia ?. It is quite clear the place is a hive of spies and a geopolitical centre of control and monitoring in the area. It is utterly offensive to Armenians to have such a colossal piece of real estate in alien hands —unfriendly power ?— in the heart of the capital.

  4. Stephen T. Dulgarian said:

    It is high time for the Javakhtsi Armenians to declare autonomy within Georgia. The Armenians are continually being harassed, and the Georgians are trying to bring back the Meshki Turks along with the Chinese whom are moving in. The Ossetians & other ethnic groups have previously declared Autonomy & the Armenians in Georgia have a larger population than the other ethnic groups. Stalin whom was a Georgian is the Soviet Butcher whom gave Javakh to Georgia. It is a shame that when the Soviet Union broke up that the new Russian Government did not help the new Armenian Government recover not only Javakh but also Nakhichevan & Artsakh. These territories should have been brought up at the United Nations to be rightfully returned to the Armenian Nation.

    • Halo said:

      Agreed, but one of the problems is the current leadership of Armenia who are neglecting our rights and demands as an Armenian people, not just of Armenians in Armenia but around the world. If all Armenians were to nite, we could accomplish all these and more. The Worst fear of Turks, Georgians and Azeris is for all Armenians to become of a single ideaology, and I say this is the gift we must give them.

  5. Halo said:

    I also think that Georgia should be taught a lesson in humility. They remind me of cowardly 2-faced backstabbers who are just reaping the rewards of their criminal leader Stalin who made life easy for them at the expense of Armenians. No wonder they are best of friends with Turks and Azeris and they have made it clear they will support Azerbaijan in case of a war in NK. Same goes for Azeris. And the same goes for Turks who are today enjoying success for having committed a genocide and using Armenian lands for profit. All these scum people (governments and supporters) have one thing in common, they took the rights of Armenians and today are living off our lands while we are struggling land-locked and in shock of how we got ripped off.

    And to all Armenians who say Armenians live in Georgia and are happy and we are not enemies but friends: I say cut the Bulls**t and go tell that to the Armenians of Javakhk. Georgians may not be our enemies, but they are not our friends.

  6. Avetis said:

    Armenians need to have the foresight to shelve their fantasies about Western Armenia and start seriojusly thinking about gaining access to the Black Sea. Doing the Black Sea will be much easier than doing Western Armenia. All Yerevan has to do is convince Moscow and Tehran…

    • bigmoustache said:

      black or caspian, that would mean cutting off either turk from georgians or azeris from georgians, i dont think thats going to happen anytime soon. history shows that armenians are a grateful people, all over the middle east there are examples of that. thats why in lebanon we never took anyones side. if georgians allow the armenians there to flourish peacefully it will be good for the whole region.

  7. bigmoustache said:

    for now armenians there must STAY! thats the first way you fight back.
    strenghten communications with armenia, strenghten institutions like schools.
    we cant declare autonomy now, but in the future armenians will need a bigger body of water to expand

  8. John Evans said:

    Having been on post in Armenia when the new U.S. Embassy chancery was opened, I have to correct the misimpression that Arziv has in his comment on May 24 about the “gargantuan” structure. In actual fact, the U.S. Embassy is “right-sized” for the activities that take place there. The complex houses a separate building for the assistance work being carried out by USAID, and the main building has a spacious atrium that may make the building look larger than it really is, but is perfect for receptions, concerts, meetings of all sorts. As for its being a “hive of spies” and a center for controlling the Caucasus, that’s sheer fantasy. The story about the U.S. Embassy’s being super-sized grew out of a misunderstanding about the fact that the plot of land on which it sits, adjoining Lake Yerevanian, was indeed the largest parcel purchased by the U.S. Government for the purposes of building an embassy in many years. But the buildings themselves are just what we need, not too big, not too small. We can thank Colin Powell, who was Secretary of State at the time, for obtaining the requisite funding. It’s a fine complex, more like a college campus than a fortress, with a great view of Mt. Ararat.