BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
As Armenia’s Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan on Tuesday met with Georgia’s Ambassador to Yerevan Giorgi Saganelidze and praised Armenia-Georgia relations, the newly-minted Georgian Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, said that his country was ready to sell a 25-percent stake in Georgian Oil and Gas Corporation (GOGC), which transports Russian natural gas to Armenia. Baku’s state energy company was quick to express interest in that crucial stake.
Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR said on Monday that it was interested in obtaining shares in the GOGC, a move that will heighten the conflict between Yerevan and Baku, and will severely call into question Tbilisi’s motives in advancing its regional policies, which, Saganelidze told Karapetyan, are based on “centuries-old friendship between the two peoples.”
Georgia first announced its plans to sell shares in the GOGC back in 2011, after SOCAR offered $500 million for the entire pipeline a year earlier.
Earlier this month, Tbilisi and Yerevan announced the construction of a “Friendship Bridge” along the Georgian-Armenian border. But talks between the two countries this year has focused on a tri-lateral energy transport agreement with Iran that could advance Armenia’s economic viability in the region. Georgia has been dragging its feet on committing to the agreement, placing the future of the project in jeopardy.
Since its independence, Georgia has been advancing a pro-Turkish, pro-Azerbaijani foreign policy in the region, while domestically it continues to curtail the civil liberties of its Armenian population especially in the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Samtskhe Javakheti, or Javakhk as it is commonly known. Official Tbilisi has curtailed Armenians’ right to education, economic prosperity by placing undue obstacles on its Armenian population, which it has also subjected to harassment that have included arrest of Armenian community leaders. At the same time, in the capital, the issue of the Georgian governments claim on Armenian churches remains a front-burner issue for community leaders. Furthermore, Georgian leaders passed on attending the centennial commemorations of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan, sending a clear signal to Armenians of the country’s unwillingness to recognize an event to which their ancestors had front-row seats a century ago.
The alliances that it has made with Turkey and Azerbaijan, which include a tri-partite military accord, and energy deal with Baku, as well as a partnership in the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, give Georgia an incongruous stake in regional conflict resolution processes. Georgia’s embrace of Azerbaijani and Meskheti Turkish workers, who have been disbursed along the Armenian-Georgian border within the boundaries of Javakhk, pose a clear threat to the well-being of the area’s Armenian population, which is forced to seek its livelihood elsewhere because of the unjust socio-economic policies being advanced by Tbilisi.
Prime Minister Karapetyan seems to be intent on reviving and strengthening Armenia’s economy. Since Georgia is not part of the Eurasian Economic Union or the Collective Security Treaty Organization, both of which purport to protect the interests of its member-states, Yerevan must call Tbilisi to task on its often duplicitous policies, if for nothing else then the “centuries-old friendship between the two peoples.”