TBILISI (RFE/RL)—Azerbaijan’s ambassador in Tbilisi on Thursday urged the Georgian government to restrict Armenia’s commercial access to Georgia’s Black Sea coast and stop tens of thousands of Armenian traveling there each year.
Namig Aliyev claimed the Armenian presence in the Black Sea region of Adzharia is part of a long-term plan to annex it to Armenia. “For Armenians, access to the Black Sea means the realization of the idea of a ‘Greater Armenia from sea to sea,’” he told the Azerbaijani APA news agency.
Adzharia is one of the most popular destinations of Armenian vacationers attracted by its beaches and inexpensive resorts. An estimated 70,000 Armenians spent their summer holidays there in 2009.
Capitalizing on this demand, some Armenian businesspeople have reportedly purchased real state and made other investments in the local tourism infrastructure in recent years.
“[The Black Sea resorts of] Kobuleti, Batumi and other regions in Adzharia are being ‘Armenianized,’ Armenians are being resettled there,” claimed Aliyev. “This is a great threat. Taking into account the fact that in 2009-2010 hundreds of Adzharian families moved from Adzharia to other regions of Georgia as migrants, we’ll see where these processes will lead the Georgians.”
The diplomat added that use of the Georgian Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti by Armenian exporters and importers also poses a grave threat to Georgia’s territorial integrity. “I can understand it when a state has no access to sea and wants to establish friendship, economic, commercial, transport relations with other states, in order to have access to sea,” he said. “But in the case of Armenia … these are territorial claims.”
According to Aliyev, Armenia will seek to eventually “occupy these territories both militarily and through migration.” “Azerbaijanis and Georgians should unite to prevent this policy. Otherwise, we will not be able to achieve anything,” he said.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has encouraged Armenian tourism and investments into his country ever since he swept to power in 2003. His administration’s radical crackdown on police corruption and the launch of a regular train service between Yerevan and Batumi are among the factors behind recent years’ surge in the number of Armenian tourists.
In an effort to further facilitate transport between their countries, the Armenian and Georgian governments pledged last week to jointly operate their border crossings.
Also, a new highway currently built in southern Georgia is expected to substantially shorten travel between Armenia and the Georgian Black Sea coast.