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.