YEREVAN (Hurriyet)–Normalization talks between Ankara and Yerevan have worried Georgia, an Armenian expert has said, suggesting that the government in Tbilisi wants the border between Turkey and Armenia to remain closed.
He also said Georgia might face a territorial dispute with neighboring Armenia because of the ethnic Armenians’ situation in the former Soviet country, adding that the sizeable Armenian minority in Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region would eventually demand autonomy for themselves.
“Along with Iran, Georgia is a major transit route for Armenia to reach the world. Seventy percent of Armenian trade is procured via Georgian transit routes. So, Georgia wants the border to be kept shuttered,” Haykazun Alvrstyan, a historian and researcher at the Center for Armenian Studies, told Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review over the weekend. Georgia fears losing its key role in Armenia’s trade relations, Alvrstyan said. “Another of Georgia’s fears is to see Armenia as an alternative country for energy pipeline plans.”
The closest land routes to and from Armenia run through Georgia – via the Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi and via the border checkpoint of Kazbegi-Verkhny Lars on the Georgian-Russian border. The checkpoint was closed by Russia in 2006 after relations were frozen between Moscow and Tbilisi.
Likening the situation in Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region with the Karabakh conflict, Alvrstyan warned of a possible military conflict in the Caucasus region.
“The Georgian government has ignored Armenian culture in the region as it has not officially recognized the Armenian Church and has banned the Armenian language in schools,” Alvrstyan said. “If mandatory precautions are not adopted, major conflicts will be inevitable in the region.”
Armenians are the majority in the southern Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti.
Lack of dialogue between local Armenians and the national government in Tbilisi adds to perceptions of discrimination and alienation, and many Armenians claim they are treated as second-class citizens, the report said.
Georgia was oppressing not only Armenians, but also all minority groups in the former Soviet country, Alvrstyan said and claimed that the government in Tbilisi was trying to assimilate the ethnic population.
“The Ossetians and Abkhazians’ declaration of independence are a perfect example of revolt against these assimilation efforts,” Alvrstyan said of the separatist regions of Georgia. The rebel regions’ independence has been recognized only by Russia and its Latin American allies, Nicaragua and Venezuela; Moscow’s decision to recognize the region sparked outrage from the international community.
“The ethnic Armenians in the Javakheti region may want to have an autonomous administration in near future,” Alvrstyan said.