BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Every day, the Armenians of the Samtskhe-Javakheti (Javakhk) region in Georgia face a harsh battle for survival. Yet through sheer will and determination, the community, which faces discrimination and insurmountable obstacles, is able to keep the Armenian identity alive, not for fear of assimilation but for the most basic of reasons: survival.
In the 20 years since Armenia’s independence and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the plight of the Armenians in Javakhk has not been center stage, simply because the life and death struggle to liberate Karabakh was, and continues to be at the fore, since it is so detrimental for the Armenian nation.
No one knows that better that the Armenians living in Javakhk, where vestiges of the Soviet regime are still very much part and parcel of daily life. Despite the unique position Georgia enjoys as a darling of the West, enough to prompt a Western-backed and orchestrated color revolution, official Tbilisi has not been willing to enact reforms and, through its arcane laws, discriminates against minorities living in Georgia by blocking their ability to enjoy basic and fundamental rights of practicing their religion and speaking their language. Armenians in Javakhk, who have lived there for centuries before being annexed to Georgia by Joseph Stalin, are being systematically persecuted and their right to life and liberty is being hampered on a daily basis.
This second-class citizen status is impeding Armenians from getting jobs, being represented in local and federal government structures and from teaching Armenian in schools. Furthermore, a state-sponsored campaign to crack down on the community has intensified, resulting in the arrest and incarceration of community activist and leaders on trumped up charges that often border on absurdity.
For its part, the Armenian government has not been willing or able to effectively address the plight of Javakhk Armenians. As a quick way out, the government has always scapegoated Armenia’s reliance on Georgia as a route to Russia and the Black Sea for its ineffective response to this humanitarian and national crisis. Even the Diaspora Ministry, with a stated mission of assisting communities outside of Armenia, has failed to address some of the basic needs of the Javakhk Armenians. A sadder reality facing Javakhk Armenians who flee their ancestral homes to settle in Armenia is the discrimination they face from locals.
Despite this bleak and dire existence, Javakhk Armenians are fighting for their rights. Whether it is through celebrating cultural and religious holidays or outlining the political demands for a better and more equitable treatment of Armenians, the community is advancing the Javakhk Cause through its own means and abilities.
Their demands from the Georgian authorities are to not impede the teaching of the Armenian language through state-sanctioned obstacles, which generally are manifested through financial cuts to Armenian schools or the restriction on teaching of history and religion. Another important stipulation is fair representation in local and federal elected offices and equal opportunity for employment. An end to random raids of community facilities and arrest of leaders is also of utmost importance in their demand for human rights. The people of Javakhk are convinced that the most logical way to realize their objectives and address the inequities of the current situation is through autonomy for Javakhk within a federated state of Georgia.
On constant that has kept the Javakhk movement in the forefront and has provided much-needed resources to the Armenians of Javakhk has been the Armenian Relief Society Javakhk Fund, which will host its annual fund-raiser on Sunday. Through this effort, the ARS has opened kindergartens, community centers and provided humanitarian assistance to people of Javakhk and has become a lifeline for the Armenians in Javakhk. The efforts of this initiative must be supported and the community should take more of an active role in Javakhk Fund activities.
The challenges facing Armenia, Karabakh and the entire Armenian nation are compounded by the realities facing the Armenians of Javakhk. Aside from Georgian government’s ill-treatment of Armenians, the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalak-Baku railway—almost entirely funded by Turkey and Azerbaijan—coupled with the planned settlement of Meskheti Turks in Javakhk proper threaten the very existence of this historic Armenian territory.
Javakhk is important for sole reason that it is a critical part of our national agenda, the success of which depends on the participation of all Armenians in ensuring that the aspiration of the people of Javakhk are heard and fulfilled.