BAKU: Violence against ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia

Violence against ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia

3 June 04

The Azerbaijani public has been seriously concerned over the reports
on the increasing tension in Georgia since May 30. Georgia witnessed
similar tension, which caused confrontation between the peoples of
the two countries, during the power of Georgian nationalist Ziya
Gamsakhurdiya. At that time, 500,000 Azerbaijanis living

in Georgia were driven out of their native homes. Today, on the
instructions of the Georgian leadership, the houses of peaceful people
are being searched under the cover of “fighting smuggling”. They are
being humiliated and threatened. Let’s look at official data.

The Georgian National Security Council announced that the customs
station “Red Bridge” located on Georgia’s border with Azerbaijan, would
be temporarily closed as part of an anti-contraband program. Commenting
on the measure, the chairman of the Georgian parliament’s committee
on defense and security Givi Targamadze said there have been numerous
cases of smuggling of large quantities of goods through the mentioned
customs checkpoint. Georgia’s Deputy Minister for State Security Georgi
Ugulava said the Politsala and Garajalar settlements located in the
Kvemo-Kartli region bordering on Azerbaijan have been unsupervised for
a long time and that even Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs had
not been able to set up a regional division there. Early on Sunday
morning, some 200 ‘finance police’ and Georgian MIA anti-contraband
division troops conducted an operation in a number of villages
located in the Kvemo-Kartli region. Four of those residents accused
of smuggling goods were reportedly injured as a result of ensuing
armed resistance. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, ten
sub-machine weapons, several grenades and hand-guns, narcotics,
gold and large quantities of other items were confiscated during
the operation. Not political The Azerbaijani embassy in Tbilisi has
released a statement regarding recent media reports on the closure of
the Georgian-Azerbaijani border and on the suffering of several people
during the armed confrontation between this country’s law-enforcement
bodies and residents of Ponichala and Garajalar villages. The Foreign
Ministry told AssA-Irada that the statement reads that the reports are
groundless as relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia are based on
firm friendship and strategic cooperation. “Not a single force can
shadow the century-long bilateral neighboring and friendly ties,”
the statement stresses. The statement also says that during the
meetings held with the Georgian officials the Azerbaijani side was
informed that the special operations conducted in the country were not
political as they were directed at fighting smuggling and regulating
law and order at customs points.

Broken promises There have been serious concerns that Mikhail
Saakashvili, who calls Azerbaijanis “inferior people”, would try to
deport the entire population of “disobedient Borchali”. However,
before the election in his country, Saakashvili expressed the
readiness of new Georgian politicians to develop relations with the
new generation of politicians in Azerbaijan, notably, President Ilham
Aliyev. Saakashvili maintained that the rights of Azerbaijanis were
not protected during Georgian President Shevardnadze’s presidency
and vowed to resolve all the problems of Azerbaijanis. Before the
election, Saakashvili said he acts as a guarantor of Azerbaijanis’
rights. He said that the key goal of the Georgian government is to
act as a guarantor of not only the rights of Azerbaijanis but also
their prosperity. However, a different situation can be observed
after the election in Georgia, which illustrates the fact that the
newly-elected Georgian President has not kept his promises, to say the
least. Saakashvili handed most of the land in the Borchali settlement
to Georgian tenants, while only a small portion of the land in the
settlement was distributed among Azerbaijani residents. Georgia’s
new leadership is thus infringing upon the rights of Azerbaijanis,
including the right to own property. Saakashvili’s policy has caused
serious concerns for Azerbaijanis living in Georgia, as they are now
living in suspense. They are worried not about losing their jobs,
but of being arrested or persecuted. Despite diplomatic maneuvering
by Baku and Tbilisi, the problems of Azerbaijanis living in Georgia
remain unresolved. As is evident from the last parliamentary election
in Georgia, half a million Azerbaijanis living in this country are
treated as inferior people. â^À^ÃœDon’t believe the promises of
leaders before elections and during war,â^À^Ý said one of the
old thinkers.

Authorities denounced Zumrud Gurbanli, the leader of “Geyrat” movement
of Azerbaijanis living in Georgia, has expressed his indignation
with the arrests of Azerbaijanis in Georgia. Georgian news media
has published different positions and viewpoints on the recent
developments, based on what happened around the customs checkpoint.
The Garajalar and Politsala villages are located 5-10 kilometers
away from Tbilisi and about 60 kilometers away from the “Red Bridge”
customs station. It remains to be seen why the suspected contraband of
goods was not prevented somewhere between the customs station and the
villages. There could be no objection to the operations on detaining
individuals engaged in smuggling but such activities should not be
conducted with such a lack of professionalism. Even if there were
reports concerning smuggling of goods, such a humiliation of the
entire population of the village in question is unacceptable. Many
buses travel through the Red Bridge and they are inspected, first of
all, by the frontier guards, customs officers and other government
bodies. We should also keep in mind that it is possible to detain
illegally smuggled goods anywhere along the mentioned 60 kilometers. I
therefore disagree with those who say that they came into the village
specifically to confiscate smuggled goods and believe this is a lie. It
remains to be seen why the Georgian customs officers inspected and
released the bus, as it is impossible to even transport a regular bag
across the border without an inspection from state bodies. Two or three
months ago Governor Kvemo Cartley said he considers it necessary to
conduct the anti-contraband measures in the Politsala settlement. This
proves that the raid was a planned measure. But the way it was done
was unacceptable. At 2.a.m. some 200 people wearing masks broke into
the settlement and started shooting randomly. This is unprofessional to
say the least. What adds fuel to the fire is that the law-enforcement
bodies instead of talking with certain citizens went ahead with the
action thus humiliating innocent and peaceful residents. During the
raid none of the village’s administrators were informed of the measure
coming up in the early hours the next day, and this represents a mere
provocation. Another issue that raises concerns is that criminal cases
were started against some 100 Azerbaijanis at the terminal in Georgia,
they were subsequently arrested and their property confiscated. Most of
those apprehended had nothing to do with the incident that occurred
on the Red Bridge. “I think that this provocation can seriously
hurt the Georgian-Azerbaijani relations”, Gurbanli said. Only three
Azerbaijanis are represented in the Georgian parliament, but Armenians,
who are fewer in number, enjoy greater representation.