Ninety-six km of the border is not agreed

Golos Armenii, Armenia
June 25 2009

Ninety-six km of the border is not agreed

By blocking the segment of Trancaucasus railroad, Tbilisi, together
with Turkey and Azerbaijan, Georgia participates the blockade of

President Saakashvili is paying an official visit to Armenia. He
arrived in Yerevan at a difficult time for him. Many analysts are
already counting the last hours of his presidency. It is noteworthy,
however, that the same analysts have been busy doing this over the
last three years.

In principle, Saakashvili is not a bad head of state. In 2006 he
managed to get back Upper Abkhazia [upper part of Abkhazia’s Kodori
Gorge] though the Georgian people did not appreciate it. People were
under pressure from the Russian economic embargo and this won out over
national values. The president would still be criticized even if he
had managed to establish federal control over the whole territory of
Soviet Georgia during the August venture in 2008.

Saakashvili’s main problem is that the average Georgian lacks
understanding of the idea of the Great Motherland. Starting from 2005
Saakashvili has been politically homeless. Today he is drawing new
borders for his home.

The intergovernmental commission on demarcation of the
Armenian-Georgian border was formed in 1995. It was inactive for quite
a long time. In summer 2003, Presidents Robert Kocharyan and Edward
Shevardnadze announced that within the next several months the borders
would be legally recognized. Afterwards, it was officially announced
that the 206km-long border had been divided into four parts: Bavra
(Ninotsminda) – Gugutsi – Akhkerli – Ayrum (Sadakhlo). After this, the
commission did not convene for quite a long time.

In 2004, the Georgian press raised uproar that the Armenian side had
advanced its check-points 10km into Georgian territory in the vicinity
of the border village of Akhkerpi. This message provoked a big
resonance. "Armenia has conquered 3,812 square kilometres of historic
Georgian territory," the weekly Georgian Times wrote. "It is important
to know that the factual outlines of our country in the South extend
to Gyumri," proclaimed Georgian historian Aleksandre Manveliashvili.

The new president, Mikhail Saakashvili, tried to smooth over the
situation: "Georgia and Armenia have not had territorial disputes in
the last 2,000 years. What will the situation be in the future? I
think that everything will stay the same".

In 2006 finally it was announced that "110km have already been
agreed". That meant that 96km was left to be agreed. However, that has
not been done so far. Perhaps there are still disputed issues.

Saakashvili arrived in Yerevan a week after the Georgian-Azerbaijani
intergovernmental commission session on demarcation of their state
border. At present 65% of that border – 480km long – has been agreed
with Azeris. During demarcation, the future of one of the important
cultural and religious sites, Monastery of David Gareji, has been
touched upon. Its destiny has not decided yet. In many churches and in
the refectory of this monastery, murals of VIII-XIV centuries are
preserved with the portraits of historical figures. The Azerbaijani
side thinks that the Monastery ensemble of David Gareji is an Albanian
medieval monastery complex called "Keshikchi". As a matter of fact,
Armenian inscriptions are preserved on the wall.

The important factor that influences the logic of Armenian-Georgian
relations is the geopolitical situation of Georgia. For the blockaded
Armenia, the northern neighbour’s territory has a vital meaning. It is
mentioned in the Republic of Armenia National Security concept paper
that "in the blockade conditions imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan,
Georgia is the country through which the economic and transport link
of Armenia with the outside world is secured." The Georgian port of
Poti is still a most important transit point for the Armenian
goods. Currently more than 60 per cent of Armenian cargo circulation
passes through Georgian territory and this circumstance permits
Georgia to dictate its conditions to Yerevan (e.g. not to interfere
into processes taking place in Javakheti [Georgian region populated by
ethnic Armenians]). In the course of recent years, Tbilisi’s approach
to Yerevan has not changed and it can be characterized as
"blackmailing policy".

At the same time Yerevan has stated to the Georgian authorities
several times that, by blocking the Abkhaz segment of the South
Caucasus railway and thus impeding Armenia’s exit to Russia, Tbilisi
participates in the blockade of Armenia equally with Turkey and
Azerbaijan. In 2005 President Robert Kocharyan said to Mikheil
Saakashvili that "the only country that suffers specifically from the
blockade of Abkhazia is Armenia." He said that the expression
"blockade of Abkhazia" [reference to a CIS economic embargo on
Abkhazia that Russia withdrew from in April 2008] is a fantasy. First
of all, Abkhazia has its own functional ports. Second of all, it is
connected with Russia by a railroad and motorways. "Who is Georgia
blockading?" the Armenian president asked.

Thus Georgia is in fact involved in the blockade of Armenia. It is in
this regard that prospects for railroad traffic between Armenia and
Iran acquire particular importance. This will make it possible to
minimize the significance of such an unstable and unreliable northern

Currently Georgian territory is hope to such serious communication
projects as railroad Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan
oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline. All those
projects have bypassed Armenia, though Yerevan has been invited to
participate in the design and development of them in exchange for
Nagornyy Karabakh. At that time they were discussing the possibility
of restoring the rail link with Turkey (through using the Gyumri-Kars
segment), lifting the blockade of Armenia and the prospect of routing
Baku-Ceyhan through Yerevan.

The first president of the republic [Levon Ter-Petrosyan] had
considered this proposal for a long time and eventually stated at the
press conference that "situation in Armenia will not improve as long
as we have the Karabakh issue." The main political forces and the
Armenian society were against conceding Karabakh to Azerbaijan. This
situation made Levon Ter-Petrosyan resign.

The second president [Robert Kocharyan] announced that that version
was not acceptable and the then Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanyan
stressed that "Nagornyy Karabakh is not a subject for bargaining. It
is priceless". After it the first president’s supporters accused
Robert Kocharyan of "isolating Armenia." What will the position of the
third president be?

[translated from Russian]

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