All Well In Javakhk? – Georgian Parliamentary Deputy Armen Bayandour

Kristine Aghalaryan

2009/08/03 | 18:06

An interview with Armen Bayandouryan, a member of the Georgian
Parliament and Artistic Director of the Petros Adamyan National
Theater in Tbilisi

Mr. Bayandouryan, what are the most pressing problems facing the
Georgian-Armenian community today?

There are approximately 500,000 Armenians living in Georgia today. The
most pressing problem is to see to it that these Armenians send their
children to Armenian schools. Let me point out that we have nineteen
state schools in Tbilisi with more than one thousand students each;
all are Armenian. This will prove to be dangerous for the community
tomorrow and the day after, for it signifies that Armenians aren’t
attending Armenian schools but rather Russian ones. This begs the
question, why don’t we send our children and grandchildren to Armenian
schools. I think it stems from the fact that in the past Armenians
sought employment in Russia and that we have always thought that our
children will also be going to Russia to live and work.

Today, the kids in all the Armenian schools operating in Tbilisi
also master Russian and Georgian. In order that we maintain our art
and literature in Georgia it is necessary that our children attend
Armenian schools.

If this doesn’t happen we could lose our theater and church. I
frequently state that if our parents do not wish to send their kids
to Armenian schools, they should at least send them to Georgian ones
on order to learn the state language.

Why should we be attending Russian schools? This is the biggest
problem. This is especially perplexing since national minorities in
Georgia today have been afforded all the necessary facilities. Whoever
wants to go to school can do so.

Armenians must send their children to Armenian schools. In this way
we stay true to our roots. The more Armenian kids go to our schools,
the greater the number of those speaking Armenian. This translates
into more Armenian theater goers and those attending the Armenian
Church, etc.

In this context, the situation of Armenians in Tbilisi seems to differ
from that of Javakhk. Everyone goes to Armenian school in Javakhk. They
know Armenian but can’t speak Georgian. Thus they can’t get jobs
within the government. What solution do you see regarding this?

It’s an interesting question. All I’d say is that there isn’t one
nation on earth where its citizens don’t speak its primary language. If
they don’t speak Georgian in Javakhk today, it’s not their fault. The
system has been lacking, incorrect. There is a program that will soon
be introduced there in order that Javakhk Armenians learn Georgian.

What program are you referring to?

I and others have suggested that Georgian be taught in Armenian
kindergartens. Today, a 90 year-old grandma who milks her cows
and makes cheese can’t speak Georgian, but her grandchild or
great-grandchild can. That’s why we have to start early, in the
kindergarten. We should be establishing Armenian kindergartens with
a Georgian orientation. All these issues will be resolved. Armenians
complain that they aren’t given jobs. To get a job or position the
applicant must speak the dominant language of the country. Today we
have a deputy foreign minister, Mr. Nalbandov, who speaks perfect
Georgian. Do you think you can get a position in the French government
without having a mastery of French? Can one get a government job in
Armenia without knowing Armenian?

We need to be able to speak our mother tongue and simultaneously the
state language. These are different things. Today, in Georgia, we
have 160 Armenian state schools, a newspaper in Armenian, a national
theater going back 153 years, the likes of which doesn’t exist outside
Armenia. We have Armenian TV broadcasts and a working church.

Some say that in Javakhk, Armenian should be granted the status of
the 2nd official language or a regional one. Other Javakhk Armenians
are demanding that all local official business be conducted in
Armenian. What’s your position?

To establish a second official language in Javakhk would imply that
Armenians are incompetent. We’d be doing ourselves a great disservice
if we said that we Armenians cannot learn another language. This is
my view. It would be like saying; we are citizens of Georgia but we
aren’t capable of learning the language. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Today
we can’t, but tomorrow we can.

Mr. Bayandouryan, you have said that all is well in Javakhk, but
there are activists and officials in Armenia who have been publicizing
the problems in Javakhk and who have sounded the alarm regarding the
anti-Armenian policies of the Georgian authorities; e.g. pressures
brought to bear on Armenian social and political organizations. In
your opinion, what’s behind such a widespread conception of Javakhk?

There are people who simply never have seen all the good works that
have been carried out for Javakhk. Was there electricity in Javakhk
eight years ago? Did grandparents receive pensions? Were Javakhk
communities supplied with natural gas? Was there a road linking
Akhalkalak and Tbilisi? That’s to say, development is certainly
taking place. Who is claiming that everything is perfect? There are
shortcomings not only in Javakhk but in Kutaisi and Kvemo-Karteli.

These problems can be raised and I welcome such moves. However,
when you fail to speak of the good that has been accomplished in
the same breath; I find this unacceptable. I mean, no one is saying
that all is rosy in Javakhk. But we don’t mention the electricity,
gas and roads. Why is that? We don’t want to accept the fact that
Saakashvili is the only Georgian president that frequently visits
Javakhk. What president has visited Javakhk? Zviad Gamsakhurdia and
Shevardnadze never did. The nay-sayers don’t accept all this.

How would you explain the recent rash of arrests of Javakhk-Armenian

No one is illegally arrested in Georgia; just as in Armenia. There
is a justification one someone has been charged with a crime. Being
Armenian has nothing to do with it. If you’ve committed a crime you
go to jail. These people broke the law. It’s that simple.

Have you been following the trial of Vahagn Chakhalyan? Everyone
has protested that the case has been wrought with violations –
Georgia’s human rights ombudsman, Sozar Subari, Chakhalyan’s defense
team and outside observers. Then there’s the related case of the
Georgian authorities not allowing aFrench-Armenian attorney to defend
Chakhalyan. Why haven’t these issues been covered more extensively?

Do you actually believe that Sozar Subari is some kind of saint?

I’m not talking about whether he’s a saint or not but the fact that
the Georgian ombudsman and his team have registered a number of
legislative violations in the case.

That’s Subari’s take on the matter. The law is grounded in a correct
legal framework. It cannot be claimed that whatever Subari says is
correct. That’s not how it is. I am convinced that no laws have been
violated regarding those imprisoned in Georgia.

Mr. Bayandouryan, have you looked into the matter why the Georgian
authorities haven’t allowed RoA Deputy Shirak Torosyan and political
analyst Igor Mouradyan from entering the country? In fact, they
haven’t allowed Mr. Torosyan to visit his birthplace in Javakhk twice
now. There’s also a rumor circulated that Georgian border posts have a
list of some 15-20 young people whose entry into Georgia from Armenia
is prohibited.

What’s your reaction?

We three Armenian deputies have discussed the matter and perhaps
there is a problem with Deputy Torosyan. The problem is that we have
certain individuals, maybe this doesn’t pertain to Mr. Torosyan, who
are trying to have it both ways. We can’t burden the two countries
like that. We are always looking for issues to exploit. As to why
they won’t allow him in…that’s beyond my jurisdiction. You have a
foreign ministry and diplomatic staff. They should be getting involved.

I believe that the deputy should be allowed to visit his place of
birth. But I can’t say what lies underneath.

I am not aware of any list of names that you mentioned.

As an Armenian member in the Georgian Parliament have you ever raised
the issue of the status of the Armenian Church in Georgia or the
return of the six Armenian churches? Presently, where do we stand in
these issues?

A law will soon be passed. We frequently talk about the Norashen
Church. It goes without saying that many mistakes were made regarding
the church. There have been those who have desecrated our holy
sites. However we have a nation and a government who is speaking out
on these matters and which stands against such inhuman acts. I believe
that the heads of the two churches will resolve the matter jointly
and that we should assist them in whatever manner they see fit. We
will not allow anyone to desecrate our cemeteries. Here, I am not
talking about a whole people at fault but certain individuals. In
this context, Georgia’s president is aware of the problem and is
taking action. Generally speaking, the new leadership in Georgia is
contemporary in its thinking and this can only benefit not only the
country as a whole but the national minorities in Georgia as well.

Previously, you have listed the accomplishments of the Georgian
government in Javakhk. In your opinion, what should be the position
of Armenia vis-a-vis the Javakhk issue?

Armenia, under the direction of the president, is conducting a very
normal policy when it comes to Javakhk.

Javakhk is part and parcel of Georgia and those intrigues that
get bandied about are improper. What has taken place regarding
Javakhk? Armenia is doing all it can to assist residents of Javakhk
in terms of the propagating Armenian literature and the arts. Theater
troupes, artists and writers from Armenia travel there often. But
this isn’t the real problem. The real set of problems lies in the
fact that there is a certain group of individuals that are not truly
interested in the well-being of Javakhk but rather in making a name
for themselves. They are the ones creating the problems. The issues
facing Javakhk are ones being faced by Georgia as a whole. Georgia is
a country in which democracy is still being established but already
major steps have been taken down this road – we will be entering NATO
and the European Union. In this respect, the issues faced by national
minorities will be resolved as well.