Georgia’s Armenian Minority Looks Ahead To Local Elections


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March 31 2010

The NGO Javakhk, one of several that seek to represent the interests
of the prominently Armenian population of the southern Georgian region
of Javakheti, convened a congress in the regional center, Akhalkalaki,
on March 27 to discuss priorities and demands in the run-up to the
Georgian local government elections scheduled for May 30, Caucasus
Press reported on March 30.

The 200 participants (of an estimated regional Armenian population
of around 160,000) adopted a statement reiterating long-standing
grievances that they attribute to the allegedly discriminatory
policies of the Georgian central government. They include harassment;
restrictions on the use of the Armenian language; and disputes over
historic church buildings to which both the Georgian Orthodox Church
and the Armenian Apostolic Church lay claim.

The participants explicitly appealed to the Georgian authorities not to
create obstacles to candidates representing the region’s Armenian NGOs
who seek to register as candidates in the upcoming local elections,
and also to guarantee that the vote will be free and fair.

The appeal was by no means the first address to the Georgian leadership
in recent years. Shortly after the August 2008 Georgian-Russian war,
the Council of Armenian NGOs of Samtskhe-Javakheti released a statement
arguing that the only ay to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity and
allay ethnic tensions is to transform the country into a federal state.

The council proposed that Samtskhe-Javakheti be granted "broad
self-government" within that federal framework, including the right
to free elections for all local government bodies and jurisdiction
over culture, education, crime prevention, and environmental and
socioeconomic issues. The region would also be represented within
the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government at
the national level. And, crucially, Armenian would be designated a
regional official language, alongside Georgian.

Such measures to protect the rights of national minorities are, the
NGOs pointed out, one of the necessary preconditions for Georgia’s
successful integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

The Georgian authorities have until very recently made little effort
to redress the Javakheti Armenians’ grievances, possibly counting on
the fact that the Republic of Armenia leadership is so dependent on
maintaining cordial relations with Georgia for overland communication
with the outside world that it cannot risk campaigning too aggressively
on behalf of its hapless co-ethnics.

And some initiatives intended to resolve problems have served only
to compound them. An example is Georgia’s point-blank rejection of an
Armenian government offer to provide Armenian-language textbooks for
schools in Javakheti. Georgian Ambassador to Yerevan Grigol Tabatadze
told journalists earlier this month that only Georgian textbooks
approved by the Georgian Ministry of Education can be translated into
Armenian, published in Armenia, and then transported to Javakheti for
use in the region’s 144 Armenian schools, Caucasus Press reported on
March 11.

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