`Armenization’ of The Domestic Political Life in Georgia?


29-03-2013 05:32:08 | Georgia | Articles and Analyses

By Sergei Minasyan
PhD (in History), Head of the Department of Political Researches,
Caucasus Institute

On January 17 official visit of the prime-minister of Georgia Bidzina
Ivanishvili to Armenia took place. This was the second regional visit
of a new head of the Georgian government after a resounding and
unexpected for many victory of the opposition at the parliamentary
elections in October; at the end of the last year Ivanishvili visited
Azerbaijan. Unlike Baku, where new head of the Georgian government was
expected with some kind of alertness and distrust (in December
Ivanishvili stated that he had doubts about reasonability of
Baku-Akhlkalaki-Kars railway financed by Azerbaijan going through
Georgia bypassing Armenia), Yerevan expected Ivanishvili with
emphasized interest.

The expectations of the Armenian authorities were connected with both
promises given by Ivanishvili concerning the resolution of many
imperious problems, which are, for example, connected with the
Armenian population living in Samtskhe-Javakheti region and openly
declared readiness of the Georgian government to improve the relations
with the main military and political ally of Armenia – Russia. One may
say that the expectations of the Armenian authorities from the meeting
of the Georgian prime-minister and Armenian president and
prime-minister were generally realized. Moreover, visit of Ivanishvili
to Armenia took place in such a positive atmosphere which is so
non-typical for many post-Soviet countries (including the visits of
Saakashvili and his prime-ministers) that involuntarily thoughts about
the feasibility of too optimistic development of the Armenian-Georgian
relations came forward.

During his visit Ivanishvili also met the Head of the Armenian
Apostolic Church Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II. At the
meeting the issues of reclaiming some of the Armenian Churches
confiscated in the soviet period and then not returned to their former
owner were discussed. For quite a long time this issue had not been
solved; Saakashvili’s government did not dare to take over this issue,
which had been complicated after the Georgian Orthodox Church offered
a challenge for some Orthodox churches on the territory of Armenia.
During his meetings with both secular and church leadership of
Armenia, the Georgian prime-minister offered a new, in his opinion,
compromise solution. He stated that he was ready to initiate
reconstruction of these churches in a short time at his own expense
(despite their belonging) unless a joint Armenian-Georgian commission
would define their belonging. Ivanishvili said that the Georgian side
would agree with any decision of the commission and as he stated in
his interview to the Armenian office of `Radio Liberty’ he had
received an impression that the Armenian side was also ready for such

Though the offer made by the Georgian prime-minister may arouse new
problems and disputes (e.g. according to what projects and in
compliance with what church and architecture traditions the
reconstruction of the churches should be implemented before final
defining of their belonging), nevertheless, it demonstrates a distinct
readiness of the Georgian prime-minister to find political
(compromise) decision of this inveterate problem leaving a negative
mark on bilateral interstate relations.

During his visit Ivanishvili responded in the same way to the issues
regarding the problems of the Armenian population of
Samtskhe-Javakheti. Underlining that he was very grateful to the
Armenian population of that region which for the first time in the
history of Georgia mostly voted for the opposition, he promised that
he would never forget his promises made during the electoral campaign
and he would do more than he promised in Samtskhe-Javakheti. In
response to the request of the Catholicos of All Armenians,
Ivanishvili also promised to consider the issue of discharging of the
Armenian political activist from this region Vahagn Chakhalyan,
arrested and convicted under the Saakashvili governing. As later
Ivanishvili told he redirected this issue for the solution to the
Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance Sozar Subari. Soon after
that the developments around Vahagn Chakhalyan, though for a short
time, appeared in the spotlight of the political life in Georgia.

Let us remind you that the activist of `United Javakhq’ movement
V.Chakhalyan was arrested on June 21, 2008 in Akhlkalaki. In the
opinion of some local activists this happened in consequence of the
actions of the then Georgian authorities which tended to secure `just
in case’ situation in Javakhq populated by the Armenians two weeks
before initiating combat actions in South Ossetia and decided to
neutralize the activists of the local youth socio-political movement.
In spring 2009 Chakhalyan was convicted under rather disputable
articles for 10 years of imprisonment. In the years to come a number
of Armenian NGOs, including ones from Diaspora, tried to appeal
against the decision of the Georgian court and in 2012 the case was
considered in the European Court.

The situation changed after the change of the regime in Georgia. The
amnesty proclaimed by new Georgian authorities was also spread upon
Vahagn Chakhalyan who was released free at the end of January 2013.
After setting free Chakhalyan had a phone conversation with the
Catholicos Garegin II and in Tbilisi he was received by the ambassador
of Armenia to Georgia Hovhannes Manukyan and Head of the Georgian
Dioceses of the AAC Vazgen Mirzakhanyan and after that he returned to
his home town Akhlkalaki.

This event induced overreaction of the incumbent president Mikhail
Saakashvili and former prime-minister and a person responsible for
power structures Vano Merabishvili. Saakashvili called this step
criminal and vicious for republic and compared Chakhalyan with former
Abkhazian leader Vladislav Ardzinba. Saakashvili also accused
Chakhalyan of espionage in favor of Russia and stated that if the
authorities had put Ardzinba behind the bars just like they did it
with Chakhlyan the developments round Abkhazia would have gone in
quite different direction. At the same time Saakashvili in his
statement made a mention of the Catholicos of All Armenians and this
was taken as something rather ambiguous by the Armenian Dioceses in
Georgia so that it came out with special critical statement in the
address of the incumbent president.

At the same time Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance of
Georgia Sozar Subari also criticized M.Saakashvili’s statements and
even accused the incumbent president of lie and mentioned that
Chakhalyan could be included in the amnesty declared by the Georgian
parliament. According to the argumentation of the Georgian minister a
question arouses – if Saakashvili accused Chakhalyan of espionage why
he was not accused under the articles mentioned by Saakashvili when
the later was governing. The similar comment was made by Chakhalyan.

During next several days the incumbent president and his adherents
from currently oppositional `United National Movement’ criticized the
decision of new authorities to amnesty Vahagn Chakhalyan. At the same
time it was more than obvious that it was rather connected with an
aspiration to use this event as a kind of information reason to
criticize new authorities of Georgia headed by Bidzina Ivanishvili
than with an irrational aspiration of Saakashvili to turn Chakhalyan
into his `personal enemy’. But one should mention that many Armenians
in Georgia take Saakashvili’s aforementioned statements (including
rather disputable accusations of `Armenian separatism’) with at least
vigilance and concern. In their opinion this may cause both heating of
ethnic tension in Samtskhe-Javakheti and intensification of negative
attitude towards Armenians all over Georgia.

However, the attempts to critically use `Armenian issue’ in the
domestic political rhetoric by Saakashvili, which can be taken
ambiguously if desired, were used by the incumbent president not only
in connection with `Chakhalyan case’. During Ivanishvili’s visit to
Armenia the incumbent Georgian president in his speedy manner came out
with tough reaction. On January 18, 2013 at a specially summoned
briefing Saakashvili said that the statements made by Ivanishvili in
Yerevan `do not take into account geopolitical and strategic interests
of Georgia’, and they `are in only Russia’s interests’ and that
opening of the railway through Abkhazia `will become anti-state,
criminal, anti-Georgian, anti-national and corresponding to the
occupant’s fundamental interests step’. Saakashvili still continues
making such statements…

In fact this caused a situation when against the background of
ideological and political crisis in the opposition between the
prime-minister and president the issues connected with both Armenia
and Armenian population of Georgia, including `Chakhalyan case’, to a
large extent has become an indicator of the political opposition in
the domestic political struggle for authority in Georgia.

Moreover, currently the term `Armenization’ has become to some extent
denominative in the ideological estimations of the prospects of
foreign political positioning of Georgia. Saakashvili and his
adherents warn that improvement of the relations between Georgia and
Russia will bring to its `Armenization’ (using this term with negative
coloring). And his opponents, as prime-minister Ivanishvili said in
his interview to the Armenian office of `Radio Liberty’ in Yerevan,
bring as an example the policy of Armenia, which managed to establish
and maintain good relations simultaneously with Russia, U.S., E.U. and
even Iran.

But at the same time it is obvious that in case if such a tendency of
`multi-level’ use of the `Armenian factor’ in domestic policy of
Georgia continues, it may be fraught with danger of negative
perception of the Armenians in Georgia and Armenia at least by some
circles inside the Georgian society.

– Articles and Analyses
News from Armenia and Diaspora – Noyan Tapan

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS