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Georgia (Georgian: საქართველო (Sakartvelo); Armenian: Վրաստան (Vrastan)) is the northern neighbor of Armenia, also bounded by Russia to the north, the Black Sea to the west, Turkey to the southwest, and Azerbaijan to the southeast. Its capital is Tbilisi. Ethnic Georgians form the majority (83.8%) while 5.7% of the population is Armenian, residing primarily in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Adjara, and Abkhazia. Other minorities include Abkhazians, Ossetians, Azerbaijanis (6.5%), and Russians (1.5%)

Relations with the Armenians

Georgia and Armenia share many cultural similarities. Both are ancient Christian peoples who have their own distinct alphabets. Although the Georgian Church is an Eastern Orthodox branch and the Armenian Church is an Oriental Orthodox branch, both designate the title "Catholicos" for their patriarchs and they both use the designation "Apostolic" and "Orthodox" in their full titles. The Bagratid (Բագրատունյաց or Bagratuni in Armenian; ბაგრატიონთა or Bagrationi in Georgian) royal family ruled in both countries during the Middle Ages. Of course, in recent history, both were republics in the Soviet Union.

Despite these close cultural ties, Armenians and Georgians have tended to have a tenuous relationship (at times, they shared close bonds while at other times they have regarded each other as rivals). Their relationship is best summed up by Mary K. Matossian in The Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities (pub. 1975, p. 149):

Armenians regard Georgians as rivals, unduly favored by Stalin and the Soviet authorities. The history, fine arts, and customs of Georgians and Armenians are remarkably similar, but neither ethnic group will admit this.

Matossian also notes that this judgment is impressionistic and that "there are no reliable studies of the subject."

The last major conflict between Georgia and Armenia occurred in 1918, in the Georgian-Armenian War which resulted in the joint-occupation of the then-disputed Lori district which was eventually ceded to Armenia during Sovietization.

Georgia has had difficult relations with Russia dating back to the times of the Russian Empire when in 1811, the autocephalous status of the Georgian Church was abolished by the Russian authorities and subjected to the synodical rule of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Georgian liturgy was also replaced with Russian. The Tsarist government also attempted similar, though less severe tactics against the Armenian church (in 1836 a regulation issued by the Tsar greatly reduced the powers of the Armenian religious leadership, including that of the Catholicos).


A current source of tension between Armenia and Georgia is the Samtskhe-Javakheti region which holds an Armenian majority, many of whom have claimed to be treated as second-class citizens since Georgia's independence. The construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Baku railway, both of which directly bypass Armenia, are widely unpopular in the region have only added to its problems. On top of this, the region is among Georgia's poorest and the withdrawl of a Russian military base in the area, which helps the local economy, may create even more problems. Ultimately, however most Javakheti Armenians want to remain part of Georgia though some organizations in recent years, such as the United Javakhk Democratic Alliance have been calling for local autonomy. In the case Georgia's EU aspirations are realized, the rights of the Javakheti Armenians would likely improve due to Tbilisi's obligations to Brussels on minority rights.


Since independence, Georgia has faced political turmoil, economic instability, and civil war. The autonomous regions of Abkhazia, Adjara, and South Ossetia all seceded from the country and only Adjara has since been successfully restored under Georgian control. The conflict in Abkhazia was especially violent with cases of ethnic cleansing of the area's Georgians by native Abkhazians. Georgia's continued political turmoil has hurt Armenia in the process which heavily relies on Georgia as a transit country for natural resources due to the blockades imposed by neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Georgia has had three important political leaders since independence: Zviad Gamsakhurdia (a Georgian nationalist), Eduard Shevardnadze (who previously served under Mikhail Gorbachev as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union), and Mikheil Saakashvili (the current, pro-western president). Shevardnadze's leadership of Georgia, while supported by the west, was unpopular with most Georgians. He was eventually forced to resign in the 2003 "Rose Revolution" lead by current President Saakashvili.


Georgia is divided into 10 regions (Georgian: Mkhare, მხარე) and 2 autonomous republics (capitals in parentheses):

Autonomous Republics:


The status of the former autonomous administrative division, South Ossetia or Samachablo, is subject of negotiation with the Russian-supported separatist government there. The breakaway republic claims the northern part of Shida Kartli region as its territory, with small parts of neighbouring regions.

The regions are subdivided into districts (Georgian: Raioni, რაიონი), which may or may not have a legal status.


Armenian related events in Georgia

See also

POLICE QUASH ARMENIAN PROTEST IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA. Georgian police resorted to violence on 5 October to break up a protest demonstration by some 300 people in the predominantly Armenian-populated town of Akhalkalaki, Caucasus Press reported. The demonstrators, some of whom converged on Akhalkalaki from outlying villages, were protesting the closure by Tax Police of 10 local stores, which local activists interpreted as retaliation for the formal demand by the regions Armenians last month for autonomous status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005). Several demonstration participants have been hospitalized after being beaten by police. LF (RFE/RL Newsline - 10/06/2005)


15:54 07/10/05


`The Tax officers from Akhaltsakha checked some ten shops in Akhalkalaki. In some shops they found Armenian products without excises and closed them. The result was that a group of people have gathered in front of the local administrative building and organized the act of complain', said today the administrative member of `Hzor Haireniq' party Shirak Torosyan commenting the situation in Akhalqalaqi took place on October 5. `Then came newly formed gendarmerie and fired in the air with guns. Fortunately there are no victims. The head of Samtskhe-Javakheti (Akhalkalaki region) Georgi Khachidze qualified it as a crime, and he has promised to punish the criminals', added Shirak Torosyan. was also interested in the nationality of gendarmes, and concerning this question Mr. Torosyan answered, `They are all Armenians from Akhalkalaki and neighboring villages'. /

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Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC The Jamestown Foundation Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Akhalkalaki, the main town in the predominantly Armenian-populated and Armenia-bordered Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, was the site of an anti-government protest rally on October 5. The incident reaffirmed that this turbulent region remains unstable, despite the Georgian government's efforts to normalize the situation there.

The unrest began after tax officials from Tbilisi, conducting a routine inspection of local retailers, closed 10 shops for financial irregularities. The shop owners, mostly ethnic Armenians, and about 300 supporters, evidently influenced by local provocateurs, gathered outside the Akhalkalaki district administration building to protest the alleged violation of the Armenians' rights. The protestors's complaints quickly moved from economic issues to political demands such as stopping the closure of Russian military bases and granting political autonomy for the region.

Local police dispersed the rally using rubber truncheons and firing shots in the air. The clash between the authorities and the protesters left several people injured. The police efforts to break up the rally instead prompted more residents of Akhalkalaki and nearby villages to join the protest, making the situation even tenser.

Civic groups based in Samtskhe-Javakheti, as well as some Russian sources, have alleged that the government deliberately planned the brutal end to the protest in order to intimidate the local Armenian population following local demands for political autonomy in the region. A council of local non-governmental organizations, meeting September 23-24, adopted a resolution calling on the Georgian government to grant autonomy to the region (see EDM, September 29).

Javakhk-Info, the local news agency, distributed a bellicose statement by regional Armenian non-governmental organizations saying that the aggressive behavior by the Georgian authorities towards the region's ethnic Armenians leaves them "no other choice than the use of force to protect their interests and dignity" (Regnum, October 5).

However, a source in Georgian law enforcement told Kavkas Press that the police shot into the air only after one of the protesters had taken a shot first (Kavkas Press October 5).

Giorgi Khachidze, the presidentially appointed governor of the region, managed to calm the angry crowd through negotiations.

Khachidze criticized the police for excessive use of force and promised to hold some of them accountable. "In my opinion, they had no right to fire shots, even in the air," he said (TV-Rustavi-2, October 6). Meanwhile, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hailed the police actions, saying, "there is no serious problem" and emphasizing that law-enforcement officials were merely maintaining order in a region that had been poorly controlled in recent years (TV-Imedi, October 6).

Saakashvili and other Georgian officials have tried to downplay the latest events in Akhalkalaki, claming that the radical organizations advocating autonomy for the region do not enjoy serious popular support.

Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told the Armenian newspaper Aikakan Jamanak that Tbilisi welcomes autonomy for Javakheti so long as that means no more than ordinary self-governance. Merabishvili said he is not interested in the Javakheti civic groups expressing political ambitions. "We are going to listen to the elected deputies," he said (Regnum, October 6-7).

A diplomatic warning from Yerevan snapped the Georgian authorities out of their complacency. On October 8, Garnik Isagulian, national security aide to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, warned Tbilisi to show restraint when dealing with the predominantly Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Javakheti. Of the October 5 clash, Isagulyan commented, "Georgian authorities should be extremely cautious and attentive in their actions, because any minor provocation could turn into a large-scale clash." Isagulian also dismissed rumors about Russian intelligence playing a role in recent events in Samtskhe-Javakheti (Regnum, Civil Georgia, October 8).

However, the Russian media's wide and largely biased coverage of the October 5 unrest in Akhalkalaki, routinely voicing the Kremlin's position, suggests that Russia is not a mere observer.

Georgian media have long speculated that Russia and several radical Armenian groups are behind the provocations in Javakheti. Van Baiburt, an Armenian member of the Georgian parliament, confirmed this in an interview with Meanwhile, Levon Mkrtichyan, from the Armenian Dashnaktsutiun party, one of the alleged supporters of the Javakheti radical organizations, insisted that Javakheti Armenians advocate only for cultural autonomy.

The Armenian newspapers are increasingly linking the recent unrest in Samtskhe-Javakheti with the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway, which bypasses Armenia. They suggest that as Georgia increases its ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia may be left isolated. Armenian papers also argue that if Georgia's national interests conflict with those of Armenia, Tbilisi "should not be astonished at the eruption of a natural expression of self-preservation and self-defense among the Samtskhe-Javakheti population."

As the problem becomes increasingly complicated, Tbilisi will be forced to act. When he visited Armenia on September 29-30, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli stated that Georgia would not implement any programs directed against Armenia. Meanwhile, Nogaideli publicly underlined that regional autonomy in Georgia is only available for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Ajaria.

Nogaideli's Armenian trip, coming on the heels of the demands for autonomy in Samstkhe-Javakheti, suggests that stability in Samtskhe-Javakheti greatly depends on Yerevan's good will, as Tbilisi has always appealed to the Armenian government to mediate serious disturbances in the region. Saakashvili's government, which inherited the unresolved problems of Samtskhe-Javakheti from former president Eduard Shevardnadze, follows the same pattern. Saakashvili, like Shevardnadze, strives to resolve the region's problems with short-term decisions (see EDM, March 23, May 24, August 3).

Meanwhile, Yerevan is gaining more leverage to manage the situation in Samtskhe-Javakheti and may be clandestinely urging Tbilisi to reconcile itself to this fact.

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Georgian MPs savage human rights ombudsman over his stance on religion

Imedi TV, Tbilisi 23 Dec 05

[Presenter] For the first time the [parliamentary] opposition and members of the majority are on the same side of the argument.

Parliament members walked out of the debate chamber today in protest at [human rights ombudsman] Sozar Subari's report.

Nodar Grigalashvili was the first to make a critical statement. He refused to listen to Subari's report, describing it as hideous.

Grigalashvili's remarks were greeted with applause. Roman Kusiani and opposition members followed suit. [Majority leader] Maia Nadiradze thinks, however, that the human rights ombudsman's report does not change anything and does not merit reaction of this sort.

Sozar Subari said that the constitutional agreement between the state and the Georgian Orthodox Church was against the constitution and breached other faiths' rights. At present Subari is addressing a half-empty chamber.

[Kusiani, MP] We should ask the human rights ombudsman to read out the section in his report concerning freedom of religion. I should tell you that 18 pages of the 120-page report are dedicated to this issue.

[Davit Gamqrelidze, New Right MP] We refuse to enter into debate with Mr Subari who is a defender of the Liberty Institute, not a human rights ombudsman. Everyone knows what his position on the Orthodox Church is.

[Nodar Grigalashvili, MP] Is it acceptable to describe the historically justified privileges given to the Orthodox Church as discrimination against other religions?

[Khatuna Gogorishvili, chair of the committee for procedural issues] We will not achieve anything by not asking Mr Subari questions and not debating with him. It is precisely for this reason that I am staying in the chamber.

[Mikheil Machavariani, deputy chair of parliament] The Orthodox Church has a special role in Georgian history. Only the Georgian Orthodox Church should have [a constitutional agreement with the state]. As far as I am aware, representatives of all confessions accepted this when the issue was discussed.

[Nadiradze] The majority's attitude is that the constitutional agreement between the state and the Church has been concluded. We have undertaken an obligation. The human rights ombudsman is not a supreme leader. His report does not change either the situation in the country or our attitude.

[Van Baiburt, MP] I think that it was the right decision because the Armenian Apostolic Church, which has existed here for centuries and has followers, should be -

[Subari, interrupting] The Georgian constitution states that all citizens of Georgia have equal rights. This should be reflected in real life.

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Armenian Church confiscations


The Messenger, Georgia Jan 20 2006

In interview, Georgian Public Defender debates constitutional status of the Orthodox Church

Ombudsman Sozar Subari

The ongoing political debate over religious issues has caused the Public Defender to speak out in public against the perceived hegemony of the Orthodox Church. Leading politicians meanwhile accuse him of unjustly defending sectarian religions in a country where Orthodox Christianity is the religious majority's historic faith.

Wednesday's session of the parliamentary committee for human rights protection turned into a panel for heated debate and clashes when Ombudsman Sozar Subari spoke up in defense of the rights of religious minorities.

Subari stated that discrimination along religious lines is commonplace in Georgia and proposed a reconsideration of the 2001 Concordat that was made between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the government - a proposal that was met with outrage by many Georgian politicians.

"According to the Georgian Constitution every person is born equal," Subari said in an interview with The Messenger on Thursday adding, "Of course this does not rule out the possibility that one particular religion might have a special or different status, but this status should not turn into a privilege."

The Georgian Constitution calls for the protection of the freedom of speech and condemns the persecution of people on the bases of their opinion, confession or faith. At the same time there is a constitutional agreement between the government and the Georgian Orthodox church according to which the Georgian state acknowledges the historical significance and contributions of Christian Orthodoxy.

"However, this status should not serve as a means to make exceptions for only those who posses it. When the difference turns into a privilege or a form of dominance which puts religious minorities in an unfavorable condition, it contradicts the Georgian Constitution and can be labeled as discrimination," Subari said.

He said that the status grants the Orthodox clergy and church a variety of benefits not offered to other faiths such as the right bow out of military service; certain tax advantages; the Orthodox wedding ceremony is given the same legal status as a civil wedding; and chaplains at government run institutions, such as prisons or the military, are only Orthodox Christians.

Subari protested against privileges such as the tax break and military exemption stating, "I believe that if we grant these favors to only one religious faith then we neglect the rights of other religions."

Another thing that Subari is concerned about is the issue of Armenian churches that he said historically belonged to Armenians residing in Georgia, but are now in the hands of the state.

"The state should by all means return these churches to their historical owners," Subari demanded, noting "If the provenance of any of these churches is debatable a commission should be set up to study the historical background and determine its rightful owner."

Subari pointed to two cases - Norasheni church in Tbilisi in Leselidze Street and Surbnisani church in Akhaltsiakhe - which he believes call for immediate attention.

"I will never be able to feel like a true Christian when the territories and churches that historically belonged to certain religious groups are taken away illegally," Subari contended.

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