Akhalts'kha, known as Akhaltsikhe in Georgian, is a heavily Armenian populated area in Georgia, northwest of Armenia.
HISTORIC CONCERN: GEORGIAN ARMENIANS SAY AUTHORITIES OUT TO RID COUNTRY OF ARMENIAN TRACES
By Aris Ghazinyan ArmeniaNow Reporter
AKHALTSKHA, GEORGIA - A once powerful Armenian ethno-cultural layer in Georgia is currently facing destruction.
This at least is the conclusion of representatives of Armenian public organizations operating in the territory of Georgia's Samtskhe-Javakhetia (Javakhk) province. In their opinion, the eradication of the Armenian element has been elevated by official Tbilisi into state policy and it is being effectively carried out especially in the area of Armenian architecture.
`The process of turning the Armenian monuments of medieval architecture into Georgian ones, has sense only in the context of the common policy of Georgian authorities,' Ludwig Petrosyan, chairman of the Armenian National Public Union (ANPU) told ArmeniaNow. `In this connection it is no wonder that this policy is being initially tested in the provincial center of Akhaltskha,' a traditionally Armenian province.
In 1829, Russian general Paskevich occupied Akhaltskha and annexed it to the Russian Empire. The same general, in 1830, carried out the resettlement of 2,536 Armenians families from Armenian Karina (Erzrum) to Akhaltskha, which then was situated only on the left bank of the tributary of the Kura - Pokhtsova. The Armenian population that settled down on the right bank of the river expressed their desire to call that region `New Erzrum', but the general did not give his consent, saying that the right bank of the Pokhtsova, in accordance with the resettlement plan, would bear the name of `Plan'. At present, this region of Akhaltskha is known under the name of `Mard'. At least since the 10th century the opposite bank has borne the Arabic name of `Rabat'. It became the nucleus of the town's establishment.
`Basing on this very fact the authorities of official Tbilisi are trying to prove to the world that up to the first half of the 19th century there was no Armenian town-forming factor in Akhaltskha,' says the head of the ANPU legal department Samson Abrahamyan. `Thereby the Georgian leadership totally ignores the ancient and medieval history of the land and is trying to overlook the presence of numerous traces of Armenian culture - including churches and cemeteries in the town's left bank dated to an earlier period. That's why the traces of Armenian life preserved there are either being destroyed or portrayed as Georgian. And this policy often acquires comic manifestations: in particular, the exclusively Armenian tombstones - khachkars (stone crosses) are presented as Georgian gravestones by way of putting Georgian inscriptions on them. The same inscriptions can be met today also on the facades of Armenian buildings in Rabat. The Surb Astvatsatsin (St. Virgin) Church, for example, dates back to 1356. Founded in the 12th- 13th centuries the Surb Eremyan Church originally was an Armenian Apostolic and later Armenian Catholic Church. It is remarkable that the country's authorities are thus trying to present even the Catholic buildings as Georgian, although Georgians have never been Catholics. They were Muslims, but not Catholics.'
This region of Georgia, as in the north-western region of Armenia, is a center of Armenian Cahtolicism. The majority of the Christian population here are Catholics, and it is from among them that one of the prominent figures of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal G. P. Aghajanyan came.
`The Armenians of Akhaltskha constituted the core of trade-merchant and manufacturing urban estates, they had their workshops and we engaged in medicine and education,' Hrant Karapetyan, the head of the youth union of scouts, said in an ArmeniaNow interview. `In 1876 the population was 13,300, and in 1900 it was 16,116, and the Armenian population made 13,000. There were Armenian periodicals in the town as well as numerous schools. There were five Armenian churches, and among them the famous educational complex at the Surb Nshan Cathedral, which is today presented by Georgian authorities as a monument of Georgian architecture. Besides Armenian churches there was also a mosque and two synagogues in the town.'
The old Jewish cemetery of Akhaltskha was situated on the left bank next to the Armenian cemetery. Despite the fact that there are practically no Jews left in town, the cemetery itself is surrounded by a high stone fence and is under protection.
`The same cannot be said about the old Armenian cemetery,' says Ludwig Petrosyan. He himself is an Akhaltsikh native, whose ancestors lived here long before the resettlement of 1830.
`The uniqueness and value of this cemetery consists in the fact that along with early Christian buildings it is a material proof of the permanent presence of Armenians in the town,' he says. `It is an old necropolis where residents of Akhaltskha were buried even before the 19th century. That's why this cemetery is not properly protected by the state. Of course, much depends on us, however in the current conditions we are practically deprived of many possibilities.'
A monument to the victims of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey was erected in one of the hills near the town last year upon Petrosyan's initiative. The only such monument in the territory of Georgia is a traditional Armenian khachkar. It was set up on the threshold of the saddest day in Armenian history - April 24. The project had been coordinated with municipal authorities.
`However, it was dismantled by officers of the law, on orders by provincial authorities, and I was summoned to the Prosecutor's Office,' remembers the ANPU chairman. It was only after a row threatening to strain Armenian-Georgian state relations that the monument was restored, by the intervention of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
`The provincial leadership did not allow us to fence the khachkar and build a dozen steps leading up to it on the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide,' says Petrosyan. `What larger project can we speak about in such conditions? It is enough to mention that against the background of numerous idling and decaying Armenian architectural constructions framing the hollow of Akhatskha, the only functioning church is literarily driven into the former synagogue and then into the mosque situated in the Jewish district.'
Copyright 2005, ArmeniaNow.com, used with permission.