Georgia

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Georgia

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%)

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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. According to 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."

In 1918, tensions between the two countries led to the Georgian-Armenian War. This 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).

Samtskhe-Javakheti

An important factor when considering relations between Armenia and Georgia is the Samtskhe-Javakheti region which holds an Armenian majority. Javakheti's Armenians claim to be treated as second-class citizens since Georgia's independence, especially during the Gamsakhurdia period. 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 issues. 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.

The Adjara factor

In the autonomous Adjara region, local strongman Aslan Abashidze was deposed during Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution. With Tbilisi's control and the rule of law restored, tourism from Armenia has flourished. This has created a positive impact on Georgian-Armenian relations. In 2006, Batumi, the capital of Adjara, was twinned with Vanadzor in northern Armenia and during the same year Armenia opened a consulate in the city.

External article

Politics

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.

Subdivisions

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

Autonomous Republics:

Regions:

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.

Articles

Discrimination against Armenian Church

Dec 9, 2009

ACTION ALERT: Religious equality and freedom of consciousness in the Republic of Georgia
©2009 Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada. All rights reserved.

Dear friends,

The Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada has learned of the collapse of the Armenian Church of St. Gevork of Mughni in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. Saint Gevork Church dating to 1356, collapsed as a direct result of a lack of maintenance by the government of Georgia.

During Soviet times, churches became the property of the state and the St. Gevork, Armenian Church was used as a museum during which time its physical condition was left to deteriorate. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and with the coming independence of the Republic of Georgia, the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, together with other religious minorities, has not received legal status. Consequently all Armenian churches in Georgia currently carry on under the jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox Church, without legal rights to safeguard their properties.

In 2002, the government of the Republic of Georgia signed a Constitutional Agreement with Georgian Orthodox Church. The Georgian Orthodox Church received the highest legal status with full legal rights to operate effectively as a religious institution. However, the traditional religious minorities: other Christian groups, Muslims and Jews were left without any legal protection to maintain their status and exercise their legal rights. Many experts view these circumstances as a source and basis for religious discrimination.

The indifference exhibited by the Georgian authorities towards the religious minorities, in general, and in particular, the Armenian Orthodox, does not correspond in any way with the adherence to the universal human values and respect for the rights of minorities; as established by the repeated statements of the Georgian authorities, on the issue of the preservation of the historical and cultural heritage of minorities.

Majority Rule or Respect for Diversity?

By Eka Basilaia 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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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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Georgian President Visits Armenia

24.06.2009 Irina Hovannisian

The presidents of Armenia and Georgia reaffirmed their earlier pledges to step up bilateral cooperation in the economic and other fields after holding talks in Yerevan on Wednesday.

President Serzh Sarkisian said he and his visiting Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, agreed to facilitate the transit of Armenian cargoes through Georgian territory.

“This is an extremely important matter for us,” Sarkisian told a joint news conference with Saakashvili. “Especially now that we are about to start selling agricultural produce.

“I am sure that we will take more steps in that direction. Within a short period of time I will inform my counterpart on the results achieved by us,” he said. In particular, said Sarkisian, the two governments will press for the reopening of Georgia’s main border crossing with Russia that was widely used by Armenian exporters.

The Upper Lars crossing, which served as Armenia’s sole overland conduit to the former Soviet Union and Europe, was controversially closed by Russia in June 2006. Russian officials have since repeatedly assured Yerevan that it will be reopened soon.

Saakashvili confirmed that Georgia supports renewed commercial and passenger traffic through Upper Lars despite remaining in a de facto state of war with Russia. “We have always said that we are ready to open the Upper Lars crossing,” he said.

It was not clear whether the two leaders discussed Georgian transit fees for freight shipped to and from Armenia through Georgia’s Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti. Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian described them as disproportionately high during a recent visit to Tbilisi.

Sarkisian made clear that Yerevan will continue to seek simultaneously good relations with Georgia and Russia, Armenia’s closest political and military ally, despite the lingering Russian-Georgian conflict. “We are deepening our relations with both Russia and Georgia,” he said. “We are doing that openly, without hesitation, without a shroud of secrecy. And if our good relations with both Russia and Georgia can somehow help to normalize Russian-Georgian relations, we will only be happy.”

Sarkisian indicated his satisfaction with the current Georgian leadership by giving Saakashvili an Honor Medal, the highest Armenian state award set for foreign dignitaries. A statement by his office cited Saakashvili’s contribution to “strengthening the centuries-old Georgian-Armenian friendship.”

What is more, the Armenian leader praised the Saakashvili administration’s stated efforts to ease socioeconomic hardship in Georgia’s restive Javakheti region mainly populated by ethnic Armenians. “We welcome steps taken by the Georgian government to alleviate the socioeconomic situation, improve infrastructure and create jobs in Javakheti,” he said. “We, for out part, are ready to assist in that process.”

The remark sharply contrasted with strong criticism of the Tbilisi government’s actions regularly voiced by some political groups in Yerevan as well as Javakheti Armenian activists campaigning for the region’s greater autonomy. Shirak Torosian, one of those critics and an Armenian parliament member affiliated with Sarkisian’s Republican Party, was barred from entering Georgia on Friday as he traveled to Tbilisi to attend a German-sponsored seminar on Javakheti.

Torosian, who was born in Javakheti, condemned the ban as an affront to Armenia. The Georgian government has still not given an official explanation.

In a related development, several Javakheti Armenian organizations appealed to Sarkisian last week to raise their long-standing demands with Saakashvili. Those include granting the impoverished region a status of autonomy, making Armenian its second official language, and allowing its residents to hold Georgian and Armenian citizenships.

They also urged Sarkisian to demand the immediate release of Vahagn Chakhalian, a local Armenian activist who was sentenced last April to 10 years in prison on charges which his supporters say are baseless and politically motivated. Chakhalian was already arrested by the Armenian police and spent two weeks in custody in October 2006 on equally controversial charges.

Other articles

Armenian Genocide

Scuffle Erupts In Georgian Parliament Over Armenian Genocide Issue

By Claire Bigg, Mzia Paresishvili April 25, 2012 Georgia's tumultuous political scene descended further into disarray this week with a bitter scuffle in parliament.

The dispute erupted on April 24 when Jondi Baghaturia, an opposition lawmaker, brought up the prickly issue of whether to recognize as genocide the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I.

"Citizens of our country, ethnic Armenians, came here yesterday and demanded that Georgia's parliament recognize the Armenian genocide," Baghaturia said.

"I told you, when you organized this one-day PR campaign and recognized the Circassian genocide, I told you not to do it! Now, I'd like to know what you will tell these people! After all, they are citizens of our country."

Last year, Georgia became the first country to recognize the expulsion of Circassians from the North Caucasus by the Russian Empire in the late 19th century as genocide.

The recognition was personally backed by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

'Unruly Class'

Baghaturia's comments drew the ire of fellow deputy Azer Suleimanov. His family's country of origin, Azerbaijan, is a staunch ally of Turkey, which rejects the term "genocide" for the Armenian mass killings.

When Baghaturia dismissed his objections with a wave of his hand, Suleimanov angrily reached into his pocket, drew out a tube of Vaseline and flung it at Baghaturia.

The pair quickly began scuffling and had to be separated by security. (see video of the scuffle here)

The brawl drew in several other deputies and involved Baghaturia throwing his pen at a lawmaker from the ruling party (who, incidentally, slapped an opposition deputy last year in an argument over the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia).

Parliament speaker David Bakradze eventually put an end to the dispute by saying that discord in parliament would only serve to benefit Georgia's "only enemy," likely a veiled reference to Russia.

Ironically, the brawl was witnessed by a group of schoolchildren who had come for a lesson in civic education.

"It looks," Bakradze had told the children as deputies prepared for the session, "like our class is noisier than yours!"

Written by Claire Bigg, based on reporting by Mzia Paresishvili

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