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Location of Samtskhe-Javakheti within Georgia


Noyan Tapan News Agency, Armenia Sept 28 2005

AKHALKALAK, SEPTEMBER 28, NOYAN TAPAN - ARMENIANS TODAY. The Council of Armenian NGOs of Samtskhe-Javakhk made a statement, in which it opposed the statements of Deputy of Georgian parliament Van Bayburdian in connection with the third public forum of Samtskhe-Javakhk held on September 24 in Akhalkalak.

In particular, Van Bayburdian expressed an opinion that the proposal made by the forum regarding giving autonomy to Javakhk is ungrounded and the Georgian power gave all authorities for ruling on the spot to Akhalkalak and Ninotsminda.

Blaming Van Bayburdian for "incompetent statements and indecent" steps, the Council of Armenian NGOs of Samtskhe-Javakhk persuades him to study the Georgian legislation and then declare what authorities Akhalkalak and Ninotsminda have. "Van Bayburdian must also know that the resolution adopted by the forum refers to all the settlements of Samtskhe-Javakhk and Kvemo-Kartli populated with Armenians and not only to 2 regions," the statement spread by the A-Info agency read.

The Council highlighted that the resolution adopted by the third public forum of Samtskhe-Javakhk suggests giving such a status to Javakhk in Georgian state structure which is suggested to South Ossetia by the Georgian authorities. "If the authorities are ready to give the widest autonomy to 40 thousand Ossetians living in South Ossetia, so 150-200 thousand Armenians living compactly in Georgia also deserve autonomy, especially as they have always observed the laws and never raised arms against the state," the document read.

The Council is convinced that the bases of complicated situation in Javakhk are mainly and first of all political and "in this respect also Van Bayburdian living far from Javakhk and being unaware of Javakhk problems misunderstood the situation."

"It's still obscure how the person praising Shevardnadze's power and considering it irreplaceable since the days of Soviet Georgia, appeared in independent Georgia in Sahakashvili's team having overthrown the very Shevardnadze. The Council is convinced that Van Bayburdian is a puppet in the hands of some dark forces and proceeding from his own interests he can instigate destabilization of the situation and hatred in Armenian-Georgian friendship," the statement read.

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Excerpty from: The Messenger, Georgia
Sept 29 2005

Calls this month by the Akhalkalaki-based Armenian organizations Javakhk and Virk demanding that Javakheti region be granted autonomy and its own parliament have revived Georgia's deep-seated paranoia over separatism.

The organizations are trying to give their entreaty a peaceful and constructive character and have argued simply that if Tbilisi is offering similar perks to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, why not to other regions. But as Georgia's history shows, the idea of autonomy has involved at best simmering rivalry toward the central government (as in the case of Aslan Abashidze's Adjara) and at worse bloody conflict. The forum that was held in Akhalkalaki irritated the Georgian media and was regarded by many as an event staged by Moscow.

Reactionary print media, in turn, has called on the government to pay serious attention to statements.


The authors of the resolution adopted in Akhalkalaki state that the Georgian government makes representatives of ethnic minorities live in unequal conditions. Moreover the authorities have proposed models for autonomy to minorities in conflict zones that they do not offer to other ethnicities who constitute a majority in other regions.

Representatives of Javakhk and Virk have not decided yet what to demand - autonomy for the region, or to pin their hopes on the establishment of a Georgian federation and becoming a constituent entity of said federation.

"This can be autonomy, but if there is no autonomy then there can be a region with the rights of autonomy with its own constitution. It should be distinguished just what rights the region will have. I propose that this region should have its own parliament, government and laws," stated representative of Javakhk Manvel Saltenian, as quoted by Kronika, whereas Virk member Khachatur Stepanian demanded that Javakheti be given the status of "federation subject."


ARMENIANS IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA DEMAND AUTONOMY... Armenian NGOs in Georgia's predominantly Armenian-populated southern region of Djavakheti have written to President Mikheil Saakashvili asking him to grant the region autonomy within Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on March 10. Vardan Akopian, who heads the NGO Youth of Djavakhk, told journalists that the request is problematic insofar as the Georgian Constitution does not provide for transforming the country into a federation. But he expressed the hope that the Georgian authorities "will find democratic approaches to the issues of the national minorities," and that the granting of autonomy to Djavakheti will prove to be "the first step towards a new Georgia." LF RFE/RL Newsline - 03/13/2006

...PROTEST MURDER. Some 200 Armenians stormed the local court building in the Djavakheti town of Akhalkalaki on March 11 to demand an "objective" investigation into the March 9 killing of an Armenian, Gevork Gevorkian, in Georgia's southern Tsalka district, Caucasus Press reported on March 13. Gevorkian was reportedly stabbed to death in a dispute between three Armenians and five members of Georgia's Svan minority. Many Svans were resettled in Tsalka in the early 1980s. The Svan suspects have been taken into custody; Van Baiburt, an ethnic Armenian who is a Georgian parliament deputy, denied that the killing was ethnically motivated. LF RFE/RL Newsline - 03/13/2006

Javakhk: The “third” Armenia

Special to AGBU News

Vahan Ishkhanyan

Today, 100,000 Armenians live in about 100 settlements in Javakhk, Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, an area of 2,600 square kilometers about 50 kilometers north of Armenia and 30 kilometers east of Turkey.

In terms of its relative homogeneity, Javakhk—95 percent Armenian—is regarded as the world’s “third” Armenian land after Karabakh and Armenia.

To reach Javakhk, you cross the northern border at Ashotsk, Armenia’s “Siberia” and enter the regions of Ninotsminda and Akhalkalaki, the Georgian “Siberia”

“There’s been no summer here. Every year they’re saying it will come but it won’t,” says Mels Bdoyan, a Ninotsminda farmer. Locals claim there is only winter and spring here, some 2,000 meters above sea level. The average annual temperature is only 4 degrees Celsius and in winter the mercury on the thermometer dives to minus 25ºC.

The dividing line between the sky and the mountains is invisible in the blue of the horizon beyond the Alpine meadows or in spring, in the intermingled darkness of the clouds and the snow-capped mountain heights. Nature has become a source of inspiration here, thanks to which Javakhk has begotten many Armenian writers.

In the village of Gandza, Ninotsminda, was born the symbolist poet Vahan Terian whose poems are soaked in images of rain, mist, pallid fields and shapeless shadows deriving from the nature of Javakhk, the home of his childhood and the treasury of his reminiscences. These images became symbols of sadness, hopelessness and peace in the realm of his poetry.

The climate is milder in the neighboring low-lying regions, such as Akhaltskha, Aspindza and Tsalka where there is also a minority Armenian population. Fifteen of 45 villages in Akhaltskha are Armenian, for example.

Akhalkalaki, Ninotsminda, Akhaltskha, Aspindza and another region populated with Georgians were unified in the 1990s to form a single administrative unit—Samtskhe-Javakheti. According to Armenian social figures, the intention behind this move on the part of the Georgian authorities was to create an administrative union where Armenians would be in a minority. This is a Georgian region with the largest Armenian population, amounting to around 160,000.

Javakhk was part of Great Armenia until 387 AD. In 428 it was annexed to Georgia, then under Persian control, and from the 16th to 18th centuries it was part of the Ottoman Empire. After the 1828-29 Russian-Turkish war, Javakhk came under Russian control.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tens of thousands of Armenians left (present day) Turkey and settled in Javakhk. They were welcomed by the Russians, who saw the Christian Armenians as a safeguard against migration into Georgia by the Ottoman Turks.

The majority of today’s population trace their origins to the emigration from Turkey, mainly from the district of Erzrum. Armenians set up 60 villages and built 50 churches in the regions of Akhaltskha, Akhalkalaki and the adjoining Tsalka.

The passport checkpoint is not the only spot marking the beginning of Javakhk. The Georgian side of the asphalt road from Armenia is in a wretched state, full of deep holes all the way to the town of Ninotsminda. The state of the roads is the first sign of the region’s desolation.

“Neither Georgia nor Armenia forecasts our weather,” says Ruzan Tepoyan, a teacher of the Tumanian school in Akhalkalaki town. “This is a forgotten land.”


Akhalkalaki means “new town” in Georgian but the only new construction in recent years has been a couple of gas stations. One rarely hears Georgian or Russian spoken in the muddy and broken streets of this town of 10,000 people (it was 15,000 in Soviet times).

The street signs are in Russian, Armenian and Georgian. Business is conducted in four currencies – the Georgian lari, Russian ruble, Armenian dram, and U.S. dollar. Sales people at any store can instantly convert one currency into another and tell you the price of their goods.

“If somebody cares a bit, it will become a normal town,” says Artashes Palanjian, president of Akhalkalaki Socio-Economic Development Organization. “Now it’s neglected and he who comes here once never makes it twice.”

Before the Soviet era, Akhalkalaki was known as a town of 19 trades. Now only one or two remain: a smith and a tinman at the market. The tinman’s workshop is where 43-year-old Zhora Grigorian remembers spending his whole life. He complains that recently there has not been much demand for his services: a year ago, tin hearths were his main source of income, but now there is little interest.

In Soviet years, there were three large factories in the town, making cheese, cement and cables. Now all three stand idle, victims of the Soviet collapse and asset-stripping after the mills were privatized. The people of Akhalkalaki survive in three ways now: by commerce, through working at the Russian military base in the town, and periodically by leaving for Russia to seek work.

The most frequent advertisement on the billboards of Akhalkalaki is “Visa” but it has nothing to do with the credit card. Georgian citizens must have a visa to enter Russia and the notices advertise services that take the Akhalkalaki residents’ passports to Tbilisi to obtain the document.

“Many people become citizens of Armenia so as not to have visa problems. Those working in Russia or in the local Russian bases obtain Russian citizenship and thus the number of Georgian citizens keeps reducing. There are people who have three passports in their pockets,” says Babken Salbiyan, Eparchial Vicar of Javakhk.

Thousands from the region go to Russia for seasonal work. Many of the men build new families in Russia and never return. Sussanna Muradian, president of Motherhood charity organization, said she knew of 108 children whose fathers never came back from Russia.

“The main sources of finance for our community are in Russia. Some come back and some don’t. The fathers of many children were murdered in Russia and the families are in an awful predicament. Children start begging,” she says.

Sussanna works as a guardianship administrator at the educational department. She established the charity to provide medical and other assistance when she became frustrated at her inability to help children through the official state budget. “I walk around knocking on doors here and there to collect money,” she said. “My relatives from Yerevan help me, they gather clothes which I fetch for the kids and their mothers twice a year.”

Twelve-year-old Artur has never seen his father. His mother, Lyusya Serobian lost contact after returning from Russia in 1992 while her husband stayed behind to work.

“He may have gotten married, I don’t know, I have absolutely no information. When I have enough money, I will go and find him,” said Lyusya, 45, who works at the Russian military base.

The father of 14-year-old Gevorg and 16-year-old Volodya died during construction work in Russia. Their mother, Agulya, gathers potatoes to keep the family. “It’s torture all day long but it’s a way to escape starvation,” she said.

The Russian base is the main source of work and around 1,000 people from the town are employed there. Georgian authorities constantly demand the closure of Russian bases on their territory, particularly in Akhalkalaki. Not surprisingly, the local population opposes, and has staged demonstrations in support of the base.

“People working there get $200-300 per month and this money is spent here,” says Davit Rstakian, former acting prefect of the region. “If Russia does withdraw the base, we can’t do anything but if our opinion is important then we’ll do our best to keep it. That base is also a factor in our security.”

Rstakian says the Georgian leadership has often tried to ensure that Armenians do not remain a majority in Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda. “If Georgians grow in number naturally that will be understandable but when they are deliberately trying to change the demographic situation, it’s intolerable,” he said.

In the 1980s, the populations of several Ajarian villages, in the west of Georgia, were relocated to Akhalkalaki. In 1991, the nationalist president Zviad Gamsakhurdia three times appointed governors to the region who were of Georgian nationality but the local population refused to accept them. “We were literally standing in their way, not letting them in, throwing eggs at them,” recalls Rstakian.

Before and after those events only Armenians were in charge of the local administration of the two regions.

There are 70 Armenian schools in the region. But the local Armenian population is unhappy that the history of the Armenian people is not a compulsory subject in school. Instead, it is studied as a supplemental subject, using textbooks from Armenia.

Ethnic tensions do arise, often on religious grounds. Local Armenians regard a new Georgian church built in a former kindergarten in Akhalkalaki and the establishment of a branch of a Tbilisi educational institution for Georgians from neighboring regions as attempts to insert a stronger Georgian identity into an Armenian environment.

Salbiyan, who has served for two years as vicar of the diocese of Samtskhe-Javakheti region, says the Armenian Church faces accusations that it is working for Javakhk independence. “We constantly have to give statements that we bring no war, we bring peace and involve our people in spiritual life, there’s nothing bad about it,” he said.

There are three functioning Armenian churches in Samtskhe-Javakheti: in Akhaltskha, Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda. Eight other churches have opened in villages but they receive visits from the three priests only on special feast days. The Akhalkalaki church hosts a children’s choir, a puppet theater, a Sunday school and a youth union.

Before the Soviet Union, the church used to own a large area of land with buildings, but today dozens of families live in them. Now it owns only half of an old building where Hamo Ohanjanian, Prime Minister of the first Armenian Republic, was born.

The fear of demographic change and the neglected condition of Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda have aroused political concerns, including demands by some groups for the regions to become autonomous. The Virk party wants Georgia to become a federal state in which Javakhk will be a constituent part.

“When Armenians leave for Russia to work they find themselves treated as inferiors,” said Rstakian. “Here, we are the hosts on our land, however there is apprehension. How long will it continue this way, that is to say, will Javakhk remain Armenian? So, this raises the issue of autonomy.”

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) in Yerevan kindles the issue of Javakhk’s autonomy too. The party raised the issue in its assembly this year.

“Every other day they are making statements on behalf of Javakhk, unaware of the problems of Akhalkalaki and where it is,” says Artur Yeremian, the 38-year-old governor of Akhalkalaki. “The new authorities are already amending the law, and the position I occupy will be elected. People will elect whoever they want and this will greatly increase our autonomy.

“Secondly, our region produces a budget of 700,000 lari ($350,000) from its own resources and we have problems even ensuring that sum. Would it be possible to maintain this huge region with that much money? This region gets 3 million lari ($1.5 million) of subsidy from the center each year. How can there be autonomy in such circumstances?”

He insists that the roads will be repaired this year. Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili discussed the issue in March with President Robert Kocharian on his official visit to Armenia.

Ninotsminda and Zhdanovka

The village of Zhdanovka in the Ninotsminda region is 2,200 meters above the sea. The climate is harsh—it can snow here until June—and its 380 villagers can’t understand why their ancestors chose to settle here.

“They are dead already, who’s going to ask them,” says Venik Gomtsian, a resident. “They’ve bequeathed this mistake to us so that we can correct it taking inhuman pains.”

And he does. Ninotsminda is a cattle-breeding region in which the cheese industry is developing. Gomtsian set up the region’s first cheese mill in 1995 and now produces about three tons annually. He sells the cheese to Georgians who come from Tbilisi.

“Georgians pay in advance or later, but they never cheat. Last year, I took 800 kg to Yerevan and they still owe me 200 bucks,” he said.

Half of the milk Venik purchases from his fellow villagers, while his own herd of 55 cows produces the rest. They are milked by his mother Haykanush, wife Darejan and tenth-grade daughter Varduhi, who dreams of finishing school and dashing away to study in Yerevan, where it is warm.

Fifteen families produce cheese in the village while others sell their cattle’s milk to cheese-makers to earn some money. The main source of income for villagers comes from Russia, where almost every family has at least one member who is working. Gomtsian’s son is in the Russian city of Tyumen, working as a trader.

Having made a decent fortune in Russia, one of the villagers of Zhdanovka built the Saint Sargis Church in 1998. The people of Zhdanovka are Catholics, or Franks as the locals say and it is one of 21 Catholic villages in Samtskhe-Javakheti.

My son finished school and went to Russia,” says 66-year-old Mari Antonian. Her son Khnkanos, 31, has worked on construction in various Russian cities for 12 years now, departing in spring and returning in autumn. But he has not returned for the last two years and has said that he is not doing well. Last time, he made $800.

He talks to his three children, aged from 6 to 11, on the phone once a month to quench his yearning for home. Until he sends money, the family survives by selling milk from their four cows to Gomtsian, the cheese-maker.

Antonian’s 29-year-old wife Nina said: “It is difficult without Khnkanos, I wish he had stayed by my side. But how could we live if he did?”


Eurasia Daily Monitor (The Jamestown Foundation) Wednesday, August 3, 2005

By Zaal Anjaparidze

The recent anti-terrorist operations in Georgia (see EDM July 25, 29) have overshadowed coverage of anti-Georgian developments flaring in Georgia's turbulent Javakheti region, a southern area predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians.

On July 17, Armenian residents of Samsar blocked efforts by students and nuns from Tbilisi to help restore a local church dating to the 12th century. The Armenians accused the visitors of attempting to "Georgianize the Armenian church." The verbal argument deteriorated into a brawl that left several of the Georgians severely injured. That same day, local Armenians raided a Georgian school in the nearby town of Akhalkalaki. The police managed to contain the incident, but the situation in the region remains tense.

The Georgian and Armenian governments have done their best to hush up the incident. In a July 21 joint statement, the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Georgian diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church expressed regret about the Samsar incident and ascribed it to "incorrect information circulating among the local population." Vazgen Mirzakhanian, bishop of the Armenian Diocese of Georgia, apologized to the Georgian victims.

Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margarian's impromptu visit to Georgia on July 24-25 evidently sought to relieve the explosive situation in the region. During his trip to Javakheti Margarian received a list of demands from the local Armenian community to the Georgian government. They were presented by leaders of the local civic organizations Javakh, United Javakh-Democratic Alliance, and Virk. These groups want the Georgian government to stop the alleged discrimination of the Armenians, make the Armenian language the regional language in Javakheti, stop the "Georgianization" of the region's Armenian cultural heritage, begin construction of a highway connecting Javakheti with Armenia (which the Armenian government is ready to finance), register Virk as a political party, and include Armenia's history in the curriculum of Armenian schools in Georgia. These Armenian organizations insist on declaring the Armenian language as the second state language in Georgia (home of about 300,000 ethnic Armenians) or at least in Javakheti, and the adoption a special law on ethnic minorities.

Margarian said that this year the Armenian government has allocated $350,000 to support the Armenian schools in Javakheti and is ready to increase funding if Tbilisi agrees. He also asked the Georgian government to jointly determine the provenance of the churches in the region, which are claimed by both religious groups.

Georgian Parliamentary Chair Nino Burjanadze told Margarian that the provocateurs fueling enmity between Georgians and Armenians play into the hands of the common enemy, evidently alluding to Russia. However, there are reports that some radical Armenian organizations support anti-Tbilisi activities in Javakheti.

Many analysts in Georgia believe that Tbilisi should handle the region more carefully to avert new incidents. Soon after the collapse of the USSR, some local Armenian leaders proposed political autonomy for the region. But despite assistance from international donors to improve the region's socio-economic situation, the Georgian government has not been able to find a workable solution to the problem of "Javakheti Armenians." That local Armenians distrust the central government's policies complicates the situation (see EDM, March 23, May 24).

For example, the Russian military base in the region purchased large quantities of local produce. But local leaders doubt Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's proposal to feed the Georgian army with local foodstuffs after the Russian base closes. The Armenian-populated Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda regions boast an agricultural yield that exceeds the dietary needs of the 20,000-strong Georgian army by 15-20 times.

Another irritation came one day after the Samsar incident, when the Georgian armed forces completed the large-scale "Armor 2005" exercises at the Orfolo range near Javakheti. Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili hinted that the fictional enemy "Blue Country," which according to the scenario had temporarily seized a Georgian region, was not fictional at all. "It exists for Georgia indeed," he said.

The Georgian media accuses the Javakh, United Javakh-Democratic Alliance, and Virk civic movements of being behind the regions' anti-Tbilisi mood. However, Virk leader David Rstakian claimed that these organizations have actually prevented protests by the Armenian community from escalating to the separatism seen in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Vahan Chakhalian, leader of the United Javakh- Democratic Alliance, which unites eight youth organizations, said that the Russian military pullout leaves local Armenians defenseless. Chakhalian and other local leaders have openly stated that they would retaliate if Georgian units replace the Russian troops. They also object to a government-sponsored plan to accommodate Georgian families in the region, which they claim would artificially "Georgianize" Javakheti. "We have yet to see whether the Georgian army enters here," Chakhalian warned.

Leaders of the local Armenian organizations argue that the local authorities in Javakheti misinform Tbilisi about the real situation in the region and the preferences of the local establishment. The information vacuum and poor knowledge of Georgian laws by the locals, caused by a lack of knowledge of Georgian language, is likely the root of many problems. Giorgi Khachidze, the Tbilisi-appointed governor of Javakheti, says that the methodology of teaching the Georgian language needs to be improved. "The Georgian books in the Armenian schools are getting dusty, because they don't need them," he said.

Meanwhile, the socio-economic problems in Javakheti are similar to those in other Georgian regions. However, some local groups, guided by external forces in Russia and Armenia, may be trying to politicize these problems and prepare the ground for the region's eventual separation from Georgia.

(Regnum, July 18, 25, 28, 29; Akhali Versia, July 21; Resonance, July 20, TV-Rustavi-2, July 17, Vremya novostei, July 19)

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ArmenPress Aug 3 2005

ETCHMIADZIN, AUGUST 3, ARMENPRESS: Archbishop Vazgen Mirzakhanian, the leader of Georgian Diocese of Armenian Church traveled to the village of Metz Samsar in the Akhalkalaki region of the southern Georgia to re-consecrate St Astvatsatsin (Virgin) church on August 1.

Armenian Catholicosate said the church was reconstructed by the funds provided by a Russia-based Samvel Barseghian, a grandson of priest Barsegh who was the founder of the Samsar village. Georgian member of parliament Hamlet Movsisian, Akhalkalaki mayor Nairi Iritsian and others were present at the ceremony.

Metz Samsar village was founded by priest Barsegh in 1848. The St Astvatsatsin church was built in 1850s and an earthquake in 1899 affected it heavily but in 1902 with the efforts of local population it was restored. Besides the village has churches and khachkars (cross-stones) dating back to 11-13th century.

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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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New Armenian Library Opened In Akhaltsikha

15:05, 25 December, 2012

YEREVAN, DECEMBER 25, ARMENPRESS: The official opening of "Vahram Gayfechian" library kicked off in Samtse-Javakh region. As Armenian Diocese of Georgia informed Armenpress, the chairman of the union Alexander Igitkhanyan called the opening of the ceremony symbolic and related it with the 500th anniversary of the first Armenian printed book. The chairman of the Union of Armenian intellectuals Ruben Torosyan and chairman of Armenian musicians in Georgia Artem Kirakozov welcomed the gathered people. They high estimated the role of the importance of the library in the frame of approximation the young generation with Armenian literature. The event was concluded by a blessing.

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