Georgia Should Bite the Bullet

Editorial, 14 May 2014

What do Ashugh Jivani, Stepan Malkhasyants, Hovhannes Kachaznouni, Terenig Demirjian, Vahan Derian, Cardinal Krikor Aghajanian, and Lucine Zakaryan have in common?

They were all born in Javakhk.

Javakhk became part of Great Armenia in 8th century B.C., under King Argishti I of Urartu. Armenia lost the region in 428 A.D. Thus the region was part of Armenia for more than 1,200 years. In the Middle Ages it was occupied by, among others, Arabs and the Ottoman Turks. When Russia conquered it in the late 1820s, the majority of the population was Armenian. Due to the slaughter of Armenians by the Turks (1827-28), more Armenians—mostly from Erzerum–settled in Javakhk. Despite the Treaty of Sevres, in 1921 Javakhk became part of Georgia. But no matter who ruled, the population remained overwhelmingly Armenian.

Editorial, 14 May 2014

What do Ashugh Jivani, Stepan Malkhasyants, Hovhannes Kachaznouni, Terenig Demirjian, Vahan Derian, Cardinal Krikor Aghajanian, and Lucine Zakaryan have in common?

They were all born in Javakhk.

Javakhk became part of Great Armenia in 8th century B.C., under King Argishti I of Urartu. Armenia lost the region in 428 A.D. Thus the region was part of Armenia for more than 1,200 years. In the Middle Ages it was occupied by, among others, Arabs and the Ottoman Turks. When Russia conquered it in the late 1820s, the majority of the population was Armenian. Due to the slaughter of Armenians by the Turks (1827-28), more Armenians—mostly from Erzerum–settled in Javakhk. Despite the Treaty of Sevres, in 1921 Javakhk became part of Georgia. But no matter who ruled, the population remained overwhelmingly Armenian.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), Javakhk, for a brief period, became a de facto semi-independent entity. But in November of that year Tbilisi took over and began a virulent policy of “Georgianization”. Rather than integrate ethnic groups, Tbilisi tried to assimilate them. Georgia forced the Georgian language on Armenians, public administration forcibly became Georgian, it shut Armenian churches, isolated the impoverished subsistence farmers (potato and livestock) by neglecting the repair of primitive roads. Javakhk has the highest unemployment rate and the least amount of investment in Georgia. Infrastructure is non-existent. There is no industry. Although Javakhk is only three hours away from Tbilisi, it’s like the other side of the moon for Georgians.

The Kars-Javakhk-Tbilisi-Baku Railway, which bypassed Armenia, is a sore point for Javakhk Armenians, just like the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum natural gas pipeline. In recent years a Turkish university has been established in Akhlakalak–a city where 90% of the population is Armenian. Turkey has also proposed to Tbilisi to allow Mskhetian Turks to settle in Javakhk.

The above have made Javakhk Armenians more than nervous about their future. Some have demanded autonomy and several leaders were imprisoned by the government of Saakashvili. They were released last year when the erratic leader was replaced.  

Despite Tbilisi’s depredations, Yerevan has been silent. According to Armenia authorities, the Javakhk conflict is an internal Georgian matter. The lone support for Javakhk Armenians has come from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and its Red Cross social assistance branch.

One doesn’t have to be a political, military, and economic strategist to know why Armenia’s response has been muted. Blockaded in the east and the west by Turkbeijan (“Two states, one nation” according to the Turkic partners) and with a weak link to Iran which itself is struggling with Western sanctions, Georgia is Armenia’s only bridge to Russia and to the sea. It’s no big logical leap to conclude Tbilisi is pressing Javakhk Armenians because boxed-in Armenia is in no position to interfere.

“Georgia for Georgians” policy continues. Javakhk Armenians believe “Georgianization” could become  “Nakhichevanization” as Tbilisi puts on the screws to encourage Armenians to emigrate.

A decade ago there was a popular euphemism in the Western business community. Rather than dismiss an employee and perhaps bear the financial consequences of that decision, managers would make working conditions so difficult that employees would quit on their own. The ploy’s euphemism was tagged “constructive dismissal”. It seems Tbilisi is doing something similar. By economically isolating Javakhk, by changing language rights, by allowing increased Turkbeijan presence in Javakhk, Georgia is encouraging Armenians to migrate, usually to Russia. Every Javakhk family has family members in Russia. Due to emigration, the percentage of Armenians in the region has shrunk. 

Recent developments in Crimea’s and Eastern Ukraine have become of major concern to Georgia. Tbilisi is worried Javakhk Armenians might imitate Crimians and ask Russia to take over their region. A few weeks ago there was a rumor that Javakhk Armenians were rushing to obtain Russian passports. But Javakhk Armenians have said they have no desire to become part of Russia. They merely want to be an autonomous region. Recently Melik Raisian, a former member of the ruling Georgian Dream political party, said: “We are Georgian citizens. Why do we always have to prove we’re not separatists for wanting our rights?” 

But the warning to Tbilisi is implicit: if Armenians are not granted autonomy, they could follow the Crimean example. Such a decision would be welcomed by Russia: Javakhk isn’t too far from Russian South Ossetia.

Georgia is eager to join NATO. If it is admitted, Javakhk Armenians fear NATO will establish a military base there, probably staffed by Turks. Some Javakhk Armenian leaders have said if Georgia joins NATO, Armenians will declare independence.

If Georgian authorities are serious about retaining the integrity of their country, they should allow Javakhk become an autonomous region. The alternative is too dismal for Georgia to contemplate.

 

 

You May Also Like