he Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development facilitated an online interview with Armenian Revolutionary Federation political director Giro Manoyan, who responded to questions from various journalist around the region. He discussed recent developmen’s regarding Samtshe-Javakheti, the Armenian populated-region in southern Georgia. Below is the transcript of that interview. Asbarez has edited the language for clarity, but has not revised the context
Question: Good afternoon, Mr. Manoyan. I am interested in whether the platform of your party has envisaged any activities in the region of Samtskhe-Javakheti?
Giro Manoyan: I greet all the journalists here. Our party does not carry on any activities in the region of Samtskhe-Javakheti but we do carry on some activities for the Armenia’s in Samtskhe-Javakheti in the Diaspora. We mostly help bring the opinions of the residents of Samtskhe-Javakheti to the international community, and especially to the European and American social and political circles.
There are some organizations in the Diaspora which are also registered in Georgia. For example, the Union of Aid for Armenia’s, the central office of which is in the USA and which carries on humanitarian activities for the residents of Samtskhe-Javakheti.
Question: Hello, dear Mr. Manoyan! I am Gohar Martirosyan, a correspondent from the Armenian TV station Yerkir Media. I would like to know how satisfied you are with the steps undertaken by the Georgian government to improve the living conditions of the Armenia’s living in Georgia and integrate them into Georgian society?
G.M.: Not only have we remained unsatisfied with the how the Georgian government is handling their integration into the social and political life of the country but we are also concerned with the policy which is being led by the Georgian powers toward other ethnic minorities.
It is understandable that all the citizens of the country must know the state language of the country and instead of undertaking work in that direction, the state fires officials and people, occupying various positions in various spheres who do not know Georgian. The best way to teach the representatives of ethnic minorities the state language is to pay attention to the native tongue of these ethnic minorities so that latter can feel certain that the aim of the state is their integration rather than their assimilation.
When joining the Council of Europe, Georgia made a series of commitmen’s regarding the cultural and linguistic rights of the ethnic minorities. However, it has failed to accomplish these commitmen’s and in fact, the situation has worsened as judges, doctors, headmasters and school teachers who did not know Georgian were fired. As for the Akhaltsikhe example, where Armenia’s do know Georgian but fail to receive positions, speaks of the fact that the lack of knowledge of Georgian is an excuse for depriving people of their jobs rather than a real cause.
Question: Hello, Mr. Manoyan. Recently the leader of the ARF Parliamentary bloc, Hrayr Karapetyan provoked a discussion on the topic What Is Better, an Independent Nagorno Karabakh or Its Annexation among the political elite of Armenia. What can you say about this? Thanks. RUKH’sJournalists’ Protection Committee in Azerbaijan
G.M.: Even though the Karabakh issue is not an issue dealing with ethnic minorities and correspondingly, is a deviation from the topic of the current interview, I will answer your question.
Karabakh was annexed to Azerbaijan against the will of its residents by the decision of Stalin during the Soviet years. This decision has lost its validity since the collapse of the Soviet Union. What difference does it make to Azerbaijan whether Karabakh will be part of Armenia or an independent state? In 1988 the movement in Karabakh started for the sake of its joining Armenia, and in 1991 the Republic of Karabakh was proclaimed for tactical considerations. The strategic aim of our party is Karabakh’s joining Armenia and it has never changed. We can speak on around the issues of the Karabakh conflict but in another interview specifically devoted to this very topic.
Question: Hello, Mr. Manoyan! How does the ARF currently influence the social and political processes under way in Armenia and Georgia? How has this influence manifested and how weak or strong is it? Female Journalists’ Association of Azerbaijan
G.M.: In Armenia, the ARF is a functioning party represented in the National Assembly of Armenia. It has also been represented in the government during the last few years. The perspective of our party is presented to the people during the elections, in the Parliament, through mass media and so on. The people in their turn determine their attitude toward the ARF. Sometimes it so happens that other political forces adopt the positions and approaches of our party and make certain steps of their own. The issue of raising pensions in Armenia is one such example.
As for Georgia, the ARF does not function there. However, it does maintain connections with the Georgian governmental and political circles and is trying to pass on its perspective to them. Here there is the issue of historical mistrust which needs to be overcome so that sincere dialogue between the parties can intensify.
Question: Hello! Politics is often called the policy of lying. Do you think that disputes still make sense if the truth about the Nagorno Karabakh is spoken all the time? Thanks.
G.M.: The truth cannot be of various kinds and there cannot be a number of [different truths]. The truth should be accepted for security and stability in our region, for the prosperous future of our generations. This truth is the fact that Karabakh has never been part of independent Azerbaijan.
Question: How do you evaluate the situation of the Armenian Diaspora in Abkhazia? What do you think brought about last year’s events in Abkhazia, namely the explosion in the territory of the Armenian school in Sukhumi and the dissemination of fliers of anti-Armenian content?
G.M.: In Abkhazia, too, where by the law states that only an Abkhazian can become the President of the country, Armenia’s civil rights are not protected. As for the incidents you mentioned, they seem to have been carried out by those forces which are trying to drive a wedge between Armenia’s and Abkhazians. Such a situation will not contribute to the settlement of the Georgian and Abkhazian mutual relations.
Question: Hello, dear Mr. Manoyan! I am Nazeli Asatryan, a correspondent from ArmenPress. I wonder what assistance you think Armenia can provide for the solution of the problems of Javakhk Armenia’s?
G.M.: Armenia, jointly with the Georgian authorities, can create more favorable social, economic, cultural and educational conditions. Armenia has always officially announced this as well as its readiness to work with the Georgians in this matter. However, the Georgian side has not always reacted to such suggestions. For example, with joint efforts Armenia’s and Georgians may work out a program of social, economic, cultural and educational development, the implementation of which the Armenian and Georgian states as well as the Armenian Diaspora will take part.
Such a caring attitude towards Samtskhe-Javakheti on the part of the Armenian and Georgian states may only contribute to the intensification of Armenian and Georgian relations. As for the second part of the question, I have already answered it in my previous responses during this interview, however, I would like to add that satisfactory knowledge of the state language is not a matter of only a couple of months. A little more time is needed for this knowledge to become real. At the same time, it is necessary to give the Armenian language the status of a regional language in Samtskhe-Javakheti. This would be perfectly in line with the commitmen’s made by Georgia to international organizations and does not differ from those suggestions, which Georgia has made to South Ossetia. Presidents Sahakashvili and Kocharyan discussed these issues last week.
Question: Hello! Does the ARF see any difference between terror acts and patriotism? Thanks.
G.M.: The ARF condemns terrorism, but a national liberation movement is not considered terrorism. In the first passage of the Human Rights Charter of the UNO it is mentioned that the human rights should be respected. A situation should not be created where a human being will have to resort to other means for the sake of the protection of his/her rights.
Question: What is your standpoint about the issue of the repatriation to Georgia of deported Meskhetins? It is common knowledge that the new law on repatriation envisages their return to the Georgia starting next year.
G.M.: The issue of the return of Turk-Meskhetins into Georgia does not directly have to do with Armenia’s. Firstly, because according to the law passed in Georgia they will return to Georgia in general and not necessarily to Samtskhe-Javakheti. Furthermore, the places where they used to live previously are now occupied by Georgians and not Armenia’s.
We think that the announcemen’s by Georgian political figures that Armenia’s are the ones hampering the return of Turk-Meskhetins are incorrect. Meanwhile, the sincerity of the Georgian authorities on this issue should be treated with some reservation because Georgian authorities do not demonstrate the appropriate and necessary care towards ethnic minorities that already reside in Georgia.
Question: Mr. Manoyan! What is the level of participation of the ARF in the coming presidential elections and what are its chances? RUKH’sJournalists’ Protection Committee
G.M.: We highly estimate the possibility of our party’s victory in the Presidential elections of the RA. We hope that the people will correctly evaluate the political situation and, for the sake of creating a balance of power in the country, will elect the candidate nominated by the ARF for the post of the President and not the candidate from the Parliamentary majority.
Question: What do you think of the projects, which are meant to be implemented in Samtskhe-Javakheti; namely, the Kars’sAkhalkalak’sTiblisi-Baku railroad, The Millennium Challenge Grant and others? How can they influence Georgian and Armenian relations? What is your party’s standpoint on these projects? Will they serve, in your opinion, the development of the region?
G.M.: Both projects you mentioned are different in their essence. The Millennium Challenge Grant pursues the goal of integrating Samtskhe-Javakheti into Georgia and into the whole of the South Caucasus in general.
The Kars’sAkhalkalak’sTiblisi–Baku railroad program is a program directed toward isolating Armenia. From this perspective we think positively of the Millennium Challenge Grant and we treat the Kars’sAkhalkalak’sTiblisi–Baku program with some reservation. In both programs the fact that the local Armenian population does not partake in the construction work–as in the case of Baku-Tiblisi–Jeyhan pipeline–makes one suspect that the local population will not gain much from these programs. At the very least we are convinced that there may be a project on the integration of Samtskhe-Javakheti into Georgia which may be implemented through joint Armenian and Georgian efforts and once again with the aid of international funds. This program might serve as a balance to the politically charged Kars’sAkhalkalak’sTiblsisi–Baku railroad program.
Question: Why doesn’t Karabakh take an active role in the meetings and various events of similarly unacknowledged territories in the post-Soviet space?
G.M.: The Kaharbakh issue is inherently unique. There are no other external political powers involved in the Karabakh issue, as a result, the conflict continues. As a state, Karabakh meets international requiremen’s and standards, and there is no need to hazard this achievement.
Question: Lately an opinion was voiced in Armenia on opening an Armenian University in Akhalkalak. Who do you think will finance this undertaking?
G.M.: The issue of the foundation of a joint Armenian and Georgian University in Samtskhe-Javakheti is not a new one and comes from the Armenian population in the region. During the past few years the attempts of the Georgian authorities to establish branches and affiliates of Georgian Universities in Samtskhe-Javakheti–the goal of which was to provide an opportunity for the local population to study at a Georgian University–failed and today, these affiliates have closed down.
Many young Armenia’s from Samtskhe-Javakheti study at Universities in Armenia and as a result they have not been able to master the Georgian language. The existence of a joint university would have guaranteed that the Armenian youth would receive higher education right there and as a result would know the state language and would be ready to integrate into the cultural, social and political life of Georgia. Of course, it is necessary that both states make a joint decision on this issue and naturally it would be jointly funded.
Question: How did the Russian economic blockade against Georgia affect the Armenian economy? Didn’t this situation affect the attitude of the political circles in Armenia toward strategic cooperation with Russia?
G.M.: Specifically, our party has publicly spoken of this problem. Some of the economic steps that Russia has undertaken against Georgia have had as much negative influence on Armenia as they have had on Georgia. This is something counter to the principles of strategic partnership. From this perspective, it can be stated that the correct application of the Armenian and Russian strategic partnership may be considered a stabilizing factor for the region as a whole.
Question: The other day the issue of building a correctional facility in Samtskhe-Javakheti was raised in the Armenian Parliament. Opinions differed in the Parliament. What is your opinion on this?
G.M.: A program for establishing a correctional facility in Samtskhe-Javakheti is not new. Such a program used to exist still under President Gamsakhurdia when the inmates of Georgian prisons had an opportunity to leave for Samtskhe-Javakheti with limited possibility of moving around instead of spending the whole sentence term in prison.
It seems–though the leader of the Armenian Church in Georgia does not share this opinion–that the construction of a new prison pursues the purpose of changing the demographic situation in this region. The construction of a prison for two to three thousand inmates envisages the presence and residence in the region of at least as many support personnel, which serves as a basis for such concerns. A similar concern is brought about by the construction for the purpose of the extension of the orphanage in Ninotsminda, which is an orphanage where children from all over Georgia are brought to live.
Of course, one may respond that all this is directed towards the improvement of the social and economic situation of the residents of the region, since, for example, they will provide the prison with food and so on, but in this case the authorities should have spoken and consulted the local people for them not to treat such undertakings with suspicion and fear.
Question: Why couldn’t your party win in the Parliamentary elections?
G.M.: Two reports from Azerbaijan asked one and the same question. Therefore I will answer both of them at once. The political power that won in the Parliamentary elections made use of all its resources, including the administrative ones. Secondly, the influence of the propaganda against our party led during the Soviet times and in the times of the former President of the RA can still be felt among the population. There remains only to note that the popularity of the ARF among the population is increasing from election to election.
Question: Mr. Manoyan. On behalf of the present Georgian reporters and the reporters from the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, I thank you for your cooperation and sincerity.
G.M.: I also thank all the reporters. And I think that the role of mass media is crucial to establishing mutual trust in our region. I hope that this interview will serve that purpose.