YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Georgia is ready to consider President Serzh Sarkisian’s calls for the official use of the Armenian language in its areas predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said on Friday.
Meeting with senior Armenian diplomats on Tuesday, Sarkisian listed measures which he said would help to integrate the sizable Armenian minority into Georgian society “without assimilation.”
“I think that steps aimed at declaring Armenian a regional language in Georgia, ensuring the registration of [the Georgian diocese of] the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church and preserving Armenian monuments in Georgia would only contribute to the strengthening of Armenian-Georgian friendship and deepening of the atmosphere of mutual trust,” Sarkisian said. Yerevan should be “tactful but consistent and principled” in raising these issues with Tbilisi, he added.
Sarkisian’s remarks reportedly drew a scathing response from Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister Temur Yakobashvili. “Let Armenia deal with the development of the Armenian language on its soil, and we are very happy that Armenian is the only official language in Armenia,” Yakobashvili said, according to the Russian daily “Nezavisimaya Gazeta.”
Vashadze took a more conciliatory line during a working visit to Yerevan on Friday. “The parties treat with respect and attention all ideas floated in Armenia and Georgia,” he told journalists after talks with his Armenian counterpart, Eduard Nalbandian. “The president of Armenia did not say that the Armenian language must be made a regional one. What he said was that it would be useful to discuss that idea.”
“We are ready to discuss any ideas with our Armenian colleagues,” said Vashadze. “I want to emphasize that no matter what status the Armenian language will have in Georgia, Georgian citizens of Armenian descent … have all of their rights protected as well as those of other peoples living in Georgia. For us, they are an integral part of our history and culture.”
The two ministers refused to answer more questions from journalists. An ensuing statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said that “at the initiative of the Armenian side” they discussed “a number of issues relating to the Georgia’s Armenian community.” It gave no details.
According to the statement, Vashadze and Nalbandian also spoke “in detail” about bilateral economic matters such as the ongoing reconstruction of a highway in southern Georgia that will substantially shorten travel between Armenia and Georgian Black Sea ports.
Political and other non-governmental organizations in Georgia’s largely Armenian-populated Javakhk have for years pressed the authorities in Tbilisi to allow the regional administration and public institutions to use Armenian alongside the country’s official language. Earlier this year, they appealed to Sarkisian to raise the issue with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Neither president mentioned it in public statements made during Saakashvili’s late-June visit to Armenia. Sarkisian instead praised the Georgian government’s efforts to ease socioeconomic hardship in Javakhk and bestowed a top Armenian state award on Saakashvili.
It was also not clear whether Vashadze and Nalbandian discussed an intensifying border dispute between the two neighboring states. Farmers in an Armenian border village have complained in recent weeks that Georgian border guards are denying them access to more than 100 hectares of agricultural land located in a disputed section of the frontier. Armenia’s Shant television reported on Thursday the villagers are now doing agricultural work there under the armed protection of Armenian border troops stationed in the area close to Turkey.
The Georgian-Armenian border has still not been fully demarcated nearly 18 years after the break-up of the Soviet Union. According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, the border demarcation was also on the agenda of Vashadze’s talks with Nalbandian.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Nalbandov met on Thursday with Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, in Tbilisi to discuss the current state of the Georgian-Armenian relationship.
“In this context, the Georgian side emphasized the important positive dynamics outlined recently in the relations between Georgia and Armenia that serves the interests of both countries,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued after the meeting. “The sides agreed to keep in active contact on the issues of Georgian-Armenian relations.”