YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili insisted that his government is doing its best to address the long-standing grievances of the predominantly Armenian population of Georgia’s Javakh region as he ended an official visit to Yerevan on Thursday.
“No region of Georgia has received as much investment as Javakhk has in recent years,” Saakashvili said at a meeting with students and the faculty of Yerevan State University (YSU).
In particular, he said, the Tbilisi government has been rebuilding the impoverished region’s roads and gas distribution network and is starting the construction of a power plant there that will create jobs for local residents. He said the Javakhk Armenians will also benefit from the ongoing construction of a railway that will connect Georgia and Azerbaijan to Turkey.
Saakashvili’s Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian praised the Georgian government’s stated efforts to ease socioeconomic hardship in Javakhk at a joint news conference held by the two leaders on Wednesday. Sarkisian reiterated his satisfaction at a dinner hosted in Saakashvili’s honor the next day. “I want to thank the Georgian government for its constant attention to the problems and expectations of our compatriots,” he said.
Javakhk’s Armenians, however, continue to face discrimination by the state, which has been neglecting the region’s deteriorating socio-economic situation to change the province’s ethnic composition.
Earlier on Thursday, police used forced to disperse several dozen people, among them Javakhk Armenians and members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Federation, who staged a protest outside a Yerevan hotel in which Saakashvili stayed during the two-day visit. The police also stopped another small group of protesters from approaching the hotel shortly afterwards.
Speaking at YSU, Saakashvili defended Georgian immigration authorities’ refusal to allow an Armenian pro-government parliamentarian highly critical of his administration’s Javakhk policies to enter the country. The Javakhk-born politician, Shirak Torosian, was turned away from the Georgian border on June 19 as he traveled to Tbilisi to attend roundtable discussion on Javakhk organized by the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation.
“I want to point out that neither Armenians nor anyone in Georgia is interested in supporting those politicians whose actions are aimed at undermining the friendly relationship between the two nations,” Saakashvili said before being granted an honorary doctor’s degree by the YSU rector. “It’s better to prevent that from happening.”