Armenia has been left to navigate diplomacy in the wake of unprecedented turmoil in the region. The unrest following Iran’s presidential elections forced the cancellation of high-level meetings with Armenian officials. The continuing fallout from the so-called “roadmap” agreement and the uncertainties surrounding the Karabakh peace process have all compounded into a regional mess which requires prudent strategizing and planning.
In this climate comes yet another meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Georgia and yet another missed opportunity by Serzh Sarkisian to address the mounting problems facing the majority-Armenian population of Samtskhe-Javakheti.
Reports indicated that Sarkisian praised his counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili and his administration for efforts to ease the socio-economic hardship in Javakhk, going as far as to say “We welcome steps taken by the Georgian government to alleviate the socioeconomic situation, improve infrastructure and create jobs in Javakheti.”
Sarkisian went a step further and awarded Saakashvili with a Medal of Honor for his contribution to “strengthening the centuries-old Georgian-Armenian friendship.” At the same time, Armenian security forces dismantled a protest organized by several Javakhk-Armenian organizations aimed at sending Saakashvili a clear message.
This can be seen as overcompensation on the part of Armenia, which is trying to swim in the murky waters of the recently emerging regional conundrum.
This was the second time this month that the Armenian leadership, in meeting with their Georgian counterparts, sugar-coat the efforts of the Georgian government in Javakhk. Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian, after meeting Georgia’s Gogol Vashadze last week, expressed confidence that the Georgian authorities were doing their utmost to protect the Armenian population of Javakhk.
However, just this week we reported that Tbilisi barred a member of Sarkisian’s own party from entering Georgia as part of an Armenian delegation invited for conference. This was coupled with reports that Georgia’s National Security Agency phoned Armenian teachers in Javakhk at midnight and after summoning them to the local NSA office, told them they could not take part in an annual teacher training seminar organized by the Diocese of Javakhk and Armenia’s education ministry.
This comes at the heels of random arrests of Armenian community leaders, desecration of an Armenian church in Tbilisi and continued obstacles in the socio-economic life of Javakhk Armenians.
Armenia is still reeling from the impact the Georgia-Russia war has had on its economy and naturally that pressing issue would be a priority for the two leaders, since Saakashvili’s imprudent actions have placed Armenia in the middle of the bitter Russia-Georgia feud.
Having said that, honoring Saakashvili is tantamount to handing him carte blanche to deal with the Armenians the way he sees fit and continue the persecution and violations of basic human rights in Javakhk. The Armenians in Javakhk are asking for fair representation in local, state and national government, equal opportunity for employment within government structures, as well as government action in much-needed improvements in schools and the higher education system.
The socio-economic and political situation is dire and there is no hope in sight that the Georgian authorities will be making any effort to address the concerns of the Armenian population there. Furthermore, the construction of the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway, which goes through Akhalkalak and stated intention of Georgian authorities to resettle Meshkhet Turks along that railroad line, pose critical problems for Armenians there and creates a situation that is rife for ethnic conflict.
As critical as transport routes are for Armenia today, the effective pursuit of the aspirations of Javakhk Armenians will ensure that unnecessary conflicts do not arise in what already is a volatile region.
Meanwhile, Saakashvili should take a lesson from his ill-planned and ineffective actions of last summer and work closely with Georgia’s native Armenians to guarantee stability in his own country.