Interview with Chairman of "United Javakhk" Vahagn Chakhalian–conducted by Regnum News Agency
1) Mr. Chakhalian–recently the Democratic Alliance "United Javakhk" led by you has become an active player in the social and political landscape of the region. In general terms–explain Alliance’s major political programs and ideas.
"United Javakhk" was established in March 2005 by several Javakhk-based Armenian NGOs; we began our activities by staging two meetings in Akhalkalak that brought together thousands of people; such a gathering was unprecedented for Javakhk. Our major goal is to consolidate the Armenian population of Javakhk to defend common interests.
We consider ourselves patriots who love the Motherland and want to live and work on the land of our ancestors with appropriate dignity and respect. We strive to combine and realize common democratic and civil values–together with the large cultural and historic heritage of the Armenian people.
We hold ourselves responsible for preserving stability and neutralizing ethnic tensions that are imported by destructive Georgian political forces. We are firmly committed to guarding the interests and civil rights of the Armenian population of Javakhk who are law-abiding and fully-fledged citizens of Georgia.
In the presence of political will on part of the Georgian government–together with Georgia’s progressive social and political forces–it is possible to solve all the accumulated problems in the region. Javakhk–thanks to its geographical setting–can and should become an effective intermediary for economic integration between Georgia and Armenia.
2) Several serious incidents took place in Javakhk this past year. What are the reasons for the growing tensions in the region?
You are probably speaking about the takeover of the Armenian school in Akhaltsikha–another attempt to "Georgianize" the Armenian church in Samsar village–the clash with tax authorities in Akhalkalak–the recent destruction of the customs office in Jhdanovakan–etc.
Beginning during Soviet times and especially after independence–the ruling circles of Georgia have methodically implemented a policy of "Georgia for Georgians," that targets the expulsion of Armenia’s from Javakhk–the assimilation of Armenia’s in other regions of Georgia–and the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage [in] the territory of Georgia. The realization of this policy is achieved through all available means.
Although Georgia–on its entry into the Council of Europe undertook specific obligations to defend the rights of national minorities–rights of Armenia’s are blatantly violated in Javakhk–as well as in other regions of Georgia.
Consider several evident facts:
In 1995–the state of Samtskhe-Javakheti was established to purposely add the Adigeni and Borjomi regions to predominantly Armenian regions–in order to decrease the overall predominance of Armenian population.
As a result–the number of total Armenia’s there dropped to 55%.
Now–despite the Armenian majority in Samtskhe-Javakheti–representatives appointed by the Georgian president in the region (Governors) are always Georgians by nationality. Of the more than 20 members of the Governor’s office–only three are Armenia’s.
1. Although Georgian history is a mandatory subject in Armenian middle schools in Georgia–Armenian history was declared an optional course–and was not funded. Recently–the instruction of Armenian History was altogether banned.
2. Georgian language instructors–exclusively Georgians by nationality–receive salaries that are several times greater than those of other instructors in Armenian schools.
1. In 2002 a branch of Tbilisi State University opened in Akhalkalak. According to Georgian authorities–the university was established to help Armenian youth integrate into Georgian society. However–most of the students that are enrolled are Georgians from different regions of the country–for whom exceptional privileges are established: free apartmen’s and food–higher scholarships–and the promise of guaranteed employment in the region after graduation.
2. In 2005 an orphanage opened in the city of Ninotsminda in Javakhk–although weather conditions in Ninotsminda are the severest in all of Georgia. Forty Georgian children from different regions of Georgia are already housed there. Such steps by the Georgian authorities target a concrete goal to change the demographic situation in the region in order to increase the presence of Georgians in the region.
But such acts only increase tensions in the already explosive setting that has come about in Javakhk.
3) Recent tensions in Javakhk (the destruction of customs zone at Jhdanovakan) were caused by replacing Armenian customs officers with Georgians. How can you rationalize the removal of Armenian officials in Javakhk–only to be replaced by Georgian nationals?
But Tbilisi’s policy of replacing the local Armenian administration with ethnic Georgians is not something new or accidental.
Discriminatory employment practices based on the nationality is a traditional policy in Georgia.
In our case–the hard line policy to expel Armenia’s from governmental agencies–and–especially–from the military and the police–is designed to show the Armenian population of Javakhk who the "true masters" in the region are. Knowing how painfully the local population–which lives under constant political–socio-economical–and psychological pressure–reacts in every other case of ethnic discrimination–the Georgian authorities hope to bring about a new wave of massive demoralization. However–this short-sighted policy is unproductive–and will bring about only further frustration among the Armenian population of Javakhk–to eventually provoke an adequate response.
4) The Gars (Turkey)-Akhalkalaki (Georgia) railroad–will certainly go through the territory of Javakhk. What does the local population think of this prospect?
Plans to build the Gars-Akhalkalak railroad are not fully thought out and carry potentially dangerous political consequences; they go against the most fundamental interests of the Georgian state. The population of Javakhk is extremely negative about this project–based on the following reasons:
First–the realization of the railroad project would tremendously enhance the presence of Turkey in the Javakhk region–possibly even Turkish military presence–with pretext of defending transport communications.
It’s appropriate to mention a fact here that is little-known to the world. In 1918-20–during the Turkish invasion of Transcaucusus–and after the Armenian genocide in Western Armenia–Turkish forces also staged the massacre of the Armenian population of Javakhk: about one-half of the region’s population (about 40,000 people) died at the hands of Turkish soldiers or from starvation. At the same time the authorities of independent Georgia not only left the Armenian population without defense–but–also allowed Armenia’s to starve to death by sealing–with military units–the roads from Javakhk to the inner–safer regions of Georgia.
Second–the realization of the railroad project may promote the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks into Armenian Javakhk–although they were originally deported from regions of Meskhetia (Aspindza–Akhaltsikha–and Adigeni)–where mostly Georgians live now–and who would never tolerate returning the lands to the Turks.
Third–implementation of this project targets the economic and transport isolation of Armenia. Expert evaluations show the economic implausibility of the project–since the existing Gars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railroad is economically more optimal.
So–considering the anti-Armenian nature of the project–taking into account the Armenian genocide of 1915-1923–including the devastation of Javakhk’s Armenia’s by Turkish forces in 1918 and 1920–and considering the true interests of the Georgian state and its citizens–we are going to fight against the realization of Gars-Akhalkalaki railroad project by all legal and lawful means.
5) What do you expect of Armenia and how does the population view Armenia’s position on the problem of Javakhk?
The Armenian authorities maintain that the tense situation in Javakhk is caused solely by tough social and economic conditions in the region; they don’t see any political problems here. I believe that the Armenian government is well aware of mass violations of the Armenian ethnic minority’s rights in Georgia and the government’s policy to drive out the Armenian population out of Javakhk.
However–for the sake of preserving good relations with Georgia–on the one hand–and failing to take into account the explosive nature of the situation on the other–the Armenian government prefers not to see any political problem in the region.
But I am sure that very soon–under pressure from hundreds of thousands of Javakhk’s natives living in Armenia–pressure from patriotic forces of Armenia and the diaspora–pressure from veterans of the Karabagh liberation struggle–and cadre officers of the Armenian Army–the Armenian government will have to change its policy.
The current authorities in Armenia are well aware of the Javakhk’s assistance during the war in Karabagh. Today–Javakhk is in the need of help and expects help from not only Armenia and Mountainous Karabagh Republic–but also from the entire worldwide Armenian Community.
Only preservation of Armenian Javakhk will spare Armenia from being encircled by a Turkic ethnic element–which–if realized–would be catastrophic for Armenia.
It would have been much more rational for the Armenian authorities to recognize the political problem of Javakhk and to demand that Georgian authorities stop their policy of discrimination of the Armenian ethnic minority in Georgia. Guided by international law and with the mediation of appropriate international bodies–Javakhk’s accumulated problems can be resolved. Otherwise–those interested in destabilizing Javakhk may take advantage of the situation and provoke an Armenian-Georgian conflict that will be extremely difficult to stop–considering the pattern of other conflicts in Transcaucusus.
REGNUM News Agency is a Russian federal news agency covering news from Russia and neighboring countries.