YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Addressing a gathering of senior Armenian diplomats on September 1, President Serzh Sarkisian outlined measures he considers necessary to help the large Armenian community in the southern Georgian region of Javakhk integrate more successfully into Georgian society without losing their Armenian identity.
The announcement came ahead of a scheduled visit to Armenia by Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze, who will arrive in Yerevan on Friday for talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on bilateral relations between the two countries. Also on the agenda are the measures Sarkisian discussed in his statement.
Those measures include granting Armenian the formal status of a regional language, registering the Armenian Apostolic Church, and preserving Armenian historic monuments on Georgian territory.
Granting Armenian the status of an official regional language was one of the issues NGOs in the predominantly Armenian-populated Javakhk region had asked Sarkisian to raise with his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, during his official visit to Tbilisi in late June.
Many Armenians in Javakhk have only a rudimentary knowledge of Georgian, which limits their career prospects.
They also require the restoration to Armenian control a number of churches and other historic monuments which the Georgia government has seized, and, crucially, local self-government for the region.
The various Javakhk-based organizations have said it is of vital interest to the community that political stability and economic prosperity in the region be preserved and that democratic development in Georgia continues. But they also warn of “imminent dangers” that may result from “illegal actions” by local Georgian officials that have exacerbated tensions in the region.
Among the other issues the Georgian NGOs are calling on Sarkisian to raise with his Georgian counterpart is the immediate release of Vahagn Chakhalian, a young Armenian community leader who was arrested 11 months ago and sentenced in April to 10 years in prison, Chakhalian was arrested on unsubstantiated charges for the illegal possession of weapons, participating in mass disorders, resisting arrest, and “hooliganism.”
The organizations are also calling for the reopening of the Verkhinii Lars border and customs post on the Russian-Georgian border. The gateway, if opened, would enable Armenians to travel overland to Russia. Georgia signaled its readiness late last month to begin talks with Moscow on reopening Verkhnii Lars. But talks have yet to begin.
Dual Armenian-Georgian citizenship for the Armenians of Javakhk–a right provided by both countries’ constitutions–as well as the establishment of a local branch of the Tbilisi State University in the region are also issues Sarkisian is being asked to bring up during his talks with Saakashvili.