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Tbilisi Puts Javakhetia On a Par With Abkhazia And South Ossetia

23.03.2006 13:57

Against the backdrop of the unsettled Georgian ? Abkhazian and Georgian ? South-Ossetian conflicts, a new interethnic conflict is brewing in Georgia ? this time in the Armenian-populated region of Samtskhe-Javakhetia.

The Georgian president himself has confirmed the gravity of the situation in the region. In his recent speech M. Saakashvili for the first time acknowledged that official Tbilisi has considerable problems in the region of Samtskhe-Javakhetia. He put Javakhetia on a par with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, thus actually threatening the region with reprisals.

Conflict situations had been developing in the region earlier as well, but its steep aggravation "unexpectedly" coincided with the "rose revolutionaries" coming to power and the beginning of the evacuation of the Russian military base from Akhalkalaki. So why is the Armenian population, who are a majority in this Georgian region, displeased and what do they want? Why has Georgia, the birthplace of many generations of ethnic Armenians residing in Javakhetia, fallen in disfavor with them?

The answer is simple ? it all comes from the disparaging attitude of the present Georgian authorities to the ethnic minorities residing in the country. The point is that even among ethnic Georgians there are two distinct regional groups residing separately ? Mingrelians and Swanetians. In addition, there are ethnic minorities ? Armenians, Russians, Azeris, Ossetians, Greeks, Abkhazians, Jews, Assyrians, Kurds, Tatars and others. However, with such a wide range of ethnic minorities, some Georgian officials cynically say that Georgia is a mono-ethnic state and "Georgia is for Georgians".

The nationalities policy pursued by official Tbilisi leads to the infringement of the rights of ethnic minorities, which is lately especially manifest in Javakhetia. In Akhalkalaki ethnic Georgians held nearly all senior administrative positions in 2005. As a result, the local people, because of their ignorance of the Georgian language, have, by and large, stopped associating with organs of authority.

Furthermore, Georgian teachers, doctors and other specialists who come to work in Javakhetia are getting salaries 30-50 percent higher than local ethnic Armenians. All these problems could not but finally "blow up" the already explosive situation in the region. At the beginning of March mass beating up of Armenians took place, with one Armenian man killed and four seriously injured.

Under the circumstances the local people had to recur to protest actions. During the first two weeks of March protests virtually swamped Javakhetia. Anti-government rallies were held in Akhalkalaki, Ninotsminda, Tsalko and Aspindza. The authorities' reaction was quick. In a number of places rallies were dispersed by special-purpose detachments of Georgian police sent from Tbilisi.

But what was the cause of official Tbilisi's displeasure? First of all, it was the demands put forward by he people of Javakhetia: equal status for the Georgian and Armenian languages in the region, guarantees of security for local Armenians, equal pay irrespective of nationality, creation of jobs in the region, and ban on mass appropriation and destruction of monuments of Armenian Christian culture. Recently demands have been increasingly voiced for granting autonomy for the region of Samtskhe-Javakhetia.

Today tensions persist in the region. The policy of ousting and assimilating the Armenian population pursued by the Georgian authorities may provoke still graver conflicts.

Thus a conflict may be in the offing caused by Tbilisi's impatience to get the Russian military base evacuated from Akhalkalaki, that base providing work for a considerable part of the local people.