“Javakhk needs help of the whole Armenian world”: Chairman of “United Javakhk” Vahagn Chakhalian to REGNUM

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Mr. Chakhalian, recently Democratic Alliance “United Javakhk” led by you has become an active player in social and political landscape of the region. Since your activity does not always receive an ambiguous evaluation, I would like to ask you to explain, in general terms, the major political programs and ideas, on which your social activity is based.

The Democratic Alliance “United Javakhk” was established in March 2005 by several Javakhk's Armenian NGOs; and we started our activity from staging two meetings in Akhalkalak, that brought together thousands of people, which was something unprecedented for Javakhk . Our major goal is consolidation of the Armenian population of Javakhk and defense of its interests. We consider ourselves as 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 large cultural and historic heritage of the Armenian people. Holding ourselves responsible for preservation of stability and neutralization of ethnic tensions, imported from outside by destructive political forces of Georgia, we will firmly stay on guarding the interests and civil rights of the Armenian population of Javakhk –law-abiding and fully-fledged citizens of Georgian state. We believe, that in the presence of political will on part of the Georgian government and together with all progressive social and political forces of the republic, it is possible to solve all the accumulated problems in the region, whereby Javakhk, thanks to its geographical setting, could and should become an effective intermediary of economic integration between Georgia and Armenia.

During this year several serious incidents took place in Javakhk. What are the reasons for the growing tensions in the region?

You are, probably, speaking about taking over 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 from the Soviet times and especially after the independence, the ruling circles of Georgia have methodically realized the policy of “Georgia for Georgians”, targeted at the expulsion of Armenians from Javakhk, at the assimilation of Armenians in other regions of Georgia and at the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage at the territory of Georgia. The realization of this policy is achieved through all available means.

In Javakhk, as well as in other regions of Georgia rights of the Armenian population are violated, without respecting the obligation to defend the rights of national minorities that Georgia undertook upon the entry to the Council of Europe. Consider just several evident facts:

Local government:

In the 1995 the state of Samtskhe-Javakheti was established, which purposefully included Adigeni and Borjomi regions, in addition to predominantly Armenian regions, in order to decrease the overall predominance of Armenian population, where, as a result, the number of total Armenian population dropped to 55%. Since the creation of the state of Samtskhe-Javakheti, despite the Armenian majority in the region, representatives appointed by the Georgian president in the region (Governors) were always Georgians by nationality. From more than 20 members of the Governor's office, only three are Armenians.

Education:

1. Contrary to the Georgian history, which is a mandatory subject to study in Armenian middle schools, the History of Armenia was decided to be an optional course, the instruction of which is not paid from the educational funds. Recently, the instruction of Armenian History in Armenian schools was altogether banned.

2. Teachers of the Georgian language, exclusively Georgians by nationality, receive a salary several times greater than the salary of other instructors of other courses in Armenian schools.

Demographic Policy:

1. In 2002 a branch of Tbilisi State University was opened in Akhlkalak, with the purpose (according to the authorities) to speed up integration of the Armenian youth into Georgian society, for which reason the education is being held in Georgian… However, most enrolled students are Georgians, who came from different regions of the country, for whom the exceptional privileges are established: free apartments and food, higher scholarships, and the promise of guaranteed employment in the region after graduation.

2. In 2005 in Javakhk's city of Ninotsminda, in the region with the most severe weather conditions in the whole Georgia, an orphanage was opened, where already about 40 Georgian children from different regions of Georgia live. It is obvious that by such steps the Georgian authorities are targeting a concrete goal – to change the demographic situation in the region in order to increase the presence of the title nationality (Georgians) in the region.

By such acts, the Georgian government only increases the tensions in the already explosive setting that came to existence in Javakhk.

As is well known, the recent aggravation of the situation in Javakhk (the destruction of customs zone at Jhdanovakan) was caused by replacement of customs officers of the Armenian nationality for Georgian customs officers. How would you explain the strive of Tbilisi to replace the officials in Javakhk by representatives of the Georgian nationality?

This striving of Tbilisi to replace the local bureaucracy by Georgians is not something new or accidental. Discriminatory employment practices based on the national discrimination is a traditional ethnic policy in Georgia as it is. In our case, the hard line policy of expulsion of Armenians out of governmental agencies, and, especially, from military and the police, is designed to show the Armenian population of Javakhk who are the “true masters” of the situation in the region. 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 Tbilisi authorities hoped to cause a new wave of massive demoralization. However, this short-sited policy has no prospects, is not productive, and brings about only further exasperation of Armenian population of Javakhk, provoking it for an adequate response.

The Kars ( Turkey ) – Akhalkalaki (Georgia) railroad, certainly, will go through the territory of Javakhk . What does the local population think of this prospect?

We consider the plans to build Kars-Akhalkalak railroad as a decision that is not fully thought through and that is pregnant with the most dangerous political consequences, which goes against the most fundamental interests of the Georgian state. The population of Javakhk is extremely negative about this project, based on the following reasons:

Firstly, the realization of the railroad project would extremely enhance the presence of Turkey in the region of Javakhk, including, possibly, the military presence, upon the pretext of the defense of communications.

Here it is appropriate to mention the fact, which is little-known to the world community. In 1918-20, during the Turkish invasion of Transcaucasus, after the Armenian Genocide in Western Armenia, the Turkish forces also staged the massacre of the Armenian population of Javakhk: about one-half o 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, in addition, making Armenians die of hunger by closing with their military units the roads from Javakhk to the inner, safer regions of Georgia.

Secondly , the realization of the rail-road project may promote the repatriation of Meskhetian Turks into the Armenian Javakhk, however they were deported from the regions of Meskhetia (Aspindza, Akhaltsikha and Adigeni regions), where currently mostly Georgians live, who are not interested at all in returning the lands to the Turks.

Thirdly, implementation of this project is targeted at the promotion of transport and economic isolation of Armenia. Expert evaluations undoubtedly state the economic implausibility of the project, since the existing Kars-Giumri-Tbilisi railroad, from the point of exploitation and economy is much more optimal. Under this conditions, considering the anti-Armenian background of the project, taking into account the historic memory of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, including the devastation of Javakhk's Armenians 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 Kars-Akhalkalaki railroad project by all legal and lawful means.

What do you expect of Armenia and how the locals perceive the Armenia 's position on the problem of Javakhk?

The Armenian authorities maintain that tense situation in Meskhk-Javakhk is solely explained by tough social and economic situation in the region, they don't see any political problem here. I believe that the Armenian government is well aware of mass violations or Armenian ethnic minority's rights in Georgia and of conducted governmental policy of the expulsion of Armenian population out of Meskhk-Javakhk.

However, for the sake of preservation of good relations with Georgia, on the one hand, and failing to take into account the explosive nature of the situation on another, the Armenian government prefers not to see any political problem in the region.

I am sure, that very soon, under the pressure from hundreds of thousands of Javakhk's natives, living in Armenia, under pressure from patriotic forces of Armenian and the Diaspora, under the pressure from veterans of Artsakh Liberation War and cadre officers of the Armenian Army, the Armenian government would have to change its position.

The current authority of Armenia is well aware of the help that was provided to Artsakh (Karabakh) by Javakhk during the Liberation War. Today Javakhk is in the need of help and expects help from not only Armenia and Artsakh, but from the whole Armenian World. Only preservation of the Armenian Javakhk would spare Armenia from being encircled by Turkic ethnic element, which, once realized, would be catastrophic for Armenia.

It would have been much more rational for the Armenian authorities to recognize the political problem in Javakhk and to demand from the Georgian authorities to stop the policy of discrimination of the Armenian ethnic minority in Georgia and together solve the accumulated problems of Meskhk-Javakhk being guided by the international law and with the mediation of authoritative and appropriate international bodies. In the adverse situation, the third parties, interested in destabilizing of Javakhk, may take advantage of the situation and provoke an Armenian-Georgian conflict, which will be extremely hard to stop, considering the pattern of other conflicts in Transcaucasus.

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13:08 12/30/2005