GEORGIA'S MIGRATION POLICY TO BLAME FOR TENSION IN ETHNIC ARMENIAN REGION - PUNDIT
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Ayots Ashkar, Yerevan
14 Mar 06

Text of Vaan Vardanyan's report by Armenian newspaper Ayots Ashkar on 14 March headlined "What is the main reason for the Tsalka incident?" An interview with the vice-president of the Mighty Motherland party, Stepan Markaryan.

[Ayots Ashkar correspondent] Mr Markaryan, there is mixed reaction to the murder of a young Armenian in Tsalka [town in southern Georgia with a large Armenian population]. What did really happen?

[Stepan Markaryan] I should say there was no conflict, the incident started from nothing. A total of 10 Armenians had dinner in one of the Tsalka restaurants and then left talking to each other. A larger group of Svans [resettled natives of the Svaneti mountain region] was standing outside. Svans have resettled in Tsalka recently. They did not like something in the behaviour of the Armenians. They started a fight, as a result of which three Armenians were injured and one of them died later.

[Correspondent] What was the reason for the conflict?

[Markaryan] Incidents like this never happened in Tsalka during the Soviet times and till the 1990s. At that time the predominant population of the region were Greeks, then came Armenians, Georgians and other ethnic groups. Greeks later emigrated, and the Georgian authorities resettled Svans and Ajarians there. Since then these kinds of incidents have been happening often.

[Correspondent] Has the situation arisen because of a wrong resettlement [policy]?

[Markaryan] Yes, it has in a sense. Law-enforcement agencies are not carrying out preventive measures there. The police should implement preventive measures and be aware of public moods and of what may be expected from the public.

[Correspondent] But is this an ethnic conflict or a local incident?

[Markaryan] Georgian President [Mikheil] Saakashvili has said that this is not an ethnic conflict. In fact, I can agree with him since it was a local incident, but unfortunately, it was not the first incident. [Correspondent] What was the Javakhk [Georgia's Samtskhe-Javakheti region] Armenians' reaction? [Markaryan] In general, the public organizations of Javakhk and the population believe that this is the result of a wrong resettlement policy.

[Correspondent] What consequences may this incident have in other regions where Armenians live along with other ethnic groups?

[Markaryan] I do not think there may be consequences. Because there are 14 Armenian-populated villages in Tsalka. A total of 30,000 people live in the area, and half of them are Armenians.

[Correspondent] Are there possible centres of conflict in other Armenian-populated regions?

[Markaryan] According to the recent population census, 76,000 people live in Akhalkalaki, and the majority of them are Armenians. A total of 32,000 people live in Ninotsminda. Half of the population in Akhaltsikhe are Armenians, but these kinds of incidents do not happen there. Anyway, I think that the Georgian authorities should pay more serious attention to their resettlement policy and decisions should be adopted taking into account all possible developments. Experience shows that all incidents like this mainly happen because of resettled people.