By Edmond Y. Azadian
There is no love lost between the Armenians and Georgians. These two Christian nations in a heavily Muslim neighborhood, have lived together for centuries. Armenians, true to their propensity for flourishing in foreign lands, built Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, into a center for arts and culture during most of the 19th century. As a reward, they suffered Georgian jealousy which grew until the Soviet takeover of the country in 1920, when under the guise of the proletarian ruling over the capitalists, Georgians expropriated the homes and lands of the Armenians and began to implement the darkest kind of nationalism under the Soviet rule.
When the Soviet empire collapsed, many nationalities on the periphery found themselves with conflicting territorial claims. A similar situation erupted earlier in the 20th century, when the Czarist empire collapsed. Armenians and Georgians had a brief war as a result of which the historic Armenian province of Javakhk was left on the Georgian side of the border.
Jealousy, conflicts, back-stabbing have characterized the relations of these two nations more than cooperation and friendship.
Since its independence, Georgia has sided and cooperated with Turkey and Azerbaijan in every possible instance, whether voting at the United Nations or building rail and energy networks. Tbilisi has cooperated with Turkey and Azerbaijan to isolate Armenia and to strangle its economy. In a recent interview, the Georgian ambassador to Ankara, Irakli Koplatadze, announced that the trilateral cooperation between Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey is “on the rise. In line with the pipeline, projects of global importance [Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, ongoing Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway construction and the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline] the recently launched energy-producing and transmitting projects serve the best long-term interests of the whole region to ensure security, stability and prosperity.”
Of course, Armenia does not figure in any of the above projects and it has been deliberately left out, thanks to the collusion of Tbilisi with Armenia’s enemies.
Parallel to a hostile foreign policy, a domestic repressive rule is also applied to the sizable Armenian community in Georgia — confiscation of churches, closure of schools, theaters, newspapers and above all, persecution of the Armenian majority in Javakhk.
Unfortunately, Armenia does not have leverage over Georgia and is forced to pursue a policy of pretend friendship, simply not to aggravate relations.
Landlocked Armenia, blockaded by Turkey and Azerbaijan, has only two access points to the rest of the world markets, Iran and Georgia. Armenia has mostly been left to the tender mercies of merciless Georgians.
During the war in August 2008 between Russia and Georgia, Armenia’s trade and communications suffered tremendously. It was implied by the Iranian government that Armenia can serve as a trade bridge between the Gulf states and the Black Sea. In order to achieve that status, Yerevan has to preserve friendly relations with Tbilisi.
Much of the tension between the two nations has been the result of the hostility between Moscow and Tbilisi, since Armenia is pro-Russia.
President Mikhail Saakashvili’s knee-jerk anti-Russian policy left Georgia in shambles, during which the country suffered territorial loss and economic decline. The Georgian Dream Party, headed by Bidzina Ivanishvili, performed some damage control and brought back a measure of normalcy. Armenia exercised a policy of complementarity for a while successfully. Now it is Georgia’s turn to adopt a multi-vector foreign policy.
The country remains torn between the two poles, best illustrated by the different approaches by two representatives, one Tbilisi’s ambassador to Ankara Irakli Kopladze, the other the former speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Nino Burjanadze, who was on a speaking tour in Moscow.
The former continues to advocate for NATO membership and European integration; the latter is lamenting the cost of Saakashvili’s anti-Russian policy and provocation to start a war. At that time, even Washington slapped the wrist of its ally for going too far.
Russia has drawn a red line against having NATO forces on its borders. In 2011, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made a statement that Russia’s military action was intended to counter Georgia’s NATO ambitions.
To continue the same policy is tantamount to tempt the devil and it will not yield any better results this time than Saakashvili was able to achieve.
The former speaker of the Georgian parliament, Burjanadze, who no longer enjoys any official capacity, was in a public relations stunt to improve relations with Russia. She has met many in the media and politicians in Moscow and is even rumored to have met President Vladimir Putin. She openly blames Georgia’s woes on Saakashvili and has stated, “At one time, I believed that joining NATO would be beneficial for my country and I have contributed to that policy. But since 2008, I have changed my views radically.”
Borjanadze is seeking to restore relations with Russia. Recent polls also indicate that there is 31 percent support of that policy. Many Georgians openly embrace the idea that their country should join the EEU.
Incidentally, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili this week fired his foreign minister and replaced her with the economy minister in a surprise move.
Burjanadze has concluded one of her remarks by stating, “small nations have to think about their own self-interest and should not have the illusion that others may stake their interests for them.”
Burjanadze’s trip to Russia was covered by Ruben Hayrapetyan, Moscow political analyst of Azg newspaper in Yerevan. Referring to rising anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia, the analyst has used a shrewd title, “Let us learn from the mistakes of others.”
However, there is some relaxation on the border between Armenia and Georgia, mostly because Tbilisi is trying to repair the broken relations with Moscow. Armenia has been helpful in that rapprochement, because that role also contributes to its self-interest.
Recently, it was announced that a school for 1,000 students is being built in Tbilisi for Armenian students. Trade delegations and exchanges on all levels have been rising between the two countries. The government is even introducing measures for improving the economy in Javakhk.
We cannot count too much on Georgian good will but Armenia can certainly benefit from its improved relations with Tbilisi. Armenia is closer to capitalizing on its role as a trade bridge by coordinating the two components of its foreign policy. On the one side Iran is emerging from sanctions while on the other hand, Georgia seems to be more amenable to better relations with Russia and thus Armenia.
Armenia has been a hostage to Georgian politics and now its improved relations will bring Yerevan out of the Georgian political web.