Beware of the Georgian ‘Friend’


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By Edmond Y. Azadian

This is not the first time Georgia is living up to its title of “friendly foe” with Armenia. Although the cross is prominently featured on the Georgian national flag, Christian brotherhood does not mean much to the Georgian government. Otherwise, some consideration and solidarity would have been warranted between the only two Christian nations amidst an ocean of Islamic countries.

During the Soviet period, all ethnic tensions were subdued by the central government although there was no love lost between Armenia and Georgia, since the two had fought a war before being integrated into the Soviet empire. As a result of that war, the historic Armenian region of Javakhk was integrated into Georgia.

After the collapse of the Soviet empire, the two emerging republics politically developed in opposing directions, pushing their simmering mutual antagonism into political dimensions.

By historic necessity, Armenia aligned itself with Russia, becoming a strategic ally of its northern neighbor and hosting Moscow’s military base on its territory. Georgia, meanwhile, veered towards the West, entertaining its dream of becoming a NATO member. Although the Tbilisi government suffered for its Western orientation as a result of President Mikhail Saakashvili’s reckless politics, the succeeding government of the Georgian Dream Party did not alter the nation’s foreign policy.

During a speech delivered on February 12, President Serge Sargisian, commenting on the implementation of recent constitutional changes, also delved into the political background of the region stating, “with our two neighbors, Georgia and Iran, our relations are developing in good neighborly spirits.”

However, that was a politically-correct statement rather than an accurate one, made in order not to exacerbate tense relations with Tbilisi.

In fact, relations with Iran and Georgia are on totally different footings. At times, Iran may ignore some Armenian interests out of political expediency, but on principle, it does not go out of its way to antagonize Armenia.

Both internally and externally, Georgian policies hurt Armenians. Since Georgia’s independence, all succeeding administrations have exercised an extremely xenophobic domestic policy, trying to assimilate or alienate minorities. The brunt of that policy has been mostly directed towards the Armenians in Javakhk. Although the policy cost Georgia territorial losses —Abkhazia and South Ossetia — little has changed in the behavior of the central government.

Georgia’s foreign policy treats Armenia as a virtual enemy. At the UN and other world bodies, the Tbilisi government has brazenly sided with Azerbaijan and Turkey, to Armenia’s detriment, trampling the “neighborly spirit” which Armenia tries to observe jealously and hopelessly.

Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and relies heavily on that organization for its security. But escalating tensions with Azerbaijan have raised legitimate concerns, especially after Azeri encroachment on Armenia proper’s sovereign territory, in the face of Russia’s enigmatic silence. Adding to Armenia’s worries is the alarming rate of transfer of Russia’s modern weaponry to the Baku government.

Those concerns were raised by Armenian journalists at a press conference with CSTO Secretary Gen. Nikolay Bordyuzha, who gave an indirect and terse answer: “Read the final documents of the annual CSTO ministers’ statements, which necessarily refer to the situation in Caucasus.”

The same press conference substantiated the fears of the Armenian journalists when he stated, “We are greatly concerned about the situation in the Caucasus, especially in connection with Nagorno Karabagh conflict, where heavy weaponry and tanks are used and there are casualties. Further escalation of the conflict is unacceptable; the entire Caucasus will explode.”

Against this political background, the Tbilisi government further develops its political and economic relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, tightening the noose around Armenia.

On February 19, Georgia hosted the foreign ministers of Turkey and Azerbaijan, who visited the railway station in Kartzakhi, near the Turkish border. The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, Elmar Mammadyarov, Mikheil Janelidze and Mevlut Çavusoglu, respectively, praised the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway project as a “historic” one and they noted its importance within the context of the new Silk Road connecting Asia to Europe. The railway is scheduled to be completed by 2017 and one segment of it will run through the Armenian-populated Akhalkalaki, after bypassing Armenia itself.

The Azeri Foreign Minister said, “I believe that we are on the right track. It is a joint understanding that we must continue this cooperation because it’s a win-win-win for all three countries and the region.”

He stopped short of saying “it’s a lose-lose-lose project for Armenia.”

But what is more worrisome is that in addition to making statements on economic cooperation, the trio have signed a political declaration where they state they place “the utmost importance on the earliest peaceful settlement of the conflict in and around the Nagorno Karabagh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the conflict in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia on the basis of principles and norms of international law, particularly, sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the internationally-recognized borders.”

The last eight words are euphemistically intended to express the territorial ambitions of the Aliyev dynasty. By contrast, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) co-chairs have been working on the principles of the final part of the Helsinki declaration, which intends to reconcile territorial integrity with the right to self-determination of the local population.

Georgia recklessly endorses Azerbaijan’s position on the settlement of Karabagh conflict while Armenia has cautiously refrained from recognizing Abkhazia’s independence to avoid a confrontation with Tbilisi.

With the lifting of sanctions on Iran, the gas market became a hot battleground in the Caucasus, where Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran are competing. At one point, there was talk that Armenia may become a transit route for Iranian gas to Georgia. It seems that the Georgian government has been having second thoughts for fear of angering the government of Baku. Azerbaijan’s territory is being considered as a conduit for Iranian gas and Georgia’s Minister of Energy Kakha Kaladze has said that “Tbilisi could consider this option, too.”

The Turkish-Georgian cooperation has opened the floodgates for the invasion of Turkish capital in Georgia.

Vahakn Chakhalian, the Armenian political activist in Javakhk who was jailed by President Saakashvili, has issued an appeal to all Armenians, saying, “no to the Turkification of Georgia.”

He added: “The seeds that Saakashvili had sown are blossoming in Georgia and the Turkification of the country is developing at an alarming rate and it has almost reached the point of no return.”

The statement specially informs that the Turkish investors discriminate even against Christian Georgians by denying them employment and preferring Azeris and Turks instead.

Adding insult to injury, the Georgian government has agreed to host a Turkish military base on its territory, to complete the Turkification of the country.

It is understandable that the US and NATO have welcomed the move “as a contribution to stability.” That base would substitute a NATO base, which would irritate Russia to no end. In light of the current escalating tension between Russia and Turkey, stability may become the first casualty.

With a friend like Georgia in the region, Armenia does not need any enemies.