Agency WPS
DEFENSE and SECURITY (Russia)
March 31, 2006 Friday

"MOSCOW'S HAND" DISCOVERED IN DJAVAKHETIA

by Yuri Simonjan

TBILISI IS CONVINCED THAT THE RUSSIANS ENCOURAGE ARMENIAN SEPARATISTS
IN SOUTH GEORGIA; Official Tbilisi found another pretext to pin the
blame on Russia.


The forecasts that without a solution to the problems of Abkhazia and
Tskhinvali found, Georgia may encounter a similar problem with
Armenian-populated Djavakhetia seem to be coming to pass. Mass
rallies took place in the district center of Akhalkalaki last week.
Demands of the autonomous status for the region were made in the
presence of several emissaries from Yerevan.

The latest protest actions were sparked by the murder of Gevork
Gevorkjan, 25, an Armenian from the town of Tsalka (his two friends
were injured). Some media outlets including Russian ones immediately
branded the murder as ethnic (allegedly the Svans, a Georgian ethnic
group, were after the Armenians). The same opinion was aired at the
rallies in Akhalkalaki. In the meantime, everything was more banal
than that. Gevorkjan was killed in a drunken scuffle with the ethnic
Svans moved to the Tsalka district several years ago after an
ecological catastrophe on their native land. A bar brawl rapidly
developed into a stabbing outside.

Armenian politicians in Djavakhetia and Armenia itself have a
different opinion. Albert Bazejan, National Revival Party leader,
said in Yerevan that the Armenian authorities should take an active
part in what he termed as "Akhalkalaki processes". "We do not need
another hostile neighbor," Bazejan was quoted as saying. "Along with
the social problems of the Armenian population, there are also some
political matters that have to be addressed and the questions of
survival of ethnic identity. I'd say it's time we discussed the
status of cultural autonomy for the region."

"Statements like that encourage separatism in Djavakhetia and have a
thoroughly negative effect on the Georgian-Armenian relations," said
Van Vaiburt, a deputy in the parliament of Georgia and one of the
chairmen of the Union of Georgian Armenians. The lawmaker is
convinced that most Armenians in Djavakhetia do not care about
"autonomization".

Another lawmaker, Gamlet Movsesjan, believes that social problems may
deteriorate into political even without deliberate provocations. He
says that abatement of tension in the area requires new jobs for the
locals and help in selling the harvest. "The Russian military base in
Akhalkalaki will be closed in 2007. The president promised that all
citizens of Georgia employed there will be offered jobs with similar
salaries but nothing at all has been done to this end so far,"
Movsesjan said.

Several non-government organizations of Djavakhetia put forth a
demand to make Armenian the state language. The petition will soon be
forwarded to the Armenian deputies of the parliament of Georgia. What
will come of the idea is easy to predict.

For the time being, official Tbilisi does not overestimate the danger
the rallies in Akhalkalaki pose. Some representatives of the
political establishment commented - traditionally - that the rallies
in Djavakhetia were probably incited from abroad, i.e. from Moscow.
Nino Burdzhanadze of the parliament said, "Certain forces are trying
to drive a wedge between the Armenian and Georgian population of the
Akhalkalaki district of Georgia." She hinted as well that the rallies
could be provoked by the Russian military base command. Base
Second-in-Command, Colonel Igor Luzhnikov, denied involvement. "We
have nothing to do with the protests," he said.

Even some political circles in Armenia do not rule out the
possibility of involvement of "a certain third force" in the rallies
in Akhalkalaki. Stepan Gregorian, Director of the Analytical Center
for Globalization and Regional Cooperation, believes that Moscow may
be indirectly interested in deterioration of the Georgian-Armenian
relations. "The scope of the Armenia-NATO cooperation plans worries
Moscow. The two signed the IPAP now long ago. A crisis in the
relations with Georgia will leave Armenia in a ring of hostile
countries - Turkey, Azerbaijan... Moscow will then be all it will be
able to turn to for assistance," the analyst said.

Source: Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 28, 2006, p. 5

Translated by A. Ignatkin