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Sarkisian’s “friendly” claims

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, September 8
As soon as Armenia secured the normalisation of its relations with Turkey its President, Serzh Sarkisian, made various ‘friendly’ claims against Georgia. This action was hailed in Armenia but provoked irritation in Georgia. The claims made by the Armenian President could provoke tension between the two nations and actually serve the interests of Russian imperialistic politics more than anything.

Sarkisian made his claims on September 1 while meeting representatives of the diplomatic corps. The first was that Georgia should grant the wishes of Georgians of Armenian origin on the basis of “integration without assimilation.” He explained that in this case integration means showing respect for Georgians of Armenian origin as a special group and treating them as worthy citizens. Sarkisian also demanded granting the Armenian language regional status, the registration of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia and the protection of Armenian cultural monuments in Georgia. According to him taking all these measures will increase the friendship between Armenia and Georgia and deepen the atmosphere of mutual trust. However as Russian newspaper Nezavisimaia Gazeta commented, Serzh Sarkisian is the first official representative of the Armenian state to try and provoke discussion about the status of the Armenian language.

Over the last year the Armenian President has actually been very correct in his manner of leadership. When Georgia’s President, in one of his ‘eloquent speeches’, stated that Armenia’s economy was completely ruined official Yerevan very calmly asked Georgia’s leader to behave more appropriately. Moreover, despite Russian pressure and its indirect interest in the Karabakh issue Armenia has refused to recognise the Sokhumi and Tskhinvali puppet regimes as independent states. But it looks like the prospects of establishing diplomatic relations with Turkey have prompted the Armenian leader to reconsider his attitude. Though made in what he thought was a friendly and diplomatic manner Sarkisian’s statement was not understood in Georgia as either friendly or good neighbourly, nor something designed to promote trust between the two nations.

Georgian scholar and Armenologist Bondo Arveladze thinks that declaring the Armenian language a regional one is almost like declaring the entire Javakheti region, with its high population of Armenian origin, an autonomous entity. Expert on Caucasian issues Mamuka Areshidze states that the Armenian President should make the same claims against Russia, because the Rostov region of the Russian Federation contains a very high Armenian-origin Russian population. Russian agency Regnum also connects the Armenian claims to the prospects of reopening the Turkish-Armenian border. Georgian analysts and political figures in their comments think that this reopening is being encouraged by Moscow to confront Georgia with yet another source of potential destabilisation. MP Giorgi Kandelaki from ruling party thinks that Russia is interested in seeing Georgia disintegrate and therefore people of Georgian and Armenian origin should be more careful in their mutual relations.

Serzh Sarkisian’s predecessor as Armenian President Robert Kocharian recommended publicly that Georgians of Armenian decent learn the Georgian language. The same is demanded by ethnic Armenian Georgian politician Van Baiburt. “If they want to participate in Georgian state affairs they should know the country’s language very well, because many Armenian origin people do not speak good Georgian and it is thus difficult to promote them to public positions,” thinks Baiburt. The best example of a genuinely integrated Georgian Armenian is Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Nalbandov, who is of Armenian origin but speaks excellent Georgian and serves his homeland.

There have been many analogous situations to that of the ethnic Armenians in Georgia. After the First World War the region of Alsace-Lorraine, long disputed between France and Germany, became French and continues to be so despite a Nazi annexation in 1940. It has an ethnically mixed population and some areas are predominantly German speaking. Locals can learn German and speak German but the region is French territory. Consequently all the inhabitants, French and German origin, speak French as either a first or second language because all official institutions communicate with the population and conduct official business in French. This is one of several possible models of cultural co-operation within a country. The issue of ethnic Armenians living in Georgia as Georgian citizens could be resolved in such a manner if there is goodwill, and it should be, as two genuinely neighbourly states have no other option.