Caucasian Regional Studies
The International Association For Caucasian Regional Studies
Law Politics Sociology Economics Modern History International Relations
Caucasian Regional Studies, Vol. 3,
Issue 1, 1998
THE QUESTION OF JAVAKHETI
Armenians are the second largest ethnic group and the most numerous ethnic minority in
Georgia. Mainly they live in Tbilisi and also in Javakheti - a province in the southern
part of Georgia, lying against the borders with Turkey and Armenia, where Armenians make
up over 90% of the population. Beginning from the early 90's, when Georgia became
engulfed in total chaos, problems have emerged in the relations between the authorities in
Tbilisi and several of the political organisations in Javakheti. To this day, jurisdiction
of the centre is considerably limited in Javakheti, yet following the experiments in
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the central authorities prefer to refrain from any radical
actions in this region. The situation is made more complex by the presence of the Russian
military bases in Javakheti and the problem of Meskhetian Turks seeking to repatriate to
Meskheti(1), from where they were forcefully deported in 1994. The future of the
province will most probably be determined by the (now developing) new geopolitical order
in the South Caucasus, the major determining factors of which are the new communication
routes and pipelines.
Historically, Armenians in Georgia were engaged chiefly in commerce and craftsmanship
and, respectively, lived predominantly in the cities, principally in Tbilisi. According to
the results of the 1897 census, Armenians made up 18.7% of the population in the Tiflis
province, 25% in the Tiflis district and almost 75% in the city of Tiflis(2). In
those days, Armenians owned the largest enterprises and wholesale storages warehouses, and
also the biggest capital. Besides, they played an important role in the city's cultural
life, which at the end of the last century, before Baku oil boom began, was
Transcaucasia's busiest and most important centre.
Armenians have compactly resided in Southern Georgia for almost 170 years. When after
the war with Turkey (1828-1829) Russia obtained the Black Sea coast from the Kuban to Poti
and the largest portion of the Georgian provinces of Meskheti and Javakheti, the Armenians
living on the Turkish territory began to massively resettle to the territories of the
Russian empire. It was during this process that Armenians settled in the Akhalkalaki
district (Javakheti), where they soon outnumbered indigenous Georgians; in 1903, the
majority of 54,816 people living in 150 villages of the district were Armenian). After
1829, 2,536 Armenian families resettled to the neighbouring Meskheti (centre-the city of
Akhaltsikhe) from Erzerum, while smaller groups of their compatriots had lived there
earlier as well; in 1913, 41,873 Armenians lived in the Akhaltsikhe district (16,499 in
the city, the rest in 16 Armenian villages).On the eve of the Bolshevik coup, Armenians
amounted to as much as 82% of the entire population of the Akhaltsikhe district.(3)
Under the Soviet rule, the share of ethnic Armenian population in the Georgian SSR
slowly, albeit systematically declined, forming the average of 10% (still maintaining the
second place numerically after the Georgians). In 1926, Armenians made up 11.5% of the
population of the Georgian SSR, 11% in 1959 and 9% in 1979. Armenians constituted 34.1% of
the population of Tbilisi in 1926, 21.5% in 1959 and 12% in 1989. (4) According to
the 1989 census, 437,211 Armenians lived in Georgia (8.1% of the total population). Their
majority (roughly 150 thousand, i.e. 12% of the city's population) lived in Tbilisi and
also in Abkhazia (about 75 thousand, i.e. 14.6% of the population of the Abkhaz ASSR).(5)
The largest group, however, ( about 200 thousand) lived in Javakheti (over 90% of
the population) and Meskheti (about one third of the population).
Administratively, Javakheti is divided into two districts - Akhalkalaki (covering 1,235
square km and home to the population of 69,103) and Ninotsminda (covering 1,353 square km
and the population of 37,895)(6). On the whole, the province with 2% of the
country's population, occupies 3.7% of the country's entire territory. The city of
Akhalkalaki has 15,192 inhabitants and the city of Ninotsminda (former Bogdanovka)- 6,944.
In the past eight years since the last census, the region's ethnic composition has
altered - the number of ethnic Russians living in some of the villages in the Ninotsminda
district close to the Armenian border declined (these were Old Believers, chiefly
Dukhobors and Molokans whose ancestors settled in the Transcaucasus way back at the
beginning of the 19th century; some of them decided to return back to Russia). In terms of
ethnic composition, Javakheti remains a purely Armenian region - even the most reserved
Georgian sources estimate the number of Armenians at 91.3% of the population(7),
while Armenians themselves claim that this figure is as high as 97%.
Meskheti is divided into four districts: Akhaltsikhe (covers 1,010 square km and has
54,822 inhabitants), Adigeni ( 799.5 square km and 21,282 inhabitants ), Aspindza ( 825.3
square km and 13,432 inhabitants), and Borjomi ( 1,189 square km and 38,973 inhabitants).
The province (of Meskheti) occupies 5.5% of Georgia's entire territory and accounts for
2.4% of its population. The population of the district centres is as follows: Akhaltsikhe
- 24,650, Adigen - 1,239, Aspindza - 3,783, Borjomi - 17,764. A number of Russians left
Meskheti in the recent years, as did approximately 700 Ossetians after the conflict broke
out between Georgians and Ossetians(8). Armenians make up one third of the Meskheti
population. Their number in the Borjomi district, however, is lower than in the
Akhaltsikhe district. On the whole, Armenians constitute approximately 40% of the
population in Meskhet-Javakheti.
In the night November 14-15, 1944 Meskhetian Turks(9) , more than 115 thousand
people, were deported from South Georgia, predominantly from Meskheti(10) (man, who
fought in the war shared their fate later). All of them were forcibly transferred to the
Central Asia, chiefly to Uzbekistan. Later, unlike many other deported peoples, Meskhetian
Turks were not allowed to return home The explanation the Soviet authorities offered was
the absence of the technical means to arrange the repatriation, and those who returned
spontaneously to Meskheti were sent back. Even those who tried to visit their native lands
as tourists were denied the right to do so.
After the Soviet Union fell apart, the bid of the Meskhetian Turks to return home was
obstructed by the authorities of the independent republic. The new Georgian Government
under Zviad Gamsakhurdia offered Meskhetian Turks to either register as Georgians or
settle elsewhere outside the region (other than Meskheti). This testified to the official
policy of „Georgianisation of the state(11). Today Georgian authorities declare
their readiness to resolve the problem, yet point to several pertinent issues. In July
1996, pursuant to the decree by President Shevardnadze, the state commission on the
matters of the Meskhetian Turks was created. The then National Security Minister Shota
Kviraia stated that return of the Turks to the lands bordering with Turkey and Armenia
would give the „interested parties with their own strategic interests in the Caucasus
an opportunity to use the „Meskhetian card . Kviraia also linked the question of the
Meskhetian Turks with the increasing propaganda of Islam in Georgia(12). Official
Tbilisi is apparently mindful of the unpredictable reaction of the Georgian Armenians to
the repatriation of the Meskhetian Turks.
Geographical conditions distinguish Javakheti and Meskheti from the rest of the
country. Because of the harsh climate, the former is often called „Georgia's
Siberia : in winter the temperature here drops to minus twenty degrees and snow may not
melt for six months. Javakheti sits on an elevated mountain plateau surrounded by extinct
volcanoes and the region is often shaken by earthquakes. The city of Akhalkalaki is
situated at the altitude of 1,750 above sea level, while several villages in the
Ninotsminda region are located above the altitude of 2,000 metres. In the 19th century
Javakheti was a place of exile. The largest part of Meskheti - the cradle of Georgia's
statehood - is located in the Akhaltsikhe hollow whose slopes are covered with apple
trees, vineyards, and wild forests. Further up, as in Javakheti, there are alpine plains.
For permanent residence Javakheti and Meskheti are not very popular in Georgia.
Javakheti during Perestroika and Gamsakhurdia's rule (1985-1991) and the
beginning of Shevardnadze's rule.
Javakheti is the least invested part of Georgia. There are too few roads and railways
and the existing ones are in poor repair and the city infrastructure is underdeveloped.
One of the reasons for this, apart from the huge discrepancies between the centre and the
peripheries typical for all former Soviet Republics, was the expansion at the end of the
50's of the frontier zone along the Turkish-Soviet border to 78 kilometres into the
country (in other places this zone was 7 to 27 kilometres wide). The special heightened
regime of control in the frontier zone (where the visa to enter was only issued to those
invited by the residents of the zone), with the exception of part of Javakheti, was
exercised on the entire territory of Meskheti up until the beginning of
Perestroika(13). The local Armenians perceived this also as a policy designed to
limit their contacts with Armenia. Only in the second half of the 80's when tensions
began in the Nagorno-Karabakh, the Government of the Georgian SSR adopted a program of the
social and economic development of the population in Javakheti. This, perhaps, was an
attempt to prevent possible turbulences in Javakheti against Tbilisi.
The events in Nagorno-Karabakh catalysed the creation of the Armenian national movement
in Javakheti. The two regions have much in common: they are located in the republics
neighbouring Armenia, close to the Armenian border, where Armenians represent an
overwhelming majority of the population. When the first armed clashes occurred in
Karabakh, many volunteers from Akhalkalaki and adjacent villages hastened to help Karabakh
Armenians (first volunteers went there as early as in March,1988). Filaret Berikyan, who
for the period of four years was in charge of Karabakh issues on behalf of the Government
of Armenia, notes that Armenians in Javakheti have a keen sense of national identity:
„There were many of them in Karabakh, they even created their own units (14).
Along with the increase in the number of volunteers, a large number of weapons was
supplied to Javakheti. These weapons remain there in private possession to this day. Some
argue that the province is the most heavily armed part of Georgia after Abkhazia.
In 1988 the national-popular movement Javakhk (the Armenian for Javakheti) was created
whose influence rapidly grew among the local Armenians. The official goals of the
organisation was the preservation of Armenian cultural heritage, science and history of
Armenia in local schools, protection of national institutions and also the development of
the region. According to David Rstakyan, one of the Javakhk leaders and Chairman of the
Coordinating Council of the public and political organisations of Javakheti, initially
Russians, Georgians and Greeks too were among the Javakhk leaders. Only after Gamsakhurdia
came to power, did the organisation assume the role of a protector of the rights of the
region's Armenian population „frightened by the threats on the part of the Georgian
nationalists (15). From the very beginning, however, the goal of Armenians in Javakheti
was at least to obtain autonomy, if not to unite with the region with Armenia.
The centrifugal aspirations of Armenians (as well as Abkhaz and Ossetians) had from the
very start been supported by Moscow. The aim of their policy was to maintain control over
Georgia which then resolutely strove to gain independence, yet being weakened by those
centrifugal movements, was forced to seek help in the Kremlin. In its turn, Yerevan tried
to quell the secessionist aspirations of Armenians in Javakheti. Armenia wanted to avoid
fight on two fronts and realised that in the event of conflict with Georgia, it would find
itself virtually blockaded (the borders had already been sealed by Azerbaijan and Turkey).
Both processes (Russia's support of the centrifugal trends in Javakheti and opposition
of these trends by Armenia's official leadership) intensified in the subsequent years.
During Gamsakhurdia's rule, Javakheti was beyond the jurisdiction of the centre. The
most serious conflict between Tbilisi and Akhalkalaki concerned prefects (the position
introduced by the president. The borders of the prefectures coincided with those of
regions): Armenians refused to accept three consecutive prefectual candidates sent from
the capital because they were Georgian. This was done in the following manner - the armed
crowd gathered in front of the administrative building in Akhalkalaki, and did not let
candidates from Tbilisi into the building. The protests were organised by Javakhk. David
Rstakyan offers the following explanation: „Prefectures were introduced in the period of
transition from totalitarianism to democracy, but we considered that they led to
dictatorship as they consolidated the executive power. We attached critical importance to
the nationality of the prefect since in a non-democratic state with no civil society and
where no fair rights and freedoms are guaranteed by the Constitution, the fate of a nation
is contingent upon individuals serving in this position. We did not trust the central
authorities and therefore wanted an Armenian to be their representative in Akhalkalaki.
Georgia to this day remains a non-democratic state, although a certain positive signs have
Before Tbilisi agreed to make some concessions, the Provisional Council of
Representatives governed the region. According to Tigran Karakhanyan, Secretary of the
Akhalkalaki City Assembly and member of the Javakh movement „The Council was set up in
the conditions of a political vacuum that emerged after we rejected the prefects imposed
by Tbilisi . In February 1991 each of the 64 villages of the Akhalkalaki region elected
their representative and eight representatives were elected by the city. Of these the
Council (of Representatives) of 24 people was created. The Presidium of seven (among whom
one Georgian was a beau geste to Tbilisi) was the working body of the Council. David
Rstakyan: "The Council of representatives was not a constitutional organ, but the
existing law did not allow us to safeguard our own interests. The Council of
Representatives was to function until the office of the prefect was fully manned (all he
vacancies filled)". Rstakyan and Karakhanyan do not conceal that the Council which
declared itself dismissed on November 15, 1991 when the man at last accepted by the
Armenians became the prefect was under full control of Javakheti(17).
At that time, several incidents took place in Javakheti which could have resulted in
armed clashes: the armed residents of the Akhalkalaki region did not allow the National
Guard to enter their territory, disarmed the unit loyal to Zviad Gamsakhurdia that
intended to return to the capital via Javakheti after having accompanied the president
fleeing to Armenia after the coup in Tbilisi. One of the meetings of the Council of
Representatives voted on Javakheti's independence, however, the idea failed to receive
the majority vote in the Council(18). According to the Javakh Armenians, all their
actions were purely defensive in nature and were a response to Tbilisi's faulty policy
vis a vis ethnic minorities.(19)
During Gamsakhurdia's presidency the question of the frontier zone re-emerged. Under
the new law, the zone was 21 km in width along the entire border. The law, already as a
legal act of the independent Georgia was approved by the State Council. According to
Tigran Karakhanyan this was against the interests of the Armenian population: „In the
frontier zone embracing a large part of our region to the city of Akhalkalaki, building of
houses is prohibited. Imagine a family which lives on the border with Turkey and which has
five or six children. We have families with many children. Where will they live once the
children grow up? This law has nothing in common with international norms (20)
According to Filaret Berikyan, Gamsakhurdia intended to settle Georgians in the frontier
zone, he encouraged the Georgian population to settle in Meskheti and Javakheti, including
the places where the Old Believers in the Ninotsminda district with the aim of creating a
Georgian buffer between Armenia and Armenian-populated Javakheti.(21)
On March 10, 1992 the Military Council governing Georgia was transformed into the State
Council and Eduard Shevardnadze became its chairman. During the first four years of his
rule the centrifugal trends in Javakheti did not diminish (the most serious crisis
occurred in 1994 when the Head of State sent his representative to Akhalkalaki). Due to
the weakness of the centre, the region remained virtually independent from Tbilisi.
The war in Abkhazia exacerbated the situation in Javakheti: first, most Armenians
living in Abkhazia supported the Abkhaz which provoked anti-Armenian sentiments in
Georgia. Second, Russia that supported the Abkhaz and Ossetian separatism, could instigate
analogous conflict in Javakheti. According to Mamuka Areshidze, Chairman of the
Parliamentary Commission on the Matters of the Peoples of the Caucasus, Russia did attempt
to incite an armed conflict in Javakheti: such an attempt presumably took place in the
autumn, 1993 at the most difficult time for Georgia after the defeat in Abkhazia and Zviad
Gamsakhurdia's return to Georgia (22). The Javakh leaders, however, deny this
allegation, although they admit their close collaboration with the Russian military base
in Akhalkalaki (many Armenians of Javakheti work at the base). David Rstakyan asserts that
if outside forces had attempted to enter Javakheti then, they would have encountered the
adequate response . He may be referring to the Mkhedrioni fighters who in 1993-94
terrorised Georgia, yet they had never crossed the border of the Akhalkalaki district. In
1995, after the parliamentary and presidential elections in Georgia, the situation in the
region began to stabilise.
In the elections of November 5, 1995 Javakheti voted for Eduard Shevardnadze's
Citizens Union, Aslan Abashidze's Union of Revival and also for Jumber Patiashvili, the
communist candidate and Shevardnadze's main contender in the presidential elections.
David Rstakyan who ran for the parliament and had his confidants in the polling precincts,
alleges that Patiashvili won in the city as well as in rural areas, later however, the
results were falsified and Shevardnadze emerged as a winner.(23)
On the Status of Javakheti
The Constitution of Georgia adopted on August 24,1995 states that the
administrative-territorial arrangement of the country based on the principle of the
separation of powers shall be determined after the full restoration of Georgian
jurisdiction on the entire territory of the state (Article 2, paragraph 3)(24). This
has not been achieved yet. Though, for more than three years now, the new administrative
arrangement of the country is being formed. Pursuant to Decree No 237 of 1994 of the Head
of State, the institution of Representatives in the regions was introduced (this
administrative-territorial unit is of a higher order than the regions remaining from the
soviet system, corresponding to the historical provinces of Georgia).
The territories settled by the Armenians were included in the region of
Samtske-Javakheti (or Meskhet-Javakheti) embracing the historical Meskheti and Javakheti
(six districts). Gigla Baramidze was appointed the State Representative. According to a
member of the Javakhk movement, creation of the region within such borders is aimed at
counterbalancing the Armenian majority in Javakheti, since in Samtskhe-Javakheti Armenians
no longer represent the overwhelming majority.
Several days after the issuance of Decree No 237, T. Karakhanyan chaired the
Akhalkalaki City Assembly session. At the session protests were voiced that the Decree
threatened the rights of the Armenians, besides for even the most trivial things one would
have to travel to Akhaltsikhe, the capital of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Dissatisfaction was also
caused by the fact a Georgian was appointed as the State Representative which was
reminiscent of the conflict involving the prefects. Many members of the Assembly believed
that under such circumstances declaration of independence was the only
D. Rstakyan argues that creation of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region is
anti-constitutional. First, the Presidential Decree of 1994 provided creation of the
institute of the State Representative(s) and not creation of the regions, and, second, the
change in the administrative arrangement should be effected through a referendum.
In 1997, members of the Javakh began to collect signatures under the document of the
following content: „Dear Javakhks! The Coordinating Council of the public and political
organisations of Javakheti, in accordance with Paragraph 1 of Article 67 of the
Constitution of Georgia (no less than 30 thousand electors have the right of legislative
initiative),(26) are organising the collection of signatures for the discussion in
the Parliament of the following issues:
1.discontinuation of the process of creation of the anti-constitutional region of
2. upon the passage of the chapter of the Constitution on the territorial arrangement
of the country, to grant Javakheti the respective status of the administrative-territorial
unit within the framework of the Georgian Constitution.(27)
According to D. Rstakyan, 12,000 signatures were collected before September 1997 in the
Ninotsminda district and 30,000 in the Akhalkalaki district. D. Rstakyan alleges that the
process of the collection of signatures was obstructed by police and special services.
„There were cases when police went to the homes and threatened people, saying we
intended to use the signatures for other purposes abridging the text of the appeal. One
representative of the special services came to me and said that indeed the Constitution
provided the collection of signatures, yet a special permission was required for
Leaders of the Javakh declare that their aim is not uniting Javakheti to Armenia or the
independence of the region. „We will not follow suit of the Nagorni-Karabakh says D.
Rstakyan and clarifies that the movement only aims to secure the rights for the local
Armenians compatible with the rights of ethnic minorities in a „civilised world and
also to provide guarantees that would ensure that these rights would be observed. Rstakyan
considers the article of the Georgian Constitution on the „cultural autonomy and
giving Javakheti a status of the subject of the future federation to be the best
guarantor. The Georgian press, however, regularly writes about „the fifth column of
Javakheti blaming the Javakh leadership in separatist aspirations. Although harshly
critical in tone, these publications have historical foundation: apparently, the Javakhk
did not altogether renounce the idea of the secession of the province from the centre and
still sustain this idea as one of the alternatives for the future .(29) According
to David Rstakyan, however, „an administrative-territorial unit within Georgia is only
required in order to have Armenian schools and have conditions which would be conducive to
pesuing the Armenian way of life. Georgia is a member of the UN and therefore the same
standards of the protection of national minorities must be observed here as are accepted
by other democratic nations. Of course, Georgia has its specificities and one can argue
about the concrete forms in which the cultural autonomy shall be exercised: we could work
out a draft and submit it to the Parliament for consideration. Unfortunately, at present
the Georgian government is ignoring us, and this is not a normal situation. We do not
oppose Georgia's political system, we do not call for war or strife, and yet we are
prevented from the collection of signatures. This compels us to doubt the sincerity of
attitude toward us. (30)
It cannot be ruled out that ignoring the demands of the Armenians by the Georgian
authorities can lead to civil disobedience. The paramilitary organisation „Parvents
(the Armenian name of lake Paravani in Javakheti) is a serious proof that Javakheti is
preparing for different options. According to M. Areshidze, weapons that Parvents
possesses initially belonged to the Russian base and were used in
The existence of paramilitary organisations in Georgia are confirmed by the Deputy
Minister of Defence General Guram Nikolaishvili: pursuant to the temporary agreement on
the status of the Russian bases on the territory of Georgia (reference is to the first
agreement which Russia did not ratify and the next agreement was not ratified by Georgia
-V.G.) we agreed to the bases if Russia fulfilled three conditions: to guarantee
Georgia's territorial integrity; to assist in the building of Georgia's national army;
to disarm and dismantle the armed groups on the Georgian territory which were not part of
either Georgian or Russian regular armies. None of these conditions have been met. Today
we control Javakheti, but we encounter certain difficulties. (32)
The activities of Javakhk are supported by the majority of Javakheti's Armenian
population. Officially the movement has 5,000 members. There are differences within the
movement regarding the strategy of activity, though this is concealed and the organisation
pretends to be monolithic. The most radical members of the Javakh or those who are under
the influence of the Armenian party of Dashnaktsutsyun demand that the province be united
with to Armenia (officially this party does not exist in Georgia). There is also a
pro-Georgian wing in the Javakhk represented by those close to the MP from Javakheti and
his brother, the prosecutor of the region (in the Parliament elected in 1995, Armenian
minority has four MPs one from each - the Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda districts and two
from Tbilisi elected by proportional representation through the party list of the
Citizen's Union of Georgia) and also those from the entourage of the head of the region.
According to M. Areshidze, representatives of the most extreme wings of the Javakhk do not
play a significant part in the movement.(33) It must be noted also, that Russia and
Armenia try to excercise influence on the Javakh.
The Georgia authorities have no definite idea as to „what must be done in
Javakheti . Partially, this is due to the ongoing disputes regarding the model of the
state. These disputes between the advocates of centralisation and federalisation have been
underway ever since the declaration of Georgia's independence. The former, being the
overwhelming majority, are prepared to accept a special „federative status of
Abkhazia and Ajara alone (some also of the South Ossetia). They argue that federalisation
threatens Georgia with dismemberment as it encourages other ethnic minorities (primarily
Armenian in Javakheti and Azeris in the Marneuli region) and also such sub-ethnic groups
as Mengrelians and Svans to seek autonomy from the centre. In their turn, the federalists
argue that in the situation where Georgians only constitute about 70% of Georgia's
population, national minorities are compactly settled and the provinces differ
considerably from one another (Mengrelians and Svans speak their own languages), the only
way to preserve the country's integrity would be to grant the provinces wide rights.
Shevardnadze is apparently inclined to this letter conception. In September 1997 the
President instructed M. Areshidze , supporter of federalism to prepare a draft law on the
national minorities. Evidently, the passage of this law will not be smooth and painless
for the supporters of centralism.(34)
The absence of concrete responce of the official Tbilisi authorities to Armenia's
propositions and the Javakhk activities can be explained by their desire to avert another
secessionist war after wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia: having been confronted with
Abkhaz and Ossetian separatism, Georgia „chooses to be cautious with regard to its
southern part with the Armenian population, Russian military and a border with
Armenia .(35) The impression is created that for tranquillity and peace, Tbilisi
for the time being reconciles to the fact that it does not control part of its own
territory (something similar is happening with regard to Ajara). But Tbilisi can only
pursue such policy while the state structures are being strengthened on the one hand, and
new transport communication routes are being developed on the other. Then these issues
will have to be resolved.
Socio-Economic Situation in Javakheti
In Javakheti there are still no signs of growth evidenced in Georgia's economy
recently: privatisation has not begun, and not a single kilometre of the roads, the worst
in the country, has been repaired, numerous industrial enterprises continue to be idle.
The living standards in Javakheti are lower than in the rest of Georgia. In the 90's the
province has been neglected, the necessary infrastructure is absent, unemployment is high.
At the end of 1997 only 20% of the former employees worked in the local cannery.
Rstakyan and Karakhanyan claim that Tbilisi is intentionally ignoring the province.
They blame the central authorities for removing equipment of the idle enterprises and
allowing the looting of the property of bankrupt collective farms. According to them, not
a single dollar from the credits and targeted financing received by Georgia has gone to
Javakheti, and the ministry officials sent western investors to other parts of the country
(especially Tbilisi and Rustavi). The province has no lobby in the capital as MPs from
Javakheti occupyed pro-governmental position.(36)
Despite the fact that Tbilisi continues to pursue the policy of non-interference in the
affairs of Javakheti, and by doing so finds itself in a deadlock, as if conceding to the
demand of the province's autonomy. Leaders of the Javakhk declare that when they achieve
the status of a subject to the Georgian Federation for Javakheti, they would immediately
attract investment and the life of the population would improve.(37) According to
the federalists, in order to avoid tensions in the nearest future caused by dire material
difficulties that the population is experiencing, the central authorities must invest in
Javakheti as much and as soon as possible. It must be noted, however, that in the given
situation of the absence of full control of Tbilisi over Javakheti, taking such steps
entails great difficulties and requires extreme flexibility.
The population of Javakheti predominantly live cultivating private plots and shuttle
trade with Turkey, some are engaged in supplying petrol to Armenia, others in the
extraction of stone (which mostly ends in Turkey; apart from uncontaminated environment,
the chief resources of the province are: marble, bazalt and construction stone). Few of
the residents found jobs in small private enterprises: bakeries, filling stations,
shops.(38) Officially, unemployment is low, but reliable data are absent.
Unemployment benefit is eight Lari (approximately $6.15), while a kilogram of pork on the
food market in Akhalkalaki costs 4.5 Lari. The shortage of jobs compels many to go abroad,
mostly in Russia. Many also leave for permanent residence to Armenia(39).
Along with Georgian Lari, Russian rouble is also in circulation in the province.
Roubles are supplied to the market by the military from the Russian base that are paid in
roubles. In most of private shops and restaurants Lari is accepted with reluctance. These
difficulties in the circulation of the Georgian national currency is evidence that the
military base is the largest and most important „enterprise in Javakheti. In summer
of 1997, the Georgian president signed Decree No 348 „on the circulation of the national
currency Lari on the territory of Georgia and on urgent measures to establish Lari as the
only legal payment tender (40). The Decree directed ministers of Foreign Affairs
and Defence to agree with relevant bodies of the Russian Federation the issue of payment
of the salaries to the military serving on the Russian bases in Georgia in Lari. The
Representatives in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli (with the Azeri majority) were
instructed to create special commissions monitoring the circulation of the national
currency in their respective regions.
Armenians from Javakheti do not speak Georgian, but Georgians there speak fluent
Armenian. Leaders of the Javakhk consider that this has to do with the ethnic composition
of the provinces and doubt the success of the state program of teaching the state language
to the non-Georgian population(41). Most of the children in Javakheti go to Armenian
schools. The Ministry of Education of Georgia approved that the history of Armenia be
taught there, and the text-books for this purpose are sent from Yerevan on the basis of
inter-governmental agreement. After leaving school, young people as a rule continue higher
education in Yerevan's universities and other institutes of higher learning and some
study at the Armenian faculty of Tbilisi Pedagogical Institute. A branch of Yerevan
University opened in Ninotsminda, Akhalkalaki receives Armenian TV and the newspaper Javakhk
is published occasionally. According to Filaret Berikyan, Javakheti's Armenians
enjoy full cultural autonomy(42), however, Rstakyan indicates that the number of Armenian
schools is inadequate and emphasises the absence of the guarantees for the protection of
the rights of Armenians.(43)
Javakheti in the Context of Regional Policy
Ever since regaining independence, Georgia has striven to play the role of a bridge
between the west and the former soviet Central Asia and serve as a transport corridor for
the transportation of the Caspian oil and gas and be a factor of stability in the Region.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh enhanced Georgia's role: when Armenian-Azeri border
remains sealed, overland communications of Armenia with Russia and Azerbaijan with Turkey
are carried out through Georgia. Striving towards independence from Russia and western
orientation have been the priorities of Georgia's foreign policy. Following the defeat
in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia was forced to join the CIS and agree to have
Russia's military presence. Under the new circumstances, Shevardnadze's aim became to
maintain balance in the contacts with two groups of states: Turkey, Azerbaijan, Ukraine
and the West, on the one hand, and Russia, Iran and Armenia on the other. Georgia managed
to preserve good relations with all these countries(44). An agreement was reached between
the EU and the governments of France, Georgia and Armenia on the rehabilitation of the
road Poti - Khashuri - Borjomi - Akhaltsikhe - Akhalkalaki - Gyumri - Yerevan - Megri (a
town on the Armenian-Iranian border). The Minister of Transport and Communications of
Armenia Genrik Kochinyan informed the Parliament of Armenia on this on September 11,
1996(45). Georgia simultaneously pursued the policy of integration with the West. Shipping
Caspian oil is linked with western investment which would allow her to conduct policy
independently from Moscow. In 1996 Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine signed an agreement on
the cooperation in the field of construction and exploitation of the transport corridor
between them in close cooperation with Uzbekistan and with the view of creation
Tashkent-Baku-Kiev axis. The construction of the Eurasian corridor and also the rail-link
Kars-Tbilisi(46) are additional signals of the weakening of Russia's control over
the region. Investment in oil requires political stability, but Russia may attempt to
destabilise the situation.
Russia has already exerted pressure on Georgia through supporting the separatists and
also by imposing its own military presence. From time to time, Russia used these two
methods by placing Russian military bases in the places of compact settlement of ethnic or
religious minorities. This is the case in Ajara where the Russian Army has a base and
leases a military port. The situation is similar in Javakheti (base in Akhalkalaki and
Russian border guards on the border with Turkey). If Kremlin decides to preserve South
Caucasus in the zone of its influence at any expense, it would try to trigger a conflict
in Javakheti. Such conflict would seriously damage Tbilisi's transport plans and would
potentially lead to the cooling of relations between Georgia and Turkey.(47)
Events involving Russian base in Akhalkalaki (base No 62 is part of the Group of
Russian Troops in the Transcaucasus)(48) proves that such option is acceptable for
Russia. Irakli Batiashvli, former head of Georgia's national security service alleges
that the motorised infantry division positioned on the base helped in 1994-96 in the
illegal shipment of Russian weapons to Armenia through Georgia.(49)
The majority of military at the Akhalkalaki military base are local Armenians who
adopted Russian citizenship (varios sources estimate their share at 70-90%). The base in
Javakheti is, perhaps, the most important employer for the local population. In addition,
part of the population earns their living from trade with the military. D. Rstakyan
stresses the excellent relations between the command of the base and the Javakh movement
(there exists a position of the Deputy Commander in the field of work with the local
population which has no analogy in other Russian units neither outside, nor within
According to Rstakyan, if the Georgian Government demands the withdrawal of the Russian
Army from Georgia, the local population would protest, as the base for them is a guarantor
of their security. „We are afraid of Turkish aggression. Turks have at every opportunity
assaulted us. It was them who in 1915 exterminated 1.5 million Armenians. Georgia is a
small country which cannot insure our protection from the Turks. We would agree to the
withdrawal of the base only when the world community provides guarantees of protection
from the Turks and even in that case we would prefer that the Russian stay since we, the
Armenians are Russophils. According to Karakhanyan, the Akhalkalaki military base is
strategically more important than the base of Gyumri in Armenia, as it is a counterbalance
against Turkey - the NATO member and therefore it is a factor of stability in the region.
Karakhanyan notes that Javakhks are in a sense hostages of Moscow and Russia uses us as a
bargaining chip, but we have no other option .(51)
Yerevan does not support the idea of Javakhk separatism, despite the fact that
Armenians are involved. At any price, it tries to quell the situation in Javakheti, as the
conflict in the province would put Armenia in a difficult situation: damaging of the
relations with Georgia - the only neighbour apart from Iran whose border is not sealed -
would mean shutting off of overland communications via Georgia to the Black Sea and would
also put hundreds of thousands of Armenians living in Tbilisi and other parts of Georgia
in a difficult situation. Armenia confronted with Azerbaijan and blockaded by Turkey,
cannot afford this. Yerevan is also against the idea of Javakhk that the region of
Javakheti must be a separate entity under Georgia's new administrative division and
prefers Samtskhe-Javakheti region. This region (specifically its Meskheti part) borders
with Ajara with which Armenians have exceptionally good relations (according to some
Georgian politicians, better than between Batumi and Tbilisi). Any other administrative
division would hamper Armenia's access to the sea.
In late spring 1997 presidents of Georgia and Armenia, Shevardnadze and Ter-Petrossyan
met in Javakheti. The joint communiqué stated that the right of local Armenians for
cultural autonomy are observed and there are no problems with regard to national schools.
The Armenian leader emphasised that attempts to destabilise the situation in Javakheti
would not be supported by Yerevan.
The Dashnaktsutyun party is one of the most influential political forces in today's
Armenia (the party was established in Tbilisi 1890). After the Bolshevik coup, the
Dashnaks worked in emigration and they have great influence among the Armenian diaspora.
Uniting Javakheti with Armenia is in the program of Dashnaktsutyun: „Armenian lands
indicated in the Sevr Agreement (the peace agreement of August 10, 1920 -V.G.), also
Nakhichevan, Akhalkalaki and Karabakh regions should be part of the united
Armenia.(52) Activists and co-thinkers of the Dashnaks are among Armenians of
Javakheti, although no one officially admits this.
It is quite likely that comments in the Georgian press regarding Javakhk separatism are
inspired by the official Tbilisi: being cautious about radical steps in the province and
knowing Yerevan's position (under Ter-Petrossyan), Tbilisi wants to resolve the
situation in the country's south with the hands of Armenians. Two years ago after the
Congress of the Javakhk, Tbilisi newspapers wrote that the Dashnaks dominated the
leadership of the movement. Since Dashnaktsutyun was an opposition party in Armenia, these
publications could have been aimed at prompting Yerevan to excert pressure on the Javakhk.
Perhaps with this goal in mind, one of the Georgian newspapers reported in August, 1997
about Rstakyan's meeting with Levon Ter-Petrossyan where, reportedly, the date for
holding a referendum in Akhalkalaki on the independence of Javakheti was set. According to
Rstakyan, he has never met Ter-Petrossyan.
All that is related with the return of Meskhetian Turks to Javakheti will affect the
situation in Javakheti. So far, however, this question remains purely
* Voitsekh Guretski - post-graduate student of the
Academy of Sciences of Poland
- Under the current new territorial arrangement of
Georgia, Meskheti and Javakheti are united in one region of Meskhet-Javakheti. The other
name of the region is Samtskhe-Javakheti. These territories were formerly part of the
- The same censusestablished that Armenians made up
2.3% of the population in the Kutaisi province (The Russian empire devided Georgia into
two provinces - the province of Tiflis and the province of Kutaisi). Overall, Armenians
accounted for 9.2% of the entire Georgian population. Refer to: B. Baranowski, K.
Baranowski, Historia Gruzii, Wroclaw, 1987, pp.170-173; Y.D. Anchabadze, N.P.
Volkova, The Old Tbilisi, the City and itsDwellers in the 19th Century, Moscow,
- Miroslava Zakrzewska-Dubasova, Historia Armen,
Wroclaw, 1990, pp.168-179; The Issue(Case) of Armenia. Enciclopedia. Edit. K.S.
Khudaverdyan, Yerevan, 1991, A.Melkonyan, article "Akhalkalak", pp 67; A.
Melkonyan, article "Akhaltska", pp 67-68
- Refer to Anorzej Maryanski, Przemiany Ludnosciowe
w GSRR, Warszawa -Krako, 1995, pp.185-191
- According to the census of 1989, 76,541 Armenians
(14.6% of the population) lived in Abkhazia
- Data for 1989
- Newspapers Eri (in the Georgian language),
April 10,1991 and the Russian language Panorama Nedeli (panorama of the week),
No.32, 1997 cite 2.5% of Georgians in Javakheti
- Informetion on the refugees from Georgia's
regions. Official note of August 15,1996 of the acting Chairman of the Migration Service
of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania
- Meskhetian Turks - a mystery for ethnologists.
The present article does not deal with the theory of their origin, yet it must be noted
that they are mentioned in the works of Herodotus and Strabo and both Turkish as well as
Georgian elements participated in the ethnogenesis of this people. According to the census
of 1989, 207.5 thousand Meskhetian Turks lived in the Soviet Union. Refer to: The Peoples
of Russia, Enciclopedia, edit. V. Tishkov, Moscosw, 1994, article Y. Broiso, I.
Prokhorov "Turk-Meskhetians", pp.342-344
- Refer to Vadim Tutunik's "Turks from
Meskhetia: Yesterday and Today. This is How it Was." National Repressions in the
USSR. 1919-1952. Repressed Nations Today. Editted by Svetlana Aliyeva. Vol.
III, Moscow, 1993, pp. 145-163.
- Nodar Broladze, "Meskhetian Turks are
awaiting the opportunity to return. Propaganda of the ideology of islamic fundamentalism
is preventing the repatriation." Nezavisimaya Gazeta, No. 135, July 25, 1996.
- Meskhetian Turks consider that the 78 km.
frontier zone was created with the aim of preventing their return to the native land.
Refer to V. Tutunik p. 155.
- Interview with F. Berikyan. Interviewer V.
Guretski. Yerevan, August 28, 1997.
- Interview with G. Karakhanyan. Interviewer V.
- Interview with G. Karakhanyan. Interviewer V.
- According to D. Rstakyan, voting on the
independence of Javakheti was a response to President Gamsakhurdia's statement during
his visit to Akhaltsikhe that Armenians are guests in Georgia. This statement was regarded
in Javakheti as the official policy targeted against ethnic minorities. Rstakyan claims
that with the exception of this incident, independence was never mentioned "even at
- Rstakyan maintains that bloodshed was averted by
the "Javakh" which at that time was in full control of the situation in the
province. According to Rstakyan,, the conflict would have occured if the Georgia units had
crossed the border of the Akhalkalaki district (this is how war was unleashed in Abkhazia)
- Interview with Rstakyan and Karakhanyan
- Berikyan maintains that the Merab Kostava
Foundation tried to persuade the Old Believers to leave Georgia and purchased their houses
- V. Guretski's interview with M. Areshidze,
Tbilisi, August 15,1977
- Interview with Rstakyan and Karakhanyan
- The Constitution of Geogia adopted August
24,1995. "Svobodnaya Gruzia", November 7, 1995
- Interview with Rstakyan and Karakhanyan
- Under the Georgian Constitution, the right of
legislative initiative is vested in the president, members of the Parlament, parliamentary
factions and commissions, supreme representative bodies of Abkhazia and Ajara or 30,000
- Leaflet "Dear Javakhks"
- Interview with Rstakyan and Karakhanyan.
Karakhanyan says that despite the region's "unconstitutional" nature, the
formation of its governing bodies is underway where predominantly ethnic Georgians are
employed. He claims that most of them, including the drivers are from Tbilisi which
increases budget expenditures. Accorging to Karakhanyan, the total salary of the emplyees
of the regional (local government) structures amounts to 40 thousand USD, which is almost
equal to the pensions fund of the Akhalkalaki district.
- Interview with M. Areshidze
- Interview with Rstakyan and Karakhanyan
- Interview with M. Areshidze
- Interview with G. Nikolaishvili. Tbilisi,
September 7, 1997.
- Interview with M. Areshidze.
- A. Kukhianidze "Armenian and Azeri
Minorirties in Georgia. On Georgia's Internal and Foreign Policies", Ethnic and
Regional Conflicts in Eurasia. Book I. Central Asia and Caucasus. (Edited by A.
Malashenko, B. Coppiters, D. Trenin). Moscow, Ves Mir Publishing House, 1997, p. 180; The
following excerpt from Revaz Sakvarishvili's article should be quotted: "A new
conflict is looming is the south of Georgia. Armenian population of the region is
demanding autonomy"; The Segodnya newspaper reported on September 6, 1996 that
"The Georgian leadership does not want to admit the problem (Javakheti-V.G.).
Apparently with two unresolved conflicts, Georgia fears the third one".
- Interview with Rstakyan and Karakhanyan.
- According to D. Karakhanyan, joint
Georgian-Armenian and Georgian-Russian enterprises could operate in Javakheti, using the
equipment from the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki. For obvious reasons, the Georgian
authorities have no interest in such "joint-ventures".
- Many local Armenians work at the Russian military
base in Akhalkalaki.
- According to Areshidze in addition to the absence
of jobs, excessive population of Javakheti due to the overpopulation represents one of the
major reasons for emigration.
- Svobodnaya Gruzia, August 12, 1997.
- Refer to Givi Inasaridze's "teaching
Georgian will be enhanced in Samtskhe Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli", Svobodnaya
Gruzia, September 6, 1997.
- Interview with Berikyan.
- Interview with Rstakyan and Karakhanyan.
- Georgia is closer with Azerbaijan due to the
Transcaucasus transportation corridor and simillar problems related with the loss of part
of their territories. Because of this Georgia and Azerbaijan both give priority to the
principle of "territorial integrity" over the principle of "the right of
nations to self-determination." On the other hand Georgia tries to maintain good
relations with Yerevan and it managed to remain neutral vis a vis the Karabakh conflict.
- Refer to the Lragir newspaper, September
14, 1996; Transcaucasian Media Project. Annotated Daily Headlines of the Transcaucasian
press. - Compiled by the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD)
in collaboration with the VERTIC-IWRP Media Resourse Center in Tbilisi. September, 1996
- This railway, besides the motorways through
Batumi and Akhaltsikhe, is a reponse to the increse in the trade with Turkey, currently
the largest trading partner of Georgia; it would also have great significance for Armenia.
- Jacek Cichocki, "Rosyjskie zaangazowanie
militarne na Zakaukaziu", Analizy, Osrodka studiow wschodnich, No 19,
16.06.1997. The author writes that "Russia's military engagement in the
Transcaucasus will in the first place depend on the results of the fight between the power
elites in the Kremlin who uphold different conceptions of the policy of the state
regarding foreign investment. In the event of opening up of the post-Soviet
"geopolitical space" to foreign investors, the role of the military factor in
the policy of Russia with regard to the states of the South Caucasus would probably be
weakened. If the Russian elite recognises keeping the CIS countries in the zone of
Moscow's influence to be its principal aim, Russia would attempt to undertake a number
of military actions in the region"
- One can say that there is no legal basis for the
presence of Russian troops in Georgia. During the visit of the then Minister of Defense
Pavel Grachev to Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze agreed to the Russian bases, but the
agreement with Russia has not been ratified by the Georgian Parliament
- Giorgi Dvali, "Georgia corrects the
geopolitical list. For this Shevardnadze travelled to Armenia", Komersant -Daily,
May 6,1997. On the shipments of the Russian weapons to Armenia, refer to: Jacek Cichocki
- Interview with M. Areshidze
- Interview with Rstakyan and Karakhanyan
- Programme of the Armenian Revolutionary
- The Turkish press often writes about the
Meskhetian Turks, emphasising that their return home would lead to the escalation of
anti-Turkish sentiments among Armenians in Georgia and hightening of tensions in the
region. Refer to :"Javakhk Union President's Comments on Article of Turkish
Newspaper", Yerevan Times, 21 August,1997