Tbilisi Needs To Pay More Attention To Minority Rights
International Crisis Group Criticizes Georgia's Policies in its Report on Javakhk
[December 4, 2006]
The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization that authored two reports on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict last year, published on November 22, 2006 a new report on Javakhk, or rather, the Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Javakheti and Azerbaijani-populated Kvemo-Kartli regions of Georgia. We are first of all interested in the parts of the report that deal with our fellow Armenians in Javakhk and this is why we will address those parts of the report most fully.
Sergey Minasyan, an expert on Javakhk and the South Caucasus, maintains that this is the first time that an international organization has addressed the issue of Javakhk and, moreover, has advised official Tbilisi to take such measures that not even Armenia or the Javakhk-Armenians have suggested.
What does the 30-page report say? Let us first note that the ICG study focuses on the political rights of the Armenians and Azerbaijanis who live in Georgia. This is extremely important since the Georgian authorities have always presented the demands by the Armenians, Azerbaijanis, or other minorities from a socio-economic perspective, insisting that, for example, the problems facing Javakhk are characteristic of other, Georgian-populated regions of the country as well.
Let us quote some noteworthy points from the report. The Georgian government “needs to do more to encourage minorities to address their problems through state structures rather than in the street.” “Georgia is a multinational state, building democratic institutions and forging a civic identity. However, it has made little progress towards integrating Armenian and Azeri minorities, who constitute over 12 per cent of the population. Tensions are evident in the regions of Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli, where the two predominantly live and which have seen demonstrations, alleged police brutality and killings during the past two years. While there is no risk of these situations becoming Ossetian or Abkhaz-like threats to the state's territorial integrity, Tbilisi needs to pay more attention to minority rights, including use of second languages, if it is to avoid further conflict,” the report reads.
Yerevan-based ICG analyst Levon Zourabian, who spent some time in Javakhk during the preparation of the report, says, “In the region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, where Armenians constitute about 55 percent of the population, regional and local offices are mainly held by Georgians not Armenians. There are many reasons for that, among them the lack of a culture of appropriate tolerance toward minorities. Georgia doesn't have a mechanism for dialogue with national minorities. The national minority communities are alienated from the life of the country. Georgia seeks help from Armenia on issues related to Javakhk. On some issues short-term solutions are found but the problem in general remains. The ICG did not address social-economic problems on purpose because the equality of political and civil rights for all citizens of the country is a priority. It is desirable that these issues be solved at the Tbilisi-Javakhk level.”
Zourabian divides the obstacles to solving these problems into three main groups – the absence or insufficient presence of minority representatives (in this case – Armenians) within the local, regional and state governing systems, the insufficient level of decentralization – lack of cultural or educational autonomy, and lack of knowledge of Georgian by the national minorities.
“Azeris and Armenians are underrepresented in all spheres of public life, especially government. The problem is especially acute for the Azeris in Kvemo-Kartli, where Georgians hold all important positions. Ethnic minorities' political participation and representation – a key to more effective integration – is disturbingly low. Lack of dialogue between Tbilisi and minorities adds to perceptions of discrimination and alienation,” the ICG report states.
Zourabian notes that another serious obstacle to integration of Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Georgia is their lack of knowledge of the Georgian language. In Javakhk and in Kvemo-Kartli, Armenians and Azerbaijanis don't speak Georgian whereas according to Georgian legislation knowledge of Georgian is a requirement for holding state office. “Naturally, as a result of such policies minority representatives are deprived of holding offices and are left out of political life. And this leads to serious discontent,” Zourabian says.
Stepan Margaryan, an adviser to the prime minister of Armenia who deals with Javakhk-related issues, says that “no one is able to learn Georgian in an environment that lacks Georgian. Georgian language teachers come to regions of Javakhk that are 95 percent Armenian, quickly learn Armenian and leave. Javakhk suffers from the tense Georgian-Russian relations as well. 30,000 people go to Russia annually to earn money but now Russia denies entry visas to these people.”
The ICG report strongly criticizes the “language policies” of Mikhail Sahakashvili: “The minorities' biggest problem is inability to speak the state language. Since the Rose Revolution, the government has been enforcing laws obliging minorities to communicate in Georgian with local officials, even to acquire official documents, submit complaints or receive services.”
The ICG recommends that the Georgian government strengthen Georgian as a second language (GSL) teacher training, and to develop GSL teaching materials and opportunities for minorities to learn GSL in primary and secondary schools. But while the new generations are getting educated there should be no discrimination toward minorities and the ICG calls upon the Georgian government to “introduce legislation allowing Azeris and Armenians, in municipalities where they exceed 20 per cent of the population, to use their native language to communicate with administrative authorities, submit complaints, acquire civil documents and certificates, benefit from public services and conduct municipal business and sakrebulo meetings”.
Sergey Minasyan sees the resolution of problems in Javakhk within the context of European integration. He maintains that Georgia, which striving for integration into Europe is obliged to adopt European standards for dealing with national minority rights. “The problems should be solved by Georgia and Javakhk. Armenia and Europe might be interested parties,” he notes. According to Minasyan, in contrast to the Artsakh issue, there are wide opportunities for a compromise in Javakhk – it is just necessary to overcome fear and stereotypes and address the issue without fear. “The ICG report might be used as an argument in negotiations with Georgia.”
The ICG report recommends setting “quotas so that at least 50 per cent of new entrants in the Akhalkalaki branch of the Tbilisi State University and the Marneuli branch of the Ilya Chavchavadze State University are minorities.” Officials in Armenia believe that these measures will solve the problems young people have learning Georgian. Today fewer and fewer young people apply to this institution because of the language-related problems. According to the prime minister's adviser, the government of Armenia is prepared to assist the Georgian government in improving the Akhalkalaki branch of the Tbilisi State University.
The report states: “ Minorities have been emigrating to Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, Yerevan and Baku do not publicly advocate on behalf of their respective minorities. Their priority is good relations with Tbilisi and short-term stability. Armenians are mobilising politically more than Azeris but both minorities have organised recent protests which have on occasion turned violent. Tbilisi needs to do more to encourage minorities to address their problems through state structures rather than in the street.”
According to Levon Zourabian, although there is a fear in Georgia that demands by Armenians and Azerbaijanis may lead to separatism, during his visit to Javakhk he did not meet any people who wanted Javakhk to secede from Georgia. That is not what Armenians are demanding. “They want self-governance. Naturally, different people understand different things under this term”. There are people who perceive that as a complete political autonomy but there those who have in mind a “cultural and linguistic autonomy.”