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JAVAKHK: STABILITY THROUGH AUTONOMY

By Khatchik Der Ghoukassian and Richard Giragosian


Overview

The recent announcement by the Georgian government to establish a
development plan for Javakhk, if seriously and sincerely implemented,
may be an important first step to prevent regional destabilization.
Nevertheless, the risks of a conflict resulting both from internal
oppression and external instigation would be minimized and in fact
contained only if Javakhk is granted autonomy based on the right of
self-determination of its local population. By looking at the
precedent of Ajaria, the argument that Javakhk's autonomy would
threaten Georgia's sovereignty is found to be weak. In fact, it is
autonomy in Javakhk that would create the necessary conditions for
development projects and would attract foreign investment, in contrast
to continued empty promises by Tbilisi to promote development.
Furthermore, it is in Armenia's interest to diplomatically advocate
autonomy for Javakhk, given the strategic importance of the region as
Armenia's route to Russia and the Black Sea. Finally, an autonomous
and prosperous Javakhk is a key factor in a potential Armenian-
Georgian strategic alliance in the Caucasus to prevent foreign
intervention. Both countries could, in this way, ensure themselves a
leading role in crafting and pursuing economic development, instead of
being remaining limited as secondary participants or subjects of
external initiatives.


Javakhk is Not Karabagh

Given this perspective, any comparison of the Javakhk situation with
Nagorno-Karabagh is either reductionist or superficial at best. The
13-year Nagorno-Karabagh conflict clearly demonstrated the difficulty
in accepting Azerbaijan's assurances that granting Artsakh autonomy
within Azerbaijan would fully meet the security needs of the Karabagh
Armenian population. Azerbaijan's long and bloody record of failing
to guarantee the security of its minorities through much of the last
thirteen years, seriously questions the possibility of surviving
Azerbaijani rule.

The latest initiative of Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliyev to
publicly leak the "common state" Minsk Group's project is a more
recent example of Baku's true agenda. By continuing to agree to a
peace plan affording new horizontal, and therefore peer, relations to
Karabagh, Baku is returning to a an "invitation to war" rhetoric,
thereby only strengthening the strongly-held Armenian belief that only
full independence would ensure Karabagh's population security in the
face of the threat of extermination. Furthermore, as long as Azerbaijan
and Turkey maintain their anti-Armenian alliance and pursue a World
War One-model of expansionism at the expense of Armenia's very
existence, Yerevan can only rely on a military balance of power logic
to seek peace with Azerbaijan.


Armenian and Georgia

This is not, fortunately, the case of Armenia's relations with
Georgia. Historically, Georgia has always been a traditionally close
friend to Armenia. From the eighteenth century, both Armenians and
Georgians fought foreign domination with the help of Russia. The
strong Armenian middle and upper class presence in Tbilisi, then known
as Tiflis, through the 19th century further strengthened this
relationship. Even though misunderstandings occurred in the Lori
region during the first period of independence from 1918-1920, during
the Soviet period Georgia's Armenians did not suffer from a deliberate
policy of discrimination, that led in Azerbaijan to the exodus of the
Armenians from Nakhichevan and posed a constant threat to the Armenian
survival in Karabagh.

Therefore, in stark contrast to relations with Azerbaijan, the
relationship between Armenia and Georgia consist of a more concretely
deepening interdependence and strategic alliance rather than a strict
"balance of power" relationship. That sort of relationship would help
to secure Armenia's northern trade route to Russia and Europe. It
would also provide Georgia with much-needed internal stability to
overcome the disastrous consequences of the national collapse that the
country suffered during the transition from the wars in Ossetia and
Abkhazia, the bloody fight for power between different warlords and
the breakdown of the economy. But such a relationship depends more on
Georgia and its willingness to deal with the problem of national
minorities in general, and of Javakhk in particular. This would
require an open-minded and democratic approach, instead of a narrow
nationalist one that has dominated Georgian policies to date. It
would depend also on a foreign policy orientation to put an end to the
constant provocation of Armenia's national security and Russia's
interests in the region with alliances and initiatives that irritate
them.


A Changing Georgian Nationalism

One important distinction between Nagorno-Karabagh and Javakhk lies
with the fact that whereas the former has been the problem that
Azerbaijan had to deal with, Javakhk was but one of the many
minorities problems that Georgia faced. And compared to what led the
intransigence of Tbilisi in Ossetia and Abkhazia, in Javakhk Georgia
still enjoys a context that still allows to avoid a zero-sum game
leading to clashes and interventions. This is not a coincidence of
course. The xenophobic nationalism, the leading force of the
transition from communism by the end of the 1980s and the first half
of next decade, perceived all the minorities, including Javakhk's
Armenian population, a threat to Georgia's territorial integrity.
However, different from Ossetia and Abkhazia, the situation in Javakhk
has been controlled and escalation to conflict prevented thanks to the
self-containment of both the local Armenians and those in Armenia
proper. There was, of course, the ongoing war in Karabagh and a second
front would not have been desirable. But the Armenian posture has been
also the result of a more long-range perspective of geopolitical
stability through an alliance with Georgia.  Unfortunately, a positive
response on behalf of Tbilisi was not received. On the contrary, even
though Georgia suffered defeats and foreign intervention in Ossetia
and Abkhazia, the successor of Georgia's first president Zviad
Gamsakhurdia, Edward Shevardnadze, has not been able to design a new
policy. The attitude of Tbilisi towards the minorities did not change
in its essence, and while military defeats in Abkhazia and Ossetia, as
well as the power position held by the Ajar leader, Abashidze, lead to
inevitable concessions, in Javakhk the discriminatory policy continued.
Moreover, seduced by the Caspian oil and eager to use its geographical
position as a political leverage against principally Russian presence,
Shevardnadze allied Georgia to regional projects with an inherent
threat to Armenia's, as well as Russia's, security and interests. Some
of those projects, especially the ones related to oil pipelines from
the Caspian to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, cannot, in the
actual conflict-prone situation in the Caucasus, be realized without
weakening Armenia. Thus, both Turkey and Azerbaijan enforce the
discriminatory policy of Tbilisi in Javakhk.

It is the proper condition of Georgia, then, that generates this
situation and the prevention of any escalation of it should address
first and mostly the Georgian domestic policy. Before 1989 Georgia
enjoyed a relatively favorable position within the Soviet Union. Early
in the twenties it did not suffer, like Armenia, from territorial
loses. Its high mountains assured a geographical isolation that
protected the country from the worst political repression. Its beaches
have long been an important tourist attraction. Its agricultural
production assured alimentary self-sufficiency that lacked elsewhere.
Within these conditions, the Georgian national consciousness
maintained a political activism at an exemplary level scoring various
successes in the civil society's mobilization against anti-national
projects from Moscow. However, all these favorable conditions within
the Soviet context devolved into disadvantages when that context was
changed first by the Glasnost and Perestroika and then by the fall of
the Soviet Union. Georgia's healthy nationalism transformed into a
military fascism with the spread of strong militias lead by local
warlords that has not been possible to dissolve in a national army.
And while the outward expression of that xenophobic nationalism was
both the denial to national minorities there right of being part of
Georgia and an extreme anti-Russian sentiment, the inward reality was
the civil war among the warlords for the control of their portion of
the country and the economy. The isolation of the country meant also
that the products became highly uncompetitive once the once assured
Soviet market, both legal and black, disappeared. Inevitably, then,
the economy became more and more "criminal" resulting in a rampant
activity of smuggling, organized crime and widespread corruption as a
way of life. The fact that most of the country operates beyond the
governmental control lead to many political analysts, among them
Anatol Lieven, to qualify Georgia as a "failing State".

Promising nothing good for Armenia, of course, is Georgia's actual
situation. But we should first understand that much of the wrong
policy addressing the minorities' issue of Tbilisi is the consequence
of this situation. The same is true about the systematic effort of
Shevardnadze to take advantage of either Russia's difficulties, for
example in Chechnya, or from perceived signals of Western expansion,
and pursue a regional policy that threatens whether directly or
indirectly Armenia's security. The active involvement of Georgia in
the Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline project, strongly promoted by Turkey and so
far supported only rhetorically by the United States, creates a bad
perspective first for the Armenians of Javakhk and then for Armenia.
On the long run the Baku-Ceyhan project in these conditions would
require Javakhk's depopulation from Armenians and would mean the
blockade of Armenia in its vital northern border.

It is, therefore, in Armenia's interest to work with Georgia within a
diplomatic framework to prevent a future conflict. No military
solution could bring any good either to Armenia, or to Georgia. The
balance of power logic, inevitable with Azerbaijan, should be avoided
and instead it is the effort of mutual confidence building that should
prevail. Granting autonomy to Javakhk, thus, becomes a solution in the
interest of both Armenia and Georgia, as it discards extreme measures
and assures a perspective of a healthy relationship between the two
countries bringing stability to the region. A further case for
autonomy can be made by examining the fundamental issues involved.


The Background of the Javakhk Issue

Recent developments in Georgia have given rise to new concern over the
state of affairs in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, a
strategically located region of southern Georgia with an ethnic
Armenian majority population concentrated in the districts of
Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda (known as Javakhk to the Armenians). The
start of the partial Russian military withdrawal from Georgia and the
internal political tension between the central Georgian government and
the increasingly assertive leaders of Ajaria, and the continuing
stalemate over the Georgian conflict with Abkhazia, have added new
complications to an already tenuous stability in Javakh. The situation
in Javakhk, with its overwhelming Armenian population, complicates
Armenian-Georgian relations and threatens to add a new internal
dimension to the obstacles of resolving the relations between Tbilisi
and the Ajarian and Abkhazian governments. Even more disturbing is the
involvement of larger regional powers, namely Russia and Turkey, in an
attempt to exploit the Javakh issue into a justification for political
or even military, intervention. The temptation for such regional
involvement or intervention is enhanced by the proximity of the
proposed oil pipelines to transport Azerbaijani oil from the Caspian
to the Georgian Black Sea ports.


Historic Javakh

The historically Armenian Javakh region consists of the districts of
Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, with the Armenian population constituting
nearly 95 percent of the population. Javakh lies about twenty
kilometers east-southeast of Ajaria, shares a roughly 80-90 kilometer
border with Turkey to its west and southwest, and has approximately
45-50 kilometers of common border with Armenia, which lies to its
south, and is just west of the ethnic Azeri populated region of
Marneuli.

The Armenian population of Georgia has, for much of the last several
hundred years, been concentrated in the Tbilisi capital and in the
Javakh region, along the common border areas of modern Armenia and
Georgia. Armenians have long been the dominant minority in Georgia,
surpassing the Russian presence and far outnumbering the ethnic Azeri
and Turkish populations. In fact, the Georgian capital Tbilisi has
been home to more Armenians than Georgians for much of the past two
hundred years. These factors, however, have also adversely affected
Armenian-Georgian relations and have led to sporadic conflict and
territorial disputes, including military confrontation during the
early period of independence from 1918-1920.

Compounding this bilateral friction was the Georgian resentment of
Armenian control over much of the Georgian economy, as Armenians
dominated local and regional commerce and capital. Under Russian rule
in the 19th century, there was an influx of Armenians and Meskhetian
Turks (Moslem Anatolian Turks) into the region. Stalin later forcibly
deported the Meskhetian community in 1944, fearing that they would
conspire with neighboring Turkey. With the deportation of nearly all
of the 100,000 population of Meskhetian Turks to Uzbekistan, the
indigenous Armenian community in Javakh solidified its traditional 95
percent majority throughout the region.

National identity in Javakhk today is strongly Armenian, and plainly
evident in most aspects of everyday life. Although three languages,
Armenian, Georgian and Russian, are seen in the street signs
throughout the region, the Georgian presence virtually ends there.
Armenian television, not Georgian, are watched in Javakhk due to both
easier reception and popular preference. The Russian ruble, the
Armenian dram, and to a lesser extent, the American dollar, are the
only forms of currency to be found in Javakhk. Faced with a
transaction involving the Georgian lari, most Javakhk businessmen are
not even sure of the official exchange rate. All schools in Javakhk
today are dominated by Armenian-language instruction, with the only
exception being a few Russian classes. The relative isolation of
Javakhk combined with the unofficial cultural autonomy of the region,
has reinforced this strong Armenian identity despite being under
Georgian rule.


Georgia's Demographic Assault on Javakhk

The historically Armenian Javakhk area was incorporated into a much
larger administrative region known as the Samtskhe-Javakheti by the
Georgian government. This territorial redistricting was a conscious
attempt to dilute the Armenian majority by altering the demographics
of the region. By incorporating the Armenian districts of Akhalkalaki
and Ninotsminda into a greater region with four other districts, the
Georgian government sought to gradually diminish the Armenia majority
and to reassert Georgian control over its southern areas.

This greater Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia, consists of an area
of nearly 6413 square kilometers, representing about 9.3 percent of
Georgia proper, and has a total population of almost 235,000 (as of
last year). Within this greater region, the Armenian population's
majority has been steadily reduced to about 65-70 percent. Although
still retaining a significant overall majority, the total composition
of the region is today about 20-25 percent Georgian and a little more
than five percent Russian. The region is divided into six districts,
with Akhaltsikhe as the regional center. There are seven major towns,
66 smaller administrative units, and over 250 villages.

This reapportionment of Armenian Javakhk was followed by a more recent
demographic assault in 1989 as part of an aggressive campaign by a
group of Georgian nationalists led by former President Zviad
Gamsakhurdia and Meraba Kostava. The nationalists sought to further
alter the demographic majority held by the Armenians of Javakhk by
introducing new settlements of ethnic Svans, allegedly for
resettlement due to heavy flooding in the Svan's native districts.
The nationalist campaign was seen by many to have an overtly
anti-Armenian tone, a situation compounded by their distinction
between ethnic Armenian and Azeri and their strongly pro-Azeri
sentiment. This was also evident in the electoral record of the
Gamsakhurdia presidential election, as he received over 86 of the vote
in the ethnic Azeri Marneuli region and barely 52 percent in the
Armenian Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda districts.


Javakhk under the Gamsakhurdia Regime

Following the establishment of independence in Georgia and the coming
to power of the nationalists, the Armenians of Javakh were faced with
an even more strained relationship with the central Georgian government.
Newly installed Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia made no secret
of his disdain for the Armenians of Javakh and specifically favored
the ethnic Azeri minority over the Armenians.  The Gamsakhurdia
government instituted a series of discriminatory policies in governing
Javakh. But the most damaging policy for Javakhk was one of econoic
neglect. For decades, Javakhk was the most underdeveloped region of
the country. But since independence, the Georgian government's
irresponsible policies, mismanagement and neglect laid the foundations
for the economic suffering and hardship that plagues Javakhk today.

During the early 1990s, the Javakh Armenians refused to recognize the
authority or jurisdiction of the Gamsakhurdia-appointed governor (or
presidential plenipotentiary representative) and launched a broad
campaign of passive resistance by refusing to serve in the Georgian
army during 1992-1995. The local population, although never prone to
the outright secessionist tendencies in nearby Ajaria, Abkhazia and
South Ossetia, began to forge a sense of self-sufficiency. The
situation fostered the formation of new indigenous organizations,
playing an increasingly important role in defending and articulating
the demands of the Javakhk Armenians. This tendency was reinforced by
the inability, and unwillingness, of the Armenian government of the
time, led by President Levon Ter Petrosian, to raise their concerns
and highlight their plight with the Georgians.

The proximity of the Russian military base at Akhalkalaki also helped
to create an overall self-sufficiency for the Javakh Armenians that
culminated in the Georgian hesitance to directly impose its rule in
Javakh for much of the first half of the decade. In light of the poor
state of relations with the Gamsakhurdia regime, the Javakh Armenians
began to establish ties to other Georgian groups and political parties
united in a loose anti-Gamsakhurdia grouping. This early "foreign
policy" formed new relationships with the Abkhazians and, perhaps most
importantly, with the neighboring Ajarian leadership.


Javakhk and Shevardnadze

As the Gamsakhurdia regime collapsed under the weight of its own
internal dissension and conflict, the initial stage of the Eduard
Shevardnadze government's policy regarding Javakhk consisted of
official promises to ease the economic concerns of Javakh. This
promise of economic redress was matched by a subtle political agenda,
however. Politically, while stressing future economic aid, the
Shevardnadze government imposed a hard-line response to the recently
acquired sense of self-sufficiency among the Armenians. Seeing the
Armenians of the region as a threat to his overall consolidation of
power, Shevardnadze initially miscalculated and applied the same
hard-line policies against the Armenians as he wielded against the
separatists in Ajarian, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Shevardnadze first moved against the Armenians of the nearby
Akhalitskhe district. Seeking to avoid a direct confrontation with
the Javakhk Armenians, Shevardnadze targeted the more vulnerable
Armenians of Akhalitskhe. The Armenians of this district, although
part of the overall region, were separated from Javakhk proper, and
were suffering a higher degree of emigration than that of historic
Javakhk. The Armenian parity with the native Georgians in this
district had also decreased significantly during the Gorbachev years.
Tbilisi deployed units of the local Georgian "Mkhedrioni" (Horsemen),
a paramilitary militia affiliated with the standing National Guard but
subordinated to direct presidential control. The Mkhedrioni militia,
eventually disbanded and outlawed for its excesses and abuses of the
population, was utilized to restore central control over the
surrounding districts of Javakhk and threatened the start of a new
effort to militarily restore Georgian rule over the entire southern
region.

This hard-line reaction by Shevardnadze fostered a strong resentment
of the central Georgian government and edged Javakhk away from any
hopes that their future lay with Tbilisi. Later efforts to repair
Tbilisi's relations with Javakhk continued to be hindered by the
severity of this period and were also strained by Georgia's
increasingly close relations with both Azerbaijan and Turkey. This
led to the Georgian government's current policies of avoiding any
overt presence in the region. But this pretense of non-interference
in Javakhk also includes a continuation of economic neglect and
underdevelopment. For example, the record of central Georgian
investment and development in Javakhk is limited to a mere two
presidential decrees. The first decree, issued in 1996, resulted in
the restoration and reconstruction of only ninety medium-sized
enterprises and factories. This limited job creation program was
followed by another presidential decree in 2000 attempting to provide
some state financing for addressing the stagnant socio-economic
situation. Therefore, the pledge for a new investment and economic
development package recently announced by the Shevardnadze government
seems much too little and much too late.


Current Conditions in Javakh

The Georgian strategy to restore its rule over the Javakh region
continued to gradually erode local Armenian gains established during
the chaotic period of the Gamsakhurdia regime. The Shevardnadze
government followed a more subtle path of socioeconomic pressure,
including an emphasis on reduced funding for regional and district
education, a refusal to address increasing unemployment in Javakh, and
through measures to replace the local organizations and leadership
with officials carefully selected and groomed by the Georgian
government. This policy was not always successful, however, as one
such Georgian appointee, Sergei Dorbinyan, was assaulted by angry
Armenian crowds in Javakh no less than five times, before finally
being removed in 1998. The Georgian government sought someone more
experienced with Armenian affairs and chose Gigla Baramidze, a former
Georgian ambassador to Armenia from 1995-1998, as its presidentially
appointed Regional Governor.


The Most Pressing Problems are Economic

The most pressing problems in Javakhk are economic. Although the
challenges and problems facing Georgia during this difficult transition
period of market reforms is shared by all regions of Georgia, they are
not shared equally. As Javakhk was notably the most underdeveloped
region in the country for many years, the mounting social costs of
Georgia's transitional economics disproportionally affects Javakhk. It
has the one of the highest unemployment rates of the country, the
lowest level of state investment and its infrastructure is the oldest
and most damaged in Georgia. For Javakhk residents not fortunate
enough to have work associated with the local Russian military base,
conditions force much of the male population to seasonally migrate to
Russia in search of work, only returning to their families in winter.

Local industry is virtually nonexistent in Javakhk, aside from the
service industry affiliated with the local Russian base. Javakhk has
only subsistence-level agricultural and no manufacturing capacity.
Javakhk is also prone to the same shortages of electricity and energy
as the rest of the country, although shortages have been improved
somewhat by Armenian supplies of electricity to the region. The
communications infrastructure is in such a state of disrepair that
outside communications links with Armenia is easier to establish than
with Tbilisi. Road and highways continue to be in severe need of
investment and reconstruction. The normal two-hour trip from
Ninotsminda to Tbilisi, for example, takes six to seven hours due to
the poor conditions of the main road. These overwhelming needs,
therefore, tend to exacerbate the overall economic decline in the rest
of the country and the relative poverty of Javakhk, consitently below
the national level, only heightens Javakhk's vulnerability and
insecurity.


The Threat of Resettlement: The Meskhetian Turks

An even more threatening factor to the viability and security of the
Armenian Javakhk majority is the issue of the Meskhetian Turks. Prior
to their World War II deportation by Soviet Premier Stalin, the
Meskhetian Turks resided in the district of Meskhetia (now known as
Samtskhe) adjoining Javakhetia (Javakhk). The district itself was
ceded to Georgia by the Adrianople peace treaty between Russia and
Turkey and the Meskhetian Turks have always considered themselves as
ethnic Turks, continuing to more closely identify themselves with
Turkey than with Georgia proper.

Following their deportation to Central Asia, their native lands in the
district were repopulated by settlements of Armenians, Georgians, and
to a lesser degree, by Russians. But with the collapse of the Soviet
Union, the Meskhetian Turks have renewed their demands to return to
their ancestral homes in southern Georgia. An influx of Meskhetian
Turks would significantly alter the already delicate demography of the
region and would only exacerbate tensions. The issue could also
conceivably arouse a renewed Turkish claim to the territory, making
the implications severe for the future of the nearby Armenians.

After the Meskhetian Turks' demand for return was first articulated
following ethnic conflict in the Fergana Valley in 1989, the Georgian
government has reacted cautiously by establishing a commission to
study the issue and delaying action by contending a "shortage of land"
in the Meskhetia district. According to one of the organizations
representing the Meskhetian Turks, the "Vatan" society, more than
145,000 of the total 210,000 Meskhetian Turk population in the former
Soviet Union are now seeking to return to Georgia. Further
complicating the issue is the disengenous Georgian argument of a land
shortage as the population figures of the Meskhetia district are in
fact lower today than the pre-deportation level. And nearly all of
the original Meskhetian homes remain vacant and uncontested as much of
the Armenian, Georgian and Russian settlers preferred to erect their
own structures when they first moved there. The very threat of
reparation, however, provides the central Georgian government with
useful leverage over the region.


The Russian Base at Akhalkalaki

The importance of the Russian military base at Akhalkalaki to the
Javakh Armenians represents much more than a strategic deterrent. The
military installation provides employment for several thousand local
Armenians. The Russian military presence in the region, first
established in 1828, offered the Javakhk Armenians its only tangible
reassurance in the face of the population's fear of the Turks. With a
border with Turkey twice as long as with Armenia, Javakhk is quite
vulnerable to potential Turkish aggression. The Russian military
presence, therefore, serves more than a strategic defense against
possible Turkish aggression, it also serves to calm the Armenian fear
of a renewed Turkish threat. This fear was soundly reinforced by the
history of the region and, for the Armenians of Javakhk in particular,
Turkish military intervention was as recent as 1920.

The 62nd Divisional Russian base at Akhalkalaki, with its force of
3000 soldiers, is home to the Russian 147th Motorized Rifle Division.
It is also the largest, and only reliable, source of employment in
Javakhk. The base provides jobs for several thousand local Armenians,
offers the local workers access to decent health care and includes the
operation of a 500-person factory on the grounds of the base. Some
estimates also reveal that nearly half of the region's population is
engaged in work related to providing goods and services to the base, a
fact of obvious importance to the struggling Javakh regional economy
and its high unemployment rate. Nearly half of the 3000 Russian
soldiers, both officers and enlisted men, stationed at the base are in
fact local Armenian Javakh residents.

The negotiated closure of the Russian military facilities in Georgia
has been ongoing for several years, with the Javakh Armenians
consistently opposed and fearful of the implications and insecurity
that would result from a Russian withdrawal. The Georgian government
has expressed concern over the fate of the Russian military equipment,
weapons and hardware currently on hand in the two southern Russian
bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki. Georgian military officials fear
that the possible transfer of some of these weapons to local Armenians
and Ajarians by the Russian forces as they withdraw will greatly alter
the military balance on the ground. In order to counter this fear,
some Georgian analysts have suggested a new leasing arrangement
allowing the Russians to pay the Georgian government for the use and
maintenance of their two bases in southern Georgia for an extended
period.

The security provided by the presence of the Russian base is further
reinforced by the fact that Javakh has the largest population of
ethnic Russians outside of Tbilisi. Currently, Russia has agreed to
close two of its four bases in Georgia by mid-2001 and, according to
the terms of an agreement reached at the Istanbul summit of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has
already begun a partial withdrawal from its Vaziani base outside of
Tbilisi. With financing of the withdrawal provided by the United
States and Great Britain, the remaining Russian forces are scheduled
to be fully withdrawn by 2004.

In June 1998, the Javakh community expressed concern over the security
implications of a Russian withdrawal when a preliminary Russian-Georgian
agreement was reached calling for the replacement of Russian and CIS
border troops with Georgian units along the Georgian external border
with Turkey. This raised fears over the deployment of Georgian forces
along the Ajarian and Javakh border regions, seen as a move aimed at
reasserting Georgian control. Only the delay in implementing the
agreement has temporarily mollified this issue.

The Russian military base is also a counterweight to the growing role
of the Turkish military in Georgia. Turkey is second only to the
United States in providing military assistance and training to the
Georgian armed forces. For the period of 1998 to 2000 alone, Turkey
provided some $13.3 million in official military assistance. And much
of this Turkish military assistance serves as part of an overall
Turkish military strategy. For example, Turkey provided $1.27 million
for the reconstruction of a military airfield in the Marneuli
district, home to a sizable ethnic Azeri majority population,
bordering Javakhk to the west and Armenia to the north. This airbase
was formally reopened in January 2001.


Georgian-Armenian Relations

Throughout the 1990s, Armenia sought to maintain a cooperative
relationship with Georgia as the severe restraints imposed on Armenia
by the dual blockade of the landlocked country by Azerbaijan from the
east and Turkey from the west made the Armenian outlet to the north
through Georgia a vital necessity. The Azerbaijani and Turkish
blockade of Armenia's railway and transport links, their disruption of
the regional energy network and the breakdown of communications links
all contributed to a serious Armenian dependence on Georgia for all
essential commodities. As Armenia's sole external link, Georgia is
key to Armenian economic viability and relations between Tbilisi and
Yerevan, therefore, rests on this dependency, forcing Armenia to
overlook secondary factors.

These secondary factors in Armenian-Georgian relations comprise a
problematic set of issues, including growing ties between Azerbaijan
and Georgia based on a geopolitical marriage between Georgian ports
and Azeri petroleum. Issues relating to the state of the Armenian
minority in Georgia, and the conditions facing the Armenians in Javakh
in particular, have been generally skirted by the Yerevan government
as Armenian dependence on Georgia has prevented Armenia from endangering
the sensitive bilateral relationship. Overall, the course of bilateral
relations remains predicated more on an emphasis on the congruence of
immediate interests and less on the common long-term strategic
interests of both countries.

This Armenian dependence on Georgia and its restraining influence on
the Armenian government's handling of the Javakh issue has been most
clearly demonstrated during the presidency of Levon Ter Petrosian. In
the late 1990s, for example, Armenian President Ter Petrosian was so
concerned over the potential destabilizing effect of the Javakh issue
that he ordered the closure of the Armenian "Lragir" newspaper for
three months for publishing a series of articles calling for the
annexation of ethnic Armenian territory in Georgia.


Kocharian Offsets Armenian Dependence

Under the government of Armenian President Robert Kocharian, the
traditional Armenian dependence on Georgia has been significantly
offset by Georgia's desperate need for supplies of Armenian
electricity. With a growing energy crisis throughout Georgia
worsening over the past few months due to growing shortages stemming
from a Russian halt of energy shipments, the Kocharian and
Shevardnadze governments reached new bilateral accords whereby Armenia
began to supply electricity to Georgia. According to the terms of the
agreement, Armenia is paid directly by the U.S. AES Silk Road company,
which recently acquired ownership of the main Tbilisi energy
distribution network.

The sale of Armenian electricity was expanded by more than 12 percent
in December 2000 to a current level of 2.7 million-kilowatt hours per
day, bringing Armenia revenues of $12 million per month. Most
importantly, this arrangement included the modernization of the 35,000
kilowatt Ashotsk-Ninotsiminda-Akhalkalaki electrical power line by
Armenia, an element that allows Armenia to supply electricity directly
to Javakhk without connecting to the main Georgian national energy
grid. Although some outstanding questions remain concerning the
ownership and payment schedule for this Armenian-Javakhk energy deal,
it allows Armenia to directly meet an important need of the Javakhk
population and sets an important precedent in establishing a special
Armenian role in assisting Javakhk.


Reducing Armenian Dependence on Georgia

This recent lessening of Armenia's traditional dependence on georgia
is further encouraged by the Georgian government's own set of economic
and financial challenges. The Georgian foreign debt, for example,
stood at over $2 billion, roughly 85 percent of its Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) as of April 2000. These economic constraints, combined
with the internal instability posed by the separatist regions of
Ajaria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, has led to a marked retreat or
collapse of central Georgian government authority. Pursuing a policy
promoting itself as a "transit state" and positioning itself to garner
a share in the profits from the Caspian energy resources in landlocked
Azerbaijan, the Georgian government continues to broaden its ties with
Turkey and Azerbaijan, while balancing the threat from Russian
ambitions in the region. But this Georgian "transit state" policy is
seriously hindered by its crisis as a state approaching collapse. In
this situation, Javakhk has both the opportunity to leverage its
geographic importance as well as the vulnerability of being trapped
within a collapsing state.

Most recently, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has publicly
recognized Armenia's special interest in the Javakhk region in a
statement on March 1, 2001. Accepting the special Armenian role in
Javakhk demonstrates the potential for negotiation over the status of
Javakhk and may signal a willingness by Georgia to offer true autonomy
for the region. For his part, the Georgian president has promised to
draft a new 7-10 year development economic development program. But
as details have not yet been released, and as the Georgian economy
further declines, Javakhk is increasingly looking to Armenia for
assistance. And the recent Armenian shift from outright dependence on
Georgia, as evident in Yerevan's role as the key supplier of
electricity to Tbilisi, may be the strategic leverage necessary to
reconfigure Javakhk's position within Georgia.


The Geopolitical Picture

Aside from the internal implications of the Javakh issue within
Georgia, there is a broader geopolitical element. The long contested
plan to transport Azerbaijan's oil from its offshore Caspian reserves
to Western markets continues to be hindered by the lack of a secure
and reliable export route. Georgian territory is seen by many as a
crucial transit stage to effectively bypass Russia. Amid the competing
pipeline proposals and rivalries for dominance among Russia, Turkey,
Iran and the West, the territory of Javakh holds the key to any
feasible pipeline. Javakh stands as a fulcrum in the balance of ports
and petroleum, lying in the path of all planned pipelines spanning
Georgian territory to access its Black Sea ports.

Bilateral relations between Turkey and Georgia are also much deeper
than simple cooperation in the transport of Azerbaijani oil. Turkey
is now Georgia's second largest trading partner, with bilateral trade
reaching some $112 million in 2000. Even more importantly, Georgia
continues to look to Turkey for a lead role in modernizing and
financing the Georgian armed forces and Georgia also has played a lead
role in the Azerbaijan-inspired GUUAM group. Comprising Georgia,
Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Moldova, the GUUAM group is a regional
economic, political and security body centered around the need to
coordinate the region's ability to exploit, transport and sell the
energy resources of the Caspian Sea. Most threatening to Armenia and
Javakhk, however, is GUUAM's new directions in military policy.
Advancing a special role for GUUAM to protect and secure the region's
infrastructure and, therefore, the region's oil and natural gas
pipelines, this poses a potential military threat to Javakhk and
Armenia.

Another related geopolitical element in this dynamic is the recently
resurrected plan to establish a railway link from Tbilisi to Kars.
This plan has overcome a history of financial problems with the
announcement in February 2001 that China will assume all financing and
costs for the railway project. Notably bypassing the more direct, and
commercially cheaper, route from Tbilisi to the norther Armenian city
of Gumri and on to Kars, this plan is the latest attempt to isolate
Armenia. This is made even more obvious by the refusal to utilize the
already existing rail link from Armenia to Kars. For Javakhk,
however, the railway plan poses a slightly different problem.
According to the details of this plan, the railway would link Marabda,
just outside of Tbilisi, with Kars by passing through Javakhk. By
transiting Javakhk, the railway invite Turkish or Azerbaijani
interference or even intervention in Javakhk, presumably justified by
the GUUAM group's stated ambition to militarily "protect and secure"
the regional infrastructure.


Conclusion: Autonomy is the Key

The trend of devolution of power from the central state to the
increasingly assertive autonomous regions and republics underway in
Georgia is determining the future of Georgian statehood. It has
become apparent that Georgia is on a course toward reconstituting its
statehood and transforming itself into a confederation. For Javakhk,
the most attractive path toward security and greater potential for
economic development is autonomy within a new Georgia.

There is also a set of potential economic benefits to be realized
through an autonomous Javakhk. The most realistic of these benefits
include the possible share of proceeds from the lease agreement for
the Russian military base in Javakhk currently being negotiated
between Tbilisi and Moscow. A second benefit lies in the possibility
of sharing in the profit from the utilization of Javakhk territory for
a possible oil pipeline or for the proposed Tbilisi-Kars railway.
There are some precedents for an autonomous region negotiating a share
of transit fees in this way, as the Ajarians are paid for the use of
their Black Sea port Poti or as the Chechen government has received
tariff payments for the pipeline from Baku through Chechnya to the
Russian port facilities on the Black Sea. Even more encouraging would
be the possibility of utilizing such revenue in a special "Javakhk
Development Fund" to be administered by the regional government of an
autonomous Javakhk and with the possible involvement of both Armenia
and Georgia.

By following this course of Georgia's devolution toward confederation,
an autonomous Javakhk, at this time, represents the most prudent and
most promising avenue for securing the rights and meeting the needs of
the Javakhk Armenians. With the opportunity for security and the
promise of stability through autonomy, Javakhk may effectively
overcome the geopolitical and economic challenges in its path by
remaining within a new Georgia. But this autonomy will undoubtedly be
tested by the realities of Georgia's future.


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Richard Giragosian was a professional staff member with the Joint
Economic Committee, U.S. Congress specializing in international
relations and economics in the former Soviet Union and China. He is
the author of the monthly newsletter, "TransCaucasus: A Chronology."

Khatchik Der Ghougassian is a Ph.D. student of International Relations
in the School of International Studies, at the University of Miami. He
has written as a political analyst in the Armenian and Argentinean
press.

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