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Review & Outlook - 07/07/2003

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Armenian News Network / Groong
July 7, 2003

By Asbed Kotchikian

On June 28, 2003 President Robert Kocharian of Armenia paid his first
official state visit after his controversial re-election as president.
During the visit Kocharian met with Georgian President Eduard
Shevardnadze as well as with the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament,
Nino Burjanadze and discussed a host of issues relevant to the two
countries. At the end of the two-day visit the two presidents signed a
series of cooperation agreements mostly in the spheres of economy,
education and culture.

Political and economic analysts observed this meeting between the
presidents of the two neighboring countries carefully, since one of
the items on the agenda was the resumption of the rail link between
Armenia and Russia, which passes through Georgia and the separatist
and self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia. This rail link is of
paramount importance to Armenia and its economy since it provides a
crucial link connecting Armenia with the Black Sea and Russia.


Since independence, both Armenia and Georgia have tried to strengthen
their respective statehoods and prevent threats to their sovereignty.
In the case of Georgia, the first President of the Republic, Zviad
Gamsakhurdia, spoke to the hearts of most Georgians with his
nationalist rhetoric and the ideology of "Georgia for Georgians". This
rhetoric made non-Georgians in the Republic very anxious and
uncomfortable. With the coming of Eduard Shevardnadze to power
inter-ethnic tension subdued but did not go away.  Unlike its northern
neighbor, Armenia was able to have a relatively more stable
state-making process but the relations between the two countries
remained lukewarm at best.

Both Armenia and Georgia have been involved in separatist wars since
their independence. In the case of Georgia the autonomous regions of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia tried to assert their independence (and in
some cases were able to do so) by war and expulsion of the Georgian
population in the regions which they control and administer.  In the
case of Armenia the conflict was not on its own land, a fact that
makes it difficult for the two countries to have similar views on the
issues of national self-determination and territorial integrity. When
it comes to assessing the conflicts in the Caucasus, Georgia, along
with Azerbaijan, follows the principle of territorial integrity.
Armenia, on the other hand, propagates the idea of national
self-determination. The divergence in Armenia's and Georgia's policies
on the issue of separatism constitutes one of the main reasons why the
two countries have had uneasy relations.

Another point of tension between the two countries is the issue of the
Armenian minority in Georgia. According to the 1989 Soviet census the
Armenian community in Georgia numbered around 430,000 or 8.1 % of the
overall population. About 150,000 lived in Tbilisi, 75,000 in Abkhazia
and 200,000 in southern Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti (Javakhk
in Armenian). The fact that Armenians in Abkhazia decided to remain in
the region and side with the Abkhaz separatist is a thorn on the side
of Georgian-Armenian relations.

One of the resentments that Armenians have towards Georgia is the
widely held belief that the Javakheti region, - which borders Armenia
- is intentionally neglected by the central authorities in Tbilisi
since independence, in a deliberate bid to deteriorate the region's
economic, educational and cultural infrastructures.

Although these claims might be accepted by a large majority of
Armenians (be it in Armenia or in the Diaspora) the truth of the
matter is that the Georgian government does not have the ability or
the means to invest any money or initiate any reform or restructuring
programs in any of its districts (except for the capital and its
immediate surroundings). Other towns and regions populated with
Georgians such as Kakhetia, Borjomi, Gudauri etc also lack developed
socail, economic and trasnportation infrastructures.  Moreover, the
southern districts of Georgia do not constitute any priority for the
country's economy since the volume of trade or the potential for
economic cooperation with Armenia is minimal and does not justify the
amount of investments in the region. In this respect the accusations
by Armenians that Georgia is neglecting the Javakheti region because
of its ethnic component is not valid.

When it comes to state relations between Armenia and Georgia, one
should keep in mind that the two countries have different and even
opposite foreign policy orientations, a fact that makes it even more
difficult for the two countries to form a "common front". The problem
is that while Armenia is strongly "entrenched" in the pro-Russian
camp, Georgia sees itself and it's future with the West and with
complete independence from Russia. To pursue their respective
orientations, both countries have developed ties with countries that
the other considers as enemies or at best antagonists. Thus, because
of Armenia's Russian orientation, Georgia as well as Azerbaijan,
consider Armenia as a Russian fifth column in the region. In the same
token Georgia's developing cooperation and ties with Turkey are viewed
with alarm by Armenia which considers Turkey as its historic enemy.

What the two countries do not realize is that geopolitics, rather than
historical events, govern foreign policy and orientation and as such,
both countries need to consider each other's motives and needs when
pursuing a certain foreign policy. However, over the past several
month there seems to be an understanding arising on this issue, the
best example of which is the latest NATO military exercises, which
took place in Armenia in June 2003, and where representatives from
Russia, Turkey and Georgia, along with several dozen other courtiers,
took part in unifies command exercises.  Although these exercises do
not mean that Armenia is willing to accept turkey as an ally or that
Georgia is willing to integrate its forces with Russian ones, at least
is shows that both Armenia and Georgia are at least willing to
understand the constraints of Realpolitik on each other's overall
political orientations.


The latest visit of President Kocharian to Georgia aimed primarily at
opening the rail link between Armenia and Russia (through Georgia and
Abkhazia). The visit also resulted in the signing of numerous economic,
cultural and educational treaties between the two countries. The fact
that the Armenian delegation included the ministers of transportation
and culture (along with foreign affairs and agriculture) suggests that
the issue of Javakheti was also discussed in details.

President Kocharian's visit can have another implication as well.
During the presidential elections in Armenia, Western observers
labeled them as unfair and full of irregularities whereas observers
from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) were less
judgmental. It was around this time that Kocharian's campaign manager,
Serge Sarksian was quoted saying that Armenia' s regional neighbors
understand Armenians better than foreigners do.

It is no surprise that President Kocharian would make sure that his
first official state visit outside of Armenia would take him to a
country which would not be critical of the lections and would not
question his legitimacy.

Another point of interest in this visit is that Georgia is facing
parliamentary elections in November and President Shevardnadze is
trying to run a publicity stunt showing that he is a masterful
politician and can keep a balance between Georgia and its neighbors,
at the same time trying to diffuse domestic ethnic tensions. This act
becomes even more important when one realizes that recently the
groundwork for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline has witnessed some
extra activities in Georgia. An example that reinforces the idea that
Georgia is eager to appease the Armenian minority in Javakheti were
the statements made by the Georgian Speaker of Parliament Nino
Burjanadze and President Kocharian, in which both officials stated
that they were looking forward to cooperation in the fields of
education and culture and in restoring some of Georgia's Armenian
schools and monuments.

The Armenian government on its part is very keen to reactivate the
rail link passing through Georgia and Abkhazia and connecting the
land-locked country with Russia. The economic and transport
significance of this railway are tremendous since they can provide
Armenia with a rail link to the Black Sea and hence decrease
transportation charges. However one needs to look at the reopening of
this rail link within the context of Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. The
suggestion of having a railway between Georgia and Abkhazia is similar
to asking for a rail link between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The war sentiments are just too high between the Georgians and the
Abkhaz to allow such a link to be operational anytime soon. Another
reason for Georgia not to be enthusiastic about this link is the
possibility that it might enable the Russian army to transport
personnel through Georgian territory. It is conceivable that Georgia
is more interested in developing east-west links, rather than
north-south ones.

The overall assessment of the visit was positive. It is doubtful that
the Armenian side received what it wanted to get out of the meeting,
namely a transport corridor with Russia through Georgia however the
two countries agreed to cooperate closely in the spheres of
information as well as culture and education. The "grande finale" of
the meeting was when Presidents Kocharian and Shevardnadze paid joint
tribute to the Armenian intellectuals buried in Tbilisi's Armenian
Pantheon (Pantheon Medzats) which was recently renovated.

The cooperation within the spheres of education and culture can be
narrowed down to Armenia's responsibility to provide educational and
cultural material to the Armenian community in Georgia. This agreement
might only provide a limited venue to let out the frustration of the
Armenian community of Javakheti but at the same time such a deal might
make the Georgians uncomfortable and their national pride wounded,
since this might imply that the Georgian state is unable to care for
its own citizens.

Regardless of the outcomes of this visit, one thing that needs to be
kept in mind is that both countries cannot have overlapping and
synchronized priorities in terms of national security or foreign
policy. They both have to understand that even though they have shared
a long history together, the current realities of politics does put
them in different, if not opposing, camps. A true neighborly
cooperation can develop only if they both accept and respect each
other's priorities.

Asbed Kotchikian is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Boston
University and an instructor at Wheaton College. He spent two years
(2000-02) in Armenia and Georgia conducting research and teaching at
the local universities. Comments to the author may be be sent to

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