Georgia's Armenians Want Tbilisi to Recognise Genocide

But analysts say it could not afford to put its relations at risk with Ankara. By Tamuna Uchidze in Akhaltsikhe

Georgia's Armenians Want Tbilisi to Recognise Genocide

But analysts say it could not afford to put its relations at risk with Ankara. By Tamuna Uchidze in Akhaltsikhe

Georgia is unlikely to agree to an appeal by the country’s Armenian community to officially recognise as genocide the mass killings conducted in the Ottoman Empire after 1915, commentators say.

More than 20 countries have recognised the killings as genocide, despite furious opposition from Turkey, but experts say Georgia is not expected to join them, being dependant on its neighbour for much of its trade and access to the outside world.

Every year on April 24, Armenians around the world mark the mass killings that they say began on that date in Istanbul in 1915. This year, three groups – The Armenian Community of Georgia, The Armenian Centre of Cooperation of Georgia and the Association of Armenian Students of Georgia – for the first time prepared an appeal to both parliament and President Mikhail Saakashvili.

According to the last census, Armenians make up five per cent of Georgia’s population, most of them being concentrated in the southern Samtskhe-Javakheti region.

“This year it is 95 years since the start of the first genocide of the 20th century - the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-23. The Armenians of Georgia have one desire, that the authorities recognised this fact, and therefore we decided to begin our process,” Alexander Oganov, a representative of the Armenian students’ group, said.

Robert Muradyan, a teacher in one of Georgia’s Armenian-language schools, said such a step would be hugely appreciated by Armenians.

“The genocide of ethnic Armenians has been recognised by many countries. If Georgia recognises it, it would be a mark of respect towards the Armenian nation,” he said.

However, most experts think that such a statement by the government would cause outrage in Turkey, which Saakashvili can ill afford, considering his already poor relations with northern neighbour Russia.

“The examination of such a question would complicate relations between Georgia and Turkey,” said Tsira Meskhishvili, chairwoman of the Tolerant association, in words echoed across the political spectrum.

“This is a very complicated question which we must approach with great caution. Armenia is our neighbour and partner, but it is necessary also to study the geopolitical situation in the region,” said Tamaz Petriashvili, who represents part of Samtskhe-Javakheti , a largely ethnic Armenian region, for the ruling coalition in parliament.

“Georgia has to consider many factors, including our strategic relations with Turkey, which is also a neighbour and one of Georgia’s important partners.”

The parliament deputy declined to speculate whether the chamber would debate the issue soon.

“If it was that simple a question, then it would have been resolved by other countries as well a long time ago. We need to be cautious, so as to maintain stability in the region,” he said.

There is some political pressure on the local level, however. Ruben Karapetyan, deputy head of the local administration in Alakhtsikhe, which is the main town of Samtskhe-Javakheti, said Armenians would maintain the campaign for recognition.

“What difference does it make when this happens? Today or tomorrow, this question will be on the agenda anyway. Ethnic Armenians living in Georgia have waited for the genocide to be recognised for a long time already,” he said.

But historians say that, whatever the facts of the case, which are disputed between Armenia and Turkey, recognition would be a step based on politics, not history.

“If Turkey recognises the genocide, and Georgia goes along with it, that is a different thing. Otherwise, we would radically change our good neighbourly relations with Turkey. In such a situation, Georgia must not recognise the genocide and it won’t happen,” Nikoloz Akhalkatsi, a Georgian historian, said.

His opinion seemed to meet broad consensus among political analysts, who said the government could not afford to put its relations at risk with Ankara.

“Georgia borders both Armenia and Turkey, and does not have the right to harm relations with either of its neighbours. Georgian citizens of Armenian ethnicity should look on this question with understanding. They, of course, have the right to give petitions to the authorities, but must be prepared to receive a justified refusal,” said Paata Zakareishvili, an analyst from the Institute for Researches of Nationalism and Conflicts.

He said the protocols agreed between Turkey and Armenia, which are intended to normalise relations between the countries, sanctioned the establishment of a joint commission to study the question of the genocide.

“It would be better if Georgia waited for the conclusions of this commission. I think that a time will come when Turkish society and state recognise this fact. The question is a problem for Turkish society, not for Armenians,” he said.

Tamuna Uchidze is a reporter from the Southern Gates newspaper. 

Turkey, Georgia, Armenia
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