How the escalation in Karabakh has affected Armenians living in Georgia
For the past five days there has been unrest in Javakheti, the southern region of Georgia largely inhabited by ethnic Armenians. The local population is not only following the escalation of the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan around Nagorno-Karabakh but is also trying to take specific steps to support Armenia.
Young people have come up with various initiatives — registration of volunteers, collecting money, medicine, foodstuffs, and rubber tires.
On September 29, things came to residents of the Akhalkalaki municipality of Javakheti closing down the international highway Georgia-Turkey in Kartsakhi, as they claimed that “Turkey used this road to transport weapons to Azerbaijan”.
Around 1,000 people gathered in Kartsakhi.
Trucks with Turkish state numbers were parked not far from the village of Kartsakhi.
Young people chanted: “Armenia!”, “Artsakh!”
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Protesters demanded the Armenian-Georgian border be opened for the unimpeded transportation of humanitarian aid and volunteers to Karabakh.
“Until the Armenian-Georgian border is opened to let our aid reach Armenia, Turkish trucks won’t enter Georgia”, said participants of the demonstration. However after several hours of protest, local politicians and law enforcement organs managed to persuade people to let the cars pass through.
The situation in Javakheti started escalating on the very second day of the beginning of the military action in Karabakh.
On September 28, registration of volunteers began in Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda who, if necessary, were ready to join in combat.
Registration was organized by young Facebook users. Besides, several people sat at the stadiums in Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda and noted down personal information of volunteers — full name, citizenship (some people in Javakheti have double citizenship, Georgian and Armenian).
Information on the possibility of registering as volunteers spread quickly, even leading to queues. Organizers claimed that the lists would be sent to Armenia and drafting would start if necessary.
On September 28 four trucks with foodstuffs and tires were ready to leave Akhalkalaki for the border checkpoint Ninotsminda-Bavra and then Armenia.
However the trucks didn’t reach the border. They were stopped by the law enforcement officers who said that the border was closed due to the coronavirus.
This caused a storm of indignation in the region — in about an hour some 5,000 young men gathered at the border with Armenia. They accused the Georgian authorities of preventing the humanitarian aid to be sent.
The situation escalated by the minute, people demanded to open the border in order for their humanitarian aid to reach Armenia unimpeded.
Finally, law enforcement organs allowed two trucks with foodstuff to cross the border. The shipment of tires remained in Georgia.
Local Armenians gathered at the border and sang patriotic songs.
“Saakashvili will never see the support of the Armenian population!” Comments of politics and local residents
Another heated discussion in the region was caused by the statement of the former president of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili on Facebook, where he said that Karabakh was a part of Azerbaijan.
Many in Akhalkalaki think they shouldn’t vote for Saakashvili’s party in the upcoming elections on October 31.
“Whoever votes for his party is a traitor”.
“This is a treachery in every sense. Whoever represents his party in Javakhk, shouldn’t be voted for. They are allies of the Turks”.
“Don’t let his party into Javakhk”.
These are the comments we gathered on streets of Ninotsminda.
Melik Raisyan, majoritarian candidate of the United National Movement — a party leaded by Mikhail Saakashvili — in Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda electoral districts says that for him Saakashvili’s words are unacceptable but he doesn’t see anything new:
“I haven’t seen a leader in Georgia who wouldn’t openly support Azerbaijan’s interests. People speak about it clearly and openly. I don’t accept it but I understand their approach to this issue. Saakashvili has been saying the same thing for the past 15 years.
The bad thing here is that it is 17 year old boys that fight. Saakashvili’s words are not news to anybody, there’s nothing surprising about it, he even said it to Armenian high level officials during his presidency”, says Raisyan.
However he doesn’t deny that Saakashvili’s words will negatively influence the opposition’s chances during the elections:
“When there’s a war I find it unacceptable to talk about elections. Naturally, Saakashvili’s statement greatly affected our region, and our chances in the election decreased drastically, it is an obvious fact”, says Raisyan.
A day earlier Raisyan wrote a post on Facebook to support Armenia, calling the events in Karabakh “another bloody provocation of Azerbaijan aided by Turkey”.
Unambiguous statements in support of Armenia were also made by all other politicians running in the next elections.
Armenians are a peaceful nation but when “a war is imposed on them, they accept the challenge”, says Samvel Petrosyan, party list candidate of the Alliance of Patriots (this party is known for its active anti-Turkish position).
Petrosyan reminds Georgian people that “Azerbaijan claims territory of Georgia”:
“We unambiguously state that Azerbaijan is a threat for Georgia, as it is Azerbaijan that today occupied Georgian territory with the Georgian historical monument of David Gareji”, wrote Samvel Petrosyan on Facebook.
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“Armenian citizens of Georgia are in full sympathy of Artsakh and Armenia and are ready to provide any possible and impossible help”, says the candidate of the European Georgia Arsen Karapetyan. Politician doesn’t specify whether military help is in question.
Enzel Mkoyan, active member of Parliament of Georgia representing Georgian Dream, posted a statement on his Facebook addressing young people of Javakheti not to impede upon the functioning of the Armenian army.
“Armenian authorities confirm that today defense of Artsakh is in capable hands, army can repel any aggression, that’s why, my dear young people, I call upon you not to take certain steps without any need and not to impede the Defense Army in fulfilling their holy mission”, wrote Mkoyan on Facebook.
On September 29 council of Armenian non-governmental organizations of Kvemo Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti came out with a special statement as well.
In the letter to the Georgian authorities, its representatives also mentioned the territory problem of David Gareji that exists between Georgia and Azerbaijan:
“It is appropriate to mention the prohibition by Azerbaijani militaries of movement to the monastery complex of David Gareji that is located on the territory of Georgia and is one of the most respected Christian shrines for the pilgrims of Georgia”, says the statement.