While meeting with the ethnic Armenian population of Samtskhe-Javakheti, presidential candidate Salome Zourabichvili made provocative comments about Turks " />

Georgian presidential candidate accused of xenophobia after meeting with voters in Javakheti region

While meeting with the ethnic Armenian population of Samtskhe-Javakheti, presidential candidate Salome Zourabichvili made provocative comments about Turks

Georgian presidential candidate Salome Zourabichvili is at the centre of another scandal.

This time around she is being accused of xenophobia and stoking ethnic hatred. The reason: a peculiar statement she made at a recent meeting in the southern Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, which is populated by ethnic Armenians.

Presidential elections will take place in Georgia on 28 October. Former minister of foreign affairs Salome Zourabichvili is running as an independent candidate, however, she enjoys the support of the ruling Georgian Dream party and is the personal favourite of the informal leader of the country, Bidzina Ivanishvili.

On 2 October, while speaking to potential voters in the town of Ninotsminda, Zourabichvili touched on the topic of receiving Georgian citizenship. She criticised the current law governing double citizenship, which states that double citizenship can only be granted by a presidential order. She promised to lobby to change this law.

In her speech, Zourabichvili accused Mikheil Saakashvili of preferring to give Georgian citizenship to Turks rather than Armenians.

“One [former] president, who is my opponent – I don’t even want to name him – gave citizenship to many Turks, but he didn’t give you citizenship,” she said.

These words have caused a storm amongst the opposition and NGOs, as well as Facebook users.

Zourabichvili has been accused of inciting ethnic hatred and of “being incompetent”.

“Such statements in this region are very dangerous and are of an incorrect political form,” presidential candidate of the European Georgian party David Bakradze told journalists.

Akhalkalaki, House of Culture. Zourabichvili held a meeting with potential voters in a hall in which there was a photograph of Charles Aznavour, under which were candles [Aznavour’s ancestors were from Akhalkalaki]. Zourabichvili also lit a candle and laid flowers.

The United National Movement came down on Zourabichvili more radically for her statement. UNM politician Nika Melia believes that Zourabichvili’s words confirm that she is an “enemy of Georgia”.

“We have received direct proof of the fact that Zourabichvili is an ordinary enemy. How can one show the desire to be president and simultaneously tell ethnic minorities, in this case our Armenian compatriots, that the former authorities gave citizenship to Turks, while to you, Armenians, they didn’t,” Novosti-Gruzia cited Melia as saying.

NGO representatives have sided with the opposition. Chairman of the Georgian Democracy Initiative Georgi Mshveniradze says that though Zourabichvili’s statement does not go outside the boundaries of the law, it is destructive.

“Such statements are very dangerous, because they give rise to Turkophobia. Turks were presented in her statement as a danger of sorts. This is unambiguous xenophobia. Moreover, it is doubly dangerous when such statements are made when addressing an ethnic group which has a painful connection to the Ottoman Empire,” said Mshveniradze in an interview with Netgazeti.

“Someone who makes such anti-state remarks cannot be elected president. She is an absolutely embarrassing candidate for Georgia, and shame on those who support her. When she goes to Marneuli [ed. A region of Georgia inhabited by Azerbaijanis] she will probably say that Saakashvili was actually an Armenian,” member of the Georgian Republic Party David Zurabishvili wrote on his Facebook page, referring to the perceived feud between ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians.

Facebook users wrote that Zourabichvili and her disruptive statements are dangerous for Georgia. Both opposition and pro-government users expressed their discontent.

“What she’s doing is treason against the homeland.”

“And they call her a diplomat…! With her reckless statements she’s going to drag us into a war.”

“Just for populism and because of her hatred for Saakashvili, she is ready to sacrifice the country’s interests. She is ready to make use of the painful, historical conflict between the Armenians and Turks and of people’s feelings.”

“Her presidency would be a real threat to the country.”

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