Many on Azerbaijani and Georgian social media are outraged
A statue of an Armenian combattant of the Karabakh war haas been erected in the Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, an area predominantly inhabited by Armenians.
The statue is of a native to the region – Mikhail Avagyan, who died during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s. This has caused outrage on social media and a strong reaction in Azerbaijan. Georgian officials have not yet commented on the event.
The unveiling took place in Bughashen, in region of Akhalkalaki on 20 January.
The red ribbon was cut by the Armenian Ambassador to Georgia Ruben Sadoyan and a philanthropist from the village Gagik Avagyan, at whose expense the statue was erected.
The ceremony was attended by the head of the district administration and local government, as well as members of the Georgian parliament Enzel Mkoyan and Samvel Manukyan, representing the ruling Georgian Dream political party.
The mayor of Akhalkalaki, Yurik Hunanyan, and the chairman of the Sakrebulo (city council), Nairi Iritsyan, were also invited to the unveiling.
The Armenian Ambassador said in his speech: “Thanks to brave patriots such as Mikhail Avagyan, our people have managed to win important victories.”
Mikhail Avagyan, a native of Bughashen, participated in combat in Karabakh on the side of the Armenian forces and was nicknamed ‘Cobra’. He died from injuries sustained in battle in 1994.
The previous monument, also dedicated to Avagyan, was erected in Bughashen in 1997 in the courtyard of an old school. The decision to replace the monument arose due to the fact that the old monument was damaged.
Reaction in Tbilisi
Representatives of the Georgian authorities have not yet commented on the unveiling of the statue. Former state minister for conciliation and civil equality Paata Zakareishvili, in an interview with JAMnews, said that the participation of the authorities in the ceremony violates the principle of neutrality that Georgia adheres to in the conflict around Karabakh.
“Georgia has so far managed to maintain neutrality in this situation and remain a certain factor of stability in the South Caucasus. Against this background, any decision by local authorities, whether in the Javakheti or Kvemo Kartli region, is very sensitive, and local authorities should understand this.
“I believe that the local authorities should have tried to convince the local residents as much as possible that erecting such a monument does not correspond to Georgia’s attitude to the situation in the South Caucasus.
“The situation shouldn’t have been allowed to develop this far – it was necessary to explain to the people that both sides of the conflict need Georgia and should not try to lean towards any side.
“I think local authorities should show more prudence and stay in contact with the central authorities that shape the country’s policy in the South Caucasus.”
The news of the unveiling of the statuee aroused the indignation of Georgian social media users:
“What is a statue to a hero of the Karabakh war doing in Georgia? Azerbaijan is our strategic partner.”
“And now what will happen? Is it necessary to put up a statue and start a war in Marneuli (a city with a predominantly Azerbaijani population)?”
“Here it is – the political price of the presence of Sargsyan (the President of Armenia) at the inauguration of the (President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili).”
“This is very disturbing news. On 20 January a monument to the hero of the Karabakh war was unveiled in Javakheti. And this is a day of mourning in Azerbaijan.”
Reaction in Azerbaijan
The news of the unveiling of the statue in Javakheti caused a negative reaction in Azerbaijan.
Some Azerbaijani media outlets published news on the matter and headlined it: “Monument to Khojaly executioner erected in Georgia.”
However, there is no exact information about Avagyan’s involvement in the events in the village of Khojaly in Nagorno-Karabakh in February 1992, where hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians died.
Azerbaijani MP Rasim Musabekov expressed outrage on Facebook at the erection of the monument in Javakheti:
“The connivance of the provocative action in Akhalkalaki will not add warmth to the relationship between Azerbaijan and Georgia, and may encourage the Armenians of Akhalkalaki to take other provocative actions in order to damage the strategic partnership of Tbilisi and Baku … I believe that Baku should issue a request to the Georgian government to clarify its position on this apparent Armenian provocation.”