martes, 26 de marzo de 2013

Javakhk: the “third” Armenia


Last Thursday, the spokesman for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Defense Army, Senor Hasratyan, said “50 cases of ceasefire violation by Azerbaijan were reported on March 22 and 23,” rejecting charges from Baku about alleged ceasefire violations by the Armenian side. While the situation in the breakaway republic remains tense, tensions may soon arise also in another predominantly Armenian territory outside the Republic of Armenia: the Samtskhe-Javakheti province, in Southern Georgia.

Javakheti is located on the border of Georgia, Armenia and Turkey, and is inhabited by some 200 thousand people, more than half of whom are Armenians. Not surprisingly, Javakh, as Armenians call the region, is regarded as the “third” Armenia, after Armenia proper and Nagorno-Karabakh. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenians in Javakhk, who have lived there for centuries before being annexed to Georgia by Joseph Stalin, are being systematically persecuted by Georgian authorities, while the lack of basic water and electrical services, together with high levels of unemployment, makes their living conditions even worse.

Despite difficulties faced by their compatriots beyond national border, Armenian government leaders have not been able to do anything to alleviate their plight, since Armenia relies on Georgia as a route to Russia and the Black Sea. Nevertheless, the geopolitical situation in the Caucasian region, with tensions in Russian North Caucasus, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and diplomatic games between Russia and Turkey, are likely to emphasize the importance of Javakhk for both Yerevan and its closest ally, Moscow. Javakhk is strategically located. All proposed oil pipelines running from Baku through Georgia to the Black Sea or Mediterranean would pass through the region. Not surprisingly, Javakhk’s strategic placement has caused Turkey to lay certain claims to the region and explains Ankara’s increasing interest in extending its political and military influence over Georgia.

According to information released by the controversial website WikiLeaks, during the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, Turkey was even ready to deploy its troops under the status of NATO into Georgia’s territory in case of Russian invasion of Adjara. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and members of the Turkish parliament visited Moscow and met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a document dated August 14, 2008 stated. According to the document, the Turkish delegation told Medvedev that if Russia conducted military operations near the 100-kilometer zone surrounding the Turkish border, Turkey, as a NATO member, would have the right and even the obligation to place its units into military operations and protect the territory of neighbouring member states of the alliance.

As the number of Azerbaijanis in Georgia grew to reach 300-400 thousand by the end of the 20th century, the Armenian population in Javakhk is nevertheless endangered not only by its traditional enemy, Turkey, but also by Muslims living in Georgia, especially in Adjara. According to the 1989 Soviet census, there were 360.000 Armenians in Georgia, while the 2002 Georgian census showed that their number had decreased up to 250.000, giving a consistent argument to all those Armenians who fear for the future of Javakhk.

The construction of the Kars-Akhalkalak-Baku railway, which is almost entirely funded by Turkey and Azerbaijan, and the planned settlement of Meskheti Turks in the region, actually threaten the very existence of Javakhk as an ethnic Armenian territory. Insofar as Russia needs Armenia to put pressure on Georgia’s Southern flank, while Yerevan can rely only on Moscow for protection from the threat of Pan-Turkism, Armenia is therefore likely to reconsider the geo-strategic importance of Javakhk as the keystone to the maintenance of Armenian state system itself. In fact, without Armenians in the region, Yerevan would have to deploy troops to guard the border with Georgia, thereby depriving the Nagorno-Karabakh republic of forces that are essential to its surviving as an independent state and an integral part of the Armenian homeland.

If is it true that the best defense is attack, Armenia may also consider the possibility of launching a pre-emptive attack on Georgia in case close relation between Tbilisi on the one side, and Baku and Ankara on the other side, are perceived as a concrete threat to its very existence. In that eventuality, Armenia may even achieve what Israel did with the 1967 six day war: to become a regional power even being the less populated country of the region, making real the dream of a Greater Armenia.

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