By Armen Zakarian
Senior Armenian parliamentarians and government officials who visited Russia’s southern Krasnodar region at the weekend claimed on Monday to have eased tensions between local authorities and its substantial ethnic Armenian population.
They said they reached agreements on opening an Armenian consulate in Krasnodar and launching direct contacts between the regional administration and the government in Yerevan.
Ethnic tensions in Krasnodar rose last April after the region’s controversial governor, Aleksandr Tkachev, announced plans to deport hundreds of thousands of Armenians, Meskhetian Turks and other ethnic minorities that have illegally immigrated into the area since the Soviet collapse. The local Armenians say they have since been facing greater discrimination.
The head of the Armenian delegation, Hovannes Hovannisian, claimed that Tkachev and other regional leaders have adopted a “more sober” approach to the local Armenian community after the talks. He said the Communist governor expressed a desire to visit Armenia in the near future to discuss ways of establishing direct economic and cultural links with Krasnodar.
Armenia has signed cooperation agreements with several other Russian regions in the past. It already has a consulate in the Black Sea city of Sochi which is part of the Krasnodar Kray (province) and has a large Armenian population.
According to various estimates, there are at least 500,000 ethnic Armenians living the area which is bordering on the Caucasus Mountains from the north. Speaking at a news conference, Hovannisian and other members of his delegation said the Krasnodar authorities and Cossack chieftains are particularly unhappy with the fact that Armenians control a large part of the local services sector. They said they countered that taxes paid by Armenian-owned business make up more than 40 percent of the regional budget.
Hovannisian also revealed that statistical data provided by the Krasnodar police contradict the widely held belief in Russia that many of the crimes in the region are committed by the local Armenians.