By Karine Kalantarian
A visiting senior Georgian official briefed Wednesday Armenia’s leaders on his government’s stated plans to improve harsh living conditions in Georgia’s Armenian-populated Javakheti region, the main destabilizing factor there.
Teymuraz Mosiashvili, who is the governor of the larger Samtskhe-Javakheti region, said after talks with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian that Tbilisi is has finalized a program on socioeconomic development of the restive area bordering Armenia. He said its main provisions were approved by President Eduard Shevardnadze earlier this month.
However, Mosiashvili declined to specify the total amount of funds which the cash-strapped Georgian government plans to spend on Javakheti next year. He said only that the program aims to facilitate revival of stagnating local industries, improve public utilities and rebuild roads and other infrastructure.
Mosiashvili agreed that the dire economic situation is a key reason why local Armenians are opposed to the closure of a Russian military base in Javakheti, their largest employer. Several thousand of them reportedly rallied in the regional town of Akhalkalaki earlier this to reaffirm their opposition to the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Meeting with the local governor, Markarian again urged the authorities in Tbilisi to do more to ease hardship in the region’s Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda regions mainly populated by ethnic Armenians. He reaffirmed Yerevan’s readiness to contribute to the effort financially. Mosiashvili told a news conference that Georgia would welcome such assistance.
Markarian also suggested that Georgia consider allowing Armenia to open a consulate in Akhalkalaki so that Yerevan can “watch the implementation of the joint program more closely.” “I can not comment on this idea because it is beyond my area of responsibility,” Mosiashvili told reporters afterwards.