By Hrach Melkumian
The new governor of Georgia’s southern Javakheti region asked Armenia’s government on Friday to resume power supplies to the impoverished Armenian-populated area during talks in Yerevan apparently connected to the upcoming Georgian parliamentary elections.
Gela Kvaratskhelia, who represents President Eduard Shevardnadze in the larger Samtskhe-Javakheti province, told President Robert Kocharian that he reached agreement with Armenian energy officials on restoring the deliveries through a direct transmission line built by Armenia in 2001. No further details were reported by Kocharian’s office, and the Georgian official was not available for comment.
Kvaratskhelia was accompanied by the ethnic Armenian prefects of Javakheti’s Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda districts as well as a member of the Georgian parliament elected from a local constituency, Henzel Mkoyan. According to them, the local population currently gets less than three hours of electricity a day.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told journalists earlier in the day that his government is ready to ease severe power shortages in the region that reflect the persisting energy crisis in Georgia. “The existing situation is very dangerous,” he said. “There will be parliamentary elections in Georgia on November 2 and all political forces would like to exploit the absence of electricity to the detriment of our co-ethnics. The Armenian government is therefore interested in quickly providing electricity to corresponding areas.”
But Markarian made it clear that the Georgian side must first settle more than $4 million in outstanding debts for past Armenian supplies. About $200,000 of that is owed by the Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda grids that received power directly from the adjacent Shirak region in northwestern Armenia until last year.
Kvaratskhelia, who was appointed Samtskhe-Javakheti governor last August, told Markarian that the Georgian government is trying to repay the debts “as soon as possible.”
Mkoyan claimed that most local consumers paid their fees on time and that their money, collected by the Georgian power distribution network, “got lost in Tbilisi.” “People are ready to pay up,” he told RFE/RL. “So we want to finally sort out this problem to again get electricity through that line.”
Armenian power supplies to Tbilisi and other parts of Georgia were suspended last March, but are likely to resume soon. Russia’s Unified Energy Systems (UES) power monopoly acquired recently the power distribution network of the Georgian capital and went on to take over Armenia’s nuclear power station and largest thermal power plant. The UES vice-chairman, Andrei Rapoport, announced on September 18 that Armenia’s electricity surplus will be exported to Georgia and possibly Turkey.
The Javakheti officials also discussed in Yerevan other economic issues such as the reconstruction of a regional highway running to the Armenian border. Markarian said the two countries should step up implementation of joint economic projects in the region crippled by huge unemployment and a poor infrastructure. He said official Yerevan remains committed to funding those projects.
Kvaratskhelia’s visit may be part of the Shevardnadze administration’s efforts to win the Javakheti Armenians’ support for its loyal election candidates. Some local groups have for years campaigned for greater autonomy from Tbilisi, accusing the central government of neglecting the region’s grave problems.
One of them, a party called Virk, is denied registration by the Georgian authorities and is therefore unable to contest the November 2 polls. Speaking to RFE/RL from Akhalkalaki on Friday, Virk’s leader, David Restakian, said the failure to legalize his party testifies to a chronic violation of civil rights of Georgia’s Armenian minority.
Lawmaker Mkoyan, however, disagreed, insisting that the Georgian government does not restrict political participation of the local population.