By Armen Zakarian
The governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) demanded on Friday greater autonomy for Georgia’s Armenian-populated Javakheti region and effectively reaffirmed its territorial claims to Turkey, in a move contradicting official Yerevan’s foreign policy.
Opening a congress of the pan-Armenian nationalist party, one of the top leaders of Dashnaktsutyun compared Javakheti to a “gunpowder barrel” which he said might explode at any moment unless the Georgian government grants it the status of an autonomous region.
“This reality must be understood by those who are concerned about the future of Georgia and the region. [The region] may explode by itself,” Hrant Markarian told about a hundred party faithful that converged on Yerevan from various parts of Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora.
“We want a strong, stable and autonomous Javakheti that is part of Georgia and enjoys state care,” he said.
Markarian went on describe the local Armenians as “victims of the policy of ethnic discrimination pursued by successive Georgian governments.” He said they are unable to fight for their rights more forcefully because of “the Republic of Armenia’s vulnerability on the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) issue” -- an apparent reference to the fact that Georgia is landlocked Armenia’s main conduit to the outside world.
Official Tbilisi recognizes the gravity of the socioeconomic plight of Javakheti Armenians, but is strongly against granting it a special status, having already lost control over the autonomous republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia’s new President Mikhail Saakashvili has accused his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze of neglecting the impoverished region’s needs and pledged to pay greater attention to them.
Armenia’s leadership has also put the emphasis on economic improvements, saying that it is key to easing ethnic tensions in the volatile area that hosts a Russian military base. The administration of President Robert Kocharian is unlikely to change tack even though the Dashnaks have been among his most loyal allies and are currently represented in his coalition cabinet.
Nor is Kocharian likely to subscribe to Markarian’s call for the eventual creation of a “united Armenia” which Dashnaktsutyun believes must encompass lands in the east of modern-day Turkey that were cleansed of their indigenous Armenian population in the 1915 genocide.
“We are against any relations between Armenia and Turkey that would mean acceptance of any preconditions by us, that would require us to give up our rights or any part of them,” the Dashnaktsutyun leader said, drawing rapturous applause. “We will keep up pressure on Turkey until we achieve full victory, until international recognition of the fact of genocide, until the creation of a United Armenia.”
Markarian also launched an apparent attack on Dashnaktsutyun’s coalition allies. He appeared to refer to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party and parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party when he charged that powerful government-connected forces used vote bribes and demagoguery to win last years’ disputed parliamentary elections.. Both men were present at the opening of the Dashnaktsutyun congress along with other senior government officials and representatives of the Armenian opposition. They left the conference hall immediately after Hrant Markarian’s speech, avoiding contact with journalists.
While admitting that Dashnaktsutyun owes its presence in government to Kocharian, Markarian attacked the Armenian president for having “tolerated the triumph of corruption and injustice.” He said Kocharian has lacked the resolve to boost the rule of law and rein in unspecified “oligarchs and other apolitical elements” that hold back the country’s economic development.