By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili will arrive in Yerevan on Friday on a two-day official visit which will touch on a broad range of bilateral issues, it was announced on Tuesday.
President Robert Kocharian’s office said Saakashvili will lead a large Georgian government delegation comprising the ministers of foreign affairs, energy and economic development as well as senior parliamentarians. There was no word on whether any Georgian-Armenian agreements will be signed as a result.
The trip will see Saakashvili’s first-ever face-to-face meeting with Kocharian. The 36-year-old popular leader, who was elected president in early January, is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II. A visit to the Tsitsernakabert genocide memorial in Yerevan is also part of his itinerary.
Economic issues are expected to dominate the talks, with the Armenian side likely to push for a reduction in what it sees as disproportionately high transit fees charged by Georgia on cargo shipments to and from Armenia. Saakashvili publicly promised to lower them last December. His ministers have been more ambivalent on the subject, however.
The two sides will also likely to discuss the geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus. Saakashvili’s dramatic rise to power as a result of last November’s “rose revolution” in Tbilisi could solidify growing U.S. presence in the volatile region and accelerate the closure of Russian military bases in Georgia.
Tigran Torosian, the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, said Yerevan expects the new regime in Tbilisi to maintain a “balanced policy” on Azerbaijan and Armenia. Torosian also welcomed Saakashvili’s recent calls for the creation of a regional single market, but said the realization of the idea is “unfortunately a long way off.”
The situation in Javakheti, the restive Armenian-majority region in southern Georgia, will be another plausible subject of the Georgian-Armenian summit. Saakashvili has vowed greater central government attention to the grave socioeconomic problems facing the Javakheti Armenians. He has recently appointed Tbilisi’s outgoing ambassador in Yerevan, Nikoloz Nikolozishvili, as governor of the bigger Samtskhe-Javakheti province.
In the words of Levon Mkrtchian, a leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Javakheti will become “a center of Armenian-Georgian friendship” if the Saakashvili administration ensures better protection of the local population’s “economic and cultural rights.” Mkrtchian stopped short of explicitly calling for an autonomous status for the area which was demanded last month by another Dashnaktsutyun leader, Hrant Markarian.
Markarian’s demands were rejected as “provocative” by Georgian State Minister Zurab Zhvania last week. Kocharian and Dashnaktsutyun’s coalition partners have also disavowed them. Torosian indicated on Tuesday that Javakheti’s status is Georgia’s internal affair.