By Hrach Melkumian
Armenia welcomed on Thursday the unexpectedly quick and peaceful end of the Georgian government’s standoff with the rebellious leader of the autonomous republic of Ajaria who flew into exile amid popular protests against his longtime rule.
The Foreign Ministry in Yerevan issued a blanket endorsement of President Mikhail Saakashvili’s actions against Ajar strongman Aslan Abashidze which have restored Tbilisi’s control over the Black Sea region key to Armenia’s communication with the outside world.
Abashidze left the regional capital Batumi for Moscow in the early hours of the morning together with his family and Russian envoy Igor Ivanov who help to resolve the crisis.
“We are glad that the tense confrontation between Georgia’s central government and the Ajar autonomy has come to a largely peaceful and bloodless end,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian told RFE/RL. “This outcome is yet another important step towards establishing peace and stability in Georgia and therefore the entire South Caucasus.”
“In this regard we welcome the consistent and resolute policy of Georgia’s supreme leadership which has made possible the removal of this serious obstacle,” he added.
“I think it was the best solution,” agreed Armen Rustamian, chairman of the Armenian parliament’s foreign relations committee.
The standoff, resulting from Saakashvili’s rise to power following the November “rose revolution” in Tbilisi, reached its climax at the weekend when Abashidze ordered his security forces to blow up two bridges on the administrative border between Ajaria and the rest of Georgia. That disrupted commercial traffic through the Batumi port which processes most of the goods imported to and exported from Armenia.
Georgian officials said on Wednesday that the port, also used by Azerbaijan for its oil exports, was mined by Abashidze's supporters. They promised on Thursday to de-mine it within hours. A port source told Reuters news agency that it is working smoothly and expressed doubts it was ever mined.
The disruption forced the Armenian government and some private transport firms to reroute the vital supply line through Georgia’s second major Black Sea port in Poti, some 80 kilometers to the north. The end of the confrontation means that the situation should return to normal soon.
(Itar-Tass-Photolur photo: Ivanov, left, and Abashidze speaking to journalists before leaving Batumi.)