By Shake Avoyan and Karine Kalantarian
A Georgian diplomat has called for relief in ethnic tensions in the country’s multiethnic district where a brawl between groups of Georgian and Armenian youths earlier this month left one local Armenian dead and two others injured.
In an RFE/RL interview on Monday Ambassador Revaz Gachechiladze expressed the opinion that the dissatisfaction of the Armenian population in Javakhk and the recent incidents involving Armenians in other parts of Georgia are not the result of ethnic contradictions. The diplomat described the murder of the ethnic Armenian in Tsalka as hooliganism. “The brawl broke out between the Svans and Armenians on pure domestic grounds. It is not a purposeful ethnic policy,” the ambassador said, expressing confidence that those guilty and responsible for the murder will be punished in all strictness of the law. “Georgia is a multiethnic state and sometimes criminals and victims are representatives of different nationalities. One should not seek ethnic grounds in such murders. Otherwise, we will always have conflicts.”
Several days ago the Svan and Ajarian authorities of Georgia’s Tsalka district issued statements regretting the incident and offering apologies to the families of the victims.
Gevorg Gevorkian, 23, was killed in a fight that broke out on March 9 between Armenian and Georgian youths. His two friends, also ethnic Armenians, sustained severe injuries and were hospitalized.
Georgian police reported that three suspects had been detained and that the reason for the fight had yet to be officially determined. Meanwhile, witnesses claimed the number of assailants was some 15.
Rumor spread that the fight was the result of an ethnically motivated confrontation, but Georgian authorities promptly denied any ethnic motives behind the crime.
The funeral of Gevorkian reportedly drew some 3,000 Armenians, including interior ministry officials from Armenia and some 500 people from the Armenian-populated Georgian provinces of Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda.
Last week the residents of Georgian origin of the Tsalka district of Samtskhe-Javakheti region staged a rally and called the Armenian population to peaceful coexistence.
Slavik Kuchikian, a physician treating the two wounded Armenians, told RFE/RL on Monday that the young men felt normal and that there lives were out of danger.
Commenting on the situation in the area, he said that it had calmed down and returned to normal.
“After the incident the Svans staged a demonstration declaring that they wanted to live in peace with Armenians in Tsalka. Everything is normal now,” Kuchikian said.
The young people in Armenian-populated Akhalkalaki who talked to RFE/RL’s reporter rejected interethnic motives that could lead to the tragic incident in Tsalka.
“We do have quarrels with Georgians here, but we never fight over ethnicity. If, for example, someone hits your car from behind, you naturally start quarrelling with him no matter whether he is a Georgian or an Armenian,” one young Armenian from Akhalkalaki told RFE/RL.
Meanwhile, some locals still fear that the continuing reshape of the ethnic components of the province in favor of other peoples may fuel ethnic tensions and even result in interethnic clashes in the future.
“They do no register Armenians who want to settle down here, but they readily register Svans and Ajarians,” one resident complained.