By Emil Danielyan
Paruyr Hayrikian, a prominent Soviet-era Armenian dissident, has written to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to express his delight at the ongoing withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia, describing it as a “historic achievement.”
In a letter made public at the weekend, Hayrikian said the troop withdrawal, due to complete by the end of 2008, will “liberate the Georgian people from one of the last pillars of Russian imperialism and turn Georgia into an outpost of dignified and human way of life in the region.”
The process is proceeding in accordance with a Russian-Georgian agreement ratified recently by Georgia’s parliament. The Russian government has reaffirmed its pledge to honor the time frame for the closure of its two military bases located on Georgian territory. Some of their military hardware has already been transferred to Russian troops stationed in Armenia.
“The withdrawal of the Russian bases and especially the uncovering of a [Russian] spy network is a historic achievement comparable to the declaration of Georgia’s independence,” wrote the ex-dissident who had spent 17 years in Soviet labor camps for campaigning for Armenia’s independence. He was apparently referring to the recent arrest of a member of Saakasvhili’s staff who has reportedly pleaded guilty to accusations that he spied for a foreign country, presumably Russia.
Hayrikian, who was a major actor on the Armenian political scene during the 1990s, also said he believes that Russian intelligence services are behind periodical tensions erupting in Georgia’s Armenian-populated Javakheti region. Russia has always acted like a “conqueror” in the South Caucasus but now resembles a “dying dragon,” he charged.
Incidentally, one of the two Russian military bases slated for closure is stationed in the local town of Akhalkalaki and has long served as the impoverished area’s number one employer. Hence, the local population’s strong opposition to its closure. Many Javakheti Armenians also accuse the government in Tbilisi of neglecting the region’s grave socioeconomic problems because of its ethnic composition.
Hayrikian’s description of Russia also hardly reflects the dominant public mood in Armenia whose government will continue to rely on Russian military presence in the foreseeable future. However, the traditionally strong pro-Russian sentiment in the country is believed to have weakened considerably in the last few years due to Moscow’s perceived hard bargain in its economic dealings with Yerevan. President Robert Kocharian acknowledged this fact through a spokesman last January.
A growing number of Armenian mainstream politicians, mainly affiliated with opposition parties, now question the future of their country’s military alliance with Russia and advocate its eventual accession to NATO. Hayrikian’s views on the Russian state are therefore no longer extreme by Armenian standards.
(Photolur photo: Paruyr Hayrikian.)