By Hovannes Shoghikian
An Armenian nationalist activist from Georgia’s restive Javakheti region was on Tuesday careful not to attack Armenia’s government for prosecuting and keeping him under arrest for two weeks on what his supporters see as politically motivated charges.
Vahagn Chakhalian, a leader of the United Javakhk organization campaigning for the Armenian-populated region’s greater autonomy, was taken to custody and later charged with illegally entering Armenia on October 11 just hours after being assaulted by a large group of unknown men. Chakhalian, his parents, brother and another United Javakhk activist, were reportedly stopped and beaten up by the assailants as they arrived in Yerevan in a car.
The violence and the ensuing arrest have been strongly condemned by United Javakhk and 16 members of Armenia’s parliament. In a joint October 19 statement, the mostly opposition lawmakers accused the authorities in Yerevan of trying to please the Georgian government which has been accused by United Javakhk of rigging local elections held in Javakheti earlier this month.
A Yerevan court released Chakhalian from custody on Monday with the consent of prosecutors investigating the case. Although the controversial accusations leveled against the 24-year-old activist have not been dropped, his lawyers hope that he will avoid trial.
Chakhalian on Thursday rejected the accusations as “slander” but refused to comment on details of the case, saying the investigation is not yet over. He also avoided any criticism of the Armenian government, while indicating that the latter is failing to live up to the Javakheti Armenians’ “expectations.” “The Armenian authorities are doing what they think is right,” he told a news conference.
Official Yerevan has long been striving to get Armenian nationalist groups in Javakheti to show restraint in demanding a status of autonomy for the impoverished region that borders Armenia and Turkey. One of those groups, Virk, teamed up with Georgia’s governing National Movement Party to contest the October 5 elections.
Official results of the vote, which showed the party sweeping to a landslide victory in Javakheti and Georgia as a whole, were rejected as fraudulent by United Javakhk. The latter rallied hundreds of supporters in the regional town of Akhalkalaki. The demonstration turned violent, with the protesters seizing the local government building before being dispersed by police.
(Photolur photo: Vahagn Chakhalian.)