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Georgian Leader Defends Javakheti Record


Armenia -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (R) ends a two-day visit to Yerevan on June 25, 2009.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili insisted that his government is doing its best to address the long-standing grievances of the predominantly Armenian population of Georgia’s Javakheti region as he ended an official visit to Yerevan on Thursday.

“No region of Georgia has received as much investment as Javakheti has in recent years,” Saakashvili said at a meeting with students and the faculty of Yerevan State University (YSU).

In particular, he said, the Tbilisi government has been rebuilding the impoverished region’s roads and gas distribution network and is starting the construction of a power plant there that will create jobs for local residents. He said the Javakheti Armenians will also benefit from the ongoing construction of a railway that will connect Georgia and Azerbaijan to Turkey.

Armenia -- The presidents of Armenia and Georgia go into talks in Yerevan on June 24, 2009.
Saakashvili’s Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sarkisian praised the Georgian government’s stated efforts to ease socioeconomic hardship in Javakheti at a joint news conference held by the two leaders on Wednesday. Sarkisian reiterated his satisfaction at a dinner hosted in Saakashvili’s honor the next day. “I want to thank the Georgian government for its constant attention to the problems and expectations of our compatriots,” he said.

Nevertheless, many Javakheti Armenians still feel neglected by the central government. Local Armenian groups and their backers in Yerevan continue to accuse Tbilisi of deliberately trying to change Javakheti’s ethnic composition and to demand greater autonomy for the region bordering Armenia and Turkey.

Earlier on Thursday, police used forced to disperse several dozen people, among them Javakheti Armenians and members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation party, who staged a protest outside a Yerevan hotel in which Saakashvili stayed during the two-visit. The police also stopped another small group of protesters from approaching the hotel shortly afterwards.

Speaking at YSU, Saakashvili defended Georgian immigration authorities’ refusal to allow an Armenian pro-government parliamentarian highly critical of his administration’s Javakheti policies to enter the country. The Javakheti-born politician, Shirak Torosian, was turned away from the Georgian border on June 19 as he traveled to Tbilisi to attend roundtable discussion on Javakheti organized by the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

“I want to point out that neither Armenians nor anyone in Georgia is interested in supporting those politicians whose actions are aimed at undermining the friendly relationship between the two nations,” Saakashvili said before being granted an honorary doctor’s degree by the YSU rector. “It’s better to prevent that from happening.”
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