09TBILISI770, TWO VERY DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE SAME COIN –

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09TBILISI770 2009-04-22 11:31 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO5987
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0770/01 1121131
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 221131Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1418
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TBILISI 000770 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CARC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/22/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV EAID SCUL KIRF AM GG
SUBJECT: TWO VERY DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE SAME COIN - 
ARMENIANS IN GEORGIA AND ARMENIA 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  Ethnic Armenian Georgians living in 
Samtskhe-Javakheti (S-J) generally want their province to 
remain as part of Georgia, albeit with tacit recognition by 
Tbilisi of Armenian as a regional language.  For Ethnic 
Armenian Georgians (or Javakhsi), the grass is indeed not 
greener on the Armenian side.  Javakhsi see fewer 
opportunities for themselves in Armenia, because of graft and 
a poor economy.  Due to S-J's proximity to Armenia and the 
similarity of its rural conditions, Armenians see ethnic 
Armenian Georgians less as a Diaspora abroad and more as an 
ill-treated minority population in Georgia.  Conversely, 
ethnic Armenian Georgians say they are treated as the "poor 
country cousins" of Armenians, and even though they share a 
language and culture, Armenia does not grant them any special 
favors.  While the region is always a potential source of 
discord, a recent visit revealed that economic progress, 
although slow in coming, has begun to arrive.  While Russian 
and/or foreign Armenian-nationalist elements could easily 
dredge up discontent in the region, for the moment calm 
remains, with a cautious interest in the outcome of 
opposition protests in Tbilisi.  Millennium Challenge Georgia 
road projects will continue to improve the access of Georgian 
Armenians to markets throughout Georgia and in Turkey.  End 
Summary. 
 
2.  (C) On a March 25-27 trip to Samtskhe-Javakheti (S-J), 
Tbilisi DCM and Poloffs from Yerevan and Tbilisi met with the 
regional governor, local government officials and NGOs. 
Embassies Tbilisi and Yerevan worked together on this joint 
visit to S-J, in part due to increased attention in Armenia 
press, both in the country and among the international 
Armenian Diaspora which highlights the so-called "plight" of 
ethnic Armenian Georgians in S-J.  The impressions gathered 
by the joint visit suggest these claims are significantly 
exaggerated, but merit monitoring. 
 
SJ -- You are Always on My Mind 
 
3.  (C)  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many ethnic 
Armenian Georgians have routinely left S-J for work in Russia 
and send remittances to their families; as a result, many 
carry both Russian and Georgian passports, and now, a growing 
number now also have Armenian passports.  There are 
conflicting statistics on the number of ethnic Armenian 
Georgians living in S-J.  According to Armenian Relief 
Services, an Armenian Diaspora organization informally but 
closely tied to the Armenian-nationalist Dashnaksutyun 
organization, the S-J population ranges from 140,000 to 
220,000.  Georgian 2002 census figures estimates fewer than 
140,000.  The actual figures may be less, as unknown numbers 
work abroad and have not returned, or do so only 
sporadically.  Ethnic Armenian Georgians reside mainly in the 
towns of Akhalkalaki, Akhaltsikhe, Tsalka and Ninotsminda. 
 
If I Could Dream (It would be in Armenian) 
 
4.  (C)  According to interlocutors in Yerevan and S-J 
residents themselves, the most pressing issue is S-J locals' 
inability to integrate fully into Georgia due to poor 
Georgian language skills.  S-J native and Armenian MP Mayk 
Sanosian in Yerevan blames this inequity on poor educational 
facilities in S-J.  He claims that Armenian Georgians are 
treated like "second-class citizens and are disadvantaged." 
The Georgian Ministry of Education over the last two years 
has begun to translate all Georgian textbooks into minority 
languages (Russian, Armenian, and Azeri).  Results of the 
Qlanguages (Russian, Armenian, and Azeri).  Results of the 
efforts are mixed.  Representatives from the NGO Center for 
Citizen Development in Akhalkalaki (S-J) told Poloffs that 
the GOG textbooks were poorly translated and are filled with 
typos and grammatical mistakes.  On March 25, 
Samtskhe-Javakheti Governor Lasha Chkadua said he is working 
with the Minister of Education and Tbilisi State University 
in Akhaltsikhe to increase outreach to the ethnic Armenian 
Georgian population, including opening a new faculty 
targeting this population.  The GOAM Diaspora Ministry 
proposed to build and fund a joint Armenian-Georgian Common 
University in Akhalkalaki, but Yerevan officials say the GoG 
appears not to be interested and discussions have stalled. 
 
5. (C) An additional challenge with recognizing Armenian as 
the local language:  not all S-J residents read and speak 
Armenian with proficiency.  In fact, some in local leadership 
roles have attended Russian language schools and prefer to 
speak Russian.  Nairi Iritisan, Akhalkalaki's local 
government representative (Gamgebeli), an ethnic Armenian, is 
an example of this phenomena.  He admitted sheepishly that 
his Armenian is not very good and prefers to conduct meetings 
in Russian.  He lamented the poor quality of Georgian 
 
TBILISI 00000770  002 OF 004 
 &#
x000A; 
teachers sent to teach in the region, noting that ironically, 
these teachers often leave speaking better Armenian, while 
the locals still do not master Georgian.  This example may 
point to an underlying issue:  the lack of desire to learn 
Georgian, based partly on a lack of information about what 
Georgian language skills might mean to individuals who take 
the time and effort to learn the language.  Several contacts 
mentioned the successful work of the Zurab Zhvania 
Institute's work with training young people in Georgian 
language, but noted that few of these individuals were able 
to find jobs after completing their work at the Institute. 
 
Kissin' Cousins, Well, Maybe Not 
 
6. (C) The consensus among Akhalkalaki NGOs was that Georgia 
should recognize Armenian as a regional language.  This rings 
loudest from NGOs that push a pro-Armenian agenda, notably 
Javakh Intelligentsia and I-Info, associated with the VIRK 
and Dashnak political parties respectively.  The Javakh 
Intelligentsia chairman's office is co-located with the VIRK 
political party in Akhalkalaki.  During a March 26 meeting, 
the Chairman, David Rastakian harangued the group on the 
plight of the region for 50 minutes, suggesting repeatedly 
that the solution was for the GoG to recognize Armenian as 
the regional language.  Atak Gabrelian, head of the I-Info 
NGO, echoed the same opinion -- in Armenian.  When asked 
whether it was more important for Tbilisi to recognize 
Armenian as a regional language or to ensure that ethnic 
Armenian Georgians are aware of their rights, Gabrelian 
answered without hesitation "recognition of the Armenian 
language's status."  According to Kostya Vartanian, the 
manager of the regional Armenian language television station 
Parvana, the insistence on Armenian language does not 
indicate that Javakhsi yearn to be part of Armenia: "Georgian 
Armenians want jobs and their language, but do not want to 
leave." 
It's a Long, Lonely Highway 
 
7.  (C) Armenian MP and Armenian Revolutionary Federation 
(Dashnak) S-J Bureau Chief Bagrat Sargsian (resident in 
Yerevan) pointed out that the health care conditions in S-J 
are of significant concern to ethnic Armenian Georgians.  He 
told Poloff the story of pregnant ethnic Armenian Georgians 
who prefer to travel long distances on nearly non-existent 
roads to cross the border into Armenia to give birth at the 
Catholic-built Ghakasian hospital (20 KM into Armenia) than 
give birth in Georgian hospitals.  On March 26, Poloffs asked 
Akhalkalaki Gamgebeli Iritsian about the quality of local 
Georgian hospitals.  His quick retort was to ask, "And do you 
think the medical care in Armenian villages is any better?" 
Irtisian said the fact of the matter is that ethnic Armenian 
Georgians may travel to Ghakasian hospital because it is 
closer than Tbilisi and many have relatives in Yerevan with 
whom they may stay if the period of care is prolonged.  He 
underlined that the Armenians do not curry any favors for 
their S-J brethren.  Ethnic Armenian Georgians are charged 
the "foreigner rates" for care, and S-J students studying in 
Yerevan are charged the doble rate. 
 
Money, Honey 
 
8.  (C)  Many residents in S-J receive remittances from 
abroad, but the amounts received are usually just enough to 
make ends meet.  Many living in Akhalkalaki worked previously 
at the now-closed Russian military base, and its closure has 
made finding work difficult.  Arnold Stepanian of Public 
Movement Multinational Georgia, told Poloff that the closure 
of the base significantly lessened Russian agitation in the 
Qof the base significantly lessened Russian agitation in the 
region.  In his opinion, the closure underscored how vital 
Georgian language is to their integration.  Stepanian went on 
to say their are fewer radical groups now in S-J, or as in 
the case of VIRK, certainly less influential.  Vartanian said 
about the base closure, "Russia does what it can to bring 
turmoil here.  Since they left, we see this now, and realize 
not everything they said was true."  Vartanian told Poloff 
that an S-J native and Armenian MP had opened a sewing 
factory in Ninotsminda, employing 200 people.  Poloffs were 
puzzled why more locals did not mention this, since 
unemployment is such a chronic problem.  The reason became 
evident later when a member of the NGO Center for Citizen 
Development told Poloff that many locals were unhappy because 
the factory only seems to employ members of the MP's family 
and inner circle.  There were also rumors some factory 
workers had not been paid for more than six months. 
 
9.  (C)  In previous visits, Poloff had heard complaints 
about the lack of jobs for local residents associated with 
Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) road projects. 
Iritsian said that the local residents understand now that 
their expectations of getting work with MCC were inflated. 
 
TBILISI 00000770  003.2 OF 004 
 
 
DCM reiterated that the MCC contract does not specify that 
road construction companies carrying out MCC projects are 
required to hire local residents; however, MCC has encouraged 
contractors to do if possible.  Iritisian said he understood, 
but had been told that the companies will seek to hire 
seventy per cent of their work force from the local 
population for the next round of construction. 
 
Treat Me Nice 
 
10.  (C)  Yerevan MP Tachat Vardapetian told poloffs recently 
that ethnic Armenian Georgians are increasingly concerned 
about growing Georgian insensitivity toward Armenian culture. 
 Chief amongst these complaints has been allegations that 
Georgian Orthodox church representatives have commandeered 
several Armenian churches.  These seizures, Vardapetian said, 
had greatly contributed to increased tensions and 
frustrations in the region, which he said, if continued, 
could eventually lead to violent conflict.  On March 26, 
Father Babgen Salbian, pastor at the Armenian Apostolic 
Church in Akhalkalaki mentioned two disputed churches, Surp 
Neshan (St Mark's) in Akhaltsikhe and Kumurdo in Akhalkalaki, 
lamenting their disrepair and the enmity over the resolution 
of their ownership.  "We are Christians," he said, "Why do we 
have fight like this and behave so poorly to one another? 
 
11.  (C)  Salbian told Emboffs that he had experienced 
Georgian bureaucratic indifference several years ago, trying 
to get assistance from Armenians in the U.S. to the region. 
First, donated clothing and other items were detained at Poti 
port since the materials were not consigned to any particular 
charitable organization.  Once the paperwork was completed, 
the GoG demanded several thousand dollars to release the 
shipment.  There was a months-long delay, and when the 
assistance finally arrived, the shipping containers were 
pillaged and empty.  DCM offered Salbian U.S. Embassy 
assistance should future shipments arrive and he need help. 
To demonstrate the Armenian Apostolic Church's (AAC) goodwill 
towards the Georgian Orthodox Ch
urch (GOC), Salbian said that 
the AAC collected toys for children and donated some of these 
toys to GOC to distribute further to Georgian children.  He 
said ruefully that it would be nice if the GOG congratulated 
AAC on church holidays in the way that it does for the 
Georgian Orthodox Church.  (Comment:  President Saakashvili 
extends official greetings to the Patriarch on GOC religious 
holidays.  Saakashvili had his second Presidential naugural 
at the David the Builder Church in Kutaisi.  End Comment.) 
 
12.  (C) Embassy Yerevan reports that Armenian MPs believe 
the GoG deliberately keeps the region impoverished.  However, 
statistical and anecdotal evidence does not support this 
allegation.  A review of the Georgian budget that compares 
funding for each municipality in S-J indicates no bias in 
budget allocations.  A U.S. Resident Budget Adviser who works 
in the Ministry of Finance pointed out that two of the 
cities, Akhalkalaki and Akhaltsikhe, seem to have received 
allocations higher than other comparable cities.  Iritisian 
noted many improvements in the region, pointing them out 
during an informal walk on March 26.  He said that in 2008 
the local budget received approximately 1 million GEL in 
foreign assistance, and in 2009 he predicted it would be 9 
million GEL.  He highlighted the long-awaited arrival of 
natural gas to the region.  Lack of heat in winter has been a 
chronic problem, but now bright yellow gas lines could be 
Qchronic problem, but now bright yellow gas lines could be 
seen which run above ground in the city.  Iritisian said more 
than 150 homes have already been hooked up to the gas system. 
 
13.  (C) S-J residents now have access to Georgian news, 
internet, and help in accessing Georgian government 
structures to resolve social issues.  In this perennially 
cold and isolated region, news had previously been limited to 
broadcasts from Russia and Armenia.  The GoG has recently 
begun to fund the regional television station Parvana in 
Ninotsminda to translate the nightly Georgian news into 
Russian for local consumption.  During a visit to his studio, 
the stations' director Vartanian said that he will also do 
local programming to be distributed throughout Georgia via 
affiliates.  Vartanian now works on the internet in his 
office, thanks to a Kazakhstani provider operating in the 
region.  To help locals plug into Georgian government 
structures, foreign donors have funded an Ombudsman 
representative to work in Akhalkalaki.  The newly appointed 
representative, Seda Melkumenian, is a staunch defender of 
human rights, and realizes the importance of the region's 
integration.  She stresses that students need to see their 
future in Georgia and the role Georgian language plays in 
this. 
 
Suspicious Minds 
 
 
TBILISI 00000770  004 OF 004 
 
 
14. (C)  Vardapetian and Sanosian, both resident in Yerevan, 
said there are suspicions, which have intensified since 
August 2008, that ethnic Armenian Georgians collaborated or 
at least sympathized with Russia's decision to undertake 
military action against Georgia in August 2008.  Both claimed 
that the way GoG governs S-J via the Ministry of Internal 
Affairs does not engender good relations between ethnic 
Armenian Georgians and Tbilisi.  Ethnic Armenian Georgians in 
S-J have Russian passports in order to work in Russia. 
Vardapetian said, "They want to be loyal Georgian citizens, 
but (because of their Russian passports) their government 
often treats them as potential revolutionaries."  According 
to Embassy Yerevan interlocutors, Georgian suspicions soared 
in January when two Georgian Armenians were charged with 
sedition and spying.  Armenians with whom Yerevan Poloff 
spoke are adamant that these charges are false.  "They are 
looking to make Armenians a scapegoat for what happened in 
August."  Sanosian contends that ethnic Armenian Georgians 
want nothing more than to be integrated into the fabric of 
Georgian society. 
 
15.  (C)  On March 25, Gia Andguladze, from the NGO Meskhi 
Democrats in Akhaltsikhe, said that the proceedings were 
still on-going in the above case and preferred not to comment 
-- a reticence unusual among NGOs.  Arnold Stepanian told 
Emboff that Meskhi Democrats have strong links to Georgian 
Minister of Internal Affairs, Vano Merabishvili.  Stepanian 
said that Merabishvili, who is from Akhaltsikhe,  worked 
previously for the same NGO and still uses these links to 
monitor and influence S-J activity.  According to Stepanian, 
the NGO reins in radical elements, redirecting them into 
President Saakashvili's United National Movement's (UNM) 
fold.  Iritisian, former VIRK activist and UNM convert, now 
Akhalkalaki Gamgebeli, is an excellent example of this 
transformation. 
 
16.  (C)  Other NGOs said nothing or were more muted about 
the espionage case, including Javakh Intelligentsia and 
I-Info.  In a meeting on March 26, Ombudsman's representative 
Melkumenian commented about the case, "When you are an NGO 
you should know where your funding is coming from."  Poloff 
asked about the on-going case of Vahagn Chakhalian, an ethnic 
Armenian from Akhalkalaki.  Official Georgian reports 
attribute Chakhalian's arrest to stockpiling weapons and 
forceful entry into a municipal building, with intent to 
overthrow the local government.  Stepanian opined that the 
GoG charges were inaccurate, but said that Chakhalian was 
"not clean either."  Stepanian attributed Chakhalian's arrest 
to running afoul of a powerful Armenian oligarch in Moscow, 
with ties to the Akhalkalaki police chief.  Melkumenian said 
that Chakhalian was arrested for forcing his way into the 
government building after the last local elections and 
vociferously denouncing the results as false.  Melkumenian 
said that Chakhalian has a strong following, and elements of 
the Javakh Union are observing the on-going court case 
closely.  She had just returned from observing the trial in 
Akhaltsikhe, but was tight-lipped on further details. 
 
Comment: 
 
17.  (C)  Conversations with Armenian MPs in Yerevan and 
civic leaders in Akhalkalaki, Akhaltsikhe and Ninotsminda 
underscore their similarities, but also highlight the stark 
contrast; while all are ethnic Armenians, they do not speak 
with one voice.  Ethnic Armenian Georgians who reside in 
Tbilisi and Akhaltsikhe tend to speak Georgian quite well -- 
QTbilisi and Akhaltsikhe tend to speak Georgian quite well -- 
they must for practical reasons.  For those further out in 
Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, where the majority of the 
populations is ethnically Armenian, they see less of a need 
to learn Georgian.  It is clear that ethnic Armenian 
Georgians want to integrate, but are insistent that it be on 
their own terms.  As Metropolitan Nicolas Pachuashvili, 
Archbishop of Akhalkalaki told Emboff, "They must have a 
reason to want to learn Georgian."  As the region enjoys the 
benefits of USG assistance in the coming years, particularly 
through the Millennium Cha
llenge Corporation, the area should 
open to greater social integration and greater opportunities 
for economic development.  These opportunities should provide 
fertile ground for the advancement of the Georgian language 
throughout this Armenian-speaking population. 
 
18.  (U) US Embassy Yerevan reviewed and provided comments 
for this cable.  Embassy Yerevan provided all Yerevan-sourced 
information. 
TEFFT

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