09TBILISI1100, GEORGIA: ARMENIAN BISHOP DISCUSSES CHALLENGES FOR

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1100 2009-06-16 12:00 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO0592
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1100/01 1671200
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161200Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1738
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001100 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/16/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KIRF AM GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: ARMENIAN BISHOP DISCUSSES CHALLENGES FOR 
ETHNIC ARMENIANS 
 
REF: A. YEREVAN 0314 
     B. TBILISI 0770 
     C. TBILISI 0538 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
(C)  Summary:  The Ambassador met with Bishop Vazgen 
Mirzakhanian, Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church 
Diocese in Georgia (AAC) May 20, as a follow-up to his 
meeting on regional issues with Shavarsh Kocharian, Deputy 
Foreign Minster of Armenia, and His Holiness Karekin II, the 
head of the Catholicos of All Armenians, in Yerevan with 
Ambassador Yovanovich (Ref A).  Bishop Mirzakhanian cited the 
Millennium Challenge Corporation road improvements, and the 
GoG increase in budgetary support to the Samtskhe-Javakheti 
region as major positive step for his community.  The Bishop 
highlighted three major unresolved issues of importance to 
ethnic Armenian Georgians: the ability to use Armenian as an 
official language at local levels, educational opportunities 
for ethnic Armenians, and the return of disputed church 
properties.  We will raise these issue with Minister for 
Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili, who is the government point 
person on these issues. End Summary. 
 
Language Barriers 
 
2.  (C)  The number one concern of ethnic Armenians in 
Samtskhe-Javkheti remains recognition of Armenian as a 
regional language (Ref B).  Mirzakhanian said that if even 
"unofficial" recognition of the Armenian language would be 
helpful.  He noted that in practice all local business is 
conducted in Armenian, however, local residents who can not 
speak Georgian are at an extreme disadvantage and are unable 
to use government structures, such as courts to carry out 
legal proceedings.  Mirzakhanian said that even if Armenian 
was not granted the status of an official language, then 
simultaneous translation in Armenian should be provided as a 
basic accommodation during court and other official 
administrative proceedings. 
 
Education Challenges 
 
3.  (C) Mirzakhanian said that education in the region 
remained at a basic level which did not yield economic growth 
or support the integration of ethnic Armenian citizens in 
wider Georgian culture.  He proposed a joint 
Armenian-Georgian University in Akhalkalaki which would raise 
Georgian language skills in the region and provide advanced 
education to help ethnic Armenians be more competitive for 
mid and upper level jobs in the Georgian economy.  Currently, 
200 students every year leave the region for education in 
Armenia, and do not return.  The Georgian Ministry of 
Education has expressed a willingness to dedicate resources 
to a bilingual educational program (as does the Government of 
Armenia), but after three years there has not been tangible 
progress on this issue.  As a result, ethnic Armenians are 
sending their children abroad to Armenian or Russian language 
institutes of higher education.  The lack of local higher 
education institutions limits the intellectual community in 
the region largely to teachers of elementary schools. 
 
Return of Armenian Churches 
 
4.  (C) Mirzakhanian said that unless the law is changed to 
permit formal recognition of religious faiths (ref C)  other 
than the Georgian Orthodox Church, he expected that there 
would be little progress on the return of historical churches 
to their original pre-Soviet congregations.  Although 
Mirzakhanian had expected the law to have been amended in 
March allowing the AAC, Roman Catholics, Jews, and Muslims to 
register as official religions,  the law has not yet been 
amended.  Despite earlier indications to the AAC that Temur 
Yakobashvili, Minister of Reintegration, was working an 
QYakobashvili, Minister of Reintegration, was working an 
amendment to the civil law, Mirzakhanian said that he has 
checked with Parliamentary officials who have confirmed that 
they had no new drafts law pending on the issue, nor were 
aware of any proposed changes to the current law.  The 
Ambassador undertook to raise this issue with Yakobashvili 
during their next meeting.  By Mirzakhanian,s count, seven 
churches in Tbilisi are Armenian in origin, as well as 300 
others throughout Georgia.  The Ambassador mentioned that the 
GOC has said that it had a claim to a number of GOC origin 
churches located in Armenia.  Mirzakhanian said that GOC 
officials have never officially lodged a complaint nor 
supplied a list of any disputed GOC churches in Armenia with 
the AAC.  He said provisions of Armenian law existed which 
address competing claims on churches.  Mirzakhanian said 
conversely, the AAC has provided the GOC with such 
information and made formal requests through appropriate 
channels. 
 
Current Satus of Legislation 
 
TBILISI 00001100  002 OF 002 
 
 
 
5.  (C)  Comment:  In many areas, notably in infrastructure 
development, the GOG has shown a willingness to engage a 
previously largely-ignored Armenian minority.  Nonetheless, 
the refusal to legally recognize faiths other than the GOC
 
has long been a contentious issue.  The Ministry for 
Reintegration prepared to present a new proposal to the 
cabinet in early April to resolve the issues of recognition 
of other religions formally as Entities of Public Law. 
However the deputy State Minister for Reintegration was 
advised not to present the proposal to the cabinet without 
consultation with the Patriarchy.  Upon consultation, the 
Patriarchy advised that with protests taking place, times 
were too tense and the proposal should wait. We will continue 
to encourage all sides to work towards an equitable and 
mutually acceptable solution. 
TEFFT

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