Georgia: The Javakheti Region’s Integration Challenges
| International Crisis Group | 2011
The latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, analyses how since the height of tension in the small but sensitive area in 2006, Tbilisi has had some success in addressing grievances by applying a more constructive approach, helping to reduce Armenian and Russian nationalists’ ability to encourage extremism. Although Tbilisi has significantly invested in infrastructure and acquiesced to the use of the Armenian language in schools and public administration, however, Javakheti still faces serious problems.
The region counts 95,000 mainly Armenian speakers, and its cultural, economic and sometimes political reliance on Armenia could make it more vulnerable to outside interference. However, Yerevan has recently played a stabilising role in decreasing tensions there. Georgia has also been concerned about Moscow’s influence, especially since the region housed a Russian military base that was only closed in 2007. The 2008 war again increased Tbilisi’s fear that Russia could use the region to destabilise the country, though at present this seems highly unlikely.
Nevertheless, to avoid local economic or social grievances being perceived as ethnic discrimination, Tbilisi needs to provide the public with comprehensive information in Armenian on its policies and facilitate public discussions on the issues of integration, language and human rights. It should also provide long-term budgetary resources to promote educational projects, such as multilingual schools, and codify current language and education practices for the minority population in national legislation. Finally, it should work on creating an open and restriction-free environment for local business with a view to bringing the Javakheti economy to the national level.
The Armenian opposition, nationalist groups, and media should consistently acknowledge that Javakheti’s population are Georgian citizens and refrain from over-politicising sensitive issues. Sensationalist reporting and controversial political statements in Georgia and Armenia risk fomenting instability in Javakheti and souring relations between the two countries. International organisations and donors should continue to work with Tbilisi to further develop democratic institutions, judicial independence, rule of law and free media with a view to improving stability in Javakheti as in the rest of Georgia.