Meeting in Tbilisi on November 20-21, President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia and Robert Kocharian of Armenia agreed on the need to maintain stability in the Armenian-inhabited Javakhetia region of Georgia. Land-locked Armenia is interested in obtaining commercial outlets to Georgia’s Black Sea ports, the road to which passes through Javakhetia. Although the presidents did not go ahead with a joint visit to the region this time, they agreed to do so in the first half of next year. Part of the region’s ethnic Armenian leadership and population calls for a special status of autonomy within Georgia.
While in effect blessing Tbilisi’s policy toward Javakhetia, Kocharian warned against the destabilizing consequences of repatriating Meskhetin Turks to that region. Shevardnadze nevertheless reaffirmed his intention to secure an incremental repatriation over time. Deported in 1944 from Javakhetia, Meskhetin Turks seek to return to their homes. However, local Armenians–many of whom were settled by the Soviet authorities in former Meskhetin Turk villages–strongly oppose such repatriation, as do Georgian nationalist circles. A repatriation program signed by Shevardnadze has remained largely on paper.
Kocharian declared Armenia’s strong interest in a resolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict in order to make possible the reopening of the railroad that connects Russia with Armenia via Georgia. The railroad’s Abkhaz stretch was severely damaged during the fighting in that region, causing Armenian-Russian trade to plummet.
Citing Georgia’s good relations with both Azerbaijan and Armenia, Shevardnadze offered good offices in “normalizing” those two countries’ relations and promoting a settlement of the Karabakh conflict. The Georgian president made clear that such good offices would not amount to “mediation” and would not substitute the OSCE group’s efforts. Nevertheless, a possible impasse in the OSCE’s mediation would increase the value of Georgia’s good offices (Prime-News, Radio Tbilisi, Noyan-Tapan, November 20, 21).
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