Transitions Online: Unique coverage of all 28 post-communist countries
11 May 2006
It seems only natural for minorities in the former Soviet Union to feel a constant pull towards separatism. Their national borders were drawn almost arbitrarily—often to encourage conflicts—and a nascent sense of self-determination that followed the end of Soviet communism certainly plays a role in the region’s separatism, even today. Georgians, in particular, have witnessed their share of nationalist struggles, together leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. In Georgia’s mostly Armenian region of Javakheti, however, the potential for conflict has always rested just beneath the surface, requiring a greater and untapped impetus to inspire rebellion.
As Georgia’s southernmost region, Javakheti shares not only a border with Armenia, but also a culture, religion, and language, as Javakheti is more than 90% Armenian. Despite being born in Georgia, few of these Armenians feel any allegiance to Georgia at all. After all, Soviet leaders in the early 20th century relocated thousands of Armenian families to Georgia’s southern regions to provide a protective buffer between the Ottoman Empire and the rest of the Soviet Union. Culturally, linguistically and politically, the Georgians in Javakheti are Armenian.
And while any unrest in Javakheti pales in comparison to the tension in Georgia’s authentic separatist regions—Abkhazia and South Ossetia—Javakheti has all the makings of a civil ethnic conflict. To start, the most common language in Javakheti is Armenian, and Georgian is not a required part of the local curriculum for the same reason that Russian is not a required part of the Georgian curriculum—both nations feel a burgeoning sense of pride and self-determination. Javakheti has a better relationship with Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, than it does with the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The central government provides very little financial assistance to Javakheti, citing economic difficulties and limited resources, which inevitably leave the undeveloped region’s infrastructure in pieces and the people alienated.
Unlike in Abkhazia and South Ossetia—breakaway regions enjoying de-facto autonomy under Russian patronage—calls for secession or reunion with the “home country” have never been quite as loud in Javakheti, even though most of the unrest tethers to economic and cultural concerns—both typical catalysts for rebellion. Read the rest of this entry »