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Struggle for Territorial Integrity of Georgia Armenian Bagramyan's Battalion versus the Azerbaijanis of Borchali

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Baku, 15 December 2017 – Newtimes.az

Throughout the history of humankind the Caucasus has always been a tumultuous region. This primarily has to do with the region’s geographic and strategic location as well as with the fact that it sits at the crossroads of different religions and civilizations. The very factors are significant for the identifying the geographic posture of the Caucasus in our millennium. That being said, the current situation’s semblance of a powder keg is directly attributed to the mass resettlement of the Armenians in this region in the wake of Russia-Turkey and Russia-Iran wars. It is no coincidence that in the course of history in the last 200 years Armenians have undermined stability in the entire Caucasus and served the destructive purpose at the behest of the large powers in the capacity of a "fire iron”. That destructive function has been evident in the independent republics of the South Caucasus – Azerbaijan and Georgia – and also all across the Caucasus in general.

After having been relocated to this region only several centuries ago and gifted a state, in the form of Azerbaijan’s ancient territory, for special "merits”, the Armenians have since been known as a separatism symbol in the Caucasus. After weaving a nest in the foreign lands the Armenians are igniting the new flames of separatism towards the third millennium. And the preconditions for that are created by the large nations, i.e. the power centers, through their double-standard approach to the regional countries. The Azerbaijanis and Georgians had all been expelled from their ancestral lands in Armenia in the late 20th century. Irevan, Zangazur, Daralayaz and Goycha provinces saw their Azerbaijani populations reduced to zero, while Georgians and Azerbaijanis of Lori province next to the Georgia’s border were also driven away.

New targets are the Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan and Samskhe-Javakhetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region has been under Armenia’s occupation for over the past 25 years. "Javakhk” separatist movement is engaged in propaganda of Armenization in different areas. There is an Armenian footprint in both of Georgia’s provinces that are controlled by the separatists – Abkhazia and Tskhinval (South Ossetia). Moreover, no one can guarantee that strengthening positions of the Armenians in Russia’s Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces would one day not pave the way for separatist claims. Generally speaking, lasting peace and stability in the Caucasus is illusive while the Armenians continue with groundless territorial claims against the neighbors. The Caucasus will never be at peace while the chauvinistic "Great Armenia” idea lives on.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union relations between the different peoples living in fledgling independent nations that found themselves in a new geopolitical setting in the South Caucasus were also put to the test. Just like in other countries in the vicinity at the time, the relationship between different peoples across Georgia was going from bad to worse. Georgian-Abkhazian, Georgian-Armenian, Georgian-Azerbaijani relations were initially accompanied by serious clashes. The situation had indeed exacerbated owing to intervention of forces controlled from outside. Georgia’s territorial integrity and its very existence were at stake then. That was when the commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity by different peoples of the country was a challenge to its future. Separatists had by then taken over Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. And the position of the country’s largest ethnic minority – Azerbaijanis and Armenians – was completely different.

The expulsion of the Meskhetian Turks to the Central Asia during in the Soviet empire had led to the Armenians of Samskhe-Javakhetia becoming a major ethnic group in terms of numbers. Although the claim that those lands have been their "historical motherland” is a myth, in 150 to 200 years time since their resettlement in the region the Armenians went from being a minority to becoming a majority. In modern times, during the years of independence, the separatist claims of the Armenians in Samskhe-Javakhetia have always been high on the agenda. Today, their initial demand is that the Chalk municipality (Armenians constitute nearly the half of its population), which belongs to the Kvemo-Kartli province, based on territorial-administrative division, be united with the Javakhetia. Their subsequent demands include granting the autonomy to Samskhe-Javakhetia, recognition of the Armenian language as official and assigning of a status to the Armenian Gregorian Church. The appetite is greater among the Armenians living in the separatists-controlled areas.

It is a fact that the Armenians had backed the separatists during the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts over the country’s territorial integrity. In the aftermath of Russia-Turkey wars of the 1830s the Armenians who used the war to their advantage inhabited the lands of the Circassians who were expelled from that region. While the number of the Armenians prior to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict barely reached 30 thousand people, the figure has grown dramatically under the separatist regime’s rule. The dwindling number of ethnic Georgians, Russians, Greeks and Ukrainians created a new landscape across the demographic map. Today they are the second largest ethnos in the separatist entity; while the number of the Abkhaz population hardly reaches 100 thousand, there are already 70 thousand Armenians. As the Abkhaz population migrates to Turkey and Russia, Armenians settle down in the separatist-controlled areas thanks to favorable political and economic positions they had secured there. This in turn could lead to the creation of a second separatist region in the Caucasus with a predominantly Armenian population.

People of Georgia vividly remember the atrocities committed by the "Bagramyan’s Battalion”. In the book by B. Arveladze and T. Mibchuani "Armenian Battalion after Bagramyan and Ethnic Cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia” published in 2009 eyewitnesses recount the horrific stories of the Armenians’ barbarism. The two thousand men battalion massacred nearly seven thousand Georgians across Abkhazia. It is also a fact that prior to Abkhazia the henchmen of the very battalion have gained "valuable” experience by perpetrating violence against the Azerbaijanis in the Nagorno-Karabakh. It is a result of the Armenian betrayal to Georgia’s territorial integrity that 7 Armenians were chosen as "National Heros” of the so-called Abkhazia, 20 were awarded the "Leon Order” and 100 more were conferred the "Medal for Courage”.

In general, all the separatist hotbeds across Georgia have a distinctive Armenian fingerprint. It must emphasized that in all three regions – Samskhe-Javakhetia, Abkhazia and Tskhinvali the separatism-prone Armenians seek division based on religion, distort history and encourage strife between representatives of different ethnic groups and faiths. Interestingly, when it comes to the religious propaganda their posture varies from one region to another. In Samskhe-Javakhetia and Tbilisi they aim to Armenianize the Christian monuments. The bedrock of preserving the Armenian identity – the Gregorian Church – has claimed 465 Christian shrines across Georgia. Considering that the number of Armenians is just below 200 thousand (outside of Abkhazia), such a ridiculous claim pursues the objective of gaining a historical footprint.

In Abkhazia, the attitude of the local Armenians to the Armenian Church and Christian shrines in general is completely different. The population of 60-70 thousand people has only one church (in the city of Gagra). Furthermore, they are yet to claim churches and shrines that had been abandoned or not used for worshipping. What is the motive behind such conflicting positions? Armenians that claim almost the entire Christian cultural and religious legacy of Georgia are not taking over the abandoned shrines of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the occupied lands. Perhaps, there are certain political reasons.

In Tskhinvali, the Armenians are aiming to secure a special position in the religious domain. The Armenian population of that separatist entity is small. Moreover, the Ossetians are not religiously attached, with some even practicing Islam and other ancient faiths of their ancestors. This is why little less than one thousand Armenians living there want to take over as many Christian shrines as possible. The Armenians claim that the St. Mary’s Church of Tskhinvali belongs to them as they were the founders and only later that it turned into a Georgian shrine, while the former is a typical Orthodox Church that bears no signs of Gregorian architecture. Apparently, mindful of the possible reaction by the Abkhaz Orthodox Church, they undertake no such actions there but given the absence of such a reaction in Tskhenvali they actively pursue the Armenization of the Christian churches there.

The story of the Azerbaijanis – citizens of the country fighting for the territorial integrity of Georgia is absolutely different. The nationalist forces provoked by certain foreign elements had started to pressure the native population of those lands, the Azerbaijanis. Azerbaijanis, just like other nationalities living in Georgia, were suffering as a result of the policy of intolerance pursued by Z.Gamsakhurdia. That is why the Azerbaijanis of the Samskhe-Javakhetia were first of all compelled to defend their livelihoods. However, that had not stopped the Azerbaijanis of Borchali province to lend a helping hand to their home counry – Georgia – when it needed it the most. Hundreds of Azerbaijanis took to arms and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Georgians in defending the nation’s territorial integrity. It is no coincidence that the likes of Anvar Humbatov, Gahraman Musayev, and Zaur Abdullayev had sacrificed their lives for Georgia and were posthumously decorated with orders and medals. The posthumous decoration of Anvar Humbatov from Marneuli province with the "Order of Vakhtang Gorgasali” on 30 December 1994 is a telling example of the input the Azerbaijanis in safeguarding Georgia’s integrity.

That said, it is very unfortunate that there has not been sufficient research done on those heroes, neither in Georgia nor in Azerbaijan, who lost their lives for Georgia’s sovereignty. The names of those men deserve to enter the modern history of Georgia and be perpetuated as an example for the generations to come. That would also match the spirit of good neighborly relations and ties of friendship and strategic partnership that exist between Azerbaijan and Georgia. In this sense, it is commendable that David Maisuradze, the author of the book titled "Azerbaijanis who Perished for Territorial Integrity of Georgia” published recently in Tbilisi, urges the names of those heroes be perpetuated, included in the history books and their stories to be a subject of documentaries. Fighting for Georgia’s integrity is the civil obligation of every citizen, regardless of ethnic background. The Azerbaijani citizens of Georgia have therefore entered the history of independence of the land they lived on as true heroes.

Thus, unlike the members of the "Bagramyan’s Battalion”, Azerbaijanis of Georgia had taken part actively in the struggle for the country’s territorial integrity. And it is the duty of every institution, NGO and media outlet, both in Georgia and Azerbaijan, to publicize the memory of those brave men who had left their names in the history of Georgia’s independence.  

Arastu Habibbayli

Deputy Head of the Foreign Policy Issues Department Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan

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