In Yerevan, Georgian President Backs Baku On Karabakh, Urges For End To Regional Conflicts

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 18 March 2019
In Yerevan, Georgian President Backs Baku On Karabakh, Urges For End To Regional Conflicts

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has unambiguously watered down plans of Armenians in search for covert and overt backing of Tbilisi over the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of Azerbaijan.

And hopes of Armenians were apparently connected with the birthplace of the new Georgian president – France – where the Armenian lobby is so strong that official Yerevan thinks nothing can happen beyond its control.

Zourabichvili’s remarks during the election campaign seem also heartened Armenians. However, they have forgotten that Salome Zourabichvili is an ethnic Georgian, who has been elected to serve the Georgian people though the presidential powers were curtailed significantly.

Though expectations of Armenians, the French-born Georgian president made her first official regional visit to Azerbaijan and thus she let others know her country’s preference to official Baku over Yerevan.

Arriving in Armenia in the second leg of her regional visit, President Salome Zourabichvili was keen on the regional conflicts in her talks with the Armenian leadership. In Yerevan, the Armenian leadership tried hard to find out what the president of the Georgian state had in her mind when she recently declared in Baku about the "occupation of the territories of Georgia and Azerbaijan".

As a result, the Georgian president not only confirmed her position on Nagorno-Karabakh, but also made accusations against the Armenian leadership. The tough position of Salome Zourabichvili can put an end to the policy of equidistance to the parties in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, which Georgia has adhered to throughout the post-Soviet period.

The leadership of Armenia at meetings with Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili in Yerevan was especially interested in the explanations by the head of the Georgian state about her ambiguous statement in Baku. On February 27, while visiting Azerbaijan on an official visit, Ms. Zourabichvili touched upon the topic of the "occupation of the territories" of Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Her statement about the occupation of Russia of the former Georgian autonomies of Abkhazia and South Ossetia did not surprise anyone, since Georgian leaders often make such accusations against Moscow. But this time, the Georgian president, in fact, for the first time openly accused Armenia of occupying Nagorno-Karabakh and districts adjacent to the former Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

"The occupation lines are a non-healing wound for us, too," the Georgian president continued and expressed her satisfaction that Georgia and Azerbaijan, despite the occupation, were able to strengthen their statehood and develop their economies.

During her meetings in Yerevan, including with Armenian President Armen Sargsyan and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the statements made by Salome Zourabichvili in Baku were raised with varying degrees of urgency. But the president of Georgia did not even think to justify herself or to disavow her statement. On the contrary, she made a number of claims against Armenia.

In particular, during a meeting with Armenian National Assembly Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan, Salome Zourabichvili warned: for her country, “it is very important” for Armenia to recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity not only in words, but also in deeds. The president immediately explained what she meant by the visits of the delegations of Nagorno-Karabakh to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"Thus, the organizers of the visits themselves demonstrate that these conflicts are symmetrical," the president of Georgia said and did not conceal her displeasure. "This is very sad and painful," Salome Zourabichvili continued in the same spirit. "We believe that here (in Armenia) there is no goodwill that should be in relation to our country."

Such a thought was also expressed by one of the leaders of the opposition party European Georgia, former deputy foreign minister Serge Kapanadze. In his opinion, the president should show "much greater caution", speaking on such a "sensitive topic".

At the same time, Mr. Kapanadze admitted that Salome Zourabichvili’s statements did not surprise him. “This is only the beginning, there will be other similar statements,” the former diplomat said.

The Georgian government refrained from commenting on the statements made by the president in Baku and Yerevan. This example was followed by all the deputies of the ruling Georgian Dream party, who supported Salome Zourabichvili at last year’s presidential elections.

Independent political analyst David Avalishvili added that under the Georgian constitution, the president is endowed with only symbolic powers. Therefore, the expert added, although the statements of Ms. Zourabichvili are very important and unprecedented, "serious and responsible figures in Yerevan and Baku will not consider them as a sign of a fundamental change in the position of the Georgian state on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict."

No doubt her statement has not gone unnoticed in Armenia and symbolizes Georgia’s new shaping policy that Armenia should adjust policies and not play a role that strengthens the Kremlin presence in the Caucasus.

Zourabichvili’s recent statement in Baku about the "territorial and border integrity" of countries did not go unnoticed in Yerevan, and "there were futile expectations that she would change her stance and make mitigating statements not to endanger friendly relations between the two neighbors," according to Armenian 168 Zham newspaper.

She stated in Armenia that it is “very sad” that delegations from Nagorno-Karabakh visit the two occupied regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia), and discuss these two conflicts as if they are of a similar nature. This is very sad and painful for us,” Zourabichvili stated in response to the words of Armenian National Assembly Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan that cooperation is necessary to settle regional conflicts.

Zourabichvili also stated that the subordination of Armenian churches in Abkhazia to the Russian church “is a violation of Georgia’s sovereignty.”
We also believe, and this is our unwavering position, that these conflicts can only be solved by peaceful means. We strongly follow this policy, we do not change this policy, and we believe it has no alternative,” Zourabichvili said.

She stated that everything that aggravates these conflicts and makes them difficult to be settled goes against regional interests. The only way to solve these conflicts is through more active political involvement of our partners,” Zourabichvili added.

She stated that Georgia and Armenia should work together and move to a new stage of solving these conflicts based on international rules and regulations.

Otherwise, everything what we are discussing - economic progress, stability, boosted cooperation, and strengthening of transportation and logistics ties with the EU and other countries - are only verbal statements,” she said.

Zourabichvili stated that ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis live in Georgia and “this conflict can be as painful for us as it is for you because if it spreads on our territory, it will be damaging for Georgia”.