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Aris Kazinyan: “Own game” of Mikhail Saakashvili and Armenian factor

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Aris Kazinyan expert of the Caucasus analytical center

On Sept 1 Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili appeared with a very curious statement. While speaking in Sagarejo, he said that Russia is pressuring Armenia into adopting an anti-Georgian policy. At least, thats how (and in no other way) one should understand his following sentence: “Russia has finally closed the customs house in Lars; and closed it not only for us, but also for Armenia, whose cargoes have been going through Lars, because it tells Armenia too: lets carry out some plans together.” Saakashvili did not care to specify what “plans” (perhaps, because there was nothing to specify) he was talking about, however, Saakashvilis “Armenian emphasis” is quite symptomatic as such. What made him appear with such a tactless (in every respect) statement?

Saakashvili is hardly aware of what exactly the “relevant” Armenian-Russian talks are about; of course, we do not doubt the competence and awareness of the Georgian President, but the whole point is that Moscow and Yerevan are not plotting anything against Tbilisi. Anyway, Saakashvili appears to be sure of, at least, the present Armenian authorities; dwelling on the subject of imaginary Russian pressure on Armenia, he notes: “Naturally, nobody will agree to this, but such a policy of pressure on Armenia over Georgia is present!”

It may also happen it may well be so — that the imperative of the Georgian President “naturally, nobody will agree to this” has no specific addressee and is just a preventive move. We can see this in his following statement: “Nobody has ever succeeded through slavery. Only proud, self-respecting countries succeed countries like Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, who did the same a few years ago and have become successful European states. I dont want to name a few other countries who are being led by those forces and are beggars and, today, they are as impoverished as they were before.” Lets not conjecture what Saakashvili meant; the more important point is that Saakashvilis speech in Sagarejo and the quite unexpected at first glance address to the Armenian issue perfectly fits into the context and logic of his present policy.

First of all, we should note that the process of ethnic consolidation of the Kartvelian nations populating Georgia (in the scale and content officially proclaimed by Tbilisi) is yet far from completion. Georgian citizens representatives of the Kartvelian group of the Caucasian language family are not objectively a single ethno-political community and are quite diverse in terms of traditions, culture, language, mentality and the perception of the very concept of “Homeland.” For quite a long period in history, there was almost no consolidating ethnonyme in Georgia; even today, people representing the Kartvelian group do not identify themselves according to the state terminology. The diversity of dialects: Gurian, Imeretian, Lechkhumian, Rachian, Kartlian, Kakhetian, Pshavian, Meskhetian, Ingiloian and some others and the circumstance that Megrels (in particular) speak their own language reflect not so much the purely linguistic peculiarities of those groups as the extent of difference in their traditions, mentality and values. Particularly, the biggest Kartvelian group, Megrels, call themselves not “Kartvelians” but “Margali” and their country (their historical area — Homeland) — “Samargalio.”

It is especially important to note that, from the ancient times till the first half of XIX, the western and eastern parts of the Kartvelian group had very little contact with one another. The Surami Range dividing the territory of Georgia into two parts was a kind of Great Dividing Range between two worlds, and this fact has given rise to such concepts as “Amiereti” the country behind the range and Imiereti the country before the range (like Ciscaucasia and Transcaucasia). It was exactly due to this historical division that the western Kartvelians are initially called “Imeretians.” But, in fact, Imeretians are also Gurians (who call themselves “Guruli”), Lechkhumians, Rachians, etc. Megrels live farther to the west and have always been closer to Abkhazians than to Gurians or Imeretians. Eastwards of the Surami Range was the land of the eastern sub-groups mostly Kartlians and Kakhetians, who have not historically had close contacts with the western Georgians, not mentioning Megrels, Abkhazians or Svans.

Due to this peculiar logic of historical development, the Kartvelian group does not now have a single approach to the concept of “Homeland.” This is a very important aspect of the problem we are considering this aspect allows us to see how much interested the present-day population of the Republic of Georgia can actually be in “fighting and dying” for Abkhazia or South Ossetia. The foundations of the nationalist ideology were laid by public figures Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaky Tsereteli in late 19th century. It was exactly they who tried to give the local concept of “Homeland” a larger mass — scale. And it was they who established a certain tradition: the factors consolidating the nation are based not so much on (the assertion of) the national all-Kertvelian values but on the search for the image of “extra-Kartvelian” enemy. Particularly, in his works Ilia Chavchavadze chose Armenians as “an enemy.” “The Armenian choice” of Chavchavadze was due mostly to the fact that, unable to adjust themselves to the development of capitalist relations, the Georgian noblemen were forced to sell their estates to rich Armenian merchants.

What really matters in this context is not so much the ethnicity of the “external enemy” as the very ideological existence of such an image. By the way, this ideology has lived up to now. The key weapon of the Georgian parties in the first quarter of the 20th century, this ideology predetermined the logic of the development of the national life, and the First Georgian Republic (1918-1920) was also based on the vector of United and Indivisible Georgia. At the same time, it should be noted that in 20th century this ideology failed to go outside the activities of the political elite and to grow into a national (all-Kartvelian) feeling. Still, as we have already said, the process of consolidation of the Kartvelian nations populating Georgia (in the scale and content proclaimed by Tbilisi) is far from completion. The political elite of new Georgia has failed to make the Abkhazian problem a consolidating all-Kartvelian factor. People have failed to see what exactly they must sacrifice themselves for. And even the western Georgians, who still have mutual problems, have refused to unite “for the sake of Abkhazia.” Even more, in the most concerned Megrel community, we can see diametrically opposite moods one part of Megrels is definitely closer to Abkhazians.

The historical “psychology of feudal principalities” in Georgia is traditionally the most influential internal political factor in the country. Even more, it is exactly this psychology that gives birth to leaders of “national scale,” whose political image reflects not only the specificity of “own nation” but also the traditional separatism of feudal princes. In this light, it should be noted that the concept of “separatism” the Georgian authorities keep applying to Abkhazia and South Ossetia is much more applicable to the lifestyle and traditional mentality of the Kartvelian society. The separatism of feudal princes has actually taken deep roots in the multi-layer Georgian soil, and the modern history proves this mentality to be quite viable. It is typical of almost every politically (publicly) significant figure in Georgia, irrespective of his psychological, moral or intellectual image. It is quite noteworthy that, right after his political fiasco, the first Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia proclaimed the independence of the Megrel-Abkhazian Republic. And even this rare historical example is just the top of the iceberg of Georgian contradictions that is drifting around the scattered “principalities” of Sakartvelo.

As we have already noted, besides the factor of linguistic isolation of the Kartvelian society, there is also another nuance that does not let the Abkhazian and South Ossetian problems become a consolidating factor. The Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, just like the Republic of Georgia, internationally recognized within its territory, is a kind of empire, and the struggle of the countrys leadership for Abkhazia is more like a colonial than patriotic war (in fact, it is a war of robbers its enough remembering the figures of “the leaders of the Georgian home guards”). This is a very important circumstance as colonial wars more often shatter and even decay the rear than consolidate it. With no all-national concept of “Homeland” in Georgia, the local authorities still apply feudal ways of territorial administration. What we could see during the civil war was exactly a feudal rule; at a certain moment, the confrontation was very much like the squabble of “feudal princes” the only difference was that the new rulers of the territories were not noblemen but criminals.

Emzar Kvitsiani is a typical representative of the Pleiad of “Georgian feudal lords” of the epoch of independence. Thats why the acting Georgian authorities tend to qualify almost every de facto disobedient administrative-territorial unit as “a bed of criminal structures.” And they do this irrespective of the extent of their own corruption. In this light, we would like to remind you the words of the well-known Georgian historian Berdzenishvili, who wrote in 1937: “Feudal Sakartvelo (Georgia) has never fully embraced the concepts of ‘Abkhazia,’ ‘Kartli,’ ‘Kakheti,’ ‘Somkheti’ and the title of the King of United Georgia has never turned into a formula with historical content.”

The present Georgian President sees himself in the historical chronicles standing beside the most respected monarchs of the past. His fixed idea is to restore the territorial integrity of the Georgian state and, more importantly, to resolve the historical internal Kartvelian conflicts. He truly imagines himself to be the monarch of United Georgia. This is a very important nuance a nuance that must be always kept in mind; the present Georgian President is capable of any most unexpected and thoughtless action: he is really unsurpassed in giving political surprises. He can take aback even the most sophisticated technologists; the ace of political intrigue, feudal lord Aslan Abashidze, was unable to oppose anything (constructive) to the irrationalism of Mikheil Saakashvili; the President is illogical and sure of being the chosen one. He really believes that his destination is to unite Great Georgia. Being the US protege, he is not like his “nest brothers” Viktor Yushchenko or Alexander Milinkevich, who are being actively built up by the masters of Hammer and Angle Bar; unlike them, Saakashvili has the Idea. The first thing that comes into mind is the famous phrase: “If Garibaldi had not been a Mason, Italy would not have united.” Thats probably how Saakashvili interprets his position of a “protege” — at least, for the time being.

The first Georgian President also felt himself as a kind of missionary, but, among other things, he lacked extravagance: pedantic Zviad was not a trouble maker. He clearly saw that his country was “a patchwork blanket” and realized that this mosaic posed a real threat to the idea of United Georgia. At first, he also tried to implant the idea of Common and United Homeland into the minds of all the Kartvelians and traveled the whole Sakartvelo for this purpose; emotionally restrained, seaside Megrel, he praised Kakhetia as the first wine grower. “Demographically, Kakhetia has always been a mono-national region, and Georgians have always been a majority here,” he said in the Kakhetian village of Akhalsopeli in 1989. “Today, we are facing a serious problem. Tatars, Armenians and Ossetians have risen to their feet. We must save from foreigners Kakhetia our holy land!” Could Gamsakhurdia imagine then that some few years later he would be forced to rise with the idea of a Megrel-Abkhazian Republic?

Today, there are no grounds for speaking about serious prerequisites for changing the state structure exactly as a mechanism consolidating the nation, especially as there was almost no concept of “the King of All Georgia” in Georgias history; at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Georgievsk (in Aug 1783) Irakly II was called the King of Kartli-Kakheti. The authority of the Georgian King has never been a consolidating force as people in other regions swore allegiance to other rulers the King of Imeretia and others; in fact, the restoration of monarchy in the disintegrated Georgian society may disintegrate the Georgian state.

President Saakashvili, who is really daydreaming of a Place in the chronicles of the Georgian history (certainly, next to the most outstanding rulers), is going to solve this problem too; of course, not as a King but as the ruler of “All Georgia.” He openly views the period of his accession to “the presidential throne” in the context of the events of early XIX. The starting point for him is 1801 when the western Georgian Kingdom was abolished and annexed to Russia. The supporters of the ambitious President consider the following 205 years as the “frozen interval” of the national life.

In this context, we would like to point to the speech of the advisor of the Georgian president, former prime minister and MP of Estonia Mart Laar: “The so-called ‘Russian peacekeepers’ are not keeping peace, they are trying to keep the last fragments of the Russian Empire.” The July 28 article in the Akhali 7 Dge daily is also quite symptomatic: “It is exactly the strong powers that tell the other countries involved in international relations how to play in the political game and often decide in their stead. As a rule, small and weak countries are ‘oppressed’ in international relations. For such countries it is very dangerous to be neighbor to a strong country as stronger neighbors leave weaker countries no chance for maneuver or choice. Unfortunately, Georgia is a small country neighboring on Russia this is our ‘gift of fortune.’ Russias policy on the Caucasus has not changed. Czarism is still Russias ideology. This crossroads of the world civilization is still the axis of the Russian neo-imperialism, and Georgia is part of this axis. For years Russia has refused to put up with the lost of this rebellious country. They cant put up with the fact that our small country is showing resistance to Great Russia. Russia has failed to enslave Georgia even though for many years it has been pressuring our country economically and supporting separatist regimes.”

It is noteworthy that the emphasis on the year 1801 (just like on the Treaty of Georgievsk) goes well together with Saakashvilis world-view; it allows him to kill several birds at once: to demonstrate his ambitions and succession to royal traditions, to present the Georgians as a chosen noble society (thereby, increasing discrimination against other non-Kartvelian citizens), to show why Georgia has lost its independence because of Russia. Each of these vectors is a doctrine for a special study a self-sufficient policy but only taken together, do they form the “effect of Saakashvili.”

The policy to blame Russia for the loss of the Georgian throne fits well into the context of the present developments in Georgia; the American strategy of expansion into the region requires further aggravation of Russian-Georgian relations, and this fits well with the mood and ambitions of Mikheil Saakashvili. The July 5 2006 meeting of the US and Georgian presidents resulted in George Bushs statement that each state has the right to carry out military actions against radical forces with a view to protect its own security and sovereignty.

Even though this statement was made in connection with the Middle East events and was aimed at justifying the policy of Israel, it was equally referred to Georgia. Some sources say that this issue was even discussed during the Washington meeting. “This meeting was absolutely historic for Georgia,” Saakashvili said. “I am sure it was, and the Georgian people will certainly see its results. It is absolutely clear that the US will support our struggle for freedom till the end.” We should note that, when saying “struggle for freedom,” the Georgian President also means the restoration of Georgias territorial integrity.

It is especially important to note that, when speaking about the right of each country to protect its independence and security by any means, George Bush emphasized the destructive influence on one or another region by exactly the forces supporting terrorism. As early as July 9 — just four days after the meeting — a terrorist act in Tskhinvali claimed the life of South Ossetian Security Secretary Oleg Alborov; two weeks later the Georgian Parliament adopted a resolution “On Peacekeeping Forces in the Conflict Zones”; and on July 21 the Georgian President dismissed his State Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgy Khaindrava. The next step was the “anti-criminal operation in Kodori Gorge.”

The royal hunt for birds has revealed one more target for the indignant Georgian “monarchists” Armenians. In the context of the constantly discussed topic of 1801 and the policy of making an enemy of Russia, the researchers cannot but point out that “the decree on the liquidation of the Georgian throne was read out in Tiflis (Tbilisi) by Armenian Iosif Argutinsky, and the first governor general was Armenian general Lazarev.” In the first half of the 20th century Georgians began showing increasingly negative attitude towards Armenians; they regarded Armenians as Russias proteges and the heralds of the loss of the Georgian throne. The founder of the Georgian nationalist ideology Ilia Chavchavadze wrote: “Armenian scholars are standing their ground, they are seeking to get home in a place they have never had home… they wish to convince everybody that they allegedly have the historical right to live here.”

This idea runs through the nationalist ideology to these days. No coincidence that during the “revolution of roses” certain representatives of the Georgian nation, particularly, those from the nobles, expressed concern for the presence of Armenian blood in the veins of all the three leaders of the revolution; those times were not easy for Saakashvili… “Christian Georgians have always felt danger on the part of Armenians,” says the academic head of the Russian Project of Jerusalem University, Dr. Dan Shapira. “Armenians have lived in Georgia since the beginning of time. Even the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, has until recently been the Armenian city and the key Armenian cultural center eastwards of Istanbul. Thus, Jews have never been regarded in Georgia as a problem or threat the traditional place of ‘Jew’ was occupied by Armenians.”

In other words, anti-Semitism in Georgia has traditionally been expressed in the form of Armeno-phobia. As we have already noted, the Georgian President is trying to implant the idea of Common Homeland in the minds of the Kartvelians and to make this a basis for a new scale of values. Language is not a consolidating factor, thats why general consciousness of Homeland is given an exclusive role.

This is also important from pragmatic point of view; only if generally conscious of their Homeland, will the Kartvelian people be able to perceive the unprecedented achievements the acting president has made in the last years — first of all, the establishment of control over Ajaria and Abkhazian Svanetia. Otherwise, all his achievements will look just a zero (in the general consciousness). Thats why he is forced to regularly appear with the story about notorious Armenian-Russian plot against Georgia in hope that the factor of external enemy will consolidate the Georgian society. In “his game” Mikheil Saakashvili actually needs nationalists.

As featured on News Now
April 2015
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