'Armenian armed forces drive Azerbaijani population out of Georgia'

Thu 24 Nov 2011 07:02 GMT | 11:02 Local Time

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News.Az interviews head of the Human Rights Monitoring Group of National Minorities, human rights activist Elbrus Mammadov.

The activity of MRMG&TOLERANCE is known in Georgia and beyond its bounds, Council of Europe and UN use and adopt resolutions on the basis of documents and reports of your organization. What are the main directions in the activity of this organization?

The main directions in protection of interests of national minorities, provision of their legal assistance, consultations, as well as preparation of reports about negative facts, violations in relation to national minorities. We send these reports to all Georgian instances, up to the president of the country, as well as international organizations, UN, European structures. We do not only raise issues and problems of national minorities of Georgia but also influence Georgian authorities, initiate changes in legislation through appeals to international and European organizations which Georgia joins to.

Our organization has prepared an alternative report ‘On execution by Armenia on the convention about prevention of racial discrimination in relation to frontier villages in Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia at the 78th session of the Committee for prevention of racial discrimination of UN. The alternative reports “Muslim Community of Georgian Azerbaijanis” and “Recovery of toponyms as one of the real steps to restore interethnic dialogue in Kvemo Kartli” at the 79th session of the UN Committee for Prevention of Racial Discrimination.

The alternative report is “On execution of the Framework Convention on Protection of National Minorities in relation to frontier villages in Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia by Armenia”. The alternative report is ‘On execution by Georgia of the Framework Convention on Protection of National Minorities in Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia” in the Council of Europe.

For many years, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno Karabakh had its negative impact on the state of Azerbaijani villages of Georgia, bordering Armenia. What are the problems in this sphere?

Georgian territories bordering Armenia have been settled by Azerbaijanis since ancient and now in these regions we see gradual annexation and eviction of ethnic Azerbaijanis who are the citizens of Georgia. The most critical situation established in the villages of Sadakhlo, Burma Tezekend, Tezekend, Beytarabchi, Mollaoghlu and others, where ethnic Azerbaijanis constitute the greater part of the population.

The Armenian-Georgian border in this area goes deeper into Georgia as an appendix and Georgian villages of ethnic Azerbaijanis are stuck by Armenia from east and west. The gradual eviction of Azerbaijani population from their native lands by Armenia is seen in these frontier villages with the absolute connivance of the Georgian authorities. We see the loss of Georgian lands and do not witness the reaction of the relevant Georgian bodies who have to protect these lands.

How do they carry this eviction policy on the Armenian-Georgian border?

The situation in this region remains unclear, because given the constitutional inviolability of Georgian lands, our human rights recommendations and monitoring must be welcomed, but we see no reaction. Our authorities have not created and seem not willing to create favorable, safe conditions which would allow the residents of these villages to stay in this region. Moreover, unfortunately, the all state officials from among Azerbaijanis who work and are represented in the state bodies of Georgia remain indifferent to this. The coefficient of efficiency in both the state interests of Georgia and Azerbaijan can be reduced to zero.

Then what is Armenia’s role in the outflow of Azerbaijani population from frontier Georgian villages?

Our authorities keep silent about the violation of rights of their citizens-Azerbaijanis in Georgia by neighbor Armenia. Unfortunately, we have to note that the absence of the real border between Georgia and Armenia in this direction, the absence of the frontier guard of Georgia here makes the local Azerbaijani population vulnerable in the face of armed threat from Armenia. Making use of the absence of the border limits, for many years Armenian side has been extending the frontier strip inside the Georgian territory, evicting Azerbaijani population out of there and settled Armenian residents in these ‘acquired’ lands. We have repeatedly spoken  about this problem on most high level meetings and get the following answer: “This border section has not yet passed delimitation and demarcation process”. However, this does not hamper Armenia to build frontier posts and military units along the border line. Why do they build them? Not only we but also most leading Georgian public figures, journalists of leading mass media say it almost every month, but the result is that Azerbaijanis abandon their villages.

Armenian military base on Georgian border near Sadakhlo village. Additionally, currently this has started to be promoted by the Russian program “Compatriot” thanks to which over 3000 Azerbaijanis of Georgia have left to Russia.

How does it take place, considering that Armenia and Georgia are sovereign states and it seems paradoxical that Georgian authorities watch the annexation of their sovereign territories without saying a word of protest?

Armenian frontier guards drive away cattle belonging to Azerbaijanis, capture residents of Azerbaijani villages, shoot them from their frontier Armenian posts, as well as at night they move frontier columns, capturing the sowing area, pastures and even houses of Azerbaijanis.

For example, Georgian frontier lands were captured in 2007. At that time, at the desire of Armenian frontiermen, the frontier columns passed tangent to the villages of Sadakhlo, Burma and Tezekend, making a number of houses belong to Georgian Azerbaijanis illegal.

Under psychological pressure of Armenian militaries, these residents abandoned their homes. Unfortunately, our authorities did not react to this or make effort to protect both the rights of their citizens and inviolability of state border, thus inspiring the Armenian side to a new capture of frontier lands.

One more example, the resident of Beytarabchi village which is also on the Georgian-Armenian border, paid taxes on time to the regional tax bodies of Georgia for almost 15 years, but all of a sudden this sowing land and the garden of the Georgian citizen-Azerbaijani was captured and annexed to Armenia.

Making use of unclear borders and lack of strict control of our authorities, the Armenian armed forces started to apply direct discrimination on ethnical belonging in this region, accompanied with illegal arrests of Georgian citizens, ethnic Azerbaijanis, under pretense of violating the state border of Armenia. We have the lists of arrested Azerbaijanis, most of whom were then returned from Armenian captivity where they were beaten and abused. Some hostages were brought to the center of Armenia and there are facts when those people went missing there. There was an attempt of raping an Azerbaijani woman working in the field. We collect claims on all facts and document it, holding regular monitoring.

Why don’t the Georgian frontier guards and authorities react adequately to such lawlessness of the Armenian side?

The matter is that unlike Georgian frontier guards, who can be counted on fingers, Armenian frontier guards build their frontier units along the border, many along a short section of border,m by the way, the section which is spoken of as non-demarcated and non-delimitated. Meanwhile it is almost empty on the Georgian side. As a result, Armenian frontier guards move the border right to the sown land, where Azerbaijanis work.

We have documented information about invasion of Armenian frontier men and illegal search in the houses of Azerbaijanis in Georgia, without notification to Georgian authorities. From here Armenian frontier guards often shot at the residents of Azerbaijani villages, which also promotes the outflow of Azerbaijanis from these regions. The factor of psychological instability and psychological pressure goes beyond the limit. But it is the positive factor that local authorities recently started to react promptly and return their citizens back but not always cattle and livestock, which Armenian side drives away. In such cases, material damage has never been compensated. 

What are the results of such creeping annexation by Armenia?

In a short period, over 500 citizens of Armenia illegally settled and use the lands that are considered Georgian. Georgian Azerbaijanis say this in open seeing no assistance of their authorities.

As a result of occupation by Armenian armed forces of woods, pastures in the territories of Georgia and the threats to occupy the sowing lands near Sadahlo, Tazakand, BurmaTazakand, Beytarapchi, Mollaoghly villages, with predominantly Azerbaijani population, most of the residents left the indicated villages. By some estimates, of 15,000-18,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis –citizens of Georgia, just nearly 4000-6000 are left. The emigration process has not stopped yet.

The regional market in Azerbaijani village Sadakhlo was shutdown a few years ago. This dealt a big blow on the village, since it deprived the residents of their main source of income. Over 400 families, who borrowed loans in the banks to set up small business, bankrupted and stuck in debt pit. As a result, this impoverished the residents and promoted their gradual outflow. The village residents did not conceal their outrage that after the market shutdown, a similar market opened nearby in Armenia in the former Azerbaijani village of Lembeli, present-day Bagratashen.

It all proves that the direct and veiled discrimination and violation of the framework agreement on protection of rights of national minorities signed by both Georgia and Armenia are seen towards Georgian Azerbaijanis. The Azerbaijanis of Georgia need protection of their constitutional rights and constitutional inviolability and integrity of Georgian territory, each section, each meter of the Georgian territory, regardless of where in Georgia it is.

As far as I know, along with MRMG&TOLERANCE, you also head the recently created “Coalition on protection of public interests of ethnic Azerbaijanis of Georgia”. What does this organization deal with?

The Coalition for the Protection of the public interests of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia, which included first 11 public Azerbaijani organizations in different directions was created in September 2011. Now their number is13, but there those willing to join and we are consulting with them.

The aim is to integrate and coordinate methods and measures to protect the public interests of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia, since it requires strong leadership and action from all groups and levels of society. There is a need for greater involvement of all sectors of society to the current process. The Coalition for the Protection of the public interests of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Georgia is intended to mobilize key stakeholders at the regional and central level for common efforts and joint action.

Of course, we intend to operate and maintain close cooperation with both regional and central authorities of Georgia. The latest example of the joint monitoring of the cultural heritage of Azerbaijanis in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture of Georgia gives us a reason to be positive.




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