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•Markhulia- Armenian Diaspora

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Guram Markhulia

From the History of Armenian

Diaspora in GEORGIA


The Georgian-Armenian relationship has a long history, lasting through many centuries. Due to their geographic location, Georgia and Armenia, along the whole length of history, create an important geopolitical area. Georgians and Armenians belong to the peoples who were fighting for liberation and for obtaining and preserving independent statehood. Due to historical fate, it turned out that the Georgian nation was able to preserve its three-thousand-year statehood and existed till the beginning of the 19. century either as an unified Georgian Kingdom, or in the form of separate Georgian kingdoms or princedoms. While the great empires were disappearing from the political map, small Georgia continued to exist. Armenians had a different fate. During centuries, the very existence of the Armenian nation, not to mention the Armenian statehood, was often questioned.

During the millennia, in the bloody wars, Georgia was one of the central regions of the Caucasus. None of the world’s existing nations had to fight so many battles and wars as Georgians had in order to live on their own land and to repel the aggressors, to preserve their existence and maintain national pride.

The beginning of the 2. century B.C. brought new geopolitical changes. The Roman legions defeated the armies of Antioch III in the battle of Magnesia in 190 B.C. The defeat of the Seleucids contributed to the break-up of their empire. The Armenian military commanders, Artaxias and Zariadres used the momentum to betray Antioch III, stop obeying his orders and declare independence of the provinces which had been given to them for governing. Thus, for the first time in history, the Armenian state was created on territories of ethnic Georgians. From the very beginning Armenians started to expand the controlled territories. According to Strabo, Artaxias and Zariadres expanded (Armenia), cut off the lands from their neighbours and took Pariadre, Khordzena and Gugareti from the Iberians. This was the beginning of the Armenian-Georgian wars that lasted for centuries. Georgians, who did not yield to the greater aggressors, of course were not going to surrender their lands to the Armenians.

In 95 B.C., the Armenian throne was taken by Tigranes II (95-55) who, owing to the geopolitical situation, was able to establish his control over a significant part of Minor Asia. Later, Armenian historians, on a larger the scale than it was done by Tigranes II, fantastically expanded the territory of “Great Armenia” from the Caspian Sea to the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The same historians, were working out the idea of the restoration of “Great Armenia’s” borders.

Due to the military and political situation, Armenian settlements began to appear in Georgia from the 5. century. In the 7. century, the divine service in Tsurtavi eparchy was conducted both in Georgian and Armenian. It proves that the Armenians, which were forced to leave their homeland, found asylum in Georgia.

From the 7. century, Persian rule in the South Caucasus was replaced by the Arabian one. Exactly at that time, the Armenians offered their help to the Arabs in collecting levy and taxes. The Caliphate considered the Armenian “Ishkhan” as one of the main tools in establishing control over the South Caucasus. Therefore, the Caliphs were interested very much in prolonging and preserving its functioning. The consent of both sides became the basis for the strengthening of “Ishkhan” institute and its further transformation into a state. Thus, under the aegis of the Arabs, Armenian statehood was restored. Later, in the second half of the 10. century, the Armenian political organization, claiming to act in the Arab’s interests, took over significant Georgian territories and established two kingdoms there: Tashir-Dzorageti (Lore) Kingdom and Vanand (Kars) Kingdom. With that, the Arabian invasion was joined by the “Great Armenian invasion”.

In 1045, the Byzantine Empire abolished the Armenian political organization, Kingdom of Ani and resettled the Armenians into the inner provinces of empire. Great number of Armenians asked for refuge in the Georgian Kingdom. King of Georgia met the refugees with great respect, allowed them to settle in different parts of the country and saved them from annihilation. Thus, after abolition of the Armenian statehood, Georgia became a second homeland for the Armenian nation.

Armenians living in the inner provinces of the Byzantine Empire soon were able to create a self-governmental body. Afterwards it was “raised” to the rank of Armenian state in Cilicia by Armenian historians, who notified the whole world about the foundation of the new Armenian state in a different geographical environment.

Arabian rule allowed Armenians to settle on the territories of the present-day Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. Using the method of unconditional surrender, they moved to Central and Eastern Iran. During the greatness of Byzantine Empire, they began to appear in Constantinople, Thrace, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Transylvania and Crimea. The Crusades allowed the Armenians to settle down in Cyprus, Crete, and Italy. Thanks to the Tamerlane’s campaigns, the Armenian Diasporas were founded in Kazan and Astrakhan. Armenian maps refer to all of the above-mentioned territories as parts of “Great Armenia”.

In the second half of the 15. century, the united Georgian feudal kingdom broke up. The newly-created Georgian kingdoms and princedoms continued to fight against the Turks and Persians. While defending their homeland, many Georgians fell at the battlefields and many Georgian provinces became depopulated. The Armenians took advantage of the situation and seized Georgian lands, houses, churches. Using these methods, the Armenians were trying to found the Armenian statehood on Georgian territory, which was proven by further development of events.

In the second half of the 18. century, Erekle II cleared Eastern Georgia from the Persians and created the strong Georgian Kingdom of Karthl-Kakheti. The Yerevan Khanate became subservient to Karthl-Kakheti Kingdom and practically became part of it. From that time, Armenians had placed all the hopes of liberating Armenia on Erekle II. Even the Armenians living in India asked Erekle II to create a Georgian-Armenian federal state, but the Armenian Patriarch, fearing that he would lose his small domain, foiled that plan, and reported about it to the Iranian Shah.

At the end of the 18. century, Russia joined the fight for the South Caucasus. Erekle II had to sign an agreement with Russia. This step aggravated the situation of Karthl-Kakheti Kingdom. It soon became clear that Russia was not interested in strengthening her ally. At the same time, the Persian Shah decided to punish Karthl-Kakheti and moved to plunder it. It should be mentioned that the Armenian Catholicos Luka gave 100,000 roubles to Agha Muhammed Khan in 1795 in order to cover the war expenses and asked him not to harm the Armenians living in Georgia.

The first battle ended with a Georgian victory. Fearing an ultimate defeat, Agha Muhammad Khan retreated. But because of the betrayal of the Armenian Meliks Mejlun and Abov, the Persians would be able to take Tbilisi. After Agha Muhammad Khan took Tbilisi and ruined it, a new wave of Armenians with the new goals entered Georgia.

The well-known Georgian historian I. Javakhishvili was writing with bitterness: “During the reign of Erekle, the nature of the Armenian immigration in Georgia is obviously changing: if previously their resettlement was spontaneous and had no political inclination or significance, from the end of the 18. century it obtained certain political aspects. Formerly, the Armenians were moving to Georgia seeking protection and were subservient to the Georgian state; from this time on they are looking for the patronage of the outside force, in order to achieve their goals in Georgia.

From this time on the strange situation arouse: Armenians were establishing double connection. From one side they had relations with King Erekle II or King Giorgi and were coming to Georgia as refugees but at the same time they had secret protection from Russia and with the help of Russian government they were following their line.”

In 1801, the Russian empire abolished Karthl-Kakheti Kingdom. In the following years, the other Georgian kingdoms and principalities shared the same fate and Georgia became part of the Russian empire.

Georgia paid a high price for peace, which was established after the disposition of the Russian troops in the country. “The Russian government relied on the Armenian Diaspora in Georgia and artificially increased Armenian population. The Armenians helped a lot the Russian government in suppression of the 1812 Kakheti uprising. The emperor Alexander I considered the Armenians as the Russian bulwark in the matter of subjugation of Georgian “disobedience”, and sent them gratifying letters”.

The Russian government had new plans against Persia and Turkey. Such a policy was advantageous for the Armenians and they continued to come to Georgia. In 1828-1829, when Russia was conducting wars against Persia and Turkey, the main clause of the truce was the free resettlement of the Armenians in Georgia. All the Armenians received these news with a great pleasure and began to migrate immediately to Georgia. Despite the opposition from the Persian government, Colonel Lazarev and General Paskevich, acting under the orders of the Russian emperor, were able to move more than 40 000 Armenians into Georgia. Three Turkish provinces: Beyazıt, Erzurum and Kars were nearly completely cleared from Armenians, who also migrated to Georgia (their number was around 70 000). Armenians were settled in various Georgian provinces, including Abkhazia, but the main part of them, due to Russian geopolitical goals, stayed in Samtskhe-Javakheti, near the Turkish border.

Because of this, the Russian publicist Zagurski wrote with bitterness: “After settlement of the Armenians, Georgian villages in Akhaltsikhe district became like oases. The region looks as if Armenians had lived here from the beginning. The Armenians were free in their actions: they were destroying churches, monasteries and became so impudent that they wanted to rename Akhaltsikhe into Nor-Erzurum.”

L. Velichko could not hide his resentment and wrote: “The Armenians do not miss an opportunity to praise, in a parasitical way, their historical “services” or present virtues. On the way they try to shadow their neighbouring peoples, who have a much brighter history and more dignity then the Armenians themselves. Armenians are robbing the Georgians historically and archaeologically they try to delete Georgian inscriptions from the historical monuments, misappropriate the ancient orthodox chapels and deserted churches… fabricating historical nonsense and trying to represent the places, where every stone shows the past of the Georgian kingdom, as the old Armenian domains. Avoiding the convincing testimony of the historical monuments, they were trying to steal, use all the methods and the rich past of the Georgian historical province of Saatabago, which was the domain of the Jaqeli Atabags and which is part of Akhaltsikhe district nowadays. This is despite the fact that all Caucasians know about the still existing traces of the reign of King Tamar in these places… that the most part of the Armenians are refugees from Turkey since the 19. century and not indigenous population.”

Exactly from that time begins the creation process of Armenia’s new history. With the legends about “Great Armenia”, they try to draw attention and convince the whole world that they had possessed the lands from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea since ancient times. Regarding this Velichko was writing: “The Armenian intelligentsia comprehends well that their kin is not enjoying a good reputation. It is not a coincidence that they represented themselves as Georgians, or sometimes as Circassians to the people, who were not well-informed about Caucasian matters. It is also not coincidental that some publicists, who sympathize with the Armenians, try to avoid naming them as “Armenians” and refer to them as “natives”, “Caucasians”, and often as “Christians”. They create a history, persuading that the Armenians are originating directly from Noah… Pages of their history are full of the names of “great persons”, who are unknown to history. Sometimes, historically absolutely insignificant persons are depicted as the “greatest figures.”

In 1840, the Russian empire carried out an administrative reform in the South Caucasus and renamed Georgia into the Province of Georgia-Imereti. The leaders of the Armenian nationalistic forces, who wanted to restore “Great Armenia”, got angry that the “future territory of Great Armenia” became merely a district in the province of Georgia-Imereti. In 1849, after the negotiations with the Russian government, the Province of Yerevan was established. This was the first victory of Armenian nationalism on its way towards the creation of “Great Armenia”. The leaders of the Armenian nation, with a great zeal, began the expansion of the borders of the new administrative unit. According to their plan, the Armenians demanded to create a new Armenian province of Alexandropol from the Borchalo and Akhaltsikhe districts. The imperial administration definitely could create a new Armenian province of Alexandropol on Georgian territories, but owing to geopolitical goals, the Armenians’ attention was drawn to the Eastern provinces of the Turkish Empire, which were densely populated by the Armenians. Thus, the Armenians were pointed out about the possibility of liberation of the so-called Turkish Armenians and creation of the unified Armenian state. The Armenian nationalistic parties and organizations began to convince the Turkish Armenians that mighty Russia was going to liberate them from the Ottoman yoke.

With the aim of restoring “Great Armenia”, the Armenian population in Turkey began to prepare ethnic area. It was the Turkish population that was impeding to the realization of the old idea. On February 21, 1914, following their goals, Armenian bands killed 30 000 Turks in Kars and Artaani. Armenians were taking off their children and throwing them into fire. The organizer of this action was Stepan Ter-Danielian, a member of the Turkish Parliament.

In 1914, after the beginning of First World War, the Armenian population of Turkey decided that the time of liberation had come and began an uprisal in the Eastern Turkish villages of Trebizond, Erzurum, Erzinjan, Van and Bitlis. Armenian bands started to kill the peaceful Turkish population. The Dashnak groups did not even spare women, old people and children. During a few months, Armenian terrorist groups killed 90 000 Turks, among which 14 000 were children.

Gagik Pasdirmajian, former Member of the Turkish Assembly (Parliament), was stating in his addresses: “The Turkish children have to be slaughtered. They are a threat for the future Armenia.” Seeing this treachery, on April 24, 1915, the Turkish government decided to deport the Armenian population.

300 000 Armenians decided to take refuge in Georgia. The Georgians received them and settled them near the border, in Samtskhe-Javakheti. Exactly in three years, the newly established diaspora “forgot” how they came to Georgia, claimed that they lived in Armenia and demanded the integration with Armenia. Despite this, the Georgian government did not take any measures against the Armenians, as it had been done by the Turks previously. Moreover, it created even more favourable conditions for the Armenians. It should be mentioned that the descendants of those Armenians today have the same demands as their ancestors.

After the 1917 Bolshevik coup d’etat, the Russian empire broke up and Russia came out of war. This was a menace to the idea of “Great Armenia”.

On March 3, 1918, Soviet Russia signed the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty with Germany and gave Ardagan, Kars and Batumi to Turkey, who was a German ally. The Trans-Caucasian government did not recognize the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and tried to make peace on more agreeable terms but failed to get Turkey’s consent at the Trebizond Conference.

According to Turkish demand, the Trans-Caucasus proclaimed its independence but this did not stop the Turkish troops who took over the territories given to Turkey by the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and continued to occupy even more parts of the TransCaucasian Republic.

The Turkish plans towards Georgia and the whole Caucasus caused a diplomatic struggle between Germany and its ally at the Batumi peace conference. Despite the geopolitical disputes, Turkey could not openly confront Germany because of Georgia. The Georgian politicians used this situation and asked the German government to protect Georgia. Germany agreed to do so. The Georgian social-democrats, who had lost all the hopes of restoring the democratic Russia, began their preparations for the declaration of independence. Dashnaks became desperate, since they could not agree with the course of Georgian social-democrats, and also could not count on the Germans in the realization of their grandiose plans. There was no unity between the political parties of different nations in the Trans-Caucasus and this caused the break up of the federative republic.

Due to the existing political situation, the independence of Georgia was declared on May 26, 1918. It caused great rage among Armenian politicians. They blamed the Georgian social-democrats for leaving them alone against the Turks and for not helping in the fight for the creation of “Great Armenia”. The situation was aggravated by the new Turkish ultimatum about the revision of the borders. The Turks wanted to seize the territories considered by Armenia but owing to the political situation, the Turkish government had to make some corrections in its plans. The Turkish government made a great mistake and agreed on the creation of an independent Armenian state in the part of Yerevan province. On May 28, 1918, the Armenian National Council, which was operating in Tbilisi, declared the independence of Armenia. After many centuries, the Armenian statehood was restored, but the plan of “Great Armenia” failed. Although, the Armenian government was not satisfied with the achieved goals and was seeking for the allies in order to expand its territory.

After declaration of independence, the Georgian government decided to put the border troops on the South boundaries of Borchalo, Sighnaghi and Tbilisi districts. Despite the fact that the historical frontiers of Georgia were passing even more Southern, the Armenian government protested against this decision. Armenia was categorically against drawing the border along with the historical boundaries, since it would endanger the very existence of the newly established Armenian state. Dashnak politicians thought that the Georgian government, by taking the historical territories, was confronting the “democratic principles” and definitely impeding the self-determination of the Armenians on Georgian lands. With this protest the Armenian government demanded from the Georgian government to accept the fact of the ethnic occupation of Georgian historical provinces of Lore, Giumri, Vanadzor, Akhaltsikhe, Akhalkalaki by the Armenians.

In order to determine the state borders, a joint Georgian-Armenian commission was created. The Armenians demanded the placing of Lore and Akhalkalaki districts and 2/3 of Borchalo district inside the Armenian boundaries. The Georgian side protested and the commission stopped functioning.

In June and July of 1918, the Georgian government seized the historical Georgian territories between Sochi and Tuapse. The local Armenian population sided with Denikin and fought against Georgia. Thus, they once more showed their treachery for which they were thrown away from Turkey.

On December 5, 1918, Armenia, without declaration of war, attacked Georgian territory. On December 29, the successful attack of the Georgian troops cleaned the road to Yerevan. Due to the critical military situation, the Armenian government had to agree on stopping the hostilities and restoring the status quo. On December 31, 1918, the Georgian troops offensive was stopped.

On January 1, 1919, British troops took over the territories of Lore and Borchalo regions from the station Airum to the station Shagal and declared that line as a “neutral zone”. On January 9, 1919, the Armenian-Georgian peace conference was opened in Tbilisi. It specified the terms of the armistice. The administration of the Lore neutral zone was formed from both Georgians and Armenians. The control over the administration was performed by military representatives, first by the British, then by the American ones. The temporary armistice was signed on January 22, 1919. It ended the Armenian-Georgian war and officially legalized the creation of the Lore neutral zone.

Despite this, theArmenian government succeeded in its policy of reaching the expansion of Armenia’s borders with the help of Western countries. In August of 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres was signed. According to the Treaty, Armenia got a part of the Eastern province of Anatolia and the outlet to the sea. The “noble-minded” European diplomats increased the territory of Armenia at the expense of historical Georgian lands. At the same time, the Dashnaks were waiting for receiving Karabakh, which was in Azerbaijan, and the so-called Lore “neutral zone”, which was established by the English directly after the end of Armenian-Georgian war.

Facing the national liberation movement in Turkey, Britain decided to use the Dashnak Armenia against the Kemalist forces. Soon Armenia began the war against Turkey, in order to get the territories given to her by the Treaty of Sèvres. However, Armenia lost the war and her troops retreated to the Georgian border. On November 26, 1920, after the defeat in the war against Turkey, Armenia signed a declaration, according to which it renounced the Treaty of Sèvres. In a few days, the Soviet regime was established in Armenia. Soon the Armenian People Commissar of Foreign Affairs demanded from the government of Georgian Democratic Republic the withdrawal of Georgian forces from the Lore region. The struggle for the old goals continued in another way, under another flag and using another ideology.

After the establishment of the Soviet regime in Georgia, on July 7, 1921, the plenary session of the Caucasian Bureau adopted the decree on passing the former Lore neutral zone to Armenia. In that way, the 3812 square kilometres of historical Georgian territories were cut off Georgia.

Moscow’s official anti-Georgian policy became apparent in cutting off the original Georgian territories from Georgia. Russia itself seized significant territory (even if we do not take into consideration the territories from Sochi to Tuapse) from Georgia, namely the Western part of Gagra Region (present-day Sochi). Georgia had lost overall 19 491 square kilometres of its original territories.

In the 1980’s, the leaders of the Armenian nation understood that the break up of the Soviet Union was inevitable. In 1985, they gathered at the 23rd congress of Dashnaktsutiun and discussed the expansion of the future independent Armenia. At the gathering the Dashnaks set two directions of Armenian expansion: Azerbaijan and Georgia. It seems, they were afraid of history lessons regarding the Turkish direction. During the voting they choose the Azerbaijan direction because the Highland Karabakh enjoyed the status of the Autonomous Region in Azerbaijan. From their point of view, it would less irritate the society.

The Soviet Armenia offered its geopolitical area to the official Moscow. Based on the Russian interests, Armenia got the military guarantees for the realization of her plans in exchange. Hence, Armenia started the war against Azerbaijan and with the help of the Russian army, cut off 20% of territories of the neighbouring country. More then million Azerbaijanis became IDP-s in their own country.

During the 1992-1993 war between Russia and Georgia in Abkhazia, the Armenian Diaspora, living in Abkhazia, stood out against the Georgian nation and the Georgian state. They created the so-called Bagramian Battalion and fought against Georgians with special cruelty.

In November 2001, a meeting of Dashnak leaders took place in Basel (Switzerland). They discussed the question of annexing the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. The meeting decided to give the region autonomy. With this purpose they created the “Javakheti Renaissance Fund”, where considerable amounts of money were transferred. As a result, the population of Javakheti began to held meetings and demonstrations and demanded autonomy. Later they demanded the joining of Javakheti to Armenia.

The Armenian political circles, in order to prove their rights on this Georgian region, are distributing the works of questionable quality in Javakheti saying that Armenians here are the autochthons. Such a movement is caused by the present-day Russian-Armenian geopolitical union, and it has a purpose of occuying Javakheti. The Armenian Diaspora is ideologically prepared for this event. On the background of the Russian-Georgian war of August, 2008, such ideological diversions are especially dangerous for Georgia.

Hence, throughout history, the Armenian nation always used Georgian statehood to create a densely populated ethnic land to ensure territorial demands in future against the state, which saved and supported them. These are the desires of the Armenians in Georgia. Despite this, we express the hope that in future the two nations can deepen good neighbouring relations and build peaceful, democratic states.



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