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HOME :: ANALYSIS :: Javakhk: News, Facts and Analyses
Arrests aim to intimidate Armenians
by Tatul Hakobyan
Published: Friday March 27, 2009
Yerevan - Several issues are raised by the decision of the Tbilisi authorities to release on bail two Armenian activists from Akhaltsikhe, Georgia, Grigor Minasian and Sarkis Hakobjanian, who were accused of forming an illegal armed group and spying. Both Georgian-Armenians who are accused of this serious crime are well known and active individuals in Samtskhe-Javakheti. Grigor Minasian is now a former youth center director and Sarkis Hakobjanian heads a charity.
The question remains: how accurate are the claims that they committed a serious crime such as spying? Regardless of what the two Armenians said during the investigation, the accusations have not been tried in open court.
If Mr. Minasian and Mr. Hakobjanian have spied, which is a betrayal of their country, how come the judicial system of Georgia was so mild, and after keeping them behind bars for only six weeks allowed them out on bail for the symbolic amount of 2000 laries? In Armenia, as in Georgia, there have been several cases with accusations of spying over the past few years. In none of these cases, however, were the accused allowed out on bail. They were put behind bars for many years.
Have Mr. Minasian and Mr. Hakobjanian been threatened during the investigation? Nino Andriashvili, the now former lawyer of the two Armenians, has announced that they have pleaded guilty of spying while under pressure. Have the power structures of Georgia threatened Mr. Minasian and Mr. Hakobjanian that their families would be in danger if they did not plead guilty? It is more incomprehensible when one of the conditions of bail for the two was that they should not talk to the media.
What is ALAP?
As long as Mr. Minasian and Mr. Hakobjanian are not talking, it is hard to completely understand the reasons behind their arrest. Those in the international media who have written about this case have drawn attention towards a NGO called Association for Legal Assistance to the Population, ALAP.
Ms. Andriashvili has said that Mr. Minasian and Mr. Hakobjanian had discussed forming an armed group with the Tbilisi leader of ALAP and the discussions had been secretly videotaped. It is obvious that the taping was implemented either by the Georgian Special Services or by the representatives of ALAP who then handed it over to the Georgian Special Services. It is also not certain so far whether Mr. Minasian and Mr. Hakobjanian were arrested and accused because of questionnaires distributed by ALAP and completed by Mr. Minasian.
Citing Ms. Andriashvili, Georgian and international media insist that ALAP is a Belorussian organization supported by Russian special services. According to another point of view, Georgian Special Forces themselves established ALAP in order to monitor the loyalty of certain Armenian circles toward Georgia.
The method utilized by ALAP is very specific to special services. And so, for only a couple of months, ALAP opened its office and started aggressive and energetic activity in the center of Tbilisi, adjacent to Rustavelli Street, where the Georgian Justice Ministry is located. In autumn, ALAP uploaded a questionnaire about Samtskhe-Javakheti on its website, which no longer exists (the office of the organization has closed, the phones are dead, and e-mails are not answered), and promises to pay $300 to those who complete it.
OSCE correspondent Taguhi Vardanian, the head of the Union of the Salvation of the Soul NGO in Ninotsmida, which is 98 percent Armenian populated, is one of those who completed the questionnaire and received $300. While talking to us she said that the questions on the questionnaire were very ordinary and in order to confirm that, she read them one by one.
"Grigor and I completed the questionnaire and went to Tbilisi together and presented it to the ALAP office. There were some Georgians in their office who said that their headquarters were in Minsk. We met their representative, Vadim Abdulov. Just like all those who completed the questionnaire, we also received $300," said Ms. Vardanian.
Even though the international media has said that the questions on the questionnaire had not been ordinary and had been sensitive, one does not feel anything unusual when reading them. These are truly ordinary questions about Samtskhe-Javakheti. Similar questions and detailed answers can be found on the Internet. The unusual thing here is that those completing the questionnaire received monetary remuneration.
If ALAP was truly created by the Russian Special Services and the two Armenians were arrested and accused of spying because of their cooperation with the representatives of that organization, then why have none of the employees of ALAP been arrested? This very circumstance makes one suspect that ALAP is a fake organization and that the Georgian Special Services are behind it.
The general condition in Samtskhe-Javakheti
The accusation of a serious crime by two Armenians must be observed on a deeper level: the issue of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Despite the insistence of the Georgian and Armenian authorities that the issues connected with the Armenians of Samtskhe-Javakheti are socioeconomic, people aware of that region understand that the issue first of all is political and national.
From time to time Armenians who are active in trying to preserve the Armenian identity of Samtskhe-Javakheti by their activities have issues with the judicial system of Georgia. The future of the friendly relations of the Javakheti Armenians, as well as those between Armenia and Georgia, depend upon the issues in that region. A few days ago an announcement disseminated by some Armenian organizations in Akhalkalak noted issues relating to the preservation of national identity, as well as political, spiritual-cultural, educational, and socioeconomic issues. The issues are being discussed continually; however, no steps are being taken and Armenian-Georgian high-level meetings end with empty toasts to the friendly past and present of the two nations.
Norik Karapetian is a leader of Akhalkalak's Javakhk Movement. "It is without any doubt that their case is politically motivated. They are the most active members of the Akhaltsikhe Armenian community. By doing so the Georgian authorities are attempting to suppress the Armenian spirit," Mr. Karapetian said. Grigor Minasian and Sarkis Hakobjanian are amongst the most active Armenians in Akhaltsikhe and the Armenians of Javakheti comprehend their arrest and accusations of serious crimes, regardless of other details, differently. The Armenians of Georgia are justifiably concerned that with these arrests an attempt is being made to crush the spirit of the Armenians. Another arrest, this time in Akhalkalaki, came before the arrest of Mr. Minasian and Mr. Hakobjanian. Vahagn Chakhalian, one of the active Armenians in Akhalkalaki is under arrest for absurd and trumped up charges.
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