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The Georgian authorities are pushing the Javakhk Armenians onto the streets2009-04-09 17:29
The Georgian authorities have sentenced the activist Vaagn Chakhalyan (photographed) from the Armenian-populated region of Javakheti to 10 years in prison. Experts think that the attempt to intimidate ethnic minorities could have the opposite effect. On the eve of 9th April, a political alliance of Ossetians, Azeris, Armenians and other ethnic groups was created, who for the first time in 20 years might join the all-Georgian protest against Mikheil Saakashvili.
The Chakhalyan family has been sentenced with all the severity which the law allows. The father of the Javakhk activist, Ruben, and his younger brother Armen were found guilty of obtaining and storing weapons. The head of the family was also implicated in "involvement in mass disturbances". In total they will have to pay 7000 lari (about $4000). But the leader of the political movement "A Democratic Alliance - United Javakhk", Vaagn Chakhalyan, "exacerbated his guilt" by organizing mass events which infringed on public order, group resistance against a police official and hooliganism. All this along with involvement in disturbances and the purchasing and storing of weapons "dragged out" his sentence to 10 years.
Last summer there was an explosion outside the house of the chief of the Akhalkalaki regional police, Samvel Petrosyan. Suspicion fell on three Armenian organizations. During searches of their leaders' houses, a police official, an ethnic Armenian, was shot. And in Vaagn Chakhalyan's house, weapons and ammunition were discovered.
Chakhalyan's defence team is intending to appeal against the conviction in the higher courts, and then in the European Court of Human Rights. The family's lawyer Stepan Voskanyan had been preparing for this eventuality beforehand, saying that the rights of his clients were being flagrantly violated.
Speaking at the last court hearing, Vaagn Chakhalyan called his trial shameful "because of the numerous legal infringements, falsified and hastily fabricated evidence, and the witnesses - who were exclusively law-enforcement officials," reports ARMENIA Today. A few weeks before the pronouncement of the guilty verdict, the defendant sent an open letter to Mikheil Saakashvili. He asked the president to enter into a dialogue with Georgian Armenians to resolve their problems, without casting aspersions on the international bodies. "Unfortunately, you have continued the short-sighted policies of your predecessors, presenting the Javakhk Armenians as an especially dangerous element that threaten the country's integrity," wrote the activist. He complained that although material funds are invested, the Georgian government does nothing to morally encourage the Armenians to learn Georgian, because the non-Georgians cannot aspire to "equality, supremacy of the law and freedom for all ethnic groups living in Georgia".
238,000 people live in Samtskhe-Javakheti, and of them 53-percent are Armenians. And in regions such as Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, Armenians make up 90-percent of the population.
Several Armenian voluntary organizations support Chakhalyan and his position. The Erkir repatriation and assimilation union has viewed the outcome of the legal hearings as an "absolutely shameful result of legal proceedings that were carried out with shameful legal infringements". Erkir has approached international human rights organizations for support. The chairman of the Javakhk union of fellow compatriots and deputy in the Armenian parliament, Shirak Torosyan, has called the verdict ridiculous, reports Tert.am. "Everyone in Javakhk knows that this case has been fixed. Vaagn Chakhalyan is being judged for his activities and political views," said Torosyan.