"Behind the scene" of the Georgian-Azerbaijani relations13.05.2013 | 15:18
Ramilya Aliyeva, Azerbaijani by origin, has nearly become the Minister of Energy of Georgia. Relations between the two countries remain flat. But these stable, good-neighborly relations include some nuances that may destroy this friendship at another time. Our correspondent has tried to sort out these nuances.
Ramilya Aliyeva will not becoma Minister, despite the predictions of the Azerbaijani media in the first place. Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili has decided to nominate George Margvelashvily as a candidate for president from the ruling party, not the current Minister of Energy Kakha Kaladze as previously assumed. If the last-known footballer Kaladze would have decided to fight for the presidency the chair of the Minister of Energy would have passed to Ramilya Aliyeva, rather known as a journalist. This would have been good news for Baku and for a large Azeri community in Georgia.
Both Tbilisi and Baku Georgian-Azerbaijani love to call relations between two counries relations of the "strategic partners." Until recently, everything seemed to be smoothly. The strategic partnership was largely based on personal contacts between Heydar Aliyev and Eduard Shevardnadze in the 90s of the last century, who had known each other since the time of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and in the 2000s - between Ilham Aliyev and Saakashvili who were considered "young and vigorous politicians of the future."
Of course, in the bilateral relations there were problems - primarily over the monastery complex David Garedji, part of which is located in the territory of Georgia, and part - in the territory of Azerbaijan. Despite repeated negotiations, the Georgian pilgrims had not been given the right to visit "Azeri" part of the complex. And since in the border area there is no checkpoint they had to make a huge circle to cross the border at the Red Bridge and then return back.
The second major problem is the situation with the Georgian population in Gakh region of Azerbaijan. There live a few thousand Georgians who have often complained about the problems associated with the visits to the shrines. Inability to attend Georgian churches is not the only problem of the local population. Also there is a problem with the opening of the house of Georgian culture and the difficulties in crossing the Azerbaijani-Georgian border.
However, Tbilisi and Baku preferred not to sound these issues, given the availability of higher-level relationships. After all, Georgia is the main transit country for Azerbaijani gas and oil, and after the completion of the construction of the Baku-Akhalkalaki-Kars, Azerbaijan will receive a direct rail link (also through the territory of Georgia) with Turkey and further with Europe.
The first questions arose immediately after Bidzina Ivanishvili's coming to power. At first, Prime Minister said it was inexpediently to develop the railway line towards Turkey and at the same time build a new tunnel connecting western and eastern Georgia. Opponents of Ivanishvili immediately declared that the Prime Minister was going to stop the construction of the Baku-Kars and lobbied the opening of the railway via Abkhazia. However, after a visit to Azerbaijan, Ivanishvili said he was not going to stop the Baku-Kars, and the railway will be built "even faster schedule."
The second "Georgian fly in the Azeri ointment" arose after statements by Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze who proposed to purchase Russian gas as an alternative to Azerbaijani gas. Opponents of the government of Bidzina Ivanishvili, and in particular the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili were quick to call these statements "rejection of the independent course of the country."
Therefore, Baku had to take "retaliatory measures." Culture Minister Abulfaz Garayev arrived to Tbilisi to discuss the Georgian Church David Garedji and the position of the people in the Kakh area.
According to the decision of the Georgian and Azerbaijani sides, Georgian pilgrims will be able to freely visit the Orthodox churches in Azerbaijan. Abulfaz Garayev said this after meeting with his Georgian counterpart. According to him, he sees no fundamental obstacles to visit David Garedji or temples in the Kakh area. "Culture cannot become a reason for separation. Culture must unite, and the legacy of architectural and cultural monuments is common to us," said Garayev. According to him, the territory of David Garedji was declared a nature reserve, and the Azerbaijani side takes responsibility for its protection. The Minister stressed that under the decision of both parties, visiting holy places would not be a problem. He also noted that the "Chapels of Albanian origin" within the territory of Azerbaijan were common cultural monuments, so the Azerbaijani side allowed the Georgian Orthodox community to conduct services there once a week, on Fridays. Concerning the Kakh region of Azerbaijan, the historic Georgian province Ereti, today inhabited by ethnic Georgians, Minister of Culture said that not long ago an agreement was reached on the establishment of the Georgian houses of culture in order to enhance cultural cooperation between the two nations. The agreement was timely, since during Abulfaz Garayev's visit to Georgia the issue of Georgian churches in the neighboring country actualized in the social networks.