Author: Natig NAZIMOGLU
We are witnessing a very unpleasant moment in Azerbaijani-Georgian relations based on strategic partnership and alliance. It has been provoked by the opening in Georgia of a monument to Mikhail Avaghian, one of the perpetrators of mass extermination of civilian population in the occupied regions of Azerbaijan.
Contrary to good neighbourly relations
Armenian biographers of Avaghian admit that he had participated in the hostilities in Karabakh under a nickname 'Cobra'. Avaghian knew the Azerbaijani language, which helped him gather intelligence... He was one of those villains who killed many children, women and old people in Khojaly. Now the memory of this deadly 'cobra', notoriously famous for the extermination of Karabakhi Azerbaijanis, is immortalised in Georgia. It does not actually matter that the provocation with the monument has taken place in an area predominantly populated by Armenians...
According to reports, the opening ceremony of the monument has been attended by Samvel Manukian and Enzel Mkoyan, members of the Georgian parliament of Armenian descent, representing the ruling party Georgian Dream. Mkoyan is also known as an informal leader of Armenian communities in Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, Georgia. Armenian Ambassador to Georgia Ruben Sadoyan cut the red ribbon at the ceremony, emphasising in his speech that "the Armenian people is grateful to people like Avaghian for its victories".
Apparently, these 'victories' imply the occupation of the fifth of Azerbaijani territory, followed by ethnic cleansing against the entire Azerbaijani population of the region by Armenian armed forces. This land is saturated with the blood of people who fell victims of Armenian militants, including Avaghian...
It is surprising that the organisers of the opening ceremony held the event on January 20, on the same day when Azerbaijan pays a tribute to the hundreds of victims of the tragic events of 1990. Undoubtedly, it was a planned provocation aimed at spoiling Azerbaijani-Georgian relations. According to Armenian sources, the monument to Mikhail Avaghian has been available since the 90s at the backyard of one of the schools in Bugashen village. A decision to replace the monument was adopted because "the old monument had been accidentally damaged."
Interestingly, soon after the opening ceremony of the monument to Avaghian in the Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Javakheti region, we heard that a group of Georgian activists were demanding the demolition of the monument to Azerbaijani leader Nariman Narimanov in the Azerbaijani-populated Kvemo-Kartli region of Georgia. Allegedly, the event has occurred accidentally too.
Anyway, the Georgian ambassador to Baku, Zurab Pataradze, was summoned to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, which lodged an official protest in respect of the installation of the monument to Avaghian. According to the spokeswoman of Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Leyla Abdullayeva, Azerbaijan considers the incident "inappropriate to the spirit of bilateral strategic relations and partnership. We have demanded the Georgian side to take immediate measures to eliminate the fact." At the same time, Azerbaijani ambassador to Georgia expressed the discontent of Azerbaijan to the Foreign Ministry of Georgia. Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement, which says that the diplomats of the two countries have reviewed the issue and exchanged information on this issue. "Azerbaijan is the strategic partner of Georgia and there are no topics beyond the scope of discussion between our countries. This is a normal form of communication. We find the widespread concern on theissue inappropriate," Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
Of course, the widespread concern is inappropriate, since it was the very intention of the provocateurs. The question is why Georgia needs this monument regardless of Azerbaijan's position? After all, it is a monument to a man who is responsible for the death of hundreds of Azerbaijanis and Georgians – during the acute phase of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, Avaghian used to work as a member of the Abkhaz police department, being directly involved in the establishment of the infamous Baghramian battalion. It is the same military unit, which has committed horrific atrocities against the Georgian population of Abkhazia.
Avaghian does not merit any recognition in Georgia and before the Georgians, as he is responsible for committing crimes against the Georgian people on the territory of the Republic of Georgia. In other words, the issue of installing a monument to a criminal and a traitor in Georgia is by no means irrelevant. The same criminal is also guilty of the massacres of the civilian population of Azerbaijan - an allied, friendly country of Georgia, which only signifies the urgency of the issue. Our peoples cannot admit that a memory of the executioner of Georgians and Azerbaijanis is immortalised.
Should we expect an appropriate response from Tbilisi?
It is not surprising that the opening of the monument to Avagyan in Akhalkalaki caused a strong outrage in both Azerbaijan and Georgia.
A number of Georgian politicians and experts expressed concern that the rally in Bugashen could have a negative impact on strategic alliance and partnership with Azerbaijan. Political analyst Mamuka Areshidze called the opening of the monument to Avaghian "a demonstrative, purposeful act", which "can very seriously complicate the situation in the whole region". "Installation of the monument will complicate relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia. From the very beginning of the Karabakh conflict, Georgia has always followed correct position by recognising the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Tbilisi's position is met with understanding in Yerevan. Unfortunately, the policy of impunity specifically in this region, in Akhalkalaki, has resulted in a very gross mistake committed by the government, which must be urgently corrected," the former Georgian Minister of Defence, Dmitry Shashkin, said
Meanwhile, it seems that Tbilisi feels itself trapped in this situation. They claim that the dismantling of the monument in Akhalkalaki will lead to resistance of the local Armenian population. Interestingly, the head of parliamentary faction of the ruling party Georgian Dream, Mamuka Mdinaradze, stated that "the issue has not been agreed with central authorities". On the other hand, the Georgian Foreign Ministry urged not to make a big fuss about the issue: "Azerbaijan is the strategic partner of Georgia and there are no topics beyond the scope of discussion between our countries. This is a normal form of communication. We find the widespread concern on the issue inappropriate."
Obviously, Tbilisi cannot resolve the situation only by avoiding widespread concerns. It should take specific steps confirming the spirit of strategic partnership between our nations. Baku has always been faithful to this partnership, which has been brought to the strategic level by the efforts of the leaderships and the peoples of Azerbaijan and Georgia. Azerbaijani-Georgian partnership is one of the key factors of regional cooperation and security. Azerbaijan is promoting large-scale energy and transport projects together with Georgia. Thanks to gratuitous assistance of Azerbaijan to Georgia, including free provision of natural gas to Georgian churches, including in Armenian-populated areas, as well as regular moral, political, financial and economic support to Georgia in the most difficult times of her history are a convincing example of Azerbaijan’s commitment to the closest and friendliest relations with the neighbouring country. Obviously, Baku has the right to expect that Tbilisi will not take any steps that are contrary to the interests of Azerbaijan. Especially since the prosperous future of Georgia depends to a large extent on this factor.
Certainly, the installation of a monument to the Armenian murderer will not reverse the Azerbaijani-Georgian alliance. Both Azerbaijan and Georgia must ensure that this negative incident does not turn into an indelible dark spot in our bilateral relations. Undoubtedly, nationalist circles within the third country are interested in the deterioration of Azerbaijani-Georgian dialogue, implementing the policy of occupation of Azerbaijani Karabakh and having territorial claims to Georgian Javakhetia. Hence, Azerbaijan expects that Tbilisi demonstrate its determination and provide a worthy response to the provocation of our ill-wishers in Bugashen.