President Saakashvili’s “incorrect” statements on the release of Vahagn Chakhalyan, an activist from Georgia’s pre-dominantly ethnic Armenian populated region, who was serving a prison term for charges related to weapons, armed hooliganism and acts against public order, are contributing to “dissemination of anti-Armenian sentiments,” Armenian Church in Georgia said in a statement on January 26.
Chakhalyan was released on January 24 as a result of a broad amnesty passed by the Georgian Parliament late last year after serving four and half years of his ten-year prison term.
President Saakashvili condemned release of Chakhalyan and described him as “the enemy of the Georgian state”. He said that Chakhalyan was released upon the request of head of the Armenian Apostolic Church Karekin II to Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili; he also said that PM Ivanishvili “committed a grave misconduct” by allowing Chakhalyan’s release and added that the PM did so in order “to please” Russia.
UNM secretary general Vano Merabishvili, who was the interior minister when Chakhalyan was arrested, also condemned Chakhalyan’s release and described him as “a symbol of struggle against the Georgian statehood”, “inspirer of separatism in Javakheti”, “emissary of Russian military intelligence” and “major enemy of the Georgian statehood in Javakheti”.
The Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia released a statement on January 26 saying that it “condemns” remarks of this kind by the President and other UNM leaders.
With such statements, it said, the President and former interior minister acknowledged that “there actually was no justice when UNM was in power”.
“If Chakhalyan was really a separatist and an agent, why was not he convicted under relevant articles of the criminal code? There is one explanation to this paradox: the previous authorities used justice system against their political opponents,” the statement reads.
“Moreover, President Saakashvili allowed himself to mention the name of His Holiness, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, saying that Vahagn Chakhalyan was released upon His Holiness’ request. We would like to highlight that this request was based on humanistic beliefs and had originated from Chakhalyan’s parents’ appeal which could not have remained without the attention of the Spiritual Pastor of All Armenians,” the statement reads, adding that Chakhalyan was released because law on amnesty applied to him.
It called on politicians “not to use for their short-term political objectives issues, which directly concern peace and calmness in our multiethnic homeland, as well as relationship between our brotherly people of Georgia and Armenia.”
“We are convinced that despite all political or other circumstances, our nations will continue strengthening and deepening good-neighborly and fraternal relations. Ethnically Armenian citizens of Georgia were and will continue to be devoted sons of Georgia,” the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia said.
Chakhalyan, who was with one of the Akhalkalaki-based groups which staged several protest rallies in 2005 against withdrawal of the Russian military base from Akhalkalaki and which was calling for an autonomy for the Javakheti region, was arrested in July, 2008 and initially charged with illegal keeping of weapons; later more charges were added involving hooliganism, acts against public order and resisting officials for incidents dating back for 2005 and 2006 including the one when protesters stormed court chamber and a building of the Tbilisi State University’s local branch in Akhalkalaki. His supporters condemned Chakhalyan’s arrest and consequent conviction as politically motivated.
President Saakashvili said that Chakhalyan’s release was in Russia’s interest, suggesting that Moscow would try to provoke unrests in Samtskhe-Javakheti region.
“I am sure that they [locals in Javakheti] will not yield to [provocations] against our statehood by Russian agents even if these [agents] are acting together with the group which came into Georgian government temporarily,” Saakashvili said.
“Chakhalyan – I do not want to stress on his ethnic origins because it does not matter, we have many Armenians who have been defending Georgia’s independence with arms in their hands… – is a representative of not Armenia, it was not in Armenia’s interest to see him freed six years before [expiration of his prison term], this person is a direct resident, representative of the Russian special services in Georgia. He has been working for GRU [Russian military intelligence] for years,” Saakashvili said.