Newly elected President of Georgia Salome Zourabichvili is on an official visit to Armenia, and one of the topics of her negotiations with Armenia’s leadership was the conflict in the region. During her visit to Yerevan, Armenia’s leadership tried to find out what the President of Georgia had meant when she made a statement on “the occupation of territories of Georgia and Azerbaijan” during her recent visit to Baku. As a result, the President of Georgia not only affirmed her position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but also addressed allegations to Armenia’s leadership. Salome Zourabichvili’s crude position may put an end to the uniform policy towards the parties to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict by which Georgia had been guided throughout the post-Soviet era.
Armenia’s government, which received Georgia’s President in Yerevan, was particularly interested in Salome Zourabichvili’s clarifications regarding her ambiguous statement made in Baku. During an official visit to Azerbaijan on 27 February, Zourabichvili touched upon the topic of “occupation of territories” of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Her statements on the “Russian occupation” of the former Georgian autonomous regions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) didn’t come as a surprise to anyone since Georgia’s representatives often address allegations to Moscow. However, this time, for the first time ever, the President of Georgia openly alleged Armenia for occupying Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We have restored the independence of our countries and experienced a similar tragedy almost at the same time,” Salome Zourabichvili said as she addressed President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. Moreover, the President of Georgia clarified that by saying “similar tragedy”, she had meant “occupation of territories”.
“For us, the occupied territories are a wound that still hasn’t healed,” the President went on to say and expressed satisfaction with the fact that Georgia and Azerbaijan “have managed to strengthen their statehood and develop their economy”, in spite of the occupation.
According to Kommersant’s information, the topic of Zourabichvili’s statements made in Baku were touched upon with varying degrees of sharpness during the meetings with President of Armenia Armen Sargsyan and Premier Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan. However, the President of Georgia didn’t even justify or refute her statements. On the contrary, she presented several demands to the Armenian party.
In particular, during a meeting with Speaker of Armenia’s National Assembly Ararat Mirzoyan, Salome Zourabichvili warned that it was “very important” for Georgia to see Armenia recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity not only with words, but also in practice. The head of state immediately clarified that she was referring to the visit of the delegation of Nagorno-Karabakh to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “The organizers of those visits show that the conflicts are proportionate,” the President of Georgia said, without concealing her discontent. “This is very painful,” Zourabichvili went on to say and added; “We find that there is no friendliness that there has to be towards our country.”
Tbilisi believes that the latest statement by President Zourabichvili is unprecedented in the entire post-Soviet era during which Georgia maintained neutrality within the scope of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
This is the opinion that one of the leaders of the oppositional European Georgia Party, ex-deputy minister of foreign affairs Sergi Kapanadze expressed in an interview with Kommersant. According to him, the President has to be “much more careful” when speaking about such a “sensitive topic”. Alongside that, Mr. Kapanadze admitted that Salome Zourabichvili’s statements didn’t come as a surprise to him. “This is only the beginning. There will be more statements like this,” the diplomat said with confidence.
The Georgian government hasn’t commented on the President’s statements in Baku and Yerevan. All the MPs of the ruling Georgian Dream Party, who supported Salome Zourabichvili during the presidential elections, also haven’t commented on the statements.
Independent politician Davit Avalashvili reminded that, according to Georgia’s Constitution, the powers of the head of state shall be of a symbolic nature. Due to that, the expert added that even though the statements of Mrs. Zourabichvili were very important and unprecedented, “serious and responsible figures in Yerevan and Baku won’t view them as an indicator of radical change of position of the Georgian government on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict”.