Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Azerbaijan criticises Armenia-Georgia ties

Georgia has found itself in a rather uncomfortable position recently, as its efforts to improve economic ties with Armenia have come under fire from Azerbaijan, Armenia's arch-rival but Georgia's strategic ally.

In a tough neighbourhood, Tbilisi needs all the friends it can get; as well as its close energy partnership with Azerbaijan, it has sought to cultivate ties with Armenia. Outreach to Yerevan is for its own merits, but also in order to draw Armenia away from its economic and strategic patron Russia. The hostility between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, therefore, requires a careful balance from Tbilisi.
For some time rumours have circulated that Tbilisi, as part of its privatisation drive, was seeking to sell off its section of a pipeline which sells Russian gas to Armenia (isolated by Azerbaijani and Turkish blockades, Armenia relies on Russian and Iranian gas). Fears arose in Armenia that Azerbaijan's state energy firm State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) would seek to acquire the pipeline, effectively giving it control of Armenia's gas supply.

This now seems unlikely, with Georgian officials insisting that the pipeline will remain in government hands. However, the battle of influence between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Georgia continues.
In mid-February Armenia and Georgia agreed to jointly operate their three border crossings in order to smooth travel and trade between them. Conflicting regulations have inhibited trade, partly explaining why Armenian president Serzh Sarkisian declared on 17th February that trade between them was “insufficient” despite the fact that total trade turnover more than doubled between 2005 and 2008.
One successfully developing area of integration has been a boom in Armenians holidaying on Georgia's Black Sea coast, buying property there, and setting up import/export businesses in Georgian ports. In 2010, around 300,000 Armenian tourists visited Georgia, according to Yerevan.
Responding to this rise in Armenian-Georgian contact, but without any discernible immediate trigger, Baku's ambassador to Tbilisi Namig Aliyev declared on 24th February that Armenia “means to occupy these territories [in Georgia] both through military way [sic] and migration.”

He said that Armenians working and living in Georgia were an attempt to create mono-ethnic enclaves in order to realise the concept of a 'Greater Armenia' stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian, and that Azerbaijan and Georgia must unite to prevent this “great threat.”
Exactly why the ambassador made these comments at this juncture is unclear: the Georgian government will take claims of colonisation with a large pinch of salt, especially given its recent efforts to improve cooperation with Armenia.

Ironically, given his denunciation of mono-ethnic areas in Georgia, the following day Ambassador Aliyev paid a visit to Marneuli – a Georgian district which is 83 per cent ethnically Azerbaijani.

Sources: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, News.az, Armenia Now

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

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