The Gas about the Armenian Visit to Georgia

While Prime Minister Garibashvili was busy with legal proceedings related to the TV Company Rustavi 2, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan and the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II paid a short but very important visit to Tbilisi. Government and church authorities of the neighboring country were in Tbilisi for an honorary reason. President Sargsyan and Catholicos Karekin II took part in the opening of the restored church in the historic building of Tbilisi. However, it proved that the visit of such a representative delegation in Tbilisi was not only related to the opening of the church.

Strange things started to happen around the Armenian delegation when Minister of Energy Kakhi Kaladze turned up at Tbilisi airport. His appearance in the airport confirmed the idea that President Sargsyan was in Tbilisi for more than just the opening of a ritual monument. It should also be noted that not only was Kaladze’s appearance strange, but the Georgian Apostolic Church boycotted the spiritual leader from Armenia, creating additional intrigue. It could be that the position of the Georgian Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II proved decisive for the Georgian President, Prime Minister and Parliament Speaker not to attend the ceremony of transferal of the restored church to the Armenian side. At the church opening ceremony in attendance were only ministers of culture, reconciliation and IDPs from the Georgian government. A certain compensation gesture from the hosts was the fact that the factual ruler of the country, Bidzina Ivanishvili, attended the ceremony. It is worth noting that Bidzina Ivanishvili was the one to end the several year-long debate between Tbilisi and Yerevan during his term as Prime Minister to which side the church in the historical part of Tbilisi belonged – the Georgian Patriarchy or the Armenian Church. Three years ago, Prime Minister Ivanishvili promised President Sargsyan that he would return the church to Armenians and not only return it but participate in its restoration. It seems that Ivanishvili has now fulfilled his promise. As for how he managed to convince the Patriarchy remains unknown. It is easy to guess what would happen during the previous government if President Saakashvili had given any ritual building, even if in a province, to another confession. It seems that money can truly light hell. For this “deed,” billionaire Ivanishvili received the order of Giorgi the Enlightener from the Catholicos of All Armenians.

As for the history, it was built in 1251 by an Armenian tradesman Umek and was ruined and restored several times since. Saatnova, a Tbilisian poet of Armenian origin, was buried in the churchyard in 1795, in 1879 nobleman Hovanes Lazarev was buried there, and in 1888 Count Loris-Melikov joined them, which underlines the Armenian connection to the church. Despite this, the Georgian Patriarchy claims that the Armenian church “Sub Gevork” was built in 1251 on the place of a Georgian church, which does not provide grounds for attributing this church to the Armenian side. To cut a long story short, it seems that Ivanishvili’s money truly put a full stop to this church dispute and from now on it will not be an issue of debate as to which side the church in the center of Tbilisi belonged to seven centuries ago – Armenians or Georgians. As Ivanishvili says, this dispute is “desirable and even symbolic” and it points to the long historical friendly past of our states. “I am glad that restoration of the church is complete and that I personally participated in this historical event.” Restoration of the church cost 3.5 million USD. Part of the money was provided by Ivanishvili but it has not been made public what his exact share was.

The second part of the visit of the Armenian delegation was entirely political. President Sargsyan met with the people who did not attend the blessing of the “Sub Gevork” church – President Margvelashvili, Prime Minister Garibashvili and Parliament Speaker Usupashvili. It is noteworthy that Energy Minister Kaladze did not attend any of the meetings. It was Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili who touched upon the energy issue. “At the meeting with Serzh Sargsyan there was no talk about transporting gas from Russia via Georgia. Gas has been running via Georgia for the last three years. Before that, throughout nine years, gas was also running via Georgia and in the year prior to that as well. The fact that Armenia receives gas from Russia via Georgia is an event of decades and is nothing new,” Usupashvili said after the meeting with President Sargsyan. This statement by the Parliament Speaker raised even more questions than before. Before the visit, Minister Kaladze and the Georgian government claimed that the main reason for negotiations with Gazprom was the volume of transit to Armenia, and rumors around the Azerbaijani Socar and the so-called diversification had nothing to do with it. At a time when the main addressee sits at the negotiating table, it is strange that the issue is not mentioned. Oh, and had you heard that Russia decreased the gas tariff to Armenia? The sides reached the agreement in Moscow when Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan was on an official visit. According to the agreement, Armenia will have to pay 25 USD less for one thousand cubic meters of gas; therefore, Yerevan will pay 165 USD for one thousand cubic meters of natural gas. Moreover, in order to “update the arsenal of the armed forces,” Russia will give Yerevan a 200 million USD loan. Right on the heels of Sargsyan, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has arrived in Tbilisi and plans to talk about energy issues and Gazprom with the Georgian government.

Zaza Jgharkava

05 November 2015 22:47