>Visit of the Chairperson of the Georgian Parliament Nino Burjanadze shows that the façade of strategic partnership glosses over many undercurrents in Georgian-Azeri relations. However, the sides seem posed to solve these issues in consultation.
It was the first visit of Nino Burjanadze’s to Baku in her new capacity. She was elected Parliamentary Chairperson in November and paid her very first official visit to Armenia in December 2001, causing certain discontent among Azeri parliamentarians and the media.
Certain bitterness towards Burjanadze showed itself during the current visit as well. Many problematic facets of the Georgian-Azeri relations were voiced, which usually remain muted during the lavishly friendly presidential summits of Eduard Shevardnadze and Heidar Aliev
In the course of her visit, Nino Burjanadze met the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. On January 29 and her Azeri counterpart, Chairman of the Mili-Mejlis (the parliament) Murtuz Aleskerov and signed a joint statement.
Observers concede that Burjanadze’s statements in Azerbainjan were far more pragmatic than the phraseology of eternal friendship that tended to dominate Georgian-Azeri meetings to date. Although Mrs. Chairperson stressed friendly and strategic ties with Baku, she made it clear that Tbilisi prefers to have a balanced policy in South Caucasus.
“Azeri politicians know very well that my visit to Armenia was not directed against Azerbaijan,” Burjanadze stated. “In both Armenia and Azerbaijan role of Tbilisi is perceived with distinguished importance exactly for the reason that Georgia maintains good relations with both of these states,” she added.
Remaining true to the political realism, Nino Burjanadze rejected the reports by the Azeri and Armenian mass media saying that she offered mediation in settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, she stressed that Tbilisi is ready to facilitate discussions on this issue.
“The role of a mediator is a difficult one. But we are definitely ready to make any necessary steps to facilitate resolution of the problem. I have emphasized certain proposals both in Armenia and Azerbaijan,” said Burjanadze
While meeting with Azeri MPs, Nino Burjanadze mentioned that resolution of the conflicts in South Caucasus – Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia – is a key to facilitating region’s independence and development, while making a transparent allusion to a negative role Russia played.
“After this [resolution of the conflicts] those state which has been using the conflicts for their purposes will not be able to interfere in our internal affairs,” said the Mrs. Chairperson.
Burjanadze made a particular emphasis on economic relations between Georgia and Azerbaijan, especially on the cooperation of the two states in the energy projects – Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum gas pipeline.
Nino Burjanadze also called upon the government of Azerbaijan for more tight cooperation in the framework of GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova). “I believe that GUUAM has not yet exhausted its perspectives for development”.
While participating in the session of the joint commission of the parliaments of Azerbaijan and Georgia, Burjanadze had to touch upon some sensitive issues, regarding to the conditions of the ethnic Azeri citizens of Georgia.
Fact of removal of the ethnic Azeri Georgian citizen Mikael Kurbanov from the election lists of the Citizens Union of Georgia has become a subject of debates with the Azeri MPs. Burjanadze mentioned that Kurbanov’s case is an internal affair of the party and shall not be interpreted as a discrimination of the ethnic Azeri citizen. Furthermore, as the Chairperson has informed, Kurbanov has been restored to the party’s election list.
Azeri MPs also stressed the issue of renaming of the villages, populated by the ethnic Azeris, by Georgian names. However, as the Azeri MPs stated if the [new] geographic names are historically Georgian then the Azeri residents will not object.
Burjanadze’s meeting with President Heidar Aliev lasted for 45 minutes and reportedly touched upon yet another trouble spot in friendly relations, namely the Georgian-Azeri border delimitation problems. The results of this discussion remain confidential.
President Aliev accented the need to supply the Azeri schools in Georgia with Azeri textbooks and promised that the problem will be solved in the nearest future. Azerbaijan will supply these schools with the textbooks free of charge.
Paying back with benevolence, Heidar Aliev expressed his regret at the fact that most of ethnic Azeris, living in Georgia, do not know Georgian language. “Seems that this is our national character. For instance, Armenians who live in Georgia know Georgian very well,” said Aliev and adding that ethnic Azeri members of the Georgian Parliament are no exception to this rule.
It seems that the Byzantine elegance of Azeri politics will have to reconcile with a pragmatic leadership and tone exercised by the new Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson, while emerging new configuration of powers in South Caucasus becomes increasingly geared towards post-Shevardnadze and post-Aliev stage.
By Jaba Devdariani, Giorgi Kalandadze, Civil Georgia