Defense Minister Speaks of Cartographers’ Case

In his October 15 interview with pro-governmental Imedi TV, Defense Minister Irakli Garibashvili spoke of the “Cartographers’ Case” – recently launched investigation into allegedly attempted land ceding to Azerbaijan during the United National Movement’s tenure by the two Delimitation Commission experts.

The experts – Iveri Melashvili of the Foreign Ministry and Natalia Ilychova of the Ministry of Interior – are accused of deliberately hiding the “1936-1938” map with 1:200,000 scale and instead using versions of 70s-80s to the detriment of Georgia’s territorial interests. The defendants deny the claims, saying that the 1:200 000 map shows major discrepancies with the statutory, 1:500,000 map of 1938 officially agreed in 1996 and is thus useless in negotiations with Baku. The probe, coming amid ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh and some month before Georgia’s October 31 general election, has attracted wider public attention as the disputed border with Azerbaijan includes revered medieval David Gareji Monastery Complex section.

See our backgrounder for more case details and context.

Describing the timeline of events, Defense Minister said that in 2013-2014 he was alarmed by Archimandrite Kirion of the David Gareji Monastery about the suspicious events of 2007, when Azerbaijani border guards advanced their positions into Georgian territory, replacing Georgian officers. Kirion asked him, then Prime Minister, to clear up the issue.

According to Garibashvili, following the conversation, Mindia Janelidze, his aide in security affairs, managed to obtain a photocopy of the 1:200 000 map “from a foreign country,” but commission experts explained back then that they had been refusing to use the map with Azerbaijani counterparts, as they did not have the verified copy at their disposal.

According to Garibashvili’s account, the case, allegedly shelved following his resignation in 2015, proceeded after he rejoined the government as a Defense Minister in 2019. In the meantime, Minister said, Georgian authorities had presented a photocopy of the map to Azerbaijan’s authorities in 2018, which was met with surprise from the latter because “Georgians have never proposed to use this map.”

Interestingly, however, Garibashvili also accused the commission experts of having used the exact same 1936-38 map in 2006-07 to concede a strategic Babakiar mountain to Azerbaijan.

Minister said that he then notified GD leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, who forwarded him to David Khidasheli, a Georgian businessman residing in Switzerland, who was able to track and deliver the original 1936-38 map in April 2020 from the archives of the “occupying country” [Russia] in what Garibashvili calls a “special operation”. (Note: Khidasheli’s earlier links with Russia and his dubious ability to obtain the maps from Russian federal archives have raised suspicions of Russian meddling in the case.)

During the interview, Garibashvili repeatedly slammed the UNM, calling the members of the former ruling party “traitors” and labeling opposition’s criticism as “continued treason”.

The Minister went on accusing the United National Movement Government (2004-2012) and ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili of not giving any efforts to trace the original map during their tenure, claiming that the respective map had been published in numerous copies.

The Minister doubted whether “such things” as the agreement of boundary lines had been decided at commission level under “depraved dictator” Saakashvili, quoting then-Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli’s testimony who “has confirmed that the decision had been made on Saakashvili’s level.”

“In a normal strong country, such a political organization would be simply closed, and should such crime by the political leadership be established, it would probably face a life sentence,” Garibashvili went on.

“I do not know what to do except to permanently ban this hostile force in the country,” he noted commenting on the criticism by David Bakradze, leader of the European Georgia party and former Foreign Minister under UNM rule.