"Georgia Under Pressure After Kidnapping, Civil Society Must Push Issue"

Altay Göyüşov

Altay Göyüşov

A recent series of arrests, starting with the co-founder of Lancet Medical Clinic Farman Jabrayil, continuing with the arrest of the Deputy Chairwoman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan Gozel Bayramli and most recently resulting in the kidnapping of investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli on May 29, all took place on or while leaving the territory of Georgia.

Historian Altay Goyushov returned from a recent trip to Tbilisi on June 4 and shared his impressions on current events with Meydan TV in the interview below.

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– Over the last ten days, events connected with Azerbaijan have taken over the news in Georgia. How have the string of recent arrests affected political life in Georgia?

– I met with Afgan Mukhtarli’s spouse and several other activists, where the pressure is clearly felt. As for the socio-political atmosphere, you can feel the despair – everyone wants the problem resolved. People hope that answers will be obtained only through the pressure of civil society on the Georgian government. Tbilisi officials are intent on having the issue solved calmly. They are slowly taking steps towards this end.

For example, Mukhtarli’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, was offered Georgian citizenship. However, the pressure on the Georgian government is mounting. This came as a huge blow to Tbilisi. I cannot claim that law-enforcement agencies were involved in the issue or vice-versa. However, most of Georgian civil society believes that the authorities were in the know when it happened – otherwise it would have been impossible to carry out such an operation.

I don’t think the situation will remain this way. Tbilisi will have to answer certain questions at some point, because the case has received widespread public attention.

 

– Why is there so much uncertainty surrounding this case? Is it because of the reaction of the Azerbaijani government, or the multitudinous statements of the Georgian authorities?

– I think this is largely connected to the Georgian government and how it has handled this case. It is under pressure, and doesn’t know how to cope with this issue. Indeed, the Georgian authorities neither desire to spoil their relationship with Azerbaijan, nor to have the abduction of a journalist on its own territory used against it.

We don’t know which side will win out. The clarification of this issue depends on local and international pressure on Tbilisi. Georgia is seriously dependent on Europe and America. But internal and public opinion are also important – international organizations and pressure will follow the lead of civil society. However, if society lets the issue slip, the West will do the same.

 

– How dependent is Georgia on Azerbaijan? How does that figure into this matter?

– Yes, Georgia is uniquely dependent upon Azerbaijan. But it is an interdependence. For example, last winter, the Azerbaijani government implemented its obligations to Georgia in terms of gas delivery. However, Azerbaijanis ended up with a gas deficit in turn. Economists at the time connected it with the currency issues in Azerbaijan.

Moreover, Azerbaijan depends on Georgia to extend its pipelines into Europe through Georgian territory. In the future, there will be a Baku - Tbilisi - Kars railway – this will further the regional dependence of countries upon one another. That is why all sides and aspects of relations must be maintained. Here, the main issue is that Georgia’s reputation has been damaged because of this issue.

Tbilisi is probably waiting for an official explanation from Baku. However, the Azerbaijani authorities are telling them to wait for the official results of the recently opened ‘investigation’. Probably they want to silence inquiry. But I don’t think this will happen. 

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