For Peaceful Caucasus

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International Centre: “For Peaceful Caucasus”

National Minorities in Georgia


Review 2 - 9

Annex I: Statistics and Legislative Provisions on Minority

Issues 9 - 12

Annex II: Minority Groups in Georgia. History and Ethnography 12 - 33

Annex III: Emigration from Georgia. Ethnic Aspect 33 - 35

Annex IV: Information about Centre 35 - 36

Tbilisi, 1999



There are various opinions in Georgia as to the necessity for further legislative expansion in the field of minority rights protection, particularly, in relation to the acceptance of a special law in this sphere.

One view is, that it is wrong to award this or that group of people, i.e. minorities, any special rights, since all citizens of Georgia should have absolutely equal rights. It would not assist in the formation of a common civil identity in the country, and would promote group egoism. Even leaders of several minority communities share this opinion. According to them, working out of special legislative acts on minority protection issues gives rise to an inferiority complex in itself, and the concept of “national minority”, itself, causes resentment.

It is also considered, that the presence of statements in the Constitution, ensuring minority rights (Article 38), excludes the necessity for other regulations in the field.

Some experts think that the enforcement of a universal principle of non-discrimination is sufficient guarantee of minority rights.

The hard economic situation is given as an argument, as to why the country is not able to undertake positive measures.

The most extreme thinking is that the entitlement of minorities to special rights will only deepen the process of disintegration in the country. There is no assimilation in Georgia, but there is a problem with minority integration into social life. More specifically, there is no danger for the minorities to lose their self-identity and their native language in the country. At the same time many representatives of the minority groups do not know the official state language. According to the supporters of this point of view, an absurd situation arises, when some minority representatives construe a request for a knowledge of the state language as an attempt of forcible assimilation. The very notion of assimilation is considered to be negative by minorities. Though the voluntary assimilation also exists. In advanced countries it is a normal phenomenon and it accompanies the process of minority integration. Representatives of the national minorities hardly have any problems in speaking the official state language in those countries.

The point of view, that a tolerant attitude towards minorities traditionally exists from ancient times in Georgia, is very characteristic. Hence, is it worth forming something, that has been already worked out within the framework of tradition?

Moreover, is it reasonable to do this, if the community need for special laws regarding minorities has not been stated?


In our opinion, whether there is a need for laws could be determined by in-depth monitoring. As to tolerance, it is necessary to make distinctions between myth and reality. The first, as it is known, has a way of varnishing reality. Certainly, the importance of good and kindly traditions is beyond doubt, but their resources are limited. We need to gain the taste for the more universal categories of legislation. It is especially important in order to regulate such complicated issues, as relations between nations.

Another point is that the development of minorities occurs in the context of the dialectic process of formation of the civil consciousness. Their rights are regarded as special. Those are not privileges, but an extra way of protecting the vulnerable groups of population (women, children, elderly people, minorities, etc.). It occurs in the interaction and unity with more general rights (human, civil and political rights). Breakage of this unit can result in the isolation of minority groups, on the one hand, or in the mistrust of the community towards them, on the other.

The presence of constitutional guarantees for minority rights does not exclude the necessity for their development in the legislation.

Doubtless, it is necessary to take into account the harsh economic situation in the country and not promise too much too early.

It is also noteworthy, that the concept, which must precede the lawmaking process in the field of minority right protection, does not exist as yet.

There is no full agreement as to the definition of the term “national minority”. For a long time the attitude towards it was unsophisticated. International law usually used the term “ethnic minority”, meaning, first of all, a cultural unity, the aspiration to maintain and develop its culture and individuality. According to the well-known expert, A. Eide, the origin of this can be traced back to ethno-nationalistic understanding. It considers a minority either as a part of a greater ethnic-nation, which has its statehood, or as an ethnic-nation, living in a given country, representing numerically a small group, which has not any form of statehood. The main dogma of the ideology, corresponding to such understanding, is that the statehood and ethnic-national entity imply each other. This view, at this most extreme, promotes certain groups of the population to revise territories, reject common civil principles for the benefit of its own group ambitions. They weaken loyalty to the country of residence in favour of another state, which is its historical motherland.

The temptation to apply the term “ethnic minority” in our legislative practice instead of the traditional point “national minority” arises. But the word combination is not important. The main is what semantics lie in them, whether there is a will not to adhere ourselves to the above-mentioned ethno-national thinking or not.

By the way, the term “national minority” appears in the title of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. In the Declaration it is underlined that national minorities should respect the territorial integrity of the state. The main idea of this term is to distinguish the groups of “nationals” i.e. the citizens of a country, to whom the provided rights are applicable, in the same way as the rights and responsibilities of individuals without citizenship and labour migrants are regulated by special legislation.

The problem stated is one common for the whole of international law. An example is one of the last international conventions, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted by the European Council in 1995. It does not contain the definition concerned, though long debates regarding the formulation of the main concept preceded its adoption.


The difficulty of the problems in the given field is that the minorities living in Georgia significantly differ from one another in terms of number, type of residence (compact or dispersed) and degree of integration into the social life of the country.

Even internally these groups are not heterogeneous. For example, the Greek Diaspora consists of two groups: one speaking the Turkish language and the other – Modern Greek. Azeris living in Kvemo Kartli and Shida Kartli also differ from each other. The fact that they receive secondary education in different languages (in Georgian inShida Kartli and in Azerbaijanian in Kvemo Kartli) plays a big role. There is a community that has contradictions concerning self-identification (Kurds). Almost every minority has a historical motherland whose connections to it allow it to solve problems independently, whereas, in Georgia live Assyrian and Kurd minorities, not having any historical motherland. Owing to that, they find themselves in a less favorable situation, than other minorities.

The issue of the Georgian population, which composes a minority in places of compact residences of the minorities in Djavakheti of Kvemo Kartli (the majority in a minority), is very topical.

Densely inhabited groups are more protected, than those who are not; one reason being that the state policy on the first group is implemented directly through local governmental bodies.

Therefore one ponders over the development of a methodology for a different approach to the problems. However, any discrimination is connected with a number of delicate problems. The introduction of those or other criteria, such as, for example, “minority group vulnerability degree” etc. is fraught with complications.


The conceptual problems reflect the practical ones.

Georgia was proud of the fact that there are hundreds of non-Georgian schools and institutions for higher education in the country. Newspapers are published, cultural and educational establishments function in minority languages, as do professional theaters. The laws on education and culture adopted by Parliament intend to strengthen past achievements. But the problems still persist, and quite a big number of them.

The chauvinistic rhetoric of Gamsakhurdia’s regime is still in our memory.

It is a fact that the minorities comprise a significant part of the emigrants from Georgia. For example, about a half of the Greek population of Tsalka district left for its homeland in the early 90s. Some politicians were about to construe the fact of the emigration of representatives of ethnic minorities as a consequence of discrimination towards them. Sociological surveys reveal that the main cause of this process was the poor economic condition of the country, but not discrimination. However, emigration is the factor that has put on the verge of extinction the unique communities of Dukhobors and Molokans.

Let us be frank, the number of members in the Parliament of Georgia, representing national minorities, does not adequately reflect their real share in the population of the country. Until recent times even the fact that some minorities resided densely did not provide guarantees for them to be represented in legislative bodies, let alone those who resided dispersal. The same applies to the representation of minorities in the bodies of executive and judicial power.

There is a notable number of national schools in Georgia. However they are not provided with a sufficient number of specialists. The educational process is complicated also by fact that there are no textbooks and methodology literature, which have to be imported.

One of the most complex areas, is language policy. A point of view exists, that in the first place it is necessary to strengthen the infrastructure of the Georgian State language, and that this has not received due attention in places densely inhabited by minorities. But it is necessary to admit that this was not because of the wish of the population of these regions, but because of the inability of the central authorities to strengthen the use of the Georgian language there. So, while attempting to strengthen the state language, authorities should take maximum care with regard to the minority language.

There is an opinion, that it is not realistic or profitable for the state to give representatives of more than 100 minorities living in Georgia, the right to submit applications to this or that body in their native language. Probably, it is necessary to introduce a restrictive principle in this regard, retaining this right for those minorities, which constitute not less than 0.5% of the whole population.

Quite real is the issue of the Russian language for Abkhazia and, partially, for the Tskhinvali region. Granting special status to it in the constitution of the self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia is, perhaps, not only a display of political flattery, but also an element of voluntary assimilation. At least, the Georgian legislators have orientation in this field, which is the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

The problem of rehabilitation of the peoples affected by the repression - Meskhetians and Germans - should be granted priority. Currently a bill is in the process of being discussed. At the same time, there is no answer to the question - what is the status of Meskhetians in Georgia? – Are they a sub-ethnicity, an ethnicity or religious and/or language minority etc.. The question is topical, as it is necessary to determine legally their status and the rights and responsibilities attached to them.

Hundreds of Azerbaijanians left for neighboring Azerbaijan after the conflict in Kvemo Kartli in 1989. Most of them now strive to come back to their homes. The same happened to the thousands of persons of Ossetian ethnic background who lost their property, having left it after going abroad during the conflict in Shida Kartli.

It is of high topicality to study the problems of women in the regions with a Muslim population.

It is well known that good manners are scarcely inherent to the majority of officials, so offenses against the national dignity of the minorities are not rare. Special regulations must be adopted in regard to these problems.

It is obvious, that ethnic conflicts still persist in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is correct to see a political background to them, but it is indisputable also that ethnic hatred gives them a fiercer nature.

It should be noted that there are some politicians and representatives of the mass-media, inclined to distinguish a loyalty degree of various national groups and regions to the nation-wide interests. One example is the real or imaginary problem of Djavakheti. Separatist slogans are applied by representatives of the local NGOs., and claims for autonomous status are made by them.


The problems above mentioned can be arranged thus.

The first level of them is ethnic, when the issues are related to the provision of the conditions for the preservation and development of cultures, language of minorities etc.

The second proposes turning the traditional problem of ethnic minority rights protection into an administrative-territorial one, when the question arises of regional self-governance in the places of their compact residence. Usually problems of federalization, status of regional languages are considered on this level.

The third level is a political one, when the status of a minority is covered with state-political attributes. In Georgia this aspect is associated with the issue of autonomy.

Within the spectrum, the overlapping of the concepts of “ethnic and national minorities” is observed. While the transition of a minority from a cultural autonomy (first ethnic level) to a political one (third political level), it suits more the category of “national minority”.

Special laws do not reinforce the first aspect (conditionally ethnic) in the overwhelming majority of countries. The clauses, providing minority rights are contained in various profile laws (on education, language, culture, mass media, etc.). In advanced countries, where the high standards for guarantees of human rights are achieved, institutions of citizenship are formed and the necessity for the creation of additional guarantees in the form of a special law is excluded.

However, certain examples do exist. A law on national and ethnic minorities was adopted by Hungary in 1993, which is considered as the most comprehensive and far stretching. There was an attempt to distinguish the concepts of “national” and “ethnic” minorities while drafting the bill. But it was not successful and in the title of the law both concepts were retained by a decision of the National Assembly of the country. In its first article, definition is given to a group of citizens, covered by the rights stipulated in the law. The law entitles with special rights only those ethnic or national minorities, who have lived on the territory of the country for more than a century. The number of such minorities appears to be 13: Serbs, Slovaks, Armenians etc. Immigrants who arrived later, including those who already have Hungarian citizenship, refugees, labor migrants, cannot claim for the rights stipulated by the law. Their rights are provided by other legislative acts.

Certainly, the experience of Hungary is interesting, but the situation in each of them fundamentally differs from that which we have in Georgia. The number of national minorities in Hungary is not as big, as it is in Georgia. This circumstance has allowed the Hungarian legislators to limit the amount of beneficiaries of the rights provided by the law. Actually, this law should have become an example for those countries, where the numerous Hungarian Diaspora live.

The mentioned special law was adopted in close connection with the whole context of the legislation. The creation of such a context in Georgia is under way. There is one interesting draft of the Law on National Minorities Rights, which was written by G. Jorjoliani, director of the Research Centre for International Relations at the Academy of Science of Georgia, together with A. Abashidze, Master of Law. The bill was examined in the UN and it was also studied by OSCE experts. The project was positively evaluated, regarding its conformity to international standards in the field of minority rights protection. At the same time, the foreign experts noted, that this law will have its real value only within the general context of the whole legislation. Actually the restrictive statements referred in some cases to non-existent laws.

The authors of the draft tried to embrace all possible issues concerning minority rights; for example, language issues. It is more purposeful to consider it as the subject of a separate law. Not accidentally, there is such a concept as “language minority”. Its difference from the concept of “ethnic” or “national minority” is not conceptual, but practical. It is because of its specific nature. By the way, the entities of territorial autonomies in the West (in Italy, Spain) are identified in documents as “linguistic minorities”.

The laws on education and culture, which contain certain statements guaranteeing cultural and linguistic rights of the minorities, have been already adopted. A special law on language issues is to be created. Current legislative process in this sphere should be refining the subject of the law on national minorities.

On the basis of this draft, it is possible to formulate a Declaration on Minority Rights. The purpose of the state policy in this field is precisely designated in the draft. It is a development of existing achievements and grants minorities unlimited opportunities for initiatives within the framework of their cultural autonomy. Its adoption should be preceded with a wide polemic.
Georgia is a party to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Our country undertook its obligations to protect the rights of minorities contained in article 27 of the Covenant. It is topical for Georgia to accede to another HRI, participation in which will promote the solving of many problems in the sphere of minorities rights. There is poor progress in this direction. For example, Georgia has only just acceded to the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The cause of this is ridiculous - there has not been no authentic Georgian translation of this document, though, for a long time everybody was aware of the benefits Georgia can obtain from participation in this Convention.

There have been three aspects of minority problems mentioned. If the ethnic aspect of the national policy is more or less worked out in Georgia and is waiting for legislative reinforcement, the regional one has not been mastered either practically, or theoretically. Even more complicated is the situation at the political level: we have to deal with problems of an establishment of the peace. There is no chapter about the territorial-state structure of the country in the Constitution as yet.

It is not a secret, that the opponents of federalization are afraid of an escalation of separatism in the regions densely inhabited by minorities. The danger of it is especially real in the case when the borders of a member of the federation adjoins to the borders of a historical native land. The sad recent history of the relations with the autonomies reminds us that the chauvinism of the centre and ethnocracity in the regions are the monsters to be avoided.

The principle of differentiation and mutual delegation of the powers will serve as a basis for the constitutional law on state and territorial structure of the country, which, according to Article 3 of the Constitution, will be adopted after the restoration of territorial integrity of the country.

The implementation of the peoples’ right on self-determination is also provided by Article 4 of the Constitution, according to which the Parliament will consist of two houses - Council of the Republic and Senate. The Senate, in particular, will be composed of representatives elected in Abkhazia, Adjaria and other territorial units of Georgia.

Many states of Europe have followed this path, which is none too easy. The main lesson countries with an advanced democracy have learned a concrete approach to the problems with preservation of a priority to human rights issues and equality of all citizens.

The UN and OSCE support the efforts of Georgia in this direction. In all the resolutions of the United Nations, concerning the Abkhazian problem, the thesis on territorial integrity and the granting of a broad autonomy is of crucial importance. The package of proposals on the resolution of the conflict around South Ossetia was developed by OSCE.

Now Georgia is a member of the Council of Europe. This fact imposes new obligations on the State and will contribute to the improvement in minority rights sphere.

Asbjorn Eide. Peaceful and Constructive Resolution of Situations Involving Minorities, the UN University, 1995

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