Georgia: Two Histories of One Homeland

two histories of one homelandJAVAKHETY | Teachers in Armenian school No. 1 in Ninotsminda spent the last weeks of the summer trying to figure out how many textbooks to order from the Georgian education ministry.  They say not enough history books are provided to Georgia’s Armenian minority.  Tigran Pogosyan, the principal of the school, who also teaches history, said they have received no Armenian history books from the Georgian government during the past two years.

“There are only two or three books for the whole class of about 20 to 25 children. How can they all properly learn what we try to teach?” he asked.

For ten years, the Armenian government has supplied Armenian-language textbooks as a gift to schools in Javakhety, a border region between Georgia and Armenia which is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians.

In 2004, the Georgian and Armenian education ministries reached a verbal agreement that Armenia would continue to supply all the textbooks for Javakhety’s schools except Armenian history and geography books.  But none of the teachers in Javakhety knew about this agreement. They blame the Georgian education ministry for creating problems in delivering the Armenian history books.

Armenian delivery truck drivers were asked to present a special permission from the Georgian education ministry at customs along with the books.  The Georgian authorities did not grant permission for the importation of the Armenian history books, according to the prior agreement with Armenian education ministry.  But Armenia went ahead and sent the books.  As a result, in the summer of 2007, a truck full of Armenian-language textbooks was denied entry to Georgian territory when it arrived at customs.

Few people in Javakhety paid attention to this event until the same situation occurred the next year. This time, all the other textbooks in the truck were allowed to be brought to Georgia except those dealing with the history of Armenia.

“They are trying to ban these books,” Pogosyan, the principal, said.

The Georgian education ministry says that the Armenian authorities didn’t keep up their end of the bargain and continued to supply history books in spite of the agreement.

At the end of the 1980s, when a strong Armenian nationalistic movement emerged in Javakhety against the Georgian government, teaching Armenian history was one of the main demands of regional leaders. They believed Armenians of Javakhety had to learn Armenian history in order to preserve their ethnic origins. Local schools started offering Armenian history lessons.

Javakhety is considered one of Georgia’s problem regions because of the political alienation of local Armenians, who don’t speak Georgian and have limited contact with the rest of the country. The majority of its children study and work in Armenia instead of pursuing an education in Georgian universities.

Teaching Armenian history is considered problematic by some politicians in Tbilisi, who are afraid it will only deepen nationalist tensions and hamper the integration of these Armenians into Georgian society.

Several years ago the Georgian education ministry said that schools in Javakhety had the right to offer optional lessons in Armenian history. But no additional financing and no official curricula were developed for this subject.

At that point, Armenian and Georgian historians had already been in a longstanding struggle about contested facts in the history textbooks of these two countries.

For example, pupils of Javakhety read in an Armenian history textbook designed for the eighth grade that in 1918 their region was part of Armenia and became Georgian territory only after it was invaded by the Georgian army.  The next school year, pupils learn from a Georgian history textbook that it was the Armenian side which invaded the region and “presented claims” on their homeland, which was a part of Georgia at that time.

One of the most sensitive issues is when Armenians settled in this region. Armenians historians insist that Javakhety was originally populated by Armenians, while Georgian scientists say they were resettled by the Russian tsar two centuries ago, and the only original ethnic group was Georgians.

Differences like these contribute to both educational and political problems in the ethnically sensitive region. So far there are no teaching materials that study and discuss the different facts presented by Armenian and Georgian historians. Children in Javakhety are exposed to either Georgian or Armenian slants on history.

The Georgian government decided on what it saw as an easier way to avoid controversies like these: bar Armenian history textbooks from entering Georgia.

Simon Janashia, a former director of the National Curriculum and Assessment Center in Tbilisi, said the Georgian side has made two official proposals to the Armenian education ministry to start joint work on the issue and solve their differences, but neither was accepted.

Janashia said the ministry first proposed to create a special commission of ten Georgian and Armenian historians who would work out the differences. The members of the commission never heard from their counterparts in Armenia, he claims.

“We were also ready to work on a combined history textbook which would reflect different points of view on controversial issues,” Janashia said. According to him, this was also rejected by the Armenian side.

“But it has never been a priority for us,” Janashia added.

Nune Vardanyan, a representative of the Armenian education ministry, said they did not receive any proposals from the Georgian side. She said the Armenian ministry, for its part, was ready to start joint work on new textbooks, too.

The Georgian education ministry confirmed that no progress has been made recently on this issue, but emphasized that they were ready to collaborate with their Armenian colleagues.

As a result of the standoff, teachers in Javakhety are left to solve the problem themselves. They asked their former pupils to simply find their old books and bring them to school.

“We need to learn Armenian history because we all are Armenians,” Pogosyan said. “This is what we all need to understand first of all.”


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