“Where are you running you coward separatists?” President Saakashvili was shouting and following back a small group of men, who were responding by shouting insults back on him.
The scene played out in Akhalkalaki, a predominantly ethnic Armenian populated town in Samtskhe-Javakheti region, which outgoing President Saakashvili visited on October 25.
As Saakashvili was visiting Armenian church in Akhalkalaki, a local activist Vahagn Chakhalyan was waiting outside the church together with a small group of his allies.
Chakhalyan, who was with one of the Akhalkalaki-based groups which staged several protest rallies in 2005 against withdrawal of the Russian military base from the town and which was calling for autonomy for the Javakheti region, was arrested in July 2008. Chakhalyan was imprisoned on what he claimed were trumped up charges related to weapons, armed hooliganism and acts against public order.
In January 2013 he was released as a result of broad amnesty issued by the current government. Chakhalyan’s release was condemned by President Saakashvili and his UNM party, describing him as “the enemy of the Georgian state” and “inspirer of separatism in Javakheti”.
After visiting the church, President Saakashvili himself approached Chakhalyan, who was protesting against presence of Saakashvili there.
“Hello, I listen,” Saakashvili told Chakhalyan while shaking hands.
“What shall I say, you took four years and a half of my life,” Chakhalyan told Saakashvili referring to his imprisonment and then started complaining about what he called absence of Armenian literature from curriculum of local schools and also raised the issue of those churches, which remain disputed between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.
“What was happening here on your behalf it should be a matter of accountability in line with the law; whether it was done on your behalf or you gave an order, I do not know; the law, the court has to decide it,” Chakhalyan said, but the context what he was meaning was unclear from the available video footage of the conversation.
Saakashvili interrupted Chakhalyan and responded angrily: “Are you the one who should put me on the trial?.. You criminal should put me on the trial?”
“I came here and I am ready to listen to every citizen, but I am not going to let people like you lecture me on morality. Now let me tell you what I have done in Akhalkalaki. What I have done was that I cut the ground from under feet of separatists like you,” Saakashvili said and added that his government built roads and secured gas and electricity supplies and developed infrastructure in the region.
“Separatists like you who are going to separate Georgia into pieces and puppies of GRU [Russian military intelligence] will not lecture me in morality; you were sitting in jail on six [criminal] charges,” Saakashvili said shouting at Chakhalyan.
“No, no, don’t insult me,” Chakhalyan was telling the President, who continued hitting out at Chakhalyan, saying: “I am not going to let criminals like to lecture me in morality.”
“Misha go away; go Misha… Do you want me to tell it to you in Turkish?” Chakhalyan told Saakashvili and started chanting together with his small group of supportersa swear word in Turkish.
Evoking a Turkish theme by Chakhalyan was apparently in reference to Saakashvili’s recent trips to Sakarya and Samsun provinces of Turkey in September and October, meeting there Turkish citizens of Georgian descent and granting to some of them Georgian citizenship.
As Chakhalyan was moving away from Saakashvili, he and his supporters were also chanting in Georgian: “Misha go to Turkey, Misha go to Turkey.”
Saakashvili followed them, shouting: “Come here, where are you running you cowards? Come here; are you running you coward separatists?”
“Look, only five separatists are now left and that’s what we did; there were much more of them; run away you coward separatists; your master GRU base is no longer here,” the outgoing president said.
While visiting Akhalkalaki municipality, Saakashvili also met local Armenian communities in number of villages telling them in Russian: “I love Akhalkalaki residents very much.”
Later on the same day he made a live televised statement from the presidential palace in Tbilisi, saying that the Samtskhe-Javakheti region was actually out of central government’s control before he came into power almost ten years ago; he also said that he is proud that it was made possible to enhance Georgian language programs for locals in the region and to develop various infrastructure projects there to help integrate it to the rest of Georgia. He again criticized GD for releasing Chakhalyan from prison (he was released together with thousands of others under the broad amnesty) and suggested that Chakhalyan was now acting with the support of the authorities.
“I know that there are people in the Georgian government who have suspicious links with the interests of our invader [referring to Russia],” he said. “But I do not believe that the incumbent government wants to undermine interests of Georgia.”
“I want today’s incident to be the last one,” he said. “And let’s not spoil what has been achieved in previous years just out of spite.”
“Presidents will change – and I will not be the president in several days or weeks, the governments will change too, including the incumbent one, but we should not do anything that can harm Georgia,” he said.