Georgia-Iran: There are more questions than answers (part I)
08/06/2010 12:56
Simon Kiladze

- I will compel waves of the Gurgan and black Seas to caress shores of great Iran...
-King of kings, Georgia is a road and a bridge to the Black Sea...
- White king of Russians of glaciers or Ottomans will not forestall subjugation of Georgia!

Conversation of Shah Abbas I with his minister

New accents appeared in the Georgian foreign policy. Tbilisi turned its gaze southwards, to Tehran and intensely started to take diplomatic steps in the direction of Iran. Lately, first Georgian foreign minister went to Tehran and then Iranian high-rank officials arrived to Tbilisi. Meetings were held. Opinions exchanged. Plans were laid with a purpose of deepening of relations between Georgia and Iran even up to introduction of visa free system.

Such reverences on the part of Georgia, who is a loyal ally of the US and a country aspiring to the NATO membership, towards "outcast" Iran caused a significant surprise of political scientists, experts and researchers of diplomacy. Today everybody is aware of tense relations that Tehran and Washington have due to both nuclear project of Iran and the latter's obvious anti-American politics. "Death to America" - this slogan is acute in Iran even today. President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad often very successfully uses the tribune of the UN to criticize the US. It's been almost 30 years that Iran and the US stopped their diplomatic relations after the Islamic Revolution and have been displaying hostile attitudes towards each other.

And at that time we hear statements made by the Georgian authorities about development of historical relations and economic integration...

"This road leads to Persia..." (fragments from the movie "Giorgi Saakadze")

"This road leads to Persia..."
(fragments from the movie "Giorgi Saakadze")

So what has exactly happened that prompted activization of more or less "cool" relations between Tbilisi and Tehran of the recent years? What do the Georgian authorities have in mind? Will it be useful for us at the time when international community intends to introduce strict sanctions against Iran for its uncontrolled nuclear projects? And, finally, how compatible are values of "the Rose Revolution" and that of the Islamic Revolution while pursuing interests of Georgia?

American trace?

Experts saw an American trace in sudden activization of Georgia's foreign politics towards Iran. It is possible that it can be so, to some extent. Georgia and Iran are in neighbouring regions. And they always had and still have relations that Washington can use or establish indirect contacts with anti-western theocratic Iran by means of a mediator – pro-American democratic Georgia. Additionally one thing should be taken into account. That Caucasian direction of Iran's foreign policy is not limited with Georgia. Tehran has quite close contacts with " "foothold of Russia in the Caucasus" – Armenia and Europe's " hope for fuel" – Azerbaijan. We should remember the fact that in the nineties of the XX century Iran was actively involved in the process of resolution of one of the conflicts in the Caucasus - Nagorny Karabakh. But initiatives of Tehran were not enough to balance interests of the conflicting sides - Baku and Yerevan. And today Iran again started its expansion into the region though more through its trade and economic projects. Though there are certain political interests ingrained in it as well.

A mini-feature of the Caucasian politics of Iran is Abkhazian direction. After 2008 Tehran, for some reasons (about this we will talk below), became interested in Abkhazia.

So it is obvious that Iran alongside the US, Russia and Turkey is expanding its niche in the Caucasus. Here we should mention certain tendencies of decrease of Russia's influence (cooperation, if you wish) over Iran. Lately, Russia had to support sanctions against Iran more and more that, naturally, caused negative response of Tehran. Given that America's peaceful attitude to Tbilisi and Tehran becoming closer is understandable. Reverences of Tbilisi should not be unacceptable for Washington as the more it knows about intentions of Iranians from Georgians the better for Americans.

To say the truth Iran seemed quite upset with Georgia. A couple of months ago when our Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze arrived in Tehran he was reminded about the arrest of a Iranian citizen in Tbilisi in 2007 and his extradition to the US that was assessed by Tehran as anti-Iranian act. Besides, Iran does not like western course of Georgia, its close relations with NATO. Iranian ayatollahs and state figures have repeatedly stated this.

Against this background statements by some Georgian politicians about sale by Georgia of aircrafts that the latter bought from Ukraine in 2002 to dictatorial regime of Iran is a paradox. So it appears that Tbilisi was supplying Iran with modern warfare behind the west? This cannot be true but the above-mentioned statements still caused quite a broad response.

But as it seems, today mutual criticism is either a part of the history or they are temporarily forgotten.

There is another opinion according to which such demonstration of friendship with Iran is allegedly caused by weakening of western attention towards Georgia and strengthening of Russian factor - "if you do not want us we will find other friends". In other words Tbilisi took such step independently from the west. In our opinion the first looks more believable than the second since Georgia takes into account state of international affairs, agrees its steps with the west and at the same time not forgetting its own interests.

Pragmatic interests

Given today's political system of Iran and its foreign political tendencies Georgia should pursue mostly pragmatic interests in relations with Iran.

Here it would be appropriate to remember contacts of the highest level between Georgia and Iran that are more or less forgotten and that were indeed businesslike and mutually beneficial and chronicles of which starting from the nineties of the last century has the following outline: Diplomatic relations of the two countries were established on may 15th 1992. In 1993 Eduard Shevardnadze visited Tehran and later in 1995 President of Iran Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani visited Tbilisi and Batumi. In 2004 Tehran was visited by Mikhail Saakashvili. Apart from this a very significant fact was a visit of the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II in Iran.

In case of isolation on the Russia's part Tbilisi sees Tehran as a reserve source of energy supplies. Recently Iranian minister mentioned exactly this when visiting Tbilisi. Remember if Russian gas will be stopped we will help you, he said. Iranian products are widely known in Georgia beginning from household appliances and chemical products to food.

A main component of recent visits on both sides is economy. Iranian side expressed its interests with hydropower sphere, agriculture, farming, construction of enterprises that are engaged in production in these spheres.

Together with economy Iran has significant cultural interests and vice versa. There were times when Georgia was sometimes entirely and sometimes partly incorporated into Persia or was considered its protectorate country. Lets' remember dramatic events of the middle ages – Persian adventures of Giorgi Saakadze, as well as more or less puppet kings Rostom, Vakhtang V Shahnavaz, Irakli I, Giorgi XI, Vakhtang VI and services of king Irakli II on the court of Persian shah. And all this was due to political situation of the time. Forced pro-Persian politics of the Georgian kings was also reflected on culture. In XVI-XVII centuries Georgian literature was greatly influenced by Persian culture. It should be also noted that many Georgians were actively participated in Iranian life. Even today many Georgians are pleased to see architectural monuments built by those Georgians (for example, arch bridge in Isfahan that was built by Alaverdi-khan Undiladze). They say that Shah Abbas I knew Georgian language well and often spoke with guests in Georgia. He had Georgian grandmother who was a daughter of Shalikashvili family and also four Georgian wives - sisters of Teimuarz, Luarsab, Andukapar Amilakhvari and Simon-khan - Elrene, Lela-Tinatin, Tamar and Darejan.

According to some sources when Shah Abbas I captured Tbilisi he ordered to build a mosque and a church side-by-side. For their material provision Shah ordered 40 shops to give part of their profits. In addition Shah Abbas I ordered builders to make an inscription at the entrance of the mosque "We urge every Muslim king that will be a ruler of this city to protect rights of the opposite church". And the following text was inscribed at the church entrance: "I urge every Christian king who will be a ruler of this city to protect rights of the neighbouring mosque". How true this story is we cannot say although it has its sources. Anyway, many facts indicate that sometimes Shah Abbas I had pro-Georgian deviations.


One of the main components of the modern politics of Tbilisi towards Iran is "small Georgia" in Iran – Fereydan - which, we can say, is a concentration of Georgian-Iranian cultural connections. Generally, factor of Fereydan is very interesting and today its importance is growing more and more. Fereydan also has a significant emotional importance therefore it would not be exaggeration if we say that this issue is one of the dominating and acute in Georgian-Iranian relations.

Of course, we can talk about Fereydan a lot. We remember the time when in the sixties a film by Guram Pataraia "It's a long way to Gurjistan" was shown On the Georgian TV. Then Georgians with tears in their eyes were remembering troubles of exile of entire families of tens of thousands of Georgians by lion of Persia - Shah Abbas I from Georgian region Kakheti to semi-desert of Iran. The above-mentioned film played a significant role in the fact that in the seventies as a result of certain pressure of Georgian society on the authorities (if we can say that) return of part of residents of Fereydan - descendants of those Georgians exiled to Persia - was carried out more or less successfully. Given the difficulties of the time (imagine pro-American Iran and Communist Soviet Union) was almost an unimaginable project. But to be objective we should mention that due to certain subjective or objective reasons complete adaptation of Fereydan Georgians in Georgia was not possible and some families of those returned from their historical homeland decided to go back to Iran.

In the Soviet period it was virtually impossible to go to Iran. Today it is more possible. It is important to have money and interests. Today we see more video materials taken by Georgian journalists that depict life in modern Iran. Short movies and documentaries about Georgians from Fereydan became commonplace although they still retain sad and nostalgic feel about them.

In short we can say that a factor of "small Georgia in Iran" as we mentioned above is one of most important and perspective in the modern Georgian-Iranian relations.

To be continued

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