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Azerbaijani Official Urges Georgia To Curb Armenian Access To Black Sea

YEREVAN -- Azerbaijani Ambassador to Georgia Namig Aliyev has urged the Georgian government to restrict Armenia's economic access to the Black Sea coast and stop tens of thousands of Armenians from traveling there every year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Aliyev claimed the Armenian presence in Georgia's Black Sea region of Ajara is part of a long-term plan to annex the area. "For Armenians, access to the Black Sea means the realization of the idea of a 'Greater Armenia from sea to sea,'" Azerbaijan's APA news agency reported on February 24.

Ajara has become a very popular destination for Armenian vacationers, who are attracted by its beaches and inexpensive resorts. An estimated 70,000 Armenians spent their summer holidays there in 2009.

Capitalizing on this demand, some Armenian entrepreneurs have purchased real estate and made other investments in the local tourism infrastructure in recent years.

"[The Black Sea resorts of] Kobuleti, Batumi, and other regions in Ajara are being 'Armenianized,' Armenians are being resettled there," Aliyev claimed. "This is a great threat. Taking into account the fact that in 2009-10 hundreds of Ajaran families moved from Ajara to other regions of Georgia as migrants, we'll see where these processes will lead the Georgians."

The diplomat added that the use of the Georgian Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti by Armenian exporters and importers also poses a grave threat to Georgia's territorial integrity.

"I can understand it when a state has no access to the sea and wants to establish friendship, economic, commercial, and transport relations with other states, in order to have access to the sea," he said. "But in the case of Armenia...these are territorial claims."

Aliyev said Armenia would seek to eventually "occupy these territories both militarily and through migration." He added that "Azerbaijanis and Georgians should unite to prevent this policy. Otherwise, we will not be able to achieve anything."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has encouraged Armenian tourism to Georgia and investment in his country since he came to power in 2003.

His administration's radical crackdown on police corruption and the launch of regular train service between Yerevan and Batumi are among the factors behind the surge in recent years in the number of Armenian tourists.

In an effort to further facilitate transport between their countries, the Armenian and Georgian governments pledged last week to jointly operate their border crossings.

Also, a new highway currently being built in southern Georgia is expected to substantially shorten travel between Armenia and the Georgian Black Sea coast.