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Georgian People Will Never Forget Turkey\'s Help

   
InternationalTbilisi, GEORGIA, December 04, 2003 - Georgia\'s National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili, who toppled Eduard Shevardnadze\'s 10-year administration after the \'velvet revolution\' on November 22, delivered a clear message that his country will continue to maintain military, political, economic and cultural relations with Turkey.

Saakashvili, the sole opposition candidate in the presidential election to be held on January 4, said in an exclusive interview with ZAMAN that Georgia expects Turkey to support in the Acaristan issue as well. Stating that his mother is a vice president at the International Black Sea University, with Georgian-Turkish partners, Saakashvili said he wants new places like this to be opened, adding that he welcomes these kinds of educational activities.


Emphasizing that Turkey is of paramount importance for Georgia\'s integration with the European Union, Saakashvili stated that the Silk Road Project, Baku-Ceyhan, Baku-Erzurum crude oil and natural gas pipelines are their biggest goals. Noting that he expects to receive 80 percent of the votes, Saakashvili made striking statements about Shevardnadze\'s resignation, reforms they plan to realize and relations with Turkey.

When did you decide to resist Shevardnadze with whom you had worked before?


There were problems because of the numerous frauds committed by many people in the party, when I was with Shevardnadze. I always hoped Shevardnadze would support us and cleanse the party of fraudulent elements. Shevardnadze helped when reforms started. He made me carry out judicial reforms. We changed almost all of the judges and increased salaries. However, Shevardnadze cut the assistance he allocated to the police and the office of the attorney general of reforms. Shevardnadze removed the ministers of agriculture and rural affairs since they were involved in malpractices. We had hope that Shevardnadze would help us for a long period of time. However, when I was appointed justice minister, I then understood that he had no intention of combating corruption and implementing reforms. He was influenced by the people around him. As a result of this, I decided to resign as justice minister and form an opposition party. My party achieved great success in the local elections within six months. We formed a strong party structure. We started massive protests across the whole of Georgia.

Shevardnadze says \'I resigned in order to avert a civil war.\' How did you consider the possibility of a war?


Shevardnadze\'s resignation was the most important and necessary factor for us to avert a civil war. He resigned because the military was on our side. The United States and Russia did not support him. After Shevardnadze was chased out of Parliament, the people took over. Then masses marched to the presidential guesthouse. Airlines and anywhere he could go were all occupied. He had no choice but to step down. Over 100,000 people in the streets supported us. This is the first time, such a thing has happened in the history of Georgia.

What will be the priority of your government?


Our most important target is to curb corruption, constitute a strong state structure and improve friendship with neighboring countries. Our neighbor Turkey has given enormous support to Georgia over the last decade. We have many problems in our relations with Russia. We want to solve these problems. These are our biggest goals in both foreign and domestic policies.

How will you combat corruption?


During Shevardnadze\'s reign, none of those involved in malpractices were ever arrested. They had immunities. It was not possible to think of establishing a normal country under such circumstances. Thus, our greatest goal is to set up a system whereby politicians can be be punished for the mistakes they have made. Swiss deputies stated that they would help in getting back money, stacked in Swiss banks, belonging to Georgian deputies. We will dismiss corrupt police officers who have been receiving bribes for years, especially those who stop trucks coming from Turkey without any tangible reason.

How will internal stability be ensured? How are you going to solve the problems in Abkhazia, South Osetia and others?


The most important thing is for us to solve these through peaceful means. On the issue of Abkhazia, Russia pursuing a correct policy and Turkey\'s assistance are particularly important in building relations needed in eliminating fundamental disagreements. There is no discrimination problem with Ajaria. Our problem with Ajaria stems from the fact that it does not transfer incomes to the central budget. In this case, Turkey could pursue a very constructive policy.

Ajaria administration states it won\'t recognize the new government. What kind of policy will you follow on this issue?


There is no problem as such that Ajaria will secede from Georgia. According to the information I have received, [leader] Aslan Abashizde will also participate in the presidential elections. Nobody interferes in the Ajaria Autonomous Region. Ajaria people won\'t allow the declaration of independence. The people of Ajaria have important links with Turkey. Therefore, we believe that Turkey will play a significant role on this issue.


It is stated that the U.S. wants Turkey to be a negotiator in the Ajaria issue


This could be true, America trusts Turkey very much. Interim President Nino Burdzhanadze is carrying out studies in many fields. I believe she will tackle these issues during meetings she plans to have with the Turkish president and prime minister.

Did you have Western support during the resistance?


The United States did not support us from the very beginning except for the observers it sent to oversee the elections. America has not provided financial support either. The U.S. withdrew the support it provided for Shevardnadze when he declared a state of emergency.

Do you expect the army to stage a coup?


Former intelligence chief Igor Giorgadze, who once organized attacks against Shevardnadze, is in Moscow now. We heard that this person may initiate a military rebellion by gathering soldiers when he comes to Tbilisi. Russian soldiers may also be involved in this. But we do not think that the Moscow administration would support these Russian soldiers. We have to be careful about it. Our intelligence studies are going on.

How will relations with the West be?


We have to move together with Russia towards integration with Europe. However, we have to reach this goal via Turkey. The earlier Turkey joins the EU, the earlier we will be the neighbor of a Union member. Thus, our EU membership process would become easier.

How do you see the future of political, economic, educational and cultural relations with Turkey?


Turkey has provided a lot of assistance to our armed forces. It trained a great number of our soldiers. It is very important for us to maintain relations in this field. We should also benefit from Turkey\'s experience in reaching NATO standards.


My mother works at the International Black Sea University, with Turkish-Georgian partners, as the vice president. This institution, where both Turks and Georgians work together, provides quality education. We welcome this with great respect. We also want more Turkish educational institutions to be opened here. We want many Turks to come here and many Georgians to go to Turkey for education.


We will continue relations established by Shevardnadze, [Suleyman] Demirel and [Turgut] Ozal. Turkey is a country that helps us in difficult times. Our nation will never forget people who offer a helping hand when the going is tough. In this sense, Turkey is very important for Georgian people. [Mustafa Kemal] Ataturk is a great personality for me. I have read many books about him. If we can attain what Ataturk achieved, then Georgia will have the place it deserves in the international arena.

How is your connection with Turkey?


I have never visited any country that many times as I have visited Turkey. I even went there by road. I could say I have seen every part of Turkey and that Turkish people are the warmest people in the world. I will come to your country again.

How will Baku-Ceyhan pipeline be influenced by the developments?


I met with the chairman of BP petroleum company. The Silk Road, natural gas and oil pipelines are issues that Georgia gives priority to. We are conducting intensive studies on these issues. This is my biggest goal.

What do you think about the percentage of the votes you will receive in January 4 elections?


I guess I will get around 70-80 percent of the votes.
  

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