Visa relations with Iran and “zero tolerance” of Saakashvili

In 2011, Mikheil Saakashvili introduced a visa-free regime with the Islamic Republic of Iran. This event had its pros and cons. On the positive side, the number of Iranian tourists in Georgia increased significantly, accompanied by a revival of the tourism sector.

Then the government of Garibashvili unilaterally renewed the visa regime, but in 2016 Prime Minister Kvirikashvili for economic reasons considered it necessary to restore free entry of Iranians into Georgia.

Georgian-Iranian relations have always been affected by the Euro-American influence. Georgia has joined the financial sanctions against Iran. It is impossible for Georgia to transfer money to Iranian banks or receive money from Iran. This factor significantly impedes the deepening of beneficial bilateral trade and economic relations.

After a series of provocations by the Georgian border guards, when Iranian women were asked to take off their handkerchiefs at the Tbilisi airport (autumn 2018), the number of Iranian visitors to Georgia dropped dramatically (to 60% as of August 2019). Against the background of a decline in the number of Russian tourists after the events of June 20 last year, this factor was an additional blow to the tourist sector of Georgia – the Georgian economy lost 221 million GEL in the absence of Iranians.

After the assassination of an Iranian general in Iraq led by the U.S. and missile attacks on U.S. military bases by Iranian armed forces, a number of Georgian users of social networks, who do not disclose their identity, began an anti-Iranian campaign. The main demand is “to cancel visa-free regime with Iran”, as a large influx of refugees from Iran can allegedly flow into Georgia. Of course, not a single refugee from Iran has ever arrived in Georgia, with the exception of a few dozen Fereidans (Fereidans are residents of the Iranian province, by birth of Georgians, who were moved by Persian Shah Abbas-Mirza in the early 17th century from Eastern Georgia). And those, i.e. Fereydan Georgians, live much better in Iran than would have lived in Georgia.

We do not assume that Saakashvili is behind this campaign. Maybe this issue is a serious concern for Georgians, as they believe that a three-month visa regime will mean something to the flow of refugees. Syrian refugees traveling to Europe did not ask if they needed European visas, but it seems that Saakashvili, who grabs even a straw to maintain his political stronghold in Georgia, has continued this “zero tolerance” campaign. Unfortunately for himself, the former president does not understand how ridiculous the situation is:

“Mass entry from Iran is a threat. In this situation, first of all, I would block the border, not allowing a single Iranian citizen to cross the border of Georgia, because this country is currently a threat”, – says “Misha”, but forgets that it was he who first introduced the visa-free regime with Iran in 2011.

The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Georgia is not doing anything to raise awareness about Iran among Georgian citizens. Visitors coming from the Middle Kingdom are Iranians proper, but also Turks, Arabs – Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis and others in Georgia are often collectively called “Iranians”.

Consequently, cheap politicians such as Saakashvili and other losers have a very wide range of opportunities to sow fear and panic in an already intimidated and morally disrupted society.

Interestingly, the media and non-governmental sector sponsored by the West, unlike other cases, ignores exactly anti-Iranian (let alone anti-Russian!) xenophobia and keeps silent like fish.

Gulbaat Rtskhiladze