On September 14, 2019, a web portal Tvm.ge and later, on September 15, public movement Georgian Idea released identical articles headlined “Armenians in Samtskhe-Javakheti will demand “independence” if Georgia joins NATO.” The article discusses separatist sentiments of ethnic Armenian citizens of Georgia residing in Samtskhe-Javakheti region and quotes MP Shirak Torosyan of the Armenian National Assembly as saying that if Georgia decides to join NATO, it will apparently lead to the deployment of Turkish troops to Javakheti.
On September 14, similar article was published by Timenews.ge with a catchy headline: “Urgent: Alarming News Report is Being Spread, According to Which Armenians in Samtskhe-Javakheti Will Demand “Independence” if Georgia Joins NATO.”
All three articles involve a photo, depicting a group of young protesters carrying Armenian flag in the street; so, one can suppose that people have taken to the streets in Samtskhe-Javakheti to express protest against NATO.
KavkazPlus is referred to as the source of information; however no relevant link has been provided. The same article can be searched on KavkazPlus.com in two languages: Russian and Georgian. Both articles, however, were released much earlier – on April 21 and April 22, respectively. Similar information appeared online as early as in 2014 in an article by panorama.am, where Shirak Torosyan talks about the inevitability of rebellion on the part of Javakheti population if Georgia joins NATO.
Similar information with Shirak Torosyan’s photo was published by information agency “Marshalpress” back in 2016.
The article was immediately picked up by various, including ultranationalist and pro-Russian Facebook pages.
Spreading the five-year-old article by Tvm,ge, Timenews.ge and Georgian Idea in the present-day context is manipulative, because it only reflects the opinion of MP Shirak Torosyan, a citizen of Armenia, rather than the opinion of the Samtskhe-Javakheti population. The photo used in the article as an illustration is also manipulative, because it has nothing to do with the content of the article as it depicts the rally held by the Javakheti population in spring 2019, demanding recognition of Armenian people’s genocide. Spreading the material virally through various sources makes us suppose that these platforms are administered in an organized manner. The purpose of this information operation is to incite national strife and promote an opinion that the Samtskhe-Javakheti population is demonstratively expressing protest against NATO and that it will affect Georgia’s territorial integrity.
The photo used as an illustration is manipulative and has nothing to do with the content of the article. The photo belongs to RFE/RL’s Georgian Service and it depicts a protest rally held in Akhalkalaki and Akhaltsikhe on April 23-24, 2019, where ethnic Armenian citizens of Georgia residing in Samtskhe-Javakheti region demanded that Turkey recognized genocide of ethnically Armenian population.
Source: RFE/RL’s Georgian Service
Who shared the articles of Tvm.ge, Timenews.ge and Georgian Idea in social networks
Coordinated spread of the material in social networks makes us suppose that these platforms are administered in an organized manner. Initially, the article was released by Tvm.ge on September 14 with KavkazPlus referred to as its Russian primary source. The latter spread the article four months earlier. Disinformation spread by the Georgian primary source was shared by three types of online platforms:
- Facebook pages of hate groups: “კარდჰუ”, “ქართული გვერდი”, “ჯაბა მუსელიანის ბლოგი”, “ქართული იდეა”, “TS • news”, “აპოლიტიკური გაერთიანება ლილე”,
- Pro-Russian and anti-Western Facebook platforms: “სტალინი”, “დავით ჟღენტი”
- Clickbait website Timenews.ge.
The purpose of the information operation is to incite national strife and promote an opinion that the Samtskhe-Javakheti population is demonstratively expressing protest against NATO and that it will affect Georgia’s territorial integrity.
Who is Shirak Torosyan
Sirak Torosyan is MP of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia. He was a member of the faction “Republican Party of Armenia” till May 2018. In 1995 he graduated from Yerevan State University and became a member of Javakhk union. Since then he has been serving on various positions in Armenia. Torosyan has made multiple statements against Georgia’s NATO membership since 2014. Openly pro-Russian news agency Sakinform also released similar statements made by the Armenian MP for several times.