Friday, 30 October 2009

eBooks in PDF Format in Russian‏

- Narodi Severnogo Kavkaza i ix Svyazi S Rossiey
E. N. Kusheva, Moscow, 1963 [11.6 MB]

- F.F. Tornaou I Ego Kavkazskie Materiali XIX Veka
G. A. Dzidzariya, 1976 [4.23 MB]

- Iz Istorii Srednevekovoy Abkhazii (VI - XVII. Veka.)
Z. B. Anchabadze, Sukhum, 1959 [10.2 MB]

- Istoriya i Kultura Drevney Abkhazii
Z. V. Anchabadze, Moscow, 1964 [7.31 MB]

- Ocherki Istori Abkhazii 1910 - 1921
G. A. Dzidzariya, Tbilisi, 1963 [15 MB]

- Dekabriysti v Abkhazii
G. A. Dzidzariya, Sukhum, 1970 [2.44 MB]

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The death of language?

By Tom Colls - BBC - 19 Oct. 2009

An estimated 7,000 languages are being spoken around the world. But that number is expected to shrink rapidly in the coming decades. What is lost when a language dies?

In 1992 a prominent US linguist stunned the academic world by predicting that by the year 2100, 90% of the world's languages would have ceased to exist.

Far from inspiring the world to act, the issue is still on the margins, according to prominent French linguist Claude Hagege.

"Most people are not at all interested in the death of languages," he says. "If we are not cautious about the way English is progressing it may eventually kill most other languages."

According to Ethnologue, a US organisation owned by Christian group SIL International that compiles a global database of languages, 473 languages are currently classified as endangered.
Among the ranks are the two known speakers of Lipan Apache alive in the US, four speakers of Totoro in Colombia and the single Bikya speaker in Cameroon.

"It is difficult to provide an accurate count," says Ethnologue editor Paul Lewis. "But we are at a tipping point. From here on we are going to increasingly see the number of languages going down."

What is lost?

As globalisation sweeps around the world, it is perhaps natural that small communities come out of their isolation and seek interaction with the wider world. The number of languages may be an unhappy casualty, but why fight the tide? Read more...

Related issues

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A history erased - Abkhazia's archive: fire of war, ashes of history‏

- October 22, 1992 - Georgian special forces in Sukhum burn down the state historical archive of Abkhazia and the archive of the Institute of Abkhazian language, history and literature.

- It was done to try to erase documentary proof of the Abkhazians' presence over the centuries on Abkhazian soil.

- In a single night Abkhazia's documentary history had been virtually erased.

- Institute of the Abkhazian Language, Literature and History: %95 of the archive was destroyed. 176,000 archival documents in Abkhazia before the war, 168,000 were destroyed.

- Abkhazian National Library: The works in the library numbered more than 1.5 million, including magazines and periodicals. Actual books numbered c.800.000. Not yet completed the calculation but there are 200 thousand works are missing.

To whom it may concern,

In addition to the many unspeakable tragedies of the Balkan wars, one act of cultural vandalism caught the world's attention, as it happened as the world's cameras were trained on Bosnia-Herzegovina. This was the destruction of the Library of Sarajevo, which stored manuscripts and other documents recording the multi-cultural heritage of the state, at the end of August 1992. With help from libraries and cultural organisations around the world, many of the losses were made good in the post-war years of reconstruction.

Two months after the Sarajevo library was left in ruins, similar deliberate acts were perpetrated in another part of Europe in a war which was never the centre of media-attention, though the consequences of the war resurfaced in August 2008 with Russia's recognition of the Republic of Abkhazia in Transcaucasia. Georgian troops entered Abkhazia on 14th August 1992, sparking a 14-month war. At the end of October, the Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature named after Dmitry Gulia, which housed an important library and archive, was deliberately torched by the invaders, who were bent on destroying the documentary evidence that proved Abkhazians' residence in their historical homeland; also targeted was the capital's public library. Though help to restore the losses has come from institutions and private donors in Russia, no further assistance has been offered by the wider international community. The short film you are about to watch is designed to alert the world to this cultural loss and thereby to encourage all in a position to do so to make the kind of help described above for Sarajevo available also to Abkhazia.

Related Articles & Excerpts

- Abkhazia's archive: fire of war, ashes of history, by Thomas de Waal - Open Democracy

- Abkhazia: Cultural Tragedy Revisited, by Thomas de Waal - IWPR.

''...The Mission obtained sufficient evidence to conclude that gross and systematic violations of human rights had occurred at the hands of Georgian troops in Abkhazia throughout the period since August 14, 1992; that these included serious violations committed against Abkhazian and other ethnic population groups in cities and villages; that civilians were the primary victims of Georgian abuses; that Georgian attacks were directed against persons identifiable as Abkhazian, and that particular attack was directed against Abkhazian political, cultural, intellectual and community leaders; that in addition to Abkhazians, also Armenians, Russians, Greeks, Ukrainians, Estonians, and other non-Georgian minorities in Abkhazia have suffered similar treatment by Georgian authorities; and that removal or destruction of the principal materials and buildings of important historical and cultural importance to Abkhazians has taken place in what appears to be an organized attempt to destroy Abkhazian culture and national identity. (UNPO: November 1992 Mission to Abkhazia Report)''

''...One day in the winter of 1992, a white Lada without number-plates, containing four men from the Georgian National Guard, drew up outside. The guardsmen shot the door open and then flung incendiary grenades into the hall and stairwel. … Sukhum citizens tried vainly to break through the cordon and enter the building to rescue burning books and papers. … The archives also contained the entire documentation of the Grek community, including a library, a collection of historical research from all the Grek villages of Abkhazia and complete files of the Grek language newspapers going back to the first years after the revolution.Please note that this story was previously quoted in Agtzidis (Jan 1994). Agtzidis (1994) states on page 27 that, Kharalombos Politidis witnessed the catastrophe described above. Clogg (1999) add that these irreplaceable documents for around 45 Greek communities in Abkhazia included the only complete set of the Pontic Grek newspaper Kokinos Kapnas.''('A Pontic Greek History'' by Sam Topalidis. p.140)

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Won’t Achieve Stability in North Caucasus without Competitive Elections, Markedonov Says‏

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 20 – The local and regional elections on October 11 in the North Caucasus show confront Moscow with a choice: it can insist on “a 100-percent harvest of votes for the ruling party” with “a parallel growth of extremism,” or it could allow competitive politics so that people there will be able to influence the authorities and have a stake in their survival.

That is the judgment of Sergey Markedonov, perhaps Moscow’s most thoughtful commentator on the North Caucasus, in an essay on the various elections last Sunday across a region infamous in the past for the way in which regional officials engaged in Soviet-style manipulation of the results (

Because of that history, few analysts have looked at the recent results there with care, but that is a mistake, Markedonov insists, because “given the actual lack of public politics (at both the regional and federal level), the election campaigns at the local level” become “a most important source of information about the situation and internal dynamics” of that region.

At the very least, he continues, today they represent an important supplement to “the main source” of information the central Russian government has about the region: “analytic reports or communiqués of the law-enforcement structures and special services,” none of which are entirely disinterested or reliable.

Although over all, the party of power “celebrated is latest triumph” across the region as a whole, Markedonov notes, it did not win everywhere – indeed, in some places, no victors have been declared because of problems with the voting – but the pattern of electoral outcomes is extremely instructive, he argues.

In his essay, the Moscow specialist draws five major conclusions from the October 11 voting in the North Caucasus. First, he says, “the results show that a significant part of the population is dissatisfied with the current power and there where there is a chance, this dissatisfaction is converted into votes.

That is important, he argues, because it highlights something outside observers frequently miss: “the internal situation in the North Caucasus does not reduce itself to a choice between ‘terrorist/extremism’ and United Russia,” but rather involves “a broader spectrum” of opinion, one that could undercut the extremists if the party of power were more tolerant of opposition.

Second, those candidates who did defeat United Russia were generally independent of any exist party, an indication that “the current party structures [of the Russian Federation as a whole] are not terribly attractive for residents of the region,” something that highlights “the mistaken quality” of Moscow’s decision to ban regional parties.

Were Moscow to reverse itself on this, such regional parties would, Markedonov suggests, both attract many who might otherwise turn to radical separatism and help ensure that voters in the region would not “swell the ranks” of all-Russian parties that United Russia sees as its opponents.

Third, the elections showed that where local officials used administrative resources as was the case in Chechnya, they could achieve “Soviet-style” outcomes but that this in no way enhanced either stability or security. And where the authorities did not employ such resources, United Russia often won but by a far smaller margin.

Fourth, the protest voting, Markedonov continues, “frequently masks the frustration” residents of the North Caucasus have in their dealings with the power structures but which, except for voting they have no attractive and within-system way of manifesting. Consequently, the powers that be should welcome this rather than see it as a threat.

And fifth, the Moscow analyst argues, United Russia and its supporters need to recognize that electoral “triumphs” achieved by administrative means “have little in common with real stabilization of the situation in the North Caucasus.” Indeed, the way in which these triumphs are achieved may make the path toward stabilization even longer.

By orchestrating electoral outcomes, United Russia and the powers that be are effectively closing “official channels for the expression of opposition and protest energy (through elections and then through the activity of deputies and mayors)” and that in turn “leads opposition people to the path of radicalism.”

“In no other region of Russia,” Markedonov concludes, “are the problems of security so closely connected with the issues of democracy and the development of intra-political competition.” By closing down this feedback loop from the population, he adds, Moscow “risks struggling for the North Caucasus people without this people itself.”

Friday, 16 October 2009

Abkhazia will succeed, by President Sergei Bagapsh

Abkhazia will succeed

In freedom, not as a ward of any other nation

The Washington Times - October 16, 2009

My country is recognized by Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. A long-awaited European Union report recently concluded that any government recognizing us would be violating the law.

You might wonder then why I am so optimistic, indeed certain, that the independence of Abkhazia not only is assured, but that we will thrive politically and economically. Furthermore, I believe it is only a matter of time before we are recognized by most countries of the world.

Let me explain why I am so confident of our future.

c Most important, I am confident because our independence is rooted in a desire for justice, freedom and democracy for the Abkhazian people. I believe what the Martin Luther King said, in a statement heard around the world, "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."

Against our genuine aspirations for freedom, Georgia's leaders offer a legalistic challenge - the reclaiming of their "territorial integrity," a claim based primarily on extreme nationalism and a shotgun marriage forced upon Abkhazians by Josef Stalin in 1931.

c Second, despite war and blockade, we already have survived as an independent state for 16 years, an accomplishment conveniently disregarded by Georgia's Western friends.

c Third, we have ample potential as a nation, with a strong ethnic identity and formidable economic potential. Abkhazia's mild climate and location on the Black Sea makes us an attractive tourism destination and a crossroads for trade between Europe and Asia. We look forward to receiving thousands of visitors during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, only 20 miles north of us.

c Fourth, our people are smiling again. They no longer wear military uniforms or clean their rifles regularly. They no longer dress for mourning. They believe in a future for themselves and for their families.

c Finally, we are confident because we are no longer desperate. We can wait as long it takes for the world to come to its senses.

History tells us that no struggles for independence are regarded as legal by those who oppose them. That was true of the American War for Independence, and it's true of Abkhazia today. While we go about building our democracy and our economy, the United States and Europe continue to base their policies toward us on a false foundation.

The recent EU report concluded that Georgia started the war last year by indiscriminately killing civilians in South Ossetia, a brutal surprise attack that violated international law. Yet so many Westerners appear more concerned about the legality of our independence than Georgia's vile and unnecessary attack on civilians.

Perhaps such views are not surprising. The Cold War intellectuals who dominate thinking in Washington and Brussels don't care about Abkhazia or Abkhazians. Frankly, they don't care about Georgians either. They care only whether something is good or bad for Russia, which they hate.

Ironically, it is these intellectuals, journalists and the leaders they influence who so hotly criticize us for being reliant on Russian aid and support.

A friend of mine told me about a line from a famous old American movie called "The Big Sleep," in which Humphrey Bogart says, "You know what he'll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling." By supporting Georgia's policy of diplomatic and economic isolation of Abkhazia, the United States and Europe are, figuratively, doing that to us. They give us no alternative, then criticize us for doing what we must to survive.

When the international community denies us banking codes, Russia offers a solution. When we cannot get international railroad codes, Russia agrees to manage our railroads. When we cannot send our sickest citizens to European hospitals, we send them to Moscow. When Georgia blockades us from getting goods by sea, we get them by road and rail from Russia.

If Europe and the United States based their policies on the reality of what is happening now in our region, not on a fantasy that the Georgians will someday restore their "territorial integrity," they would recognize there is a diplomatic path of compromise and humane action that would benefit all citizens of the Caucasus, regardless of their ethnicity.

Though I first ran for office four years ago against the pro-Russia candidate, I'm more grateful than I can say for Russian support at this critical time in our history. But like other Abkhazians, I would leap at the chance to build our economy with support from others. We are an independent country, and we will not accept a future as a ward of any other nation.

I encourage the United States and Europe to join us in seeking a peaceful path forward. Nothing can make us return to rule by Georgian nationalists and despots.

We are convinced that justice eventually will arc in our direction. But it can, and would, arc much sooner with wise international leadership.

Sergei Bagapsh is president of the Republic of Abkhazia. Mr. Bagapsh is a former energy executive who was first elected president in 2005. He is running for re-election.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Documentary: ''Kanzhal Battle"

Language: Kabardian (Circassian)

Part 1 of 5

- (Part 1)

- (Part 2)

- (Part 3)

- (Part 4)

- (Part 5)

About Kanzhal battle the historical sources inform the following.

Since the beginning of 1708 the Crimean khanate began mobilization of the military forces for a war against Kabarda. The number of Crimean-Turkish army made from 40.000 up to 100.000 men.

Before the Crimean intrusion in Kabarda the Supreme prince of Kabarda Kurgoko Atazhukin achieved the full consolidation of the political elite and, accordingly, association of the military resources of specific princedoms. However the number of the armed forces of Kabarda was much lesser than the conquerors’ one (from 7 up to 12 thousand soldiers).

In the middle of the summer 1708 Tatar-Turkish armies started a military operation. The active military opposition proceeded within a month and a half.

In the beginning of September, 1708 there was a night battle near Kanzhal mountain that was the culmination of all the military campaign of that year. From the Khan’s armies approximately 5 thousand men escaped.

Kabarda, after its victory by Kanzhal, not only did not pay any tribute to Bakhchisarai, but also went over to the offensive, and in August, 1711 crushed again on Kuban the 15-thousand Crimean army.

Kanzhal battle belongs to the number of the largest night battles in the military history.

We Italians are everywhere and forever with Abkhazia

''Noi Italiani siamo d'appertutto e per sempre con l'Abkhazia''

''We Italians are everywhere and forever with Abkhazia.''

Circassian Day in Europe. 5 October 2009, Brussels

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Europe must stand up for Abkhazia and S. Ossetia: 'Response to recent correspondence in The Guardian'

Abkhaz World - 9 Oct. 2009

Pace Vaclav Havel and the co-signatories of his letter (Guardian 22nd September), ''Europe must stand up for Georgia''

The lessons of history seem not to have been learnt by your correspondents, for they blindly ignore the fact of the existence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as entities in their own right. As long as the problem is (mis)conceived as a purely Russo-Georgian affair, in which Russia is demonized as the aggressor and Georgia the victim, there will be no resolution. Mr. Havel and his colleagues are perhaps unaware that the borders of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic were drawn by Georgian nationals, Stalin and Beria, who incorporated our Abkhazian homeland into Georgia against the will of the Abkhazians themselves. This should be considered an act of national shame on a par with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact mentioned by the authors. Such biased and superficial thinking on the part of the letter's renowned signatories raises doubts about the abilities of EU policy-makers correctly to formulate policy towards Georgia in line with the continent's purported commitment to democracy and minority rights.

The EU’s 27 democratic leaders should now be thinking not of the geopolitical implications of Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia but rather how best to safeguard the security of the Abkhazian and S. Ossetian peoples in the face of the continuing threat from a Georgia which has consistently refused to sign a non-aggression pact.

Rather than pen letters urging EU support for Georgia, the first signatory, Vaclav Havel, could more usefully have advised Tbilisi on how to follow his own country's experience of a bloodless national divorce, which is why we say that Europe should follow Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela in recognizing two states which want to normalize relations with neighboring Georgia.


To Mr. Irakli Alasania:

Judging by Mr. Alasania's recent letter, Georgia had long planned military intervention in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The EU report prepared by Heidi Tagliavini and other experts has now confirmed Georgia’s aggression. Can history provide any precedent whereby such action has led to reconciliation between peoples or reunification of a fractured state? Rather than talking about mutual respect, Alasania should address his fellow Georgians with a recommendation properly to respect their Abkhazian and Ossetian neighbors.

Alasania demands of the International Community that it guarantee the security of Georgian refugees, but how can one take seriously such 'demands', when the refugee-numbers quoted in Georgian sources exceed the actual total of Georgian resident in pre-war Abkhazia, where some 60,000 have been allowed to return? Moreover, Georgia's former UN Ambassador fails to inform his readers that in 1993 Amnesty International sent the then-leader of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, a letter accusing Georgia of ethnic cleansing AGAINST Abkhazians. Georgian security has supposedly been acutely observed by a cohort of OSCE and now EU observers. Despite this, Georgia managed to attack S. Ossetia on 7 August 2008 and to escape punishment. The EU's pusillanimous silence last August and since will probably lead to further manifestations of Georgian extremism.

On the basis of the good relations he has established with certain leading members of the Abkhazian government, Alasania optimistically hopes to be able to negotiate with the Abkhazians. This clearly attests to the peaceful nature of us Abkhazians and our readiness to compromise, despite the deep wounds inflicted by Georgia's bringing war to our homeland on 14th August 1992.

Dear Mr. Alasania and Georgians, the only way to achieve reconciliation between Abkhazia and Georgia is for Georgia to recognize Abkhazia as an independent state and to build with it normal, good-neighbourly relations.

Yours sincerely,
Asida Chichba & Liudmila Agrba
Abkhaz Civil Society Activists

Friday, 9 October 2009

The EU Report: Little and Late, by Patrick Armstrong

Patrick Armstrong
Political Analyst, Ottawa, Canada - Russia: Other Point of View - October 8, 2009

The long-delayed Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia was finally issued on 30 September, 13 months after the war. It is to be found here: Vol I (Introductory); Vol II (Report); Vol III (Submitted material). In what follows quotations are from the BBC-supplied version (which is somewhat faster loading). Generally speaking, I regard it as rather little, rather late, naïve and incomplete. It is also excruciatingly delicate – even precious – in what it says and what it avoids saying. It concludes with a number of unexceptionable, but rather vague, recommendations.

It is incomplete because it, evidently seeing the conflict as one between Georgia and Russia as other commentators have, leaves the Ossetians out. While the authors feel it useful to give some historical background on Georgia, going back to the Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783, there is no equivalent discussion of the Ossetian (or Abkhazian) point of view. But, if asked, Ossetians would certainly speak of their unwillingness to be part of Georgia and refer to earlier Georgian attacks in 1920 and 1991. Their arguments for independent status (here is Abkhazia’s) should be heard out even if they are to be refuted. Tendentious perhaps but a significant factor in Ossetian (and Abkhazian) perceptions.

The fact is that the Ossetians, rightly or wrongly, do not want to be part of Georgia, fought for their independence when the Russian Empire collapsed, were placed in the Georgian SSR by Stalin-Jughashvili, tried to be excluded from it when the USSR collapsed, fought another independence war and, very probably, stopped the Georgian attack before the Russian forces got there (some Tskhinvali combat footage at 7:50). To leave their point of view out of the Report is to be incomplete. Added to which, the discussion about their citizenship (the authors assert that they were Georgian citizens) is to altogether ignore their contention that, while they were certainly Soviet citizens in 1991, they never agreed to becoming Georgian citizens. Indeed the world recognised Georgia, in the borders that Stalin gave it, while the disputes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were actually going on.

The Report is legalistic: “According to the overwhelmingly accepted uti possidetis principle, only former constituent republics such as Georgia but not territorial sub-units such as South Ossetia or Abkhazia are granted independence in case of dismemberment of a larger entity such as the former Soviet Union. Hence, South Ossetia did not have a right to secede from Georgia, and the same holds true for Abkhazia for much of the same reasons.” This may well be true from a narrow legal perspective but by dismissing the Ossetians’ wishes it hardly points to a solution of the problem. Nor should it mean that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should lose the status they had had under the Soviet system just because Tbilisi says they should. It is not Moscow’s fishing in Georgian waters, but Tbilisi’s refusal under Gamsakhurdia in the 1990s to entertain the possibility of South Ossetia and Abkhazia retaining the quasi-autonomy they had had in the Georgian SSR that is where and when this latest round in the conflict began. The world recognised Stalin’s Georgia without consideration of this problem (just as it did with Azerbaijan and Karabakh and Moldova and Transdnestr. And Russia and Chechnya). In retrospect, it would have been better had we all made recognition conditional on a civilised compromise (as, for example, Ukraine’s government negotiated with Crimea).

The Report is incomplete because it fails even to mention two important pieces of evidence. One from the former Georgian Defence Minister, Irakly Okruashvili: “But Okruashvili, a close Saakashvili ally who served as defence minister from 2004 to 2006, said he and the president worked together on military plans to invade South Ossetia and a second breakaway region on the Black Sea coast, Abkhazia.” The second, from Georgia’s former Ambassador to Russia in 2008 Erosi Kitsmarishvili who said in his November testimony in Tbilisi:
  • first that an attack was considered in 2004 (“During that meeting, President Saakashvili asked the question whether to launch a military assault on Tskhinvali or not?... We were very close to taking a decision in favor of the operation, because Okruashvili, who was in favor of the military operation, was at that time very close associate to President Saakashvili”);
  • second that there was a plan to attack Abkhazia earlier in the year that was put off (“The military operation should have been undertaken in direction of Abkhazia; military instructors from Israel were brought here in order to prepare that military operation; Kezerashvili also said at that meeting that the operation should have started in early May, or at least before the snow melted on the mountain passes; This decision was not materialized);
  • and third that Saakashvili thought that he had Washington’s approval for the attack on South Ossetia (“In the second half of April, 2008, I have learnt from the President's inner circle that they have received a green light from the western partner to carry out a military operation; When asked to specify “the western partner” Kitsmarishvili said: after a meeting with the U.S. President George W. Bush [the meeting between Bush and Saakashvili took place in Washington on March 19], our leadership was saying that they had the U.S. support to carry out the military operation; In order to double-check this information, I have met with John Tefft, the U.S. ambassador in Tbilisi and asked him whether it was true or not; he categorically denied that;”).

Thus, these two men, close to Saakashvili and to decision-making in Tbilisi, attest there was always a war plan and that there had been several close calls. This is a very important part of the background to the August war: one can assume that Moscow and Tskhinvali had knowledge of this. To leave testimony from such sources out of the Report altogether is to seriously distort the discussion of the immediate background.

The Report is naïve in its discussion of the ceasefire. In one part the authors say “On 10 August, the Georgian Government declared a unilateral ceasefire and its intention to withdraw Georgian forces from South Ossetia. This ceasefire, however, was not followed by the opposite side”. Why would Moscow believe Saakashvili? He preceded the attack on Tskhinvali with a ceasefire declaration. It is naïve of the authors to expect Moscow – or anyone – to trust Saakashvili’s declarations after that. But at another place they write: “After five days of fighting, a ceasefire agreement was negotiated on 12 August 2008 between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and French President Nicolas Sarkozy”. But did Saakashvili sign it? A French Report says that he did but another report suggests that he only signed on the 15th. There was also some confusion over just what he signed. Then the Report refers to an implementation agreement on 8 September. The Report charges “However, the Russian and South Ossetian forces reportedly continued their advances for some days after the August ceasefire was declared”. My question is which “August ceasefire?” the 10th, the 12th or the 15th? At one point the authors write “Furthermore, all South Ossetian military actions directed against Georgian armed forces after the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008 had come into effect were illegal as well.” Ah, but when did it “come into effect”? It is naïve to think that there is any such thing as a unilateral ceasefire and it is naïve to expect forces in contact to stop shooting immediately.

The Report is incomplete in its charge that “Russian armed forces, covered by air strikes and by elements of its Black Sea fleet, penetrated deep into Georgia” going “far beyond the reasonable limits of defence”. Georgia is not a very large country, to be sure, and “deep” there does not mean the same distance as it would in a larger country. But of the list of towns mentioned in the Report – Gori, Zugdidi, Senaki and Poti – Senaki, at about 40 kilometres from the Abkhazian border, is the deepest. I would not have used the word “deep” here, but that is a matter of opinion. What is more important, showing both naïvety and incompleteness, is that no reason for the Russian “penetration” is entertained. But the fleeing Georgian forces, still in contact, with no mutually agreed ceasefire, abandoned significant amounts of weapons, armoured vehicles, ammunition and fuel in the army bases at Senaki and Gori (at least a battle group’s worth in the latter). In the case of Gori, certainly and probably also Senaki, all local authorities, from the mayor to the police, had fled with the retreating army. Should Russian forces have just left these weapons unguarded? One can imagine what the authors of the Report would have said had the Russian commanders shrugged their shoulders and left these tanks, APCs and artillery pieces, fuelled and armed, to the first group of Ossetians or Abkhazians bent on revenge. Poti was a naval base for warships that had fired at Russian ships and Zugdidi is on the way to Senaki. War has its logic and part of that logic is that forces, once set in motion, seek out the enemy and destroy his resources. Until there is a ceasefire, and as we have seen, the authors of the Report fudge the issue of just when there was a mutual ceasefire, that military logic holds. Therefore this charge is weak, naïve and, its use of “deep” is rather questionable.

The Report several times charges the Russian forces with “massive and extended military action ranging from the bombing of the upper Kodori Valley to the deployment of armoured units to reach extensive parts of Georgia, to the setting up of military positions in and nearby major Georgian towns as well as to control major highways, and to the deployment of navy units on the Black Sea.” More naïvety: just because an artillery piece, or air base firing on Russian forces is not actually located in South Ossetia does not give it immunity. Russian forces attacked Georgian air assets until they stopped action; it attacked artillery units until they stopped action. It occupied key positions until there was a solid ceasefire and then it left them. That is war and, it is to be recalled, Saakashvili chose war. At least the Report avoids the fatuous expression “disproportionate”. The Russian reaction was in fact quite “proportionate”. If one wishes to see what a “disproportionate” use of force would be, one may consider the case of Novy Sad which was bombed many times by NATO aircraft in 1999: every single bridge over the Danube was destroyed, the oil refinery was destroyed, the TV station was destroyed and its water and electrical supplies were knocked out. Novy Sad is over 200 kilometres from Kosovo. Nothing like that happened to Georgia.

Many refugees were created (“far more than 100 000 civilians who fled their homes. Around 35 000 still have not been able to return to their homes”). And, given the way the war turned out, most of them are Georgians who have left (or been pushed out) from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Report spends much time discussing them, and rightly. But it fails to take into consideration what would have happened had the outcome been different. Which is naïve. There is some reason to suspect that the Georgian aim, by bombarding the population of Tskhinvali just after Saakashvili had secured surprise by saying “I have been proposing and I am proposing Russia act as a guarantor of South Ossetian autonomy within Georgia”, was to force as many Ossetians to flee north as possible. The Report ought to at least entertain the alternative possibility. But, throughout, it refuses to speculate on Tbilisi’s intentions. Which is remarkable given that the authors accept that Tbilisi fired first. What was Tbilisi trying to do? The authors are quite incurious.

On the other hand, the authors are clear that Tbilisi fired first and that its action was unjustifiable: “There is the question of whether the use of force by Georgia in South Ossetia, beginning with the shelling of Tskhinvali during the night of 7/8 August 2008, was justifiable under international law. It was not…. It is not possible to accept that the shelling of Tskhinvali during much of the night with GRAD multiple rocket launchers (MRLS) and heavy artillery would satisfy the requirements of having been necessary and proportionate in order to defend those villages.” The authors of the Report judge the action, but they do not understand it because they fail to ask the key question: “What war did Saakashvili think he was starting?” Certainly not the war he got. This failure is probably the most naïve and unreflective part of the Report. The authors treat the events of August and September 2008 as if they were disconnected: Russia is justified to do this but not that; Georgia that but not this (“In a matter of a very few days, the pattern of legitimate and illegitimate military action had thus turned around between the two main actors Georgia and Russia”). When Saakashvili ordered the opening of fire, he took an irrevocable step and transformed a long crisis into something else. The Ossetians fought back, the Russians intervened, the Georgians collapsed and fled leaving their weapons and the population they were supposed to defend behind, a period of confusion ensued in Tbilisi and elsewhere, revenge for the devastation of Tskhinvali was taken, soldiers secured themselves against danger, eventually an agreed settlement appeared and it stopped. It is a continuous flow of actions and reactions; it cannot be packaged into discrete segments and judged independently. The weakness of the legalistic approach taken by the authors of the Report is precisely this lack of context and understanding of the connectedness of events. Especially as concerning wars which are easy to start but difficult to finish. The authors seem to assume that everyone had perfect knowledge and perfect control.

But at least the Report got who started the war right and most of the headlines have concentrated on that point. It is amusing to see Tbilisi’s apologists now pretending that the bombardment didn’t really matter: “Tagliavini’s Report does state that Georgia started the war. That should not be confused with the question of responsibility. Indeed, the Report acknowledges that firing the first shot does not necessarily mean bearing responsibility for the conflict”. This is to burke the essence of what happened: Saakashvili claimed that Ossetians were Georgian citizens, and after professing his “love” for them – indeed the timing means that he must have already given the preparatory orders – ordered what the Report calls “a sustained Georgian artillery attack” on the town of Tskhinvali. Curious indeed to pretend that this action, from which there could be no turning back, is not “responsibility”.

The Report is dismissive of Moscow’s claimed justifications for action. To prevent “genocide”: well, it’s true that there were no mass deaths in Tskhinvali but the Report does not take into consideration the excited reports of casualties at the time, the thousands of refugees fleeing north or what might have happened had Tbilisi won. This is consistent with its inexplicable lack of curiosity over what Tbilisi’s plans and intentions were. It spurns Moscow’s rationale of protecting Russian citizens by decreeing that the South Ossetians were not Russian citizens at all, dismissing the issue of whether, in the conditions of the collapse of the USSR and the skirmishing already happening there (and in Abkhazia), it is really correct to say that they were Georgian citizens, given that to have accepted Georgian passports would have been to concede their whole argument and desire. It dismisses the “humanitarian intervention” justification in what seems to me to be a rather confused paragraph, (“Could the use of force by Russia then possibly be justified as a “humanitarian intervention”, in order to protect South Ossetian civilians? To begin with, it is a highly controversial issue among legal experts whether there is any justification or not for humanitarian intervention. It might be assumed, however, that humanitarian intervention to prevent human rights violations abroad is allowed only under very limited circumstances, if at all. Among major powers, Russia in particular has consistently and persistently objected to any justification of the NATO Kosovo intervention as a humanitarian intervention. It can therefore not rely on this putative title to justify its own intervention on Georgian territory. And as a directly neighbouring state, Russia has important political and other interests of its own in South Ossetia and the region. In such a constellation, a humanitarian intervention is not recognised at all”.)

But, to be sure, there was plenty of hypocrisy on Moscow’s side. In August 2008 Moscow posed as a humanitarian hero – a quality in short supply in the Chechen wars, especially the first – and a defender of self-determination, ditto. But NATO’s position (and the EU’s) was equally hypocritical: they took their stance on the principle of territorial integrity – something that apparently didn’t apply in Kosovo – and Russia’s supposedly “disproportionate” response, despite their actions in Kosovo. Moscow’s real concern, in my opinion, was the fear that Georgia’s war with South Ossetia and Abkhazia would, as it did in the 1990s, attract fighters from the North Caucasus and spread back into Russia. But, it is certain, Moscow cannot be unhappy with Saakashvili’s discomfiture and the likely end of Georgia’s entry into NATO.

Saakashvili’s story changed several times. Initially, in his “victory speech” on the 8th when he believed Georgian forces controlled “most of South Ossetia”, he made no reference to Russian forces entering South Ossetia before the Georgian attack. It was later, on the 23rd when he had a catastrophic defeat to explain away, that his story became “Russia then started its land invasion in the early hours of Aug. 7”. (No matter how preposterous the idea was that, having giving the Russian forces an 18-hour head start on a 55 kilometre road race, he would order the attack anyway). It is evident that the later charge was false – had he had evidence that the Russians had invaded, he would certainly have mentioned it on the 8th. The Report is coy in its assessment of this obvious falsehood: “The Mission is not in a position to consider as sufficiently substantiated the Georgian claim concerning a large-scale Russian military incursion into South Ossetia before 8 August 2008.” Not “sufficiently substantiated” – does that mean it’s not true? Tergiversations like this justify the adjective “little”.

As to Abkhazia; of course it seized its chance to clear Georgian forces out of the last corner of the former Abkhazian ASSR – and Tbilisi should count itself fortunate that Svanetia, Javakhetia and Ajaria did not: perhaps they would have had the war lasted longer. But, as Kitsmarishvili’s testimony shows, Abkhazia had reason to fear it would be next on the list.

This sentence caught my eye: “The military aid [from Washington to Tbilisi] was at first designed to assist Georgia in regaining full control over the Pankisi Valley in the Caucasus where Chechen fighters had allegedly sought refuge, as Russia had claimed.” “Allegedly” “as Russia claimed”? More tergiversation: was Russia correct in so claiming? A very confused sentence altogether. In fact, Moscow was correct in so claiming, as Georgian officials finally admitted in 2003 and the earlier denials by the Georgian government helped to form Moscow’s opinions about Tbilisi’s veracity and reliability.

This Report is late because all of its conclusions, thirteen months afterwards, were knowable at the time. There is nothing in the Report from Tbilisi’s starting the shooting, to the falseness of Saakashvili’s claims, to the hypocrisy of Russia’s stated war aims that I (and many others) did not see.

Thus the Report is little, late, naïve and incomplete.

And finally, I don’t pretend to any kind of knowledge of international law but, according to Wikipedia, uti possidetis is defined as “a principle in international law that territory and other property remains with its possessor at the end of a conflict, unless provided for by treaty. Originating in Roman law, this principle enables a belligerent party to claim territory that it has acquired by war. The term has historically been used to legally formalize territorial conquests, such as the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by the German Empire in 1871”. Does that mean that South Ossetia and Abkhazia were independent in 2008 by virtue of having won their independence wars against Georgia in the early 1990s? The Report is clearly referring to this meaning of the term, but one can ask. Certainly the so-called international community has to come up with a better answer to long-held grievances than the mantra of “territorial integrity”. Especially when the territory in question was designed by someone like Stalin.

Patrick Armstrong received a PhD from Kings College, University of London, England in 1976 and started working for the Canadian government as a defence scientist in 1977. He began a 22-year specialisation on the USSR and then Russia in 1984, and was Political Counsellor in the Canadian Embassy in Moscow from 1993 to 1996.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Anna Politkovskaya: the search for justice continues‏

7 October 2009
On 7 October 2006, Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building. Her sister Elena Kudimova spoke to Lance Lattig about Anna’s death, the ongoing search for justice, and the prize that bears her name.

Three years after Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated in Moscow, no one has been brought to justice, despite a trial which ended in February.

“The jury decided no one was guilty,” said her sister Elena Kudimova. “We don’t have the killer. We don’t have the people who masterminded it.”

Following the trial, Politkovskaya’s children demanded a new investigation into their mother’s murder. Last month, the Supreme Court announced that the investigation would be reopened.

Since Politkovskaya’s murder, it has become even more difficult for journalists to work in Russia, Kudimova said. “There is new legislation that considers people working with Chechens as collaborators with terrorists. Anna had been to Chechnya many times, but at the time this law didn’t exist.”

Although Moscow has declared the situation in Chechnya as “normalised”, things are far from normal. “There are still killings every day in Chechnya even though the war is over. The army says it is still looking for individual terrorists,” Kudimova explained.

On 15 July the Russian human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was abducted from her home in Grozny and killed. Estemirova, a researcher for the human rights group Memorial, had worked in Chechnya with Politkovskaya.

In 2007, Estemirova had won the first annual Anna Politkovskaya Award, presented by the human rights group RAW in WAR to recognise women human rights defenders in conflict zones.

“RAW in WAR was so sad about Natalia’s death. This year we decided not to give the prize to one person,” said Kudimova, who is one of the panelists for the award. After Estemirova’s killing, RAW in WAR became increasingly concerned about the safety of individual award winners.

Last night, the Politkovskaya award was won by an Iranian campaign for women’s rights, One Million Signatures, which calls for changes to Iranian laws that discriminate against women.

The award brings international recognition, but Kudimova cautioned about the ongoing risks faced by women working in conflict zones. “A lot of people thought if Anna was so well known abroad, it would help her. The same with Natalia Estemirova, but it doesn’t work like that in Russia.”

Since 2006, RAW in WAR has supported women human rights defenders in areas of armed conflict. In war zones like Chechnya, many of the journalists and activists — Politkovskaya and Estemirova — focusing on human rights issues have been women.

“Women act with a different perspective. They approach the situation to help,” Kudimova explained. “Anna wanted to help civilians caught in war, the people no one was interested in.”

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Skinhead Violence Leading Non-Russians to Arm Themselves in Self-Defense

by Paul Goble - Window on Eurasia

Vienna, October 6 – Potential victims of skinhead violence – many of whom are non-Russians –increasingly are arming themselves for self-defense, a pattern that helps to explain a rise in the number of ethnic Russian deaths in the course of such violence this year and one that likely presages more serious problems ahead, according to the Moscow Human Rights Bureau.

A new report by that organization about xenophobic crimes during the first nine months of this year found that “the number of murders committed on the basis of racial hatred [in fact] had declined overall in comparison with an analogous period of the year before” and that “neo-Nazis” guilty of them are now more likely than before to be sentenced to long prison terms.

But those positive trends, the Bureau’s director Aleksandr Brod suggested to “Novyye izvestiya,” were balanced by two negative ones: “the racists have begun to commit terrorist acts and vandalism more often” than before, and the increasing number of people with weapons suggests future violence will be more deadly (

The Bureau report said that for the first nine months of 2009, the statistics it had assembled show that “the nationalists committed 181 attacks,” which left 59 people dead and 235 wounded, a somewhat less awful situation than for the same period in 2008 when 100 people were killed and 308 were wounded.

As in the past, Moscow and St. Petersburg led the list with a total of 33 killed and 134 wound, but among them, the number of ethnic Russians increased to second place. The paper said that “experts explain this by the fact that the constant attacks on representatives of minorities have generated manifestations of nationalism by the latter in response.”

Moreover, Brod pointed out, “people are beginning to arm themselves [because] they are not prepared to put up with acts of violence by the skinheads anymore.” That pattern could easily trigger an arms race with skinheads acquiring and using weapons in the expectation that those they attack with be armed as well.

One factor that may mitigate that outcome is that “the number of people sentenced in 2009 for hate crimes increased several times over.” During the first nine months of this year, 230 people were convicted of such crimes, 1.5 times more than during the first nine months of 2007.

Moreover, “Novyye izvestiya” said on the basis of the Bureau report, “52 nationalists were sent behind bars for periods of from five to 25 years, and 50 more received sentences of from one to five years.” At the same time, 61 were given suspended sentences, and a few were fined or confined in psychiatric facilities.

While it can be expected that Russian officials will argue that their tougher stand against hate crimes is responsible for the decline in their number, Brod for his part is “not inclined” to make that linkage. He told “Novyye izvestiya” that the economic crisis is creating fertile ground for the extremists, with “young people showing greater interest in [skinhead] ideas.”

And the human rights researcher said as a result, “even with active law enforcement, we will not be fated to succeed until corresponding migration problems,” including the integration and acceptance of non-Russians in formerly ethnic Russian areas, are addressed more successfully than they have been up to now.

In a final comment, Brod noted that the skinheads and other extremist nationalists appear to have changed their tactics, shifting from murders, which his organization has tracked for some time, to terrorist actions, including against the militia, and vandalism, a crime that perpetrators can often commit with little chance they will be caught.

Today’s Moscow media featured two reports that highlight just how explosive the inter-ethnic scene now is in parts of the Russian Federation that until recently were overwhelming ethnically Russian but now have large immigrant populations, many of whose members have not adapted to Russian realities or been accepted by the ethnic Russians around them.

In the first of these stories, Georgy Nagayev of Perm describes the influx of Chechens and other groups from the Caucasus and Central Asia and their ability to dominate local militia commander and thus escape punishment, a pattern that could point to a new Kondopoga-like clash in the region (

And in the second, “Novyye izvestiya” reports that the situation in Moscow as a result of the influx of migrant workers and their decision to live apart in ethnic neighborhoods reflects the difficulties they have adapting to the Russian environment of the capital and that Russians have in adapting to them (

As the paper points out, the situation has become so dangerous that the city government now maintains a map of districts which have a high potential for conflict because members of one or more of the more than 100 national diasporas in the city have clustered to provide mutual support even as these neighborhoods themselves become targets of xenophobic attacks.

Given that people on both sides of these divides are now likely to be armed, the fall in the number of deaths as a result of xenophobic crimes is unlikely to continue, especially if, as seems likely, ever more of those killed turn out to be ethnic Russians, something groups like the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) are already playing up.