Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Georgia's fine, lofty, useless strategy, by George Hewitt

Georgia's new plans to reintegrate Abkhazia and South Ossetia ignore a fundamental problem: their people aren't interested

The Guardian

The Soviet constitution introduced in 1936 by Iosep Dzhugashvili, the Georgian better known to the world as Stalin, has been described as one of the most exemplary documents of its kind. The fact that it was the same year that Stalin unleashed the Great Terror on his own citizens demonstrates the dangerous gap between theory and reality. It is a gap again clear from the government of Georgia's recently published state strategy on occupied territories. Like Stalin's constitution it may win approval from foreign supporters, but on the ground in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it is a total irrelevance.

For all the document's fine words and lofty sentiments, the fundamental problem is ignored: the Abkhazians and South Ossetians have not the slightest wish to be "reintegrated" into a unitary Georgian state. Georgian president Mikheil Saak'ashvili can discuss this strategy in the west, as he did on his visit to London last week, but nobody in Abkhazia or South Ossetia is interested in joining in these discussions. Their priorities are direct contacts with the west along with the freedom to travel outside their republics on their own passports. If the west refuses to meet these requests, the result will not be a weakening of resolve but even closer links with Moscow.

Even a quick reading of Georgia's new strategy document reveals its flaws. Paragraph four asserts that Georgia "rejects the pursuit of a military solution". If this is so, it is strange that the Saak'ashvili government doggedly refuses to sign a non-aggression pact with the Abkhazians and South Ossetians. Even after the August 2008 war – sparked by Saak'ashvili's assault on Tskhinvali – the Georgian delegation to the Geneva peace-talks says it will only sign such an accord with Russia, not with Abkhazia or South Ossetia. But it is precisely because of repeated Georgian attacks over many years that the Abkhazians and South Ossetians have no trust in Tbilisi, striving to rebuild its military capability, and insist on determining their own destiny.

Nor will the Abkhazians put much trust in the assurance on page two of the strategy of the intent to support "the preservation of cultural heritage and identity". It is etched into their collective memory how Georgian forces in 1992 burnt to the ground their research institute with its priceless library and state archives. Fire-fighters were kept away at gunpoint in order to destroy much of Abkhazia's cultural heritage and erase documentary evidence of Abkhazian presence on their land.

When Eduard Shevardnadze returned to his homeland in March 1992, Georgia was in chaos, with war raging in South Ossetia, a violent insurgency in Mingrelia in support of his ousted predecessor, and tensions building next-door in Abkhazia. It was at this moment that the west, with John Major's Conservative government in the lead, made a crucial miscalculation. Already struggling with the break up of Yugoslavia, they decided to ignore the rights of the Abkhazians and South Ossetians to self-determination and instead champion Georgia's territorial integrity, granting it membership of the IMF, World Bank and United Nations.

Georgia celebrated by attacking Abkhazia a fortnight later, sparking a 14-month war, which it lost but which cost the victorious Abkhazians 4% of their population. Since then, all they have been offered by Tbilisi is essentially a return to the status quo ante bellum. It is hardly surprising that they have rejected such a deal.

For much of the post-war period Moscow's stance was decidedly unsympathetic to the Abkhazians. Shevardnadze's former Politburo colleague Boris Yeltsin was Russian president, and his protege, Andrey Kozyrev, was foreign minister. But Abkhazian determination not to yield and the election of Vladimir Putin as Yeltsin's successor brought about a change.

The "no war, no peace" status of the disputed territories had to be resolved, and Saak'ashvili's move against South Ossetia provided the opportunity. The Georgian military was ejected from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia's K'odor Valley. President Dmitry Medvedev then promptly corrected Russia's mistake in recognising Georgia's Soviet frontiers – a move made solely to try to limit the secession movements within Russia itself.

Georgia should accept the tide of history and abandon its fantasy re-integration strategy. It is no good, for example, branding the government of Abkhazia as a puppet regime when Sergei Bagapsh has twice won the presidency in democratic elections.

There is a role, too, for Georgia's western friends. They need to persuade Tbilisi to face reality and recognise the lost territories. This would then allow the international community to follow suit. It would finally pave the way for meaningful talks on how to establish viable stability across Transcaucasia – something which must be in everyone's interest.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

In Memoriam Georges Charachidzé (1930 - 20 February 2010)

Prof. Georges Charachidzé has passed away on 20 Feb. 2010, in Paris.

Born in 1930 in France of a Georgian father and a French mother, Georges Charachidzé became a pupil of the great French scholar Georges Dumézil in 1953 when the latter agreed to supervise Charachidzé's doctoral thesis, which turned into his first publication ('Le Système religieux de la Géorgie païenne' = 'The Religious System of Pagan Georgia'). He was to adopt his supervisor's interests in the Caucasus and eventually, after Dumézil's death, take on his mantle as main collaborator with Ubykh's last fully competent speaker Tevfik Esenç in order to continue research on this soon-to-become-extinct North West Caucasian language -- Tevfik himself died in 1992.

He studied Ossetic religion and language with Dumézil, which resulted in 'La Mémoire indo-européenne du Caucase' (= 'The Indo-European Memoir of the Caucasus'), Ossetic belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language-family. Comparison of the Greek mythological character Prometheus with such Caucasian counterparts as Georgian Amiran and Abkhaz Abryskj’yl led to 'Prométhée ou le Caucase' (= 'Prometheus or the Caucasus').

Charachidzé first accompanied his master on a field-work trip to Turkey in the the 1960s. But Ubykh was not the only object of his research based on work with native speakers resident there, producing a monograph 'Grammaire de la langue avar' (= 'Grammar of the Avar Language', 1981), Avar being a Daghestanian language (and, of course, one on which Dumézil himself had worked in the 1930s!).

Dumézil had agreed to write the description of Ubykh for volume 2 of the series The Indigenous Languages of the Caucasus, which volume was devoted to the North West Caucasian languages and edited by George Hewitt; it appeared in 1989. However, Dumézil, who died in 1987, was unable to write the article, and the task passed to Charachidzé.

Upon the deaths of K’alist’rat’e and Nino Salia, the founders and financiers of the long-running, Paris-based journal for Caucasian studies 'Bedi Kartlisa' (= 'Destiny of Kartli/Georgia'), Charachidzé was the prime mover in organising, editing and publishing the successor journal 'Revue des Etudes Géorgiennes et Caucasiennes' (= 'Review of Georgian and Caucasian Studies'), which, sadly, did not enjoy as long a run as its illustrious predecessor. In this outlet Charachidzé published a number of articles with Esenç offering further analyses of Ubykh after the pattern of Dumézil's earlier articles. He also published there on Abkhaz. If one examines the list of contributions that appeared under Charachidzé's editorship, it will be seen that Charachidzé was happily free from the chauvinism that so blighted his paternal homeland from its late Soviet period through to its (ongoing) years of tortured independence, and this is to Charachidzé's eternal credit.

It was well-known that Dumézil was not totally enamoured of Hans Vogt's 'gift' to him in 1963 of 'Dictionnaire de la langue oubykh' (= 'Dictionary of the Ubykh Language') and warned against its use without the sizeable list of emendations that Dumézil himself included in his 'Documents Anatoliens III'. For years Charachidzé worked on a new Ubykh dictionary but never felt able to promise a date for its appearance. The work no doubt exists amongst his papers in manuscript-form, and it is to be hoped that someone will step forward to see it through to publication to serve as the most fitting memorial for this devoted student of the Caucasus whose passing we all now mourn.

May his good works live on, and may his soul eternally rest in perfect peace!

Circassian World

Special thanks to Prof. George Hewitt for his contribution.

Goerges Charachidze, The Languages of the Caucasus.
Georges Charachidzé to evoke the languages of the Caucasus, and more particularly the last lecture of Ubykh.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

WWF: Sochi Olympic Construction ‘Out of Control’

The Other Russia , Feb. 17

Ecologists from the Russian bureau of the World Wildlife Foundation are threatening to withdraw their support for the 2014 Winter Olympics, scheduled to take place in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi, the Kommersant newspaper reports.

In a scathing press release published on their website on Wednesday, the ecologists announced that preparation for the Olympics “has gone out of control, the quality of construction is poor, and great damage to the surrounding environment has already been caused and is going to continue.” Since building contractors have ignored all of the ecologists’ objections, says the announcement, the WWF is putting a halt to cooperation with Olympstroy, the state-owned corporation primarily responsible for construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi.

Representatives at Olympstroy called the announcement a complete surprise, arguing that they have always made an effort to take statements from the WWF into account.

Igor Chestin, head of the Russian bureau of the WWF, disagrees. “We intentionally picked the beginning of the Olympics in Vancouver to tell the world how things are going with observing ecological norms during facility construction in Sochi,” he said. Despite creating a working group and coordination council to bring together ecologists and representatives from Olympstroy and other contracted organizations, and despite the contractors’ approval of all of the ecologists’ proposals for facility construction, there have never been any tangible results.

“The proposals are documented and formalized, but then everything they do goes to the contrary,” Chestin said in outrage. “Last September, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak assured us that the construction would not touch the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve. And now Rosregistr has changed its borders, and Gazprom is building a road to its resort there,” referring to Russia’s massive natural gas corporation.

According to ecologists’ estimates, the cost of the ecological impact of roads and railways being constructed in Sochi is 240 billion rubles, about $8 billion. However, the figure “is based on zoological and biological research conducted by less than ten people in only a couple of weeks.” As a result, unique trees were chopped down and no compensational measures were taken to decrease the impact on the surrounding environment, ecologists say. Additionally, the condition of the surrounding environment is still unmonitored, despite the fact that construction began in 2008. Several prominent parks and reserves have meanwhile suffered a significant decrease in size, including Sochi National Park and the Utrish nature reserve. Plans to build a nature park in Imeretinskaya Valley, which would have compensated for some of the damage caused by the construction, have fallen through.

Even measures that have theoretically been taken to compensate for environmental damage came under criticism in the WWF statement. “A striking example is the planting of box trees to compensate for the virgin forest chopped down during roads and railways construction,” says the WWF. “There was an announcement that seedlings would be brought in from a cultivation facility, but there is a great deal of evidence that they were simply pulled up from the natural forest. This is indirectly confirmed by the fact that no cultivation facility for box trees exists in Russia.”

Chestin said that as a result, the WWF was halting their partnership with Olympstroy and would meanwhile investigate the possibility of withdrawing their support for the Sochi Olympics altogether. “Russian organizations cannot influence anything, and therefore we are going to UNESCO and will wait for a commission from there in the spring,” he said in conclusion.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Approach in the North Caucasus Shows ‘Powerlessness of Power,’ Alekseyeva Says

Paul Goble

Americus, February 16 – Moscow’s efforts to resolve the challenges it has faced in the North Caucasus over the last 20 years by force alone, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the grand dame of Russia’s human rights community says, have demonstrated “the powerlessness of [that kind of] power” and have contributed to the spread of “civil war” across the region.

In a comment in “Osobaya bukhva” today, Alekseyeva argues that even a “superficial” examination of what has taken place in that region shows the non-expert that Moscow is not solving the problems it faces but making them worse

Moscow’s policy failure in this regard “began in Chechnya, [but] now it has spread already almost in all republics,” because the central powers that be have “not changed their tactic” and have acted in ways that lead either the victims or the families of the victims to “go into the woods” to take revenge.

At present, Alekseyeva continues, “the majority of those who are in the forests” are there not at least to start to pursue an ideological agenda but rather to take revenge. But once there, they can be mobilized by others and thus become an even greater threat as the recent appearance of suicide bombers, something Russia has not faced before, shows.

Across the North Caucasus, she says, “a definite social group is subjected to terror: men from 15 to 40, that is, the group of people that the federal powers that be suppose can form terrorists and participants in uprisings.” Such people, “when they lay down to sleep, do not know whether they will wake up in their own beds.

Some members of this category of people, of course, are in fact terrorists, Alekseyeva concedes. But a far larger number are not and are denounced as such by the FSB which wants to be able to claim success and which finds it “much simpler” to break into the homes of young men, seize them and “say that [they] are backers of the terrorists.”

The FSB tortures those it arrests until they “admit” ties to the terrorists. “Sometimes, [they] die during these tortures.” Sometimes their disfigured bodies are found, but sometimes they are not. But the effect is the same: their relatives feel compelled to take revenge for the victims of this campaign of torture.

In this way, the Moscow human rights activist says, Moscow is producing “an explosion” across the region, “and as long as [the powers that be] do so, they will increase the number of terrorists” and lead at least some who had not been sympathetic to those fighting Moscow to change their minds and to revise their views of the Russian state.

That is because, Alekseyeva points out, “in any normal state,” those who do engage in terrorist acts are tried and sentenced to prison. “But not to torture and not to death.” Tragically, in the case of Russia today, the people of the North Caucasus can see that they do not live in a state which lives according to the law – “and that creates the basis for civil war.”

Alekseyeva says that she is somewhat cheered by the appointment of Aleksandr Khloponin as head of the new North Caucasus Federal District because he showed himself while governor of Krasnoyarsk kray “a good crisis manager.” And consequently, there is hope that he can be effective in the North Caucasus.

Obviously, he will need to address the terrible problem of unemployment in the North Caucasus, especially among the young where as many as 80 percent do not have regular jobs. Alekseyeva says that she is “not saying that every unemployed person is a terrorist,” but young people without jobs are more inclined to become one than are older people.

But an improved social and economic policy will be effective, she suggests, only relatively slowly over the course of several years. And it will work far better if it is accompanied with a change in the counterproductive approach of the FSB “with its extra-judicial arrests and tortures.” If those two things happen, then there could finally be reason for hope.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Prof. Linnart Mäll has passed away‏

Linnart Mäll (7 June 1938 – 14 February 2010)

Linnart Mäll, the Estonian historian, orientalist, translator and politician, passed away on the morning of February 14, 2010. He was one of the founders of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization as well as its first Chairman from 1991-3.

He was very active in campaigning for the rights of the nations of the Caucasus in the 1990s and will be fondly remembered by the Abkhazians, Circassians, Chechens and all the other nations of those mountains.

Estonia and the world have lost a significant scholar and an original thinker. May his good works live on, and may his soul eternally rest in perfect peace!

Circassian World

About Linnart Mäll

Institute of the Rights of Peoples:


- ''The Rights of Peoples: Ideals and Reality'', Ed. Linnart Mäll, Institute of the Rights of Peoples: Tartu 2006. (PDF)

UNPO General Assembly, 1995, Estonia
Chechnya Mission (1997) Erkin Alptekin, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev and Linnart Mäll

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Dagestan, history and Turkish generals

Sunday's Zaman, February 14, 2010

This file photo shows the Taşkışla barracks in İstanbul after artillery was fired by the Hareket Ordusu (Action Army) to suppress the March 31 Rebellion, which aimed to put an end to the Second Constitutional Era in the Ottoman Empire in 1909.

“It was the wedding anniversary from hell.” That was Peter’s summary comment in a recent e-mail.

As an anthropologist, he was in Dagestan with his Russian wife last month, researching the local people. Taking a break from work, they went into the town center in the evening for a celebratory anniversary dinner. While in the restaurant, trouble broke out between the local Free Dagestan militia and the Russian authorities. As they watched in horror from their table, sub-machine gun fire rang out throughout the streets -- some combatants even jumped on the hood of Peter’s jeep parked outside to get better cover.

Peter and his wife found themselves caught up in the turmoil and struggle that is the North Caucasus today. Terrorists? Rebels? Freedom-fighters? The definition you apply will depend on your view of the centuries-old conflict between the tribes of this region and the old empire of Russia. Peter and his wife will surely have some interesting stories to tell their children and grandchildren.

In “Turn My Head to the Caucasus,” Aydın Osman Erkan, the grandfather of popular Turkish presenter Rana Erkan Tabanca, recalls the stories told to him about his grandfather Osman Ferid Pasha. In the preface, he writes that it is the story of a family caught up in the upheaval and exodus of the North Caucasus war, saying that the tales he was told as a child were “perhaps romanticized, perhaps exaggerated, but [told] with such imagination, patience and enthusiasm [they] left a deep imprint on my mind and heart.”

“You must review this book, Marion”, said Gaye Hiçdönmez, a well-loved and hardworking member of the British Community Council (BCC) and proprietor of the former Four Seasons Restaurant popular with locals and tourists on İstiklal Caddesi by Taksim, as she browsed our books table at the BCC pantomime. So, on Gaye’s recommendation, I picked up my copy, to discover it comes highly recommended by another well-respected member of the British community in İstanbul -- Professor Norman Stone.

In Professor Stone’s commendation, he says, “‘Circassian’ is one of the great romantic names in history, and deserves to be. Tough and wily mountain warriors in the northern part of the Caucasus -- Circassia -- held off the Russians for forty years and then, in an epic of endurance, settled, in hundreds of thousands, in the territory of modern Turkey. This splendid book is the story of one of them, written up by his descendants.”

Osman Ferid Pasha’s story starts in the middle of the 19th century. Born to the chief of the Ubykh tribe, he grows up among a struggle for survival against hostile assailants and aggressors. In those days, Circassia was an independent confederacy of the Adyghe, Abhaz and Ubyhk peoples. But Russia wanted to possess the Caucasus to strengthen its approached to the Black Sea, and also the Baltic.

So, as a young boy, he learns through play the skills of mountain guerilla warfare. From the older boys he learns to swim in fast-flowing rivers, to jump from swinging ropes tied to a tree into the cold swirling waters below and how to maneuver a horse through rivers and flowing rapids. Janbolat, his father’s standard-bearer, takes charge of his military training. “In war in the mountains your best friend is your horse. … The forest is your camouflage, safety zone and war zone.”

A contemporary poem reads,

“Oh the wild people who live in these countries,

Whose God is freedom and whose law is warfare,

Whose friendship is strong and revenge is stronger

These feelings are inflicted on them by their Lords in the sky.

They answer goodness with good and evil with equal evil,

And for them hatred is as eternal as love.”

The boy born into a leader’s family in the Caucasus becomes a member of the royal staff of the sultan in İstanbul and eventually rises to the position of general of the Imperial Ottoman Army, where his varied responsibilities include commander of the Taşkışla Barracks in İstanbul, envoy to Tripolitania in North Africa and overseer of the Medina Garrison, which meant he was also afforded the title of guardian of the Holy Shrine of Medina.

The skill of a historian such as Professor Stone is to show us how history has a bearing on modern life, society and politics. As Erkan relates the tale of his grandfather, he weaves sections describing the history and politics of the day with sections quoted from authors and observers and with Osman Ferid Pasha’s life story.

Sometimes the story seems to progress a little slowly, but in many places the pace picks up as the relevance to today’s geo-political climate in Russia and Turkey reaches a boiling point. The roots of today’s news from Grozny, Chechnya, Ossetia and Ingushetia extend back to Osman Ferid Pasha’s childhood, when Naqshibandi Shaykh İmam Shamil united the people under the banner of Islam to defend their land against Russian advance.

After the end of the Crimean War, Russia launched an aggressive military attack with three armies against Shamil and his Murid mountaineers in Chechnya and Dagestan. The young Osman Ferid becomes chief as his father dies defending their cause. His mother dies soon after, but not until she has made him promise to take his family to İstanbul. Osman Ferid’s tribe fights on, after many capitulated, and their desperate last stand includes protecting the refugees that streamed in. The tsar’s peace deal allows those who want to go to Turkey. Sailing in overcrowded schooners across the Black Sea, refugee boats take the four brothers to Constantinople (İstanbul), where they enroll in the military academy.

But a decade later, this great city is engulfed in tension and violence in the streets as the people wanted a new constitution, and the sultan seemed reluctant to grant their wishes. Again Osman Ferid’s story becomes uncannily modern. Promoted to major, he now holds a senior ranking position in the army, at a time when the minister of war was planning the first coup to overthrow a sultan. The minister of war was, of course, the commander general of the Ottoman army, and in the run-up to the bloodless coup, there were often heated exchanges in the officers’ mess.

“‘We are officers in the Ottoman Army, answerable only to our superiors. Our duty is to obey without question, so let’s not argue amongst ourselves but wait for orders.’

Mustafa, a close friend rejoined, ‘Osman Ferid, we cannot remain observers or be dogmatic at such a time; the scale of the political unrest in a country can lead to civil war and we should be prepared.’

Osman Ferid saluted him. ‘I believe the military forces to be above politics, as officers our duty is to carry out orders and remain silent. I advise you to do the same’. ”

Some 40 years later, after years of loyal service to his empire, Osman Ferid is once more confronted with the issue of politics, as the military commanders were impelled to swear an oath of allegiance, not just to their sultan and caliph, but also to the Committee of Union and Progress. “His reply was polite and honest. He would be honored to swear an oath of loyalty to Sultan Reşat Mehmed V, to serve him as a faithful servant, an officer of the Ottoman army and Sheikh-ul-Haram under the Caliph of all Islam, but it was against his principles, as an officer in the Ottoman Army, to swear an oath of allegiance to any political party.”

Osman Ferid’s life reminds us how topical history is! We shall have to see whether future news reports from the Caucasus and Turkey teach us that history teaches us nothing, or not.

“Turn My Head to the Caucasus” by Aydin Osman Erkan, published by Çitlembik, TL 25 in paperback, ISBN: 978-9944-424-64-6