Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A Way to Let Abkhazia Live A Normal Life

By Yulia Latynina, February 27, 2008, The Moscow Times

Kosovo has declared its independence. Russia was only a spectator in the process, cheering as loud as it could and threatening the possibility of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia's two breakaway regions.

On the issue of unrecognized republics, Russians are split between two camps -- patriots and liberals.

Patriots believe that Kosovo should be a part of Serbia, but when it comes to Abkhazia, it is a different matter entirely. They believe that Abkhazia should not be a part of Georgia. Liberals believe that Kosovo should be independent, but they also think that the situation in Abkhazia is different.

As it turns out, our patriots and liberals share remarkably similar views. They both agree that Kosovo is one thing and Abkhazia is quite another.

In my opinion, however, the two cases are identical. Both Serbia and Georgia freed themselves from the influence of the Soviet Union. After gaining freedom, both began instituting repressive measures against ethnic minorities in their territories -- in Georgia, it was war; in Serbia, genocide. Thus, both of these small countries decided to become small versions of the Soviet Union.

Later, both nations underwent regime changes, and the current leaders in both countries would never repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.

What is the greatest difference between Kosovo and Abkhazia? It is not so much between these two regions themselves, but between Europe's official position on Kosovo and the Kremlin's position on Abkhazia.

Europe's policy toward Kosovo is very rational. It does not want to support a weak semi-state in the center of the continent. Europe wants to see a self-sufficient Kosovo and recognizes that this is impossible without recognizing Kosovo's independence.

On the surface, it appears that Moscow is providing assistance to Abkhazia, but it is really doing everything to ensure that Abkhazia never gains independence.

If Russia really wants to improve Abkhazia's condition, it should stop doing two things. First, Moscow should put an end to the delays at the Russian-Abkhaz border crossing lasting hours. It should also stop provoking military conflicts on the border between Abkhazia and Georgia. Once Russia stops doing these two things, the people of Abkhazia will be able to lead a normal life.

The real problem is that Russia does not want Abkhazia to have a normal life. The endless waits at the border guarantee that no tourists, with the possible exception of the poorest, will ever try to visit Abkhazia. The constant skirmishes in the mountainous regions are a sure way to put off possible investors. As partial compensation, Moscow not only grants Abkhaz residents Russian passports, but also provides them with pensions and social benefits, fostering a sense of dependence on Moscow.

In reality, though, Russia is less interested in helping the people of Abkhazia than it is in causing problems for Georgia.

Abkhazia is destined to become independent. Having won the war against Georgia, this small republic already enjoys a sort of de facto independence from Tbilisi. Moreover, Abkhazia's geographic position is such that the only road available to Georgia to invade Abkhazia is through the perilous Kodori Gorge, which Abkhazia can easily defend by a small group of fighters.

In any event, starting a war with Abkhazia would amount to fighting an entire people, and this would entail unacceptable military and civilian casualties for Georgia. Since President Mikheil Saakashvili is attempting to build a democratic state, he would not be willing to sustain these losses.

Any way you look at it, Abkhazia is doomed to become independent. And today's democratic Georgia is doomed to pay the price for the previous government, which made two crucial mistakes -- sending tanks into Abkhazia in 1992 and, even worse, losing the war. In a similar way, Serbia is also paying a high price for the crimes of former President Slobodan Milosevic.

Solution of problems of Abkhazia, S. Ossetia must be acceptable for both sides

MOSCOW. Feb 25 (Interfax) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed Russia's loyalty to the settlement of the problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and confirmed that it must be acceptable to both sides to the conflicts.

"Russia consistently and diligently stands by its obligations as a mediator doing its utmost to encourage the sides, including the Abkhaz and Ossetian with whom we have special relations, and the enormous number of our citizens living, there to continue the talks," he said in an interview aired on Vesti 24 channel on Monday.

Lavrov said that the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had proposed their conflict settlement plans. "I don't know what the outcome of the talks may be but I have no doubts that it can be only mutually acceptable. And we will be supporting this very thing," he said.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Remembering a Crime the World has Chosen to Forget

Window on Eurasia by Paul Goble

Vienna, February 24 – Yesterday was the 64th anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens and Ingush from their homelands in the North Caucasus to the wilds of Central Asia, an act of genocide in which more than half of those sent east lost their lives and one that lies behind many of the recent tragedies in that part of the world.

But instead of marking this event in a way that ensures that it is properly described and will never happen again, Russian officials and the international community have ignored this crime against humanity, leaving it unlike some other acts of genocide to be remembered by those who were its immediate victims or their descendents.

Except for a few news reports about what the Chechens and Ingush were doing and passing references to this genocide in more general stories about the region, the only comment generated by a Google News search today was a letter to The Times of London

This current neglect is triply unfortunate. First of all, it allows the current Russian government to continue its repression of the Chechens, Ingush and other “persons of the Caucasus” by relying on the false but widely believed charges that they fought or wanted to fight on the side of Hitler and thus deserved and deserve what they get.

In the last 50 days alone, Russian nationalist skinheads have killed 28 non-Russians, many of whom are from the North Caucasus, a figure that is twice as high as the one for the same period in 2007 and greater than the annual numbers of such murders in 2004 and 2005

While the Russian authorities have occasionally moved to suppress this plague, it continues at least in part because many Russians who would never think about killing “persons of Caucasus nationality” nonetheless believe that such people are less deserving of protection than others, often on the basis of memories of Stalin’s charges against them.

Second, this neglect makes it impossible for these Vainakh peoples to develop relationships with Moscow and the rest of the world that are based on something other than anger about what has been done to them and what the Russian authorities have not been prepared to compensate them for.

As one human rights activist in Ingushetia pointed out on Friday, the failure of Moscow to acknowledge and apologize for the deportation – even though the Russian Supreme Soviet did once admit that those events were a “crime” – continues to enflame Chechen and Ingush life

At a meeting in Grozny yesterday, Chechen officials pointed out that “as a result of the deportation died almost 70 percent of the Chechens,” a figure higher than most Western estimates and one that means that crime continues to touch almost all residents in that republic

One example of this: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has promised to help some 4,000 Chechens in Kyrgyzstan, who include both those deported and their descendants, to finally return home, something most other Chechens did after the death of Stalin (http://www.rosbalt.ru/2008/02/23/459299.html).

And third, it is perhaps especially unfortunate because despite the contributions of scholars like Robert Conquest to the study of the 1944 tragedy, a large amount of new information has emerged that shows that Soviet actions in the North Caucasus were both more cynical and more racist than even most Western researchers have suggested.

Much ne research, including full texts of hitherto classified Stalin-era documents and statistics, is available at http://chechenasso.ru/index.html?&show_news=300 and at
http://chechenasso.ru/index.html?&show_news=301. But particularly striking are the findings summarized in a new pamphlet issued by a Memorial researcher.

In a work entitled “The Deportation of the Ingush. Falsifications and Genuine Causes,” Mar’yam Yandiyeva provides a wealth of new information about that event and its pre-history, information that demonstrates the collaboration charges Moscow made against the Ingush and Chechens were spurious.

On the one hand, she recounts, as early as 1934, Sergei Kirov, the Communist Party leader whom many view as a positive counterpart to Stalin and whose own murder in December of that year, opened the way to the Great Terror, responded to the complaints of Chechens and Ingush with truly chilling words.
He said that these mount peoples “are by their genes counter-revolutionaries and anti-Soviets and that it is necessary to teach them a lesson.” Just what that “lesson” would be was shown in 1944, 1994, 1999, and even now on the streets of post-Soviet Moscow.

And on the other hand, Yandiyeva reports, “already at the start of 1940” – 18 months before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union – “the USSR General Staff concluded that in the event of war,” it would be “strategically” important for Moscow to adopt “’special measures’” for the “unstable” southern regions of the country.
Those statements demonstrate that Stalin’s actions in 1944 were not a response to anything that the Chechens, Ingush or others might have done in the war but rather that the war provided the Soviet dictator and his regime with an opportunity to do what they had long wanted to.

The full text of Yandiyev’s study is currently available on a website that Moscow has been trying to shut down (http://www.ingushetiya.ru/history/deportaciya_ingushey/ ). But even that is a good thing because – and this is perhaps the clearest indication of the world’s neglect of this genocide – she was able to print only 100 copies of her work.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Abkhazia determined to make its independence campaign successful


MOSCOW. Feb 18 (Interfax) - The unrecognized republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria will continue their independence campaign after the recognition of Kosovo, Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh told a Monday press conference at the Interfax main office.

"If anyone thinks that Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria will stop after the recognition of Kosovo, they are making a big mistake," he said.
"We said one and two years ago that the recognition of Kosovo was immaterial to us. We started our [independence] campaign earlier and would continue it to the end," he said.

Rally for independence in Abkhazia
Abkhaz president wants embargo of his republic to be lifted

Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said he would call for the lifting of the embargo on his republic and the restoration ofexternal traffic.

"Once they recognize Kosovo, it is probably necessary to reconsider the embargo on Abkhazia and resume sea, air and railroad traffic," he told a press conference at the Interfax main office on Monday.

Video: First Kosovo... now South Ossetia & Abkhazia? | Russia Today

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Circassians Seek Answers from Russia’s Presidential Candidates

Paul Goble, Windows on Eurasia

Baku, February 17 – Circassians are taking advantage of a unique Internet project to pose questions to the four men running for president of the Russian Federation. And while it is unclear whether they will get any answers, their questions say a great deal about what many in that nation are thinking.

On February 5th, the Russian human rights organization GOLOS launched a website, www.8voprosov.ru, and invited people to send in their questions which later this month, the group will tabulate, select the eight most frequently posed, and send them to the candidates for answers.

As of this morning, 700 people – 60 more than 24 hours ago -- had sent in questions on a wide variety of issues ranging from national defense to same-sex marriage. But perhaps the most intriguing were those sent in by members of the Circassian community concerning how the future president would deal with them.

A major reason for this is that leading Circassian websites, including www.elot.ru, www.newcircassia.ru, and www.natpress.ru, have featured articles about this effort and encouraged their visitors to take part, both by posing questions and casting their votes for the ones they most want asked.
Among the questions the Circassians have posted on the “Eight Questions” site are:

• “Would you support at least as a theoretical possibility the unification of the Adygs (Cherkess), Adygeis, Shapsugs and Cherkess of the Karachai-Cherkess Republic into a single region within the framework of V.V. Putin’s initiative for the ‘amalgamation’ of existing regions?” (http://www.8voprosov.ru/node/20)

• “Why aren’t the Circassians, who have the largest diaspora among the peoples of Russia not included in the program for the return of compatriots living abroad?” (http://www.8voprosov.ru/node/523)

• “The 2014 Olympiad will take place on land where the genocide of the Circassians took places as they were being destroyed and exiled from their homeland. Do you intend to support Russia’s recognition of the genocide of the Circassians?” (http://www.8voprosov.ru/node/563)

Other questions from Circassians were more general: does the candidate support the slogan “Russia for the Russians”? Will he oppose the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church to impose religious instruction in the schools? And will he include more non-Russians in the top jobs of the country so as to better reflect its real ethnic composition?

Those who pose these questions may not be a representative sample of all the members of the Circassian community, but they are hardly atypical either. And by bringing these questions to the attention of Russian leaders in this way, ever more Circassians are likely to ask them even if Russian officials do not provide any answers.

Moscow Won’t Fund Memorial to Circassian Villagers who Saved Leningrad Orphans from the Nazis

Paul Goble, Windows on Eurasia

Baku, February 16 – The Russian government, which like its Soviet predecessor, has devoted enormous sums to building memorials for those who struggled against the Germans during World War II, has not been prepared to find any money for a monument to a Circassian village that saved a group of Leningrad orphans from the Nazis.

Indeed, instead of memorializing their noble act, Moscow and regional governments have failed to acknowledge what the Circassians did. But now, the story has come out anyway in the current issue of the appropriately named journal, Sovershenno Sekretno

Taisiya Belousova, a journalist who writes frequently for that magazine, said that she had first heard about what the residents of the Circassian aul of Besleney had done from her own relatives in Cherkessk. And she was able to write the story only after interviewing survivors of those long ago events and their descendents.

In August 1942, she recounts, a group of trucks appeared near the village, and the residents assumed that it was a retreating Red Army unit. But they quickly discovered that the trucks contained not soldiers but more than 100 orphans who had succeeded in escaping the Leningrad blockade but were now at the edge of death.

The children, who had been in trains and trucks for many months were starving and ill. “They didn’t cry; they didn’t call out for their mothers. They were quietly dying.” This touched the hearts of the aul’s residents who brought food and offered to take them into their own homes.

But the orphans and the adults will them assumed they had to go on: “Don’t you notice,” one asked, “how many Jews there are among the children?” Once the Nazis arrive – and they were advancing toward the Circassian region at that point -- “the Germans will shoot [the children and] any who have given them protection.”

Indeed, one of the leaders of the group said that other villages had refused to take them in for precisely that reason. But the Besleney headman responded that his aul would behave differently, even though some of its elders objected. “These children have gone through hell,” he said. “We will not leave them in their misfortune.”

Approximately 100 of the children decided to go on, but the 32 in the worst shape were taken in by the aul’s families. Tragically, the Germans eventually caught up with and killed all those who went on, but with only one exception, they did not kill any of the children who remained in Besleney.

The villagers gave the children Circassian names, entered them into the city’s records, and in general treated them as their adopted sons and daughters. When the Germans did arrive and began looking for the children, they denied there were any such children there and hid them when the Nazis launched their search.
Someone did betray one of the children, Belousova recounts, and the Nazis “shot the child on the street.” Eventually, the villagers were able to bury the child. The next day, they discovered the woman who had adopted the Jewish child lying dead from despair on his grave. The villagers then tracked down and shot this traitor.

The danger to the children and the villagers lasted throughout all five months that Besleney was occupied. But finally the Germans pulled out and eventually the war ended. Those children who had been put in an orphanage but whose parents remained alive eventually left the village. But the real orphans remained in Besleney.

Not surprisingly, given the centrality of World War II in the minds of Soviet and now Russian citizens, their fate attracted a certain amount of local attention beginning in the 1960s. And students of local history compiled a list of the children and their second set of parents, which Belousova gives.

The Sovershenno Sekretno journalist concludes her article with the following cry from the heart: “From my aul contacts, I found out that [the children and their descendents] have been trying for many years to have a monument erected in Besleney to those who saved the Leningrad children.”

“They have written to the republic government, to St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko, and even to President Putin. But “none of them has the money for this.” One hopes that other and better people will remember the Besleney villagers and their heroism and find a way to put up a monument to them.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Russia to mind Kosovo in Abkhazia, South Ossetia policy

MOSCOW, February 15 (Itar-Tass) - Russia will have to take into account the proclamation of Kosovo’s independence in its policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said after the meeting of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with the Abkhazian and South Ossetian leaders, Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity.

“Proclamation and recognition of Kosovo’s independence will certainly have to be considered in connection with the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. At that, Russia confirms its invariable striving to assist in every way a peaceful settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts within the framework of the existing formats, and to counter any attempts to solve the problems with forceful methods,” the Foreign Ministry said.

It said the sides “have stated concern over the destructive consequences that the recognition of Kosovo’s independence can entail”.

“Such step envisages a revision of generally accepted norms and principles of the international law, and is able to lead to the undermining of rules and ethics of interstate communication, “ the Foreign Ministry said.

“Matters relating to a regular meeting of the UN Secretary-General Group of Friends of Georgia in Geneva with the participation of the parties in the Georgian- Abkhazian conflict were touched upon during the conversation. Sergei Bagapsh expressed readiness of the Abkhazian side for further interaction with the UN in the search for ways of a peaceful settlement.”

South Ossetia’s leader Eduard Kokoity in turn informed Lavrov and Bagapsh about measures of his government to consolidate law and order in South Ossetia.

“The Russian foreign minister highly appraised the peaceful initiatives that were put forward by the South Ossetian president at a news conference in Moscow on January 23. Moscow is convinced that their implementation would be an important step down the road to conflict settlement,” the Foreign Ministry said.

“The sides confirmed the intention to seek the speedy resumption of the negotiations on Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian settlement within the framework of internationally recognized formats,” it said.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Some Thoughts on ''Abkhazia is not Kosovo'' by David L. Phillips (Transitions Online, 7 Feb 2008)

by George Hewitt (Professor of Caucasian Languages, SOAS, London University)

CircassianWorld.com, February 11, 2008

Most Western commentators were probably in general agreement with the proposition of the late US President Ronald Reagan that the Soviet Union was an 'evil empire'. Most Western commentators during Soviet times probably knew little about life in the various union-republics which constituted the USSR, though there might have been awareness that the strongest anti-Russian sentiment was to be found amongst the three Baltic peoples (Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians) and the Transcaucasian Georgians. When the USSR began to disintegrate during the Gorbachev years, one could, therefore, understand why the long-held aspiration for independence in the Baltic states and Georgia attracted such wide sympathy among those same Western commentators and policy-makers. In the hope of avoiding a proliferation of an unpredictable number of small states, the international community in its collective wisdom decreed that it would recognise only the USSR's constituent union-republics and would, thus, not give any encouragement to the yearning for self-determination that characterised some ethnic minorities living in regions endowed with only lower level autonomy according to the Soviet administrative system (such as the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia and the Autonomous Region of South Ossetia, both lower-status entities within the union-republic of Soviet Georgia). It was a huge irony that, in adopting this stance, the West was effectively enshrining the divisions created for his fiefdom by none other than the Soviet dictator Iosep Besarionis-dze Dzhughashvili, a Georgian known to the wider world as Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin. Had the Soviet Union collapsed during the first decade of its existence in the 1920s before Abkhazia was reduced in status by fiat of Stalin in February 1931 from being a fully-fledged republic, which entered the Transcaucasian Federation on 13 December 1922 in treaty-alliance WITH Georgia, to that of an autonomous republic WITHIN Georgia, and had the then League of Nations adopted the same principle of recognition later practised by its successor, the United Nations, then Abkhazia would for decades have enjoyed independence and membership in its own right of the said international community.

The Abkhazian Kingdom, founded c.780 A.D., saw the expansion of Abkhazian power into sections of today's western Georgia proper, the capital being transferred from Anakopia (today's New Athos on Abkhazia's Black Sea coast) to Kutaisi (the Georgian Republic's second city), the whole of this area at time being referred to at the time as 'Abkhazia'. Gurgen IIIrd inherited 'Abkhazia' from his mother Gurandukht' in 978 as well as all Georgian speaking provinces from potentates on his father's side, so that by 1008 A.D. he was the first ruler of a powerful mediaeval kingdom that was known as the united kingdom of the Abkhazians and the Georgians. Thereafter, until the arrival of the Mongols, 'Abkhazia' even came to be synomymous with the native Georgian term /sakartvelo/ 'Georgia'.

As one indication of the reputation of Abkhazia (or Abasgia) in mediaeval times, one can quote from 'The Travels of Sir John Mandeville', which first appeared around 1356. The English traveller writes in chapter 28 of the 1968 OUP edition:

After that [Armenia and Media] is the kingdom of Georgia, that beginneth toward the east to a great mountain that is cleped [called] El'brus,where that dwell many diverse folk of diverse nations, and men clepe [call] the country Alania. This kingdom stretcheth him towards Turkey and toward the Great Sea, and toward the south it marcheth to the Great Armenia. And there be two kingdoms in that country. That one is the kingdom of Georgia, and that other is the kingdom of Abasgia. And always in that country be two kings, and they be both Christian. But the king of Georgia is in subjection of the Great Khan. And the king of Abasgia hath the more strong country, and he always vigorously defendeth his country against all those that assail him, so that no man may make him in subjection to no man.

There is also the more realistic (and accurate in terms of Abkhazia's contemporary status) travel-diary of the cleric Johannes de Galonifontibus, who passed through the Caucasus in 1404, writing:

Beyond these [Circassians] is Abkhazia, a small hilly country...They have their own language...To the east of them, in the direction of Georgia, lies the country called Mingrelia...They have their own language...Georgia is to the east of this country. Georgia is not an integral whole...They have their own language (cited from L. Tardy's 'The Caucasian Peoples and their Neighbours in 1404', Acta Orientalia Academicae Scientiarum Hungaricae, XXXII (i), 83-111,1978).

Central power collapsed in the united kingdom with the appearance of the Mongols in c.1245, and it split into various smaller kingdoms and principalities, of which Abkhazia (more or less in the modern sense of the term) was one. These existed until Tsarist Russia started to draw them into its empire at different dates in the 19th century (though some regions were left on Turkey's side of the Russo-Turkish border). It was only after the end of North West Caucasian resistance to Russia's drive to dominate the Caucasus in 1864 and the later Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 that Abkhazia's demography radically shifted, for at this time most Abkhazians (like most Circassians and all the Ubykhs, the other members of the North West Caucasian alliance) preferred to abandon their homeland to living under Russian control, and so they left for Ottoman lands, creating a huge Near Eastern diaspora that sees the majority Abkhazian and Circassian populations today centred not in the Caucasus but in Turkey. It was only from the last quarter of the 19th century that foreign elements, mainly from neighbouring Mingrelia, started to move into Abkhazia's denuded territories (on Abkhazia's emptiness at this time see the English mountaineer Douglas Freshfield's moving chapter on 'The Solitude of Abkhazia', pp.191-220 of volume 2 of his magnificent 'The Exploration of the Caucasus', 1st edition of 1896). The contemporary Georgian intellectual and educationalist Iak'ob Gogebashvili was one of those who advocated that the best colonisers [sic] of Abkhazia were the Mingrelians, a people who speak a language related to Georgian but who, since c.1930, have been officially classified as 'Georgians' — see Gogebashvili's 'vin unda iknes dasaxlebuli apxazetshi?' [Who should be settled in Abkhazia?] (1877, in Georgian).

During Transcaucasia's few years of independence in the wake of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Menshevik government that came to power in Georgia applied the politics of 'fire and sword' in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia to bring them into the Georgia's orbit. The Englishman Carl Eric Bechhofer wrote of the Menshevik government's nationalism as follows: 'The free and independent Social-Democratic government of Georgia will ever remain in my memory as a classical example of an imperialistic minor nationality both in relation to its seizure of territory to within its own borders and in relation to the bureaucratic tyranny inside the state. Its chauvinism exceeds the highest limits' ('In Denikin's Russia and the Caucasus, 1919-1920', London 1921). This, of course, is reminiscent of Andrei Sakharov's description of Georgia as a 'small empire' shortly before his death, something which earned him a wealth of opprobrium across the whole Georgian media.

The mingrelianised Abkhazians of the south-eastern province of Gal were eventually reclassified as 'Georgians' in the 1920s, and during the anti-Abkhazian drive of Stalin and his Mingrelian lieutenant, Lavrent'i Beria (a child of Abkhazia), which began in 1937 and ended with their deaths in 1953, huge numbers of (mostly) Mingrelians (with an admixture of Georgians, in the true sense of the word) were rudely transported into Abkhazia; this is well-documented in the collection of the official records, published as 'Abxazija: dokumenty svidetel'stvujut, 1937-1953' [Abkhazia: the Documents Bear Witness, 1937-1953], published in 1992. During this period the Abkhazian script was first shifted from a roman to a Georgian base, and then publishing was banned, as were Abkhaz-languages schools, which were replaced in 1945-46 by Georgian-language schools. Though this repression of the Abkhazians and their culture was reversed under Krushchev from 1954, Mingrelian settlement in Abkhazia continued right up to the end of the Soviet period, so that by the time of the last Soviet census in 1989, 'Georgians' (mostly Mingrelians) represented some 46% of the region's population, against a mere 17.8% for the native Abkhazian population. David Phillips merely alludes to Abkhazians constituting less than one-fifth of the republic's population; whilst the statement is true, the figure has to be placed in its historical context, as I have tried to do above.

Another sinister aspect of Georgian 'colonisation' began as early as the 1880s but is especially linked to the name of P'avle Ingoroq'va, a self-taught expert in Georgian literature, who in the late 1940s published the absurd notion that historically the Abkhazians were a 'Georgian' tribe who were subjugated as late as the 17th century by incomers from the North West Caucasus who settled in North West Transcaucasia, took on the name of this 'Georgian' people, and thus became the Abkhazians we know today! There is NO justification whatsoever for such nonsense — it seems to have been propagated in the late 1940s as grounds for the planned transportation of the Abkhazians to Central Asia in the same way that Stalin had deported many peoples to the east since the late 1930s (e.g. Koreans, Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhians, Hemshins, Laz, Greeks, Kalmyks); in the event, it seems to have been decided that the banning of the Abkhaz language and the importation of so many Mingrelians would mingrelianise (?georgianise) the Abkhazians within a couple of generations, and so they escaped deportation. Though Abkhazian culture revived after 1954, investment per head of population remained low in comparison with other regions of Soviet Georgia (see Darrell Slider Slider's 'Crisis and response in Soviet nationality policy: the case of Abkhazia', in Central Asian Survey 4.4, 51-68, 1985), and there were periodic anti-Georgian demonstrations in Abkhazia in the late 1950s, late 1960s and in 1978. In this last year over 130 Abkhazian intellectuals wrote to the Kremlin to insist that Abkhazia be taken out of Georgian control and moved into the Russian Federation. The head of the Georgian Party at the time, one Eduard Shevardnadze, was despatched to Abkhazia's capital, Sukhum, to calm the growing tensions. One of the measures taken was to establish in Sukhum only the second university in Soviet Georgia. Tempers did cool, but the intellectuals who had signed the letter to the Kremlin lost their jobs.

Under Gorbachev's policy of Glasnost' [Openness] Georgians, like others across the Union, began to express their grievances, and the mood into Tbilisi quickly spiralled down into one of raging nationalism, which was directed not only upwards to Russia but inwards towards the republic's various ethnic minorities. In 1988 a draft language-law was introduced which would have made a test in Georgian language and literature an essential prerequisite to entry into higher education throughout the republic, a danger to those ethnic minorities (such as the Abkhazians) where there was little or no knowledge of Georgian. In a response to this ugly development, the Abkhazians (and South Ossetians) began to set out their own grievances against Georgian domination. Matters came to a head in the summer of 1989 with the first fatal clashes in Sukhum and (some way to the south-east) Ochamchira. On 17th March 1991 there took place an all-Union referendum on Gorbachev's proposed new Union Treaty. Though the referendum was boycotted by 'Georgians' throughout Georgia in general, 52.3% of Abkhazia's electorate did vote, with 98.6% of these saying 'yes' to remaining within a union of sovereign republics — note that this meant that an overall majority of the electorate was achieved within Abkhazia, such that it cannot have been that only ethnic Abkhazians voted this way. One has to bear this fact in mind when commentators like David Phillips speak of only less than one-fifth of Abkhazia's population throwing a spanner in Georgia's drive to establish a successful post-Soviet state. The Union Republics were due to sign the new treaty in mid-August 1991 with the autonomous units, like Abkhazia, adding their signatures a few weeks later and thereby gaining equal status with the former republics in a re-constituted Union. This would have realised Abkhazians' desideratum, removing them from the immediate control of Tbilisi. But, of course, Soviet history took a different course with the coup against Gorbachev on 18 August, the eventual disintegration of the USSR, and the recognition of only the union-republics.

Anyone familiar with the aspects of Abkhaz-Georgian relations discussed above and more especially with the anti-Abkhazian propaganda that exploded in Georgian-language sources from the late 1980s and which colours the attitudes towards the Abkhazians amongst many (?most) Georgians to this day knows that, however tempting, it is not necessary to look further than Tbilisi in seeking the proximate (and indeed ultimate) causes of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict that led to outright war with Shevardnadze's ill-considered invasion on 14th August 1992. The Abkhazians were supported by the then-important Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus (including Dudaev's Chechenia) and fighters from the above-mentioned Near Eastern diaspora. Arms were naturally procured from Russia, but then anything could be bought in Russia at the time. No doubt some direct help will have been provided by official sources in Russia, just as official sources in Russia were also providing assistance to the Georgian side. But it is a gross distortion of the facts to assume that Russian either initiated this war or won it for the Abkhazian side. At its conclusion many thousands of Abkhazia's 'Georgian' community decided that it would be safer if they were not around when the Abkhazians arrived to retake control of their territories that had suffered 13 months of hostile occupation (from the capital Sukhum down through Ochamchira, a much ravaged region that bears the scars of the fighting to this day). Their flight has been portrayed as ethnic cleansing; the relevant areas might be describable as largely (though not completely) cleansed of 'Georgian' residents, but this is the result of an act of self-cleansing. The Abkhazian high command did what it could to forestall reprisals by issuing leaflets in advance of the appearance of its forces and IDPs in the region, instructing them to observe the rights of the peaceful 'Georgians' still residing there. The numbers of those who chose to flee was never anything like the inflated totals put about for propaganda purposes.

It must be obvious from what has been said that the Abkhazians (and many others of those living in Abkhazia, such as the Armenians and Russians) have for decades had no wish to live under Georgian domination. At the end of September 1993 they achieved independence (albeit 'de facto') for their republic and began to build a post-Soviet and post-war society, declaring formal independence only in late 1999 in frustration at Georgian tactics to string out and undermine negotiations on a final settlement. Progress has been slow because of the lack of investment and the state of 'no war, no peace' which obtains there. The young republic has been subjected to terrorism from the Georgian side of the border inflicted by groups (the Forest Brethren and the White Legion, for example) financed by the (Western-backed) Georgian government. In 1998 renewed war was only just averted, when Shevardnadze's Georgia again displayed hostile intent. When Misha Saak'ashvili first came to power and attempted to speak in Abkhaz, offering them, as indeed had Shevardnadze ever since his troops' defeat in September 1993, only 'maximal autonomy' within a single Georgian state, he made his offer against the background of a large-scale military display in the centre of Tbilisi, the Georgian army having been trained by US and British specialists. In the spring of 2006 Saak'ashvili transgressed the peace-accords signed in Moscow in April 1994 by both parties to the conflict when he introduced troops (under the guise of a policing operation) into the one region of Abkhazia which since the end of the war had remained under Tbilisi's nominal control, the Upper K'odor Valley. It was this action which immediately (and rightly) led to the Abkhazian side's refusal to walk out of the protracted peace-talks. What would David Phillips have the Abkhazians do? They have had their fill of 'autonomy', knowing it to be a fiction in the Georgian context and will never voluntarily resubmit to it. Those who support the Georgian position have to ask themselves why the Abkhazians should put their gains at risk. They did not seek war with Georgia but won it, when it was inflicted upon them. They lost 4% of their population during the 13 months of fighting. They know that the popular view in Georgia is that they live as interlopers on 'Georgian' soil, and they are well aware (as the international community may not be) that in the autumn of 1992 the Abkhazian Research Institute along with its invaluable archive was torched (after cherry-picking of the library's holding) in a deliberate attempt to eradicate documentary evidence of the Abkhazians' presence on their ancestral soil. Is it really to be expected that they will accede to placing their destiny once again in hostile Georgian hands?

David Phillips attempts to draw a contrast in terms of international law between Kosovo and Abkhazia. I suppose most peoples have a view parallel to that of the English speaking peoples who often speak of the law being an ass; if this frequently correctly characterises national laws, how much worse are international laws likely to be? Laws, like frontiers drawn on maps, are the creations of politicians (the most fallible of all human beings, some might say). Essentially what one should be asking is this? Does one ethnic group which solely because of the vicissitudes of history possesses an eponymous state on a map that the international community, largely ignorant of that state's history, has recognised, have the moral right to control the lives of another group living within its internationally recognised borders, when by its actions over decades it has so offended that minority (those minorities) that they time and again have demonstrated (even upto engaging in wars they never sought) their visceral opposition to such domination? The answer must be 'no', whether we are speaking of Kosovo vs Serbia, or Abkhazia (and S. Ossetia) vs Georgia. US presidential candidate John McCain ended his visit to Georgia in the summer of 2006 by calling the Georgians America's new 'best friends', adding that his fervent wish was for the secessionist territories soon to discover what it truly means to live in freedom... It was precisely to obtain that freedom that the South Ossetians and the Abkhazians fought their wars with Georgia in the early 1990s (1990-1992 in the case of the S. Ossetians; 1992-1993 in the case of the Abkhazians), and those with the power (now or in the future) to influence events regionally should take the trouble better to acquaint themselves with local realities.

By supporting so one-sidedly the Georgian position of territorial integrity at all costs, the West has succeeded in achieving the very opposite of what it would have wanted, namely consolidation of Russia's influence in Abkhazia, something which (contrary to popular myth) is by no means universally popular in Abkhazia itself. But, then, what option is available to the Abkhazians and those who share not only their republic but also their suspicions and fears of whatever regime holds the reins of government in Tbilisi? A wiser policy would have been (and would still now be) for the West itself to recognise Abkhazian independence, something which Georgians would find more acceptable than any recognition coming from Russia in a tit-for-tat move after the recognition of Kosovo. Investment would follow. The independence would be under the guarantees of the UN, and in time there would be normalisation of relations between Abkhazia and Georgia (leading to a slow but wider return of, at least a portion of, the refugees). There would also be the creation of a healthier relationship between Russia and Georgia, which would be to the benefit of the entire Caucasus region.

George Hewitt

Russian Air Force to have new test site in North Caucasus

Ria Novosti

MOSCOW, February 11 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will build a new Air Force training ground in the North Caucasus, set to be the country's largest, the Defense Ministry said on Monday.

The site will be built near the Black Sea port of Taganrog for the North Caucasus Air Force and Air Defense Army.

The facility will have state-of-the-art equipment to provide combat support to all types of aviation and antiaircraft systems, and will also be used to train Emergency Situations and Interior Ministry air forces.

A Russian Air Force spokesman contacted by RIA Novosti declined to specify when the site will be opened.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Putin Makes Surprise Visit to Mountains

The Associated Press, February 4, 2008 - Washington Post

MAKHACHKALA, Russia (AP) — President Vladimir Putin on Monday visited a military unit in an area of the North Caucasus where fighting in 1999 led to the Chechen war that first propelled him to popularity.

Putin made the surprise trip to the mountains of violence-plagued Dagestan province, adjacent to Chechnya, at a time when he is maneuvering to retain power after next month's presidential elections. He is barred from running for a third consecutive term, but said he would become prime minister if his protege, Dmitry Medvedev, is elected president.

State-run television showed Putin speaking to soldiers in one of two brigades of mountain troops deployed last year in Russia's North Caucasus, near the country's southern border, under a decree he signed in 2006.

The brigade is based in Dagestan's Botlikh district, the site of armed incursions by Islamic militants from Chechnya in August 1999, the month President Boris Yeltsin named the relatively little-known Putin as his prime minister.

Russian forces entered Chechnya weeks after the attacks, starting the second of two post-Soviet wars in the mostly Muslim region and driving its separatist leadership from power. The new war was popular among Russians, in part because it followed deadly apartment-building bombings blamed on Chechen rebels, and Putin's tough stance boosted his image. Yeltsin stepped down in December 1999 and ceded the presidency to Putin, who was elected the following March.

Putin also visited Botlikh in 1999. On Monday, accompanied by several Cabinet ministers, he met with local officials there and discussed economic issues of interest in Dagestan, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. The poor province is troubled by violence linked to the conflict in Chechnya, a police crackdown on Islamic militancy and internal disputes and power struggles.

While major fighting died down in Chechnya years ago and the region is controlled by a Kremlin-backed government, militant attacks and alleged abuses of civilians by government forces have increased in surrounding provinces in the North Caucasus.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Russia: Kabardino-Balkaria Seeks To Break Out Of Economic Stagnation

By RFE/RL analyst Liz Fuller, February 1, 2008

On January 23, the Russian website apn.ru posted a detailed analysis of the political and economic situation in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), highlighting in particular how corruption, nepotism, and incompetence within the republic's leadership since the collapse of the USSR has contributed to economic decline, and how failure to reverse that decline and address popular grievances is in turn eroding support for Arsen Kanokov, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin named as KBR president in September 2005 in the apparent hope that he would eradicate corruption and reform and revitalize the economy.

The website construes the appointment of Kanokov, formerly a highly successful Moscow-based businessman, as reflecting a new "business approach" by the Kremlin to the North Caucasus in which appointees are given carte blanche to take whatever measures they consider appropriate in return for delivering the required political and economic results. The website does not, however, speculate whether that new approach, which it dismisses on the basis of Kanokov's track record as having failed dismally, may have been prompted by the trenchant criticism of corruption in the North Caucasus addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2005 by then-presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak.

The anonymous authors of the apn.ru analysis trace the current crisis situation in the KBR to the privatization process that transferred total control of the economy to a small group of local elites, a process that was facilitated by the lack of legislation protecting the interests of small-business owners. Moreover, privatization "from the top down" placed Balkars and members of other minorities at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the Kabardian elite. The Balkars, who are concentrated primarily in mountainous districts, suffered disproportionately from the introduction of legislation that transferred ownership of land located between villages (used by Balkars for grazing purposes) from the local authorities to the republic's government, which has hopes of using it to build lucrative exclusive ski resorts. The Balkars staged protests in 2005 against that legislation, which Kanokov has since suspended; the Russian State Duma has formed a working group to study it, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on January 29.

Over the past 16 years, apn.ru noted, the industrial base of the KBR has virtually collapsed. The industrial flagship, the Tyrnyauz Mining Complex, is standing idle and no potential investors have yet shown an interest in it, even though it is reportedly located in close proximity to half the world's reserves of wolfram and molybdenum. Most defense-industry plants too have closed, or continue to operate at limited capacity purely on the basis of government subsidies. The only flourishing branch of industry is the production of vodka and other alcoholic beverages.

The agricultural sector is likewise run-down, with the result that unemployment in the KBR is officially estimated at 23 percent -- three times the national average -- although the true figure is believed to be far higher. Almost 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Statistical data cited by Kanokov at a government session on January 10 attended by visiting Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and several other federal ministers only serve to substantiate the apn.ru conclusion the KBR has made only modest economic progress in the two years since Kanokov's appointment. True, Kanokov noted that whereas two years ago federal subsidies accounted for 65 percent of the republic's annual budget, the figure has now fallen to 57 percent, and he predicted that by 2010 it will be down to 50 percent, and by 2022 to zero, regnum.ru reported on January 10.

But Kozak, in his current capacity as federal minister for economic development, noted that while the percentage of federal subsidies in the republic' s budget has declined, the actual sum of money involved has trebled over the past seven years, according to gazeta.ru. And Zubkov pointed that the greater part of those subsidies still goes on salaries for budget-sector employees, rather than the modernization of obsolescent enterprises or creating new jobs, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru. Kozak also observed that the KBR has a total of 1,600 federal officials and 3,000 republican officials; the republic's total population is approximately 900,000. Regional Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina deplored the fact that not a single foreign investor has channeled money into the republic since 2003, a failing that Kanokov blamed on sensational Russian media reporting that depicts the North Caucasus as inherently unstable and thus frightens away potential investors.

Addressing the January 10 meeting with Zubkov and other federal ministers, Kanokov identified as a top priority increasing or resuming production at four unidentified Defense Ministry enterprises, and the federal representatives reportedly agreed to provide funding to modernize the plants in question. Kanokov predicted that the resumption of production at those plants would help reduce unemployment, but, according to apn.ru, most of the highly qualified workers who were pensioned off when the plants closed or reduced production have since died. The federal ministers did not, however, immediately agree to Kanokov's request for additional federal funding for the reconstruction of Nalchik airport and selected highways.

Kanokov identified as further potential growth areas agriculture and tourism. He predicted that investment in tourism, particularly ski resorts, could raise the contribution made by that sector to the republic's budget from 1 percent to 25 percent by 2010. Some federal funding will be provided from the "South" federal program to develop ski resorts that will be used during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

At a cabinet meeting on January 25, Industry Minister Kazim Uyanayev unveiled a three-year industrial development program for the period 2008-10, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. That program includes the modernization of the four defense-industry plants, and that of the Tyrnyauz Mining Complex. The total cost of the program, which will create some 2,965 new jobs, is estimated at 4.6 billion rubles ($188.6 million). But even those measures are implemented within the planned time frame, they will take time to bear results; meanwhile, political instability and the alienation of much of the republic's population from the leadership is only likely to increase.

Karachaevo-Cherkessia: A Small War with Big Repercussions

By Fatima Tlisova, Chechnya Weekly, Jamestown Foundation

During the past few months, the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KCR) has remained below the mass media’s radar. In the meantime, the events unfolding in the republic illustrate a growing confrontation between the Russian authorities and the separatists. Despite the official announcements that the Karachaevo Jamaat has been eradicated (Vremya Novostei, January 24), a number of developments demonstrate that the underground is alive and well. In fact, the area of influence of the so-called jamaat has spread beyond the mountainous part of Karachaevo.

On January 26, KCR Interior Minister Nikolai Osiak said that a video surveillance system code-named “Safe City” will be installed in the KCR capital Cherkessk in 2008 (RIA Novosti, January 16).
According to the minister’s statement, the installation of this expensive system is vital to ensuring an adequate level of security in the capital. Video surveillance is an extraordinary acquisition for a republic in which federal subsidies account for 97 percent of the local budget and all economic indices rank near the bottom of the list of the Russian Federation’s federal subjects.

The leaders of the KCR’s law enforcement and military agencies do have reasons to be concerned.

On January 23, one of the members of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia jamaat, a 32-year old Stavropol Krai resident Pavel Novikov (Abdullah), was detained in Moscow. Russia’s mass media refer to Novikov as a leader of the Karachaevo Jamaat (RIA Novosti, January 23), but in truth Novikov was a member of the group headed by Rustam Ionov, an ethnic Abazin. Importantly, the arrest was a joint operation of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the federal Interior Ministry’s Anti-Terrorism Center, not the local special services.

Rustam Ionov (Abu Bakr), the group leader, was assassinated along with his wife in the fall of 2007 during an attempt to cross the Russia-Georgia border (Regnum, September 5, 2007). Ionov was born and lived in the Abazin village of Psyzh, which is just across the Kuban River from Cherkessk. He was able to establish one of the most effective and largest jamaats in the KCR—around 35 members, according to official data. Ionov’s group included mostly Abazin and Cherkess members with a handful of Russians and Karachays. The group considered itself a part of the Caucasus Front and acted independently to plan and carry out assassinations of Russian Federation law enforcement personnel across the entire territory of the KCR.

Rustam Ionov was also involved with Camagat.org, a website containing information on the activities of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia jamaat as well as an extensive photo and document collection related to the Kabardino-Balkaria jamaat. The site has been hacked numerous times and was taken offline in the summer of 2007.

Ionov’s assassination exposed his group and 27 members were arrested. Four more members known to the special services escaped and are currently wanted by the authorities.

The Karachaevo Jamaat, whose zone of influence and active operations were confined to the mountainous part of Karachaevo and the southwestern part of the republic, had to go deep underground even prior to these events. In the spring of 2007, a number of special operations conducted by the FSB and Interior Ministry in villages formally known as Cossack settlements resulted in the killing of 12 jamaat members.

In December 2006, one of the jamaat leaders, Tokov, was surrounded in a residential building and killed after the building was stormed; another Karachaevo native, Salpagarov, was arrested during the same operation. At the same time, the KCR’s FSB branch helped disseminate information on the ties between the Karachaevo Jamaat and KCR President Mustafa Batdyev (Kommersant, December 26, 2006). Despite that, Batdyev managed to stay in office while his son-in-law received a lengthy prison term.

After a number of actions in the southwestern part of the KCR and the elimination of Ionov’s group, the director of Russia’s FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, announced that the Karachaevo Jamaat had been eradicated.

However, on December 26, 2006, shortly after Patrushev made his statement, a young man opened fire and killed a police sergeant during a document check in Cherkessk. Afterwards, he detonated the bomb hidden in his gym bag and received lethal wounds. The interesting thing about this incident is that the fighter hailed from the Khabez district, an ethnically homogeneous area in which 90 percent of the residents are Cherkess or Abazin who had never previously been associated with jamaats.

In May 2007, the first “clean-up” operation in the Cherkessia part of the KCR took place in the Khabez district’s central mosque. Notably, the operation was conducted by an OMON division specially sent from Cherkessk, not by the local police. Approximately 160 young men were forcibly detained as they were leaving the mosque and taken to the police precinct, where they were kept for a long time, fingerprinted and photographed.
The Cherkess and Abazin roots of Tishkov and Ionov’s group, as well as the massive clean-up action in Khabez, suggest that the Cherkess population of the KCR has joined the resistance movement. The reasons that the FSB prefers not to announce that fact publicly are also quite clear.

The spread of resistance ideas among the Cherkess youth has most certainly been triggered by the developments in Kabardino-Balkaria. The young people were obviously very much influenced by the fact that the underground leader in the neighboring republic is of Kabardinian nobility (Kabardins, Cherkess and Adygs are the same people, who were artificially split into three groups by Russia), while an overwhelming number of those who took part in the Nalchik operation in October 2005 were Cherkess (Kabardins).

Another reason Russia’s special services are keeping quiet is the risk posed by the growing authority of the resistance movement in Adygeya, another Cherkess republic. Looking into the future, the Moscow camp will certainly be concerned if the young Cherkess from the 6-million strong Circassian diaspora become involved in the struggle for freedom in the Caucasus.

Along with an increasing numbers of troops and personnel of the Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry, FSB and GRU in the republic, the Kremlin is trying to reactivate another time-proven weapon against the Caucasus resistance by providing financial and emotional support to the Cossacks.

In January 2008, the Russian government adopted a special program to support Cossacks in the KCR and Adygeya. Five million rubles (more than $200,000) were earmarked for Cossacks in the KCR alone in 2008. Since 2000, Cossacks have been permitted to carry knives and firearms, something that remains a criminal offense for members of other social and ethnic groups in the Caucasus. In addition to special funding incentives, the government is also providing the Cossacks with ideological support. On January 25, the KCR’s mass media reported that churches in the KCR and Adygeya held services to commemorate Cossack casualties of Communist political repression during the Soviet period.

The measures pursued by Kremlin are clear proof that the threat of Cherkess retaliation remains real. It seems that Russia failed to resolve the problem in Cherkessia even after the eradication of the entire country and forcible deportation of its population. Russia is now facing the threat of Cherkessian consolidation within and outside the Caucasus, and it is perhaps ready to make some concessions.

One of the signs of Russia’s wavering is its policy toward the genocide issue. Earlier, any demands to acknowledge Russia’s genocide against the Circassians in the 19th century were strongly rebuffed, but in January 2008, Zvezda, a St. Petersburg-based academic journal, published an article entitled “A Cherkessia Atlantis,” which hints that it would be possible and even desirable for Moscow to admit its wrongs against the Circassians.

However, the article’s author, Yakov Gordin, made it clear that the genocide may be acknowledged to provide validation of a strictly emotional character, with no financial, territorial or status-related obligations assumed toward the Cherkess; an emotional bone to throw, of sorts. What is important about this article is the author’s connection to Vladimir Putin: Yakov Gordin stands close to the Russian president as his advisor on national policy.