Saturday 31 May 2008

SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview with Abkhazian Prime Minister



'We Don't Want a War'

Tension is once again rising between Georgia and the breakaway region of Abkhazia, which is supported by Russia but not internationally recognized. Abkhazia's Prime Minister Alexander Ankvab talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about why his people don't want war.

Among the various hotspots just beyond Europe's borders, of particular concern to European observers is the breakway province of Abkhazia, located on the Black Sea within Georgia's internationally recognized borders. The territory, which borders Russia, has been a de facto independent state since a bloody armed conflict with Georgia in 1992-1993 in which hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians were expelled from Abkhazia.

In recent months, Abkhazia has once again been a source of tension between Georgia and Russia. Georgia has offered Abkhazia autonomy but refuses to recognize it as an independent state. Tbilisi retains control of the strategic Kodori Gorge within Abkhazia, having deployed forces there in 2006 to disarm a local rebel group.

Russia, on the other hand, has given essential support to Abkhazia, which otherwise has few links to the outside world. Russian peacekeepers are stationed there, the Russian ruble is the official currency and most Abkhazians have been issued Russian passports.

Tensions flared (more...) between Georgia and Russia in April when Tbilisi accused the Russians of shooting down an unarmed Georgian drone plane over Abkhazia, a charge the Russians deny. The UN Security Council plans to discuss the accusations Friday at Georgia's behest. In a recent report, UN observers said the plane was shot down by a Russian fighter but criticized Georgia for stoking tensions by flying drones over the territory. The Abkhazian Defence Ministry has since claimed to have shot down several more Georgian drones.

In another diplomatic effort, a delegation of ambassadors from 15 European Union countries was also due to arrive in Abkhazia Friday for a two-day visit, where they plan to hold talks with President Sergei Bagapsh. The Abkhazian news agency, Apsnipress, reported that the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, planned to visit the Abkhaz capital Sokhumi on June 6.

Abkhazia's Prime Minister Alexander Ankvab talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about why his people want their own state and the role of Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the last few weeks, your Defense Ministry repeatedly reported the shooting down of unmanned Georgian spy planes. Politicians in Georgia's capital Tbilisi are talking up the strength of their army. Is another war in the Caucasus on the horizon?

Alexander Ankvab: We don't want a war. We are trying to make things better. If spy planes don't fly above our territory, we won't be shooting any more down. The Americans appear to have helped their Georgian partners to understand this in the last few days. Therefore we hope that our air defences won't have to fire any more shots.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: UN observers have come to the conclusion that it was not Abkhazian forces but the Russians who shot down the Georgian spy planes.

Ankvab: Even UN observers can make mistakes, especially if they rely on unreliable sources

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Since the recent recognition of Kosovo by numerous Western countries, there have been discussions about whether Abkhazia could also obtain international recognition. Many Abkhazians are demanding just that from the international community. Does the Kosovo decision offer you hope of recognition?

Ankvab: Our citizens argue quite simply and understandably: Why should we be prevented from doing what others are allowed to? Who gets to decide about international recognition? We want to be free, just like everybody else.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Abkhazia is becoming an international bone of contention. Georgia, with US support, wants to join NATO (more...), while Abkhazia wants to be an ally of Russia. Is a compromise possible?

Ankvab: If Georgia wants to join NATO, that's its decision. Our people have made up their minds long ago. We have found friends, especially in the Russian Federation, who are helping us. We don't want to be a bone of contention. We want to have good relations with all countries, including our neighbor Georgia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili recently suggested that Abkhazia should have "broad autonomy" within the Georgian fold and offered the Abkhazian president the post of Georgian vice president, a position which does not yet exist. Why are you not willing to even negotiate about that?

Ankvab: Abkhazia enjoyed autonomy with -- to use the term currently being employed -- "very large powers" when it was an autonomous republic within the Georgian Socialist Soviet Republic, then part of the Soviet Union. That's long ago now. The situation now is completely different. What Mr. Saakashvili has suggested is unacceptable to us. All the talk about "broad" or "the broadest" autonomy or some kind of post in the Georgian government doesn't interest us. For the past 15 years we have been an independent state with our own flag, national anthem, police force, border controls and army.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why did Abkhazia break off talks, which took place under UN auspices, with Georgia two years ago?

Ankvab: Because Georgia broke all of the agreements that were made from 1994 onwards after the war. Saakashvili ordered military units to enter the upper part of the Kodori Gorge, which lies in Abkhazian territory. Georgia has taken an aggressive political stance against the republic of Abkhazia. We are ready to sign a peace treaty with Georgia and to continue the dialogue. A condition for that, however, is the withdrawal of Georgian troops from the Kodori Gorge.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: During the Soviet era, you were Georgia's deputy interior minister for six years. You worked together with the Georgians then. Why should that no longer be possible?

Ankvab: In those days there existed a different country, the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the war between Georgia and Abkhazia in 1992 and 1993 deeply damaged our relations. In this war Abkhazia lost more people than during World War II. Anyone who now says we should live in the same state, as though nothing had happened, won't succeed.

Part 2: 'The US Reserves the Right to Turn Georgia into a Protectorate'

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The problem of Georgian refugees from Abkhazia remains unsolved. According to UN estimates, there are 200,000 refugees, many of whom live in extreme poverty in Georgia. Why can't these people return?

Ankvab: We have allowed the unconditional return of refugees into the district of Gali, near the Georgian border. According to various estimates, 45,000 to 60,000 people live there now who had fled during the war. Show us an area in the world where so many refugees have been allowed to return.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Georgia, however, demands that refugees should be able to return to any district of Abkhazia. Why do you reject their demand?

Ankvab: We cannot allow it for security reasons. We will not create the sitation where the majority of the population wants to get rid of our hard-fought-for republic. If we did, then not much of the Abkhazian people, culture and language would remain. We would like to bring Abkhazians whose forefathers were banished by Czarist regimes back to their homeland. If the international community would be willing to help us with that, we could talk again about the return of Georgian refugees.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ninety percent of Abkhazians, including you, have Russian citizenship. The currency in Abkhazia is the Russian ruble, Russian peacekeepers safeguard the ceasefire with Georgia. Does that not limit your independence a great deal?

Ankvab: No. After the war, Georgia declared our Soviet passports invalid in order to prevent us from traveling. I experienced this myself. We became Russian citizens out of our own free will; no one pressured us to do so. The Russian passports gave us freedom of movement -- a human right. The ruble helps our economy -- we can not afford to have our own currency.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There was a lot of Russian involvement in the Abkhazian presidential election at the end of 2004. Moscow wanted to push its favorite through. But in the end, he lost.
Ankvab: There were attempts at involvement and interests were pursued. The most important thing is that we have now left this situation behind us. The people of Abkhazia, and no one else, chooses their leadership. I think everyone understands that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nevertheless, Russia has turned Abkhazia into a de facto Russian protectorate, without officially recognizing it as a state. Will this situation change?

Ankvab: The US reserves the right to turn Georgia into a protectorate, with its estimated 2,000 civilian and military advisers there. Russia has its interests in Abkhazia. Russian passports are regarded as a form of assistance, and their peacekeeping troops are seen as protection, which we want.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Abkhazia's leadership assures us that it wants a Western-style democracy based on European principles. But your president recently said in a speech that civil liberties are abused in Abkhazia "in many cases" and that a number of state institutions function "very weakly." What's holding back the development of an effective democracy in Abkhazia?

Ankvab: More than anything it's our lack of experience. We are still living in a post-war situation, most of all because of the continued blockade of our harbors and airports. After the war we had to contend with massive administrative problems. We are learning as we go along. There are no massive human rights violations in Abkhazia. However, our institutions must enforce citizens' rights more effectively.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it really just about the lack of experience, or is it also about the corruption that so many Abkhazians complain about?

Ankvab: There is corruption on a grand scale wherever there is a lot of money at stake. That's not the case with us. Yes, crooked officials take bribes or blackmail people. But our main problem is still the dearth of professionalism. Because of the blockade, we lack the budgetary means to pay state officials an adequate salary. This, of course, influences the quality of work on all levels.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Abkhazia lies in the zone of the EU's "European Neighborhood Policy." Diplomats from European countries, including Germany, visit Abkhazia. How can Europeans help the Abkhazian people along the path of peaceful and democratic development?

Ankvab: First of all, it would be good if people stopped trying to convince us to return to Georgia. Training for specialized workers would be helpful, which Russia is already giving us. There are business people in the West who are interested in our region, mainly in the tourist industry because of our 210 kilometers of subtropical coast.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you imagine Abkhazia one day becoming a member of the EU?

Ankvab: That will depend on us and on Europe.

Interview conducted by Uwe Klussmann

Thursday 29 May 2008

The Georgian president accused of manipulation

The article below was published in Le Figaro in French.
Le président géorgien accusé de manipulation, Le Figaro, May 26

The explosion of two buses in front of cameras raises questions.

The latest developments are not likely to calm the crisis between Georgia and Russia, which has worsened since April. Whilst both countries are said to be "close to a war" while claiming to seek peaceful solutions, they engage in a battle of information. So on Wednesday, the day of parliamentary elections in Georgia, the TV broadcast images of a fusilade taken in the Georgian village of Khourcha, on the edge of territory controlled by the separatists of Abkhazia.

Two buses explode in front of the cameras during a shooting at civilians coming to exercise their right to vote from the separatist region where they live. The same evening, President Mikhail Saakashvili takes himself off to the bedside of Nana Kardava, one of four wounded. He then declares: "Because they wanted to participate in the elections, our compatriots were shot." To Figaro, Ms. Kardava will affirm that she did "not come to Khourcha [the theatre of the incidents] to vote on the Georgian side. I went for my job as a school-principal. We have so many problems in our everday lives in Gali that the elections are not our priority." Emma Gogokhia, local correspondent for Rustavi 2, a TV-station controlled by those close to power, asserts that she saw Nana Kardava arrive hurt from the Abkhazian side. This would prove the thesis of the authorities according to which the Abkhazians and Russian soldiers of "peace" prevented the Georgians of Gal from participating in the voting. But the director of school gives the lie to this: "I was wounded where I was found, in Khurcha," on the Georgian side.

The Rustavi 2 journalist asseverates that some "citizens called me to film them arriving the Georgian side passing along the river (the border, Ed) beside the stadium." There, she asserts that a "hundred Georgians from Gali [area populated by Georgians but controlled by Abkhaz separatists] were present." An unlikely piece of information.

"A small production"

Some villagers say that strangers came before the shooting "to ask them to come to the stadium for a small stage-production. But very quickly shooting started and we stayed inside." Other witnesses have assured two officials of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that the incidents were organized by the Georgians. In the absence of irrefutable evidence, the Norwegian NGO calls for an independent investigation. Was the incident aimed at diverting attention from the abuses that marred the election? On Monday, the opposition amassed 30,000 demonstrators in front of the Parliament in Tbilisi. The coalition of the United Opposition, which won only 16 seats out of 150 (against 120 for the party of President Saakashvili), plans to boycott the new parliament. The international electoral observer mission noted progress in comparison with the presidential election in January. While denouncing pressures, it did not question the victory of the governing party.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Interview with Maxim Gunjia, Abkhazian Deputy Foreign Minister

"Abkhazia will always be independent" Maxim Gunjia.

The rising tension between Russia and Georgia over the de-facto independent republic of Abkhazia provoked a wave of accusations against Russia in Western media. Moscow is accused of jeopardising Georgia's sovereignty by sending more peacekeeping troops to Abkhazia. Russia warns Georgia against launching an invasion of Abkhazia.

But what is the position of the people of Abkhazia, whose voice has little chance to be heard in the international media? Our guest today is Abkhazian Deputy Foreign Minister Maxim Gunjia. (Russia Today Spotline)

RT Spotlight, 13 May, 2008

Maksim Gunjia, Abkhazian Deputy Foreign Minister

1976 - Born in Sukhum (Ak'wa), Abkhazia
1998 - Graduates, Gorlovka State Teacher Training Institute of Foreign Languages, Ukraine

1999 - Joins Department of Interpretation, Abkhazian Foreign Ministry
2001 - Masters in Negotiation Skills, Harvard Law School Accredited
2001 - Member, Abkhazian Committee to Ban Landmines
2002 - Head, International Department, Abkhazian Foreign Ministry
2004 - Diploma, Human Rights Centre, University Of New South Wales
2004 - Abkhazian Deputy Foreign Minister
2005 - Abkhazian Representative, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation

Monday 26 May 2008

Dancing the fast Caucasian dance

Monday, May 26, 2008

Turkey's policy toward Georgia, seen by Turkey as key to becoming an energy corridor to Caucasian and Central Asian energy resources, is fundamentally flawed because it is based on NATO and US policies and contradicts its own regional strategy, experts say.

CİHAN ÇELİK, ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

Burgeoning trade relations and joint energy projects undertaken with Georgia has not taken Turkey, which usually prefers to follow NATO's and United States lead in dealing with its northeastern neighbor, toward an independent foreign policy.

Despite the fact that Georgia once again re-elected pro-Western Mikhail Saakashvili as its president in elections last week, the ex-soviet country is far from stability, with the opposition contesting the results and tensions with the two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, threatening to engulf the whole region.

The tensions with Russia over Abkhazia reached a new crescendo before the elections, with Saakashvili who came to power after the so-called "Rose Revolution" in 2004, utilizing it to his own benefit and bringing the two countries close to war.

Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia in 1994, but Tbilisi continues to regard it as a breakaway region, as the international community does.

Georgia is crucial in Turkey's efforts to channel Azerbaijani and Central Asian energy resources to the rest of the world. The tension in Georgia, however, does not bid well for the plans. Despite the country's key problems, Turkey does not follow an independent policy toward Georgia and seeks to counterbalance Russian influence through proxies like the United States and NATO.

Turkey has three priorities for the Caucasus: To improve independence of South Caucasian republics, to defend their territorial integrity and to play an active role in the transfer of Caspian Sea energy resources, Hasan Kanbolat, Caucus expert of Center for Eurasia Studies, or ASAM, said.

Kanbolat told the Turkish Daily News that Turkey's relation with Georgia has "both pluses and minuses." From a trade point of view, he said, "Turkey's foreign trade capacity has grown in five years from $240 million to $800 million. And also, the two countries have signed a Free Trade Agreement and are cooperating militarily. Turkey supports Georgia with military equipment and some Georgian military personnel are educated in Turkey."

"Turkey, which advocates territorial integrity for all South Caucasus, puts special emphasis on the integrity of Georgia."

A Central Asia expert at the Ankara-based think tank Global Strategy, Aslan Yavuzşir agreed and added, "We know that Turkey's peace and stability mission in the Caucasus is supported by the Western nations."

Still, Yavuzşir said the policy was flawed because the policy ignored the sentiments of its own Caucasian citizens. He asked, "Is this pro-Western strategy consistent with Turkey's own interests?"

Policy based on Turks:

Sezai Babakuş, a predominant figure in the Abkhazian community in Turkey and the founder of the Celebrity Speakers Association, or CSA, told the Turkish Daily News that Turkey's foreign policy toward Georgia was neither rational nor comprehensive.

"Turkey's foreign policy toward the Caucasus is influenced by nationalism and Turkic groups there, same as it is in northern Iraq," he said.

In Iraq, Turkey is following the United States' lead and bases its stance on the fate of the Turkmen minority in northern Iraq, Babakuş argued. "In Iraq, Turkey ignores the Kurds to the detriment of its own Kurds. In the Caucasus, its policy is based on Azeris, Meskets, Karapapaks, Balkar and Karachai minorities while it ignores the Circassians. Consequently it hurts its citizens of Circassian extraction," he added.

Babakuş, who also worked for Abkhazia's separatist government between 1990-1996, said, "In fact, this is a reflection of an internal policy fundamentally based on Turkishness."

Global Strategy's Yavuzşir agreed, noting, "Turkey, in some instances, took decisions that could hamper its relations with its own Caucasus-rooted citizens. But it should handle the Caucasus in a bilateral way and develop pro-active policies. In brief Turkey has no long-term policies for the Caucasus."

Relations with Abkhazia:

Babakuş claimed that Turkey was militarily supporting Georgia against Abkhazia. "In 1992, Georgia attacked Abkhazia with political support from Turkey. Today that support is growing with military means. Georgia is bolstering its forces near the Abkhazian border. Thus, Turkey may be indirectly responsible for a potential war between Georgia and Abkhazia."

"Turkey's support to Georgia angers its own Abkhazian community. The country closed direct travel to Abkhazia, and the Trabzon-Sukhumi sea route was also closed in 1995," Babakuş said. "From 1992 to date, governments tried to bar our support to Abkhazia and as a result, they have lost the confidence of the Abkhazian community."

"For Abkhazians, there is only one way: To defend the motherland against aggressors," Babakuş said.

Yavuzşir said there was a humanitarian tragedy in Abkazia, "The region is isolated from the world and Turkey is impassive to this fact."

Kanbolat said, "Turkey has the opportunity to develop relations with breakaway Abkhazia, which is isolated from the international community. At least it can develop a minimum relation with this region, as Georgia did. Georgia has had economic, commercial and cultural relations with Abkhazia. If Turkey's relation with Abkhazia improved, Russia would not be the only outside access for Abkhazia anymore."

Current tension:

Just like Ukraine, Georgia is seen as a conflict zone between the West and Russia, Yauzşir believes. "Georgia may prefer to improve relations with Russia. But in that case, negotiation with Russia would damage his credibility back in Tbilisi. As a matter of fact, the Saakashvili government does not have the capacity for such a negotiation. A new government is needed," he said.

On Abkhazia, there are two extreme scenarios, Kanbolat said. "Georgia could recognize the independence of breakaway regions, or declare war. Saakashvili should decide what to do. Tbilisi may reach an agreement or attack both Abkhazia and South Ossetia," he said.

According to Kanbolat, in the light of recent developments, a conflict is more likely. "In Georgia people believe that "Russia is pushing Georgia into a war, because Moscow predicts defeat for Georgia and after that it'll create a new 'Russian style' administration in Georgia," he said.
"A possible conflict would affect Turkey directly, as we witnessed during the 1992 Abkhazia War. But in a new intervention, the impact on Turkey would be much worse, due to the Abkhazian diaspora in Turkey," Kanbolat added.

Professor Özkan Açıkgöz from the Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies, or TASAM, said after Kosovo's declaration of independence, "Russia gambled with the destiny of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and sent a message to the world that the same may happen in Georgia."

"But Russia understands that it's in a wrong path, and Moscow gave up its insistence on the independence of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia," he claimed.

"Possible military unrest in the region would negatively affect Turkey's regional trade, it would irk Turkish Abkhazians and more importantly, would result in a new wave of migration to Turkey," Açıkgöz said.

About Georgia military aid from foreign countries

Military and political leaders of countries - NATO members and other States has consistently pursued a policy of providing large-scale military assistance to Georgia in order to improve the combat capability of national armed forces. Such actions motivated by the need to Tbilisi preparation for integration into the Alliance and "strengthen stability in the region".

Major activities include the supply of the Georgian arms and military equipment (IWW), as well as other products for military use, foreign specialists participated in the preparation of Georgian troops, including their training in educational establishments allies in the alliance, financial aid (table / Russian). In doing so, military-technical assistance from western countries often carried out gratis.

Among NATO member states most active in providing assistance to Tbilisi in strengthening the national armed forces have shown the U.S., Turkey, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

Significant amounts of VVT come to Georgia from Ukraine, the growing Israeli-Georgian military-technical cooperation.

In general terms stated in Tbilisi course to the possibility of forceful solution to the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia building the armed forces of the republic has had a destabilizing impact on the development of military-political situation in the Transcaucasus region.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Dark skinneds can not enter!

Hakan Aksay, May 24th, 2008, TARAF, Turkish Newspaper

The man was drunk. He approached to the girls and offered to drink beer together. Most of the girls turned their heads with disgust, but the oldest one accepted the offer. While the younger ones were looking at her surprised the man had already got the beers. As the girl was giving beers to her friends she had convinced the man to go to a silent spot and have fun.

The man in front and seven girls following him, they went into the woods. After a while the oldest girl whispered with her friends. Before the man could notice what was going on the beer bottles went down on his head.

Blood flew down from the line between his grizzled hair and dark skin. Bottles, rocks and kicks fell on the man's body lying on the ground.

After a while seven girls left the corpse quietly. Their eyes sparkling with hatred, they said "these black asses should be taught their lessons just like this".

This murder was in a town near Moscow. Only one of the girls were over 18 who killed the 54 years old Azerbaijani worker. By this for the first time a murder commited by children was added to the serial racist assaults.

Then there were more "racist children". In an organized structure like "Skinheads" and similar groups about 150 racist, chauvinist and faschist organizations were formed in the next few years in Russia. They gathered about 70.000 people in their lines.

Most of these were between the ages 14-20. In streets and metro they were screaming "Russia belongs to Russians" to the black haired, slant eyed, dark or yellow skinned people; attacking them, beating, wounding and sometimes killing them.

Azerbaijanis, Tajiks and Africans were the most in numbers among the murdered and wounded ones. Turks had also got their share.

Since the beginning of this year 70 people were killed by racists. This number was 67 all last year.

It is hard to say that the government took serious measures against racism. Moreover it is most likely , the government benefit from this sitaution by using these organisations as negative examples while claiming that themselves are the real representatives of the nationalism.

Most people began to support the request ‘‘Deporting the dark skinned people who comes from other places and subvert the order&peace in big cities" .

The police first and foremost stops the dark skinned people for id verification. Landlords add notices to their ads like "Only to Russians" or "Caucasians not accepted". Such prohibitions are even seen on some restaurants and night clubs.

Yet once upon a time Soviets' most used criticism against USA was discrimination against black people.

Friday 23 May 2008

Situation in Abkhazia, ''Sergei Bagapsh, President of Abkhazia''

Below is a speech by President Sergei Bagapsh published by Eurasian Home Analytical Resource:

Now the situation in Abkhazia is calm and under control. Several meetings with the Western policy-makers have been recently held in the city of Sukhumi. The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza and the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia John Tefft have arrived in Abkhazia. Besides, we maintain contacts and negotiate with some Georgian politicians.

We are discussing two things with the Georgian party. Firstly, it is the withdrawal of the Georgian troops from the Kodor gorge. Secondly – the signing of the peace and non-recommencement of hostilities treaty. The Georgian party says that if it withdraws the troops from the Kodor gorge, Russia will have to withdraw its peacemakers from Abkhazia. But we can't accept that.

We are ready to withdraw our troops that surround the Kodor gorge in order to relieve the tension there. If Georgia is ready to consider those offers, we will negotiate about two aspects and, probably, we will be willing to accept them in the same package. It is necessary to remedy the situation since the base Moscow agreements concluded in 1994 and the UN resolutions were violated. We will do our utmost to keep the Kodor gorge within Abkhazia.

But in the Georgian political establishment there are the "hawks" who prefer to act coercively, and the politicians realizing that there will be no progress in the conflict settlement without the negotiations and contacts. We told our Georgian colleagues and the U.S. representatives that Russia should not be implicated in the negotiations process and the Georgia-Abkhazian relations. There is a need to work with the two conflict parties – Georgia and Abkhazia. But it looks like Georgia has nothing to talk with Abkhazia about. Tbilisi decided to shift everything onto Russia and to show that to the world community.

As regards the information that the Gali district inhabitants are forbidden from turning out to vote in the parliamentary elections in Georgia, those people live in Abkhazia. They elected the Abkhazian President and Parliament. When they live in Georgia, they will participate in the Georgian elections.

Abkhazia takes the current parliamentary elections in Georgia in the same way as those in Moldova, France, etc. The elections should be democratic and the Georgian people should make their choice. But this will be the choice of the Georgians. The Abkhazian people have already made their choice.

If we are talking about Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's proposals to grant Abkhazia broad autonomy, there was a very broad autonomy in 1990s. As a result, the Abkhazian population decreased up to 17% in its territory and the Abkhazians were being assimilated.

On August 14, 1992 we examined the proposal of making Georgia with Abkhazia a federal state.

After the war between Georgia and Abkhazia there was proposed a confederation form with granting wide powers to Abkhazia. Then there was proposed a form of a union state. Georgia turned down both those proposals.

In 1999 the independence referendum was held in Abkhazia. Now we are creating our independent state. The Georgian authorities should understand that Abkhazians are not interested in holding positions in the Georgian government. We are interested in our own independence, we want to preserve our state and our identity.

What will Abkhazia do, if Georgia joins NATO? Abkhazia will do nothing. Let Georgia join NATO even tomorrow. We do not care about that. This will estrange Abkhazia from Georgia for good and all.

The material is based on Sergei BAGAPSH's speech at Interfax Information Agency.

May 22, 2008

Thursday 22 May 2008

Circassians in Turkey give support to Abkhazia calling Georgia to peace

Circassian World, May 21, 2008, Ankara

As Georgian government raised her threats for war against Abkhazia and dispatched military troops to the border line, “The Friends of Abkhazia” assembled front of the Consulate General of Georgia in Istanbul and Embassy of Georgia in Ankara to warn Georgia “not to provoke war”.

Recently, Georgian Government’s raising her threats of military intervention against Abkhazia and dispatching military troops to the border line, generated war risk in the region again and also concerned the Abkhazian, Adyghean and other Circassian communities living in Turkey. After the first protest on May15th in front of Istanbul Consulate of Georgia, a second protest has been placed in Ankara.

“The Friends of Abkhazia” initiative issued a press statement and called for peace on 21th May 2008 in front of Embassy of Georgia in Ankara. The crowd, gathering around 12:00 am, urged Georgian Government to recognize Abkhazia’s independence and maintain good neighborhood with Abkhazia. In the press release, it was stated that:

“Georgia carried out an armed intervention to Abkhazia with the purpose of occupation on 14th August 1994. After severe battles, which started with Abkhazian people’s resistance and lasted for more than a year, this occupation attempt was repulsed and defeated. This war caused great suffering for both Abkhazian and Georgian people. Abkhazia is an independent country since 30th September 1993, which marks the end of this war. This independence is and will be protected and defended by Abkhazian people, sister Northern Caucasian people and millions of Abkhazian, Adyghean and other Circassian people living in the diaspora.”

In the statement, it was emphasized that a new military intervention from Georgia to Abkhazia will lead the region into a bigger war and a greater fire and it was pointed out that “Georgia must give up her ambitions to usurp Abkhazia’s historical, political and legal rights and abstain from adventures which will draw the region into conflict again. Georgian government must respect Abkhazia’s independence and acknowledge that this independence will be defended at all costs”.

Approximately 200 participants and leaders of Circassian associations and civilian initiative groups in Ankara and surrounding provinces accompanied the statement with Abkhazian flags, banners and slogans. It was remarked that Abkhazia is the legacy and sequel of a 5.000 year-old culture, a 1.500 year-old state and a 90 year-old republic. It was declared that:

“No one should doubt that we will protect this legacy to the end. Abkhazia is not alone today as it was not alone yesterday. Northern Caucasus, who witnessed wars, genocide and exile throughout her history, should now be a region of peace and stability. Georgian government should use her power and resources for her people’s welfare and improvement, instead of provoking war. It must be remembered that the political and military leaders of Georgia, who started the war with Abkhazia, were discharged because of the high prices that the Georgian people had to pay as a result of their wrong policies. We believe that Georgian people want peace and welfare and live alongside Abkhazian people and state as two allies and neighboring countries. With this firm belief, we are calling to the Georgian government: Learn from the past; turn your face to peace, not to war.

”The crowd dispersed with applause and slogans.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Circassians Remember Russia's Destruction of their Homeland, People

Window on Eurasia, by Paul Goble

Baku, May 21 – Today, in more than 50 countries around the world, the five-million-strong Circassian community is remembering that nation's more than 100-year-long resistance to Russia's southward advance, the destruction of their historical homeland, and their expulsion from it which led to the death of almost half of their population.

On May 21, 1864, Aleksandr II declared victory over Circassia and the Circassians after more than 100 years of fighting and approved plans to deport the entire Circassian nation through the port of Sochi to the Ottoman Empire, thus beginning what some have called the first modern genocide and creating the model for ethnic cleansing elsewhere. Despite being vastly outnumbered by the Russian army, the Circassians resisted for more than 100 years, inflicting nearly a million casualties on their enemies. But by 1864, five years after the surrender of Imam Shamil, whose struggle with Imperial Russia is far better known, the Circassians were defeated.

The tsarist authorities expelled nearly 90 percent of all Circassians, restricted the remainder to approximately 10 percent of the territory on which Circassia had been, and instituted Russian rule throughout. Of the 1.5 million expelled, more than half died, with the remainder scattered throughout the Ottoman Empire.

In Soviet times, Stalin subdivided the remaining Circassians in the North Caucasus into a series of ethnic groups – the Adygei (the self-designation of most Circassians), the Cherkess, the Kabards, the Shapsugs, and several others – as extension of the classic divide-and-rule policy of nearly all empires.

Today, there are only about 600,000 Circassians in the North Caucasus, compared to more than 4.5 million abroad. And according to some studies, 88 percent of the Circassians now live outside of the borders of their historic lands, the largest percentage of any nation living outside their homeland in the world.

In 1914, Nicholas II celebrated the 50th anniversary of the defeat of the Circassians as one of the empire's greatest victories. And except for Boris Yeltsin who acknowledged in 1996 that the war in the North Caucasus had lasted 400 years and was a tragedy, most Russians before and since have preferred either to ignore this date or present it in an upbeat manner.

Until near the end of the Soviet period, Circassians living in the Russian Federation did not have the opportunity to mark in any public way the tragedy their people and country had experienced, although many in the emigration did so, and none in either group ever forgot either the resistance they had offered or the way the Russian state had sought to end it.

But in 1990, Circassians across the North Caucasus declared May 21st a national day of mourning, an event they have marked every year since. But this year, not only are more and more Circassians there and across the world celebrating this date, they are stressing different aspects of its meaning ( Most officials in the region are talking about it simply in terms of a long-ago tragedy, something that should be marked by a Day of Memory. Circassian activists in contrast insist that it should be a Day of Memory of the Fallen in the struggle against Russia. And still others are focusing on this day as the beginning of the Russian genocide directed against them.

As Circassian activism has increased and as Circassians around the world have sought to exploit increased attention on their region given Moscow's plans to organize an Olympic Games in Sochi, the site of the beginning of the genocide conducted against them, the Circassians have expanded their efforts to call attention to what happened.

This year, some are urging that resistance to Russian plans to offer celebrations rather than commemorations of May 21st
( Others are suggesting that the event be classified no longer just as a Day of Mourning but now also be declared a Day of Hope (

And Circassians both in their historical homeland and abroad have demanded and secured official approval for this date to be a day off from work. (For the status of this day in the North Caucasus, see For arrangements elsewhere, including in Israel, see

Beyond any doubt, today will feature many wise observations by Circassians and their friends and supporters around the world, but they will have to go a long way to surpass the eloquence of one offered already last week by an unknown Circassian in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria (

Since last year, pro-Moscow officials there have been putting up posters with the legend "450 Years of the Voluntary Joining Together of Kabardino-Balkaria to Russia. Together Forever!" But someone has been periodically crossing out the words "voluntary joining together" and writing instead "1785 – 1864."

Those were the years when the Circassians struggled against the Russian empire's advance, and the latter, of course, is the date, commemorated today, when the imperial government began to expel the Circassians, a crime against humanity whose echoes grow louder with each passing year.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Turning Abkhazia into a War

by Brooke Leonard

Anne Applebaum, recently named one of "the world's most sophisticated thinkers" by Foreign Policy, raised an important point in her Washington Post column on Tuesday—and an important concern. Applebaum, who is also an adjunct fellow at the neoconservative think-tank the American Enterprise Institute, is right on target in her argument that the oft-forgotten de-facto- independent republic of Abkhazia could trigger war between Russia and Georgia. There is a very real possibility that tension over Abkhazia will escalate, so understanding the nature of the conflict is key. Unfortunately, Applebaum’s analysis sheds no light on the situation, but rather points to a disturbing trend in American mainstream media: presenting simplistic and therefore misleading analysis of foreign-policy issues. So what are the facts?

Abkhazia is not exactly “a province of Georgia that declared its independence in 1992” and proceeded to engage in the ethnic cleansing of Georgians, as Applebaum states. Reality is far more complex. Abkhazia and Georgia shared equal status as Socialist Soviet Republics in the Soviet Union for a decade until Stalin demoted Abkhazia against its will to an Autonomous SSR within Georgia, but under Moscow’s overall rule. Both ethnic groups suffered periods of repression in the Soviet period, and when Georgia broke away from the USSR in 1991 under the leadership of extreme-nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Abkhazia, fearful of losing all autonomy, declared itself a sovereign republic. A brief civil war broke out in which atrocities were committed on both sides, albeit far more so by the Abkhaz. A massive flight by ethnic Georgians ensued—not dissimilar to that of the Hindus and Muslims following the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 or of the Palestinians from Israel in 1948—and Abkhazia has enjoyed de facto independence from Georgia ever since.

Applebaum goes on to allege that Russia “has a long-term interest in the destabilization of pro-American, pro-Western, pro-NATO Georgia.” If destabilizing Georgia has long been Russia’s intent, it is odd then that Moscow took on the role of mediator during two major crises in the country in recent years. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in essence helped Western-leaning Mikhail Saakashvili come to power by negotiating the resignation of President Eduard Svevardnadze and aided Georgia in regaining control over another secessionist region, Adjaria, by encouraging its leader to back down. Relations between the two countries soured when Saakashvili adopted anti-Russian positions and began to portray himself to the West as a leader who could stand up to Moscow. The Kremlin’s subsequent lack of eagerness to help Georgia reconquer Abzkhazia and South Ossetia should come as no surprise. What nation would want to help an openly hostile leader expand his rule?

Furthermore, Russia has been heavily criticized for allegedly shooting down Georgian military planes in what Applebaum describes as “a pretty obvious attempt to create a casus belli.” These planes, however, were actually spy drones flying over Abkhazia. So why has no one bothered to question why Georgia was violating peace agreements it signed in 1994 by flying the planes in the first place? It seems that when the United States or its allies are involved, different questions are asked and different stories are told. If Syria began flying planes over the Golan Heights, its internationally-recognized territory, wouldn’t the United States view that as an act of aggression against Israel? And wouldn’t it rightfully support its ally? Russia, however, is portrayed as intentionally provoking and even bullying “an emerging democracy, an aspiring NATO ally.”

Applebaum too refers to a possible Russian invasion of Georgia and of Abkhazia. These are two very different things. If Russia invades Georgia within the borders it currently controls, this kind of aggression would indeed deserve a strong response from the international community. But if Applebaum is in fact referring to Abkhazia, then is she arguing that the U.S. should support Tbilisi in an attempt to use military action in the autonomous republic—clearly violating UN Security Council resolutions? And can Russia actually be accused of invading Abkhazia when it already has a friendly government in the republic and maintains a military base and UN sanctioned peacekeeping troops there? Following this logic, would Applebaum also argue that NATO invaded Kosovo when it ignored Serbia’s objection to its independence?

What is troubling is the fact that the simplistic arguments that appear in our newspapers are all too often reflected in U.S. foreign policy. We readily adopt these comfortable narratives, use them in dialogues with other major powers and are then surprised when we don’t get what we want from others who have different views.

Consider the consequences of our pundits’ outcry of support for Georgia and accusations of Russian aggression. We are in essence encouraging an ally to move toward confrontation with Moscow, while we have no intention, as Applebaum rightly implies, of providing them with military assistance to accomplish their objectives. Were Tbilisi to follow through, Georgia would most certainly lose Abkhazia and face an even more hostile neighbor in Russia, an outcome that undermines Georgia’s sovereignty and damages America’s credibility.

It would also, of course, further stress our shaky relations with Moscow. By accusing Russia of attempting to goad Georgia into war, we are really just forcing Dmitry Medvedev to choose between remaining silent—which could lead the Russian public to question his patriotic credentials before he has even truly begun his presidency—and responding forcefully in his country’s defense. If we have any interest in cooperating with Moscow over issues critical to our national interest, perhaps presenting Medvedev with this kind of challenge over Abkhazia at the very beginning of his presidency is unwise.

Brooke Leonard is a staff member at The Nixon Center.

Sunday 18 May 2008

''RAD - Russia and the "Frozen Conflicts" of Georgia''

Russian Analytical Digest

No. 40: Russia and the "Frozen Conflicts" of Georgia, 8 May 2008

This issue of the Russian Analytical Digest examines relations between Russia and Georgia with a focus on Georgia's secessionist regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It gives an overview of the conflict including political and economic aspects of its escalation. Additionally, the authors analyze the process of conflict settlement from both Georgian and Russian perspectives and examine the case for Abkhazian statehood based on Kosovo. This issue also includes a Russian popular opinion poll concerning the frozen conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union.

No. 40: Russia and the "Frozen Conflicts" of Georgia

Author(s): Stacy Closson, Sergei Markedonov, Archil Gegeshidze, Viacheslav Chirikba Editor(s): Jeronim Perovic, Robert Orttung, Matthias Neumann, Heiko Pleines, Hans-Henning Schröder
Publisher(s): Center for Security Studies (CSS), ETH Zurich, Forschungsstelle Osteuropa (FSOE)
Date of publication: 8 May 2008
Issue number: 40
Format: PDF
Pages: 17


English - Download the full-text document (287 KB)

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Georgian Apologists (at home and abroad) May 14, 2008

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

Close observers of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict over the years will be all too familiar with cases where a Georgian spokesman produces a charge which has little (if any) relationship with reality — evidence/statements to the contrary are airily dismissed, and the charges are reiterated. Take the interchange that took place in London on 23rd November 1992 at an open meeting at Chatham House between Georgia's then Foreign Minister, Aleksandre Chik'vaidze, and (the late) Lord David Ennals, one-time UK Minister of Health. This illustrative citation, relating to the situation in the northern Abkhazian town of Gagra after its recapture by the Abkhazians in October 1992, is taken from Appendix 6 of my 1993 article 'Abkhazia: a problem of identity and ownership' (Central Asian Survey 12.3):

Chik'vaidze: [...] the Abkhazians treacherously attacked and captured Gagra. Today the Abkhazian separatists and their so-called volunteers are treating the Georgians so badly that one could accuse them of genocide. In Abkhazia today we see the same mixture of home-grown fascists and external reactionary forces that exist in other parts also of the ex-USSR...
(1) Lord David Ennals: I was in Abkhazia only 2 weeks ago as part of a UN mission, and I can tell you that I have proof that your Georgian troops have been treating the Abkhazians atrociously. What do you say about this, and why do you not issue an invitation for the newly appointed CSCE commissioner for ethnic minorities (a former Foreign Minister of Holland) to involve himself immediately in this war?
Chik'vaidze: I can tell you that the North Caucasian forces are mistreating local Georgians — indeed, there is not a single Georgian house between the Russian border and Sukhum that the Abkhazians have not burned.
Ennals: Excuse me, but I was in Gagra, where I spoke to many Georgians who were living in their own houses.
Chik\vaidze: No, you do not understand, I am telling you that there is not a single Georgian property left unburnt between the Russian border and Sukhum. Half a million [sic!] Georgians have already fled from Abkhazia [N.B. according to the 1989 census there were only 239,872 "Georgians" living in Abkhazia! — BGH]. As for the CSCE commissioner, I have to tell you that we Georgians are a special people with our own customs that are poorly understood by outsiders, and so we have to sort out our own problems without any external assistance.

Giorgi Baramidze, Deputy-Premier of Georgia, on a tour to Europe and the USA in April 2008 made the charge (as on his BBC News 24 interview for the programme Hard Talk with Stephen Sackur) that the Georgian population living today in Abkhazia (primarily in the south-easternmost province of Gal) is 'subjected to daily killings and rapes', something which simply has no basis in fact.

Another common trope in Georgians' assertions about the Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992-93 is that it was a war not between Georgians and Abkhazians, but rather between Georgians and Russians. As regards one crucial action in that war, the already mentioned retaking of the northern town of Gagra by the Abkhazians and their allies, here is what the independent American observer Dodge Billingsley wrote about it in 1998:

Excerpt from Dodge Billingsley's 'Military Aspects of the War. The Battle for Gagra
(The Turning-point)'
Chapter 9 of The Abkhazians: a Handbook, (edited by George Hewitt, Curzon Press 1998)

Many in Georgia and elsewhere feel that the war was really a Russian-Georgian conflict. This is a complicated issue. Technically, all volunteers from the North Caucasus were Russian citizens. The real question, however, centres on motivation and how the volunteers saw themselves. There were many indications that Chechen assistance to Abkhazia was stimulated by independent aspirations related to a pan-Caucasian federation rather than any Russian plot. The best known Chechen to fight against Georgia, Shamil Basaev (now deputy to Chechen's President Maskhadov), stated that 'as long as the small Abkhazian people suffered in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, his units would help them, but in the event of hostilities between Russia and Georgia, the volunteers would fight on the Georgian side'
There were, however, verified cases of Russian assistance. Russian pilots were actually shot down by Kartvelian units, but the incidents were isolated and more likely reflected free-lancing by rogue elements of the Russian military, a fact which has precedence elsewhere in the Caucasus, including the earlier Georgian conflict in South Ossetia
[2]. Moreover, there were other indications that Russia (Yeltsin) knew of Shevardnadze's plan and was prepared to look the other way. Commenting on the unruly nature of the Kartvelian forces, Shevardnadze remarked that he was against sending his troops into Sukhum: 'I wanted our military units to go around Sukhumi and move to Gagra... When I spoke to Yeltsin on the next day [after the beginning of hostilities], he told me: "The generals can get out of control and you, as a smart man, should know it".'[3] Russia did meddle in the conflict, but the factor that made the difference were the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers that made their way to the region to engage Kartvelian forces throughout the war. This is not to say that the volunteers might not incidentally have served the strategy of some circles in the Russian military-political arena. However, the volunteers, many of whom were Chechen, had their own reasons for helping Abkhazia, as the more recent war in Chechenia has demonstrated.
There is no doubt that volunteers from abroad did add to the quantity and quality of the Abkhazian military effort, but their numbers were still small. Although Abkhazian veterans claim that there were only 300 combatants on their side, it is more realistic that their numbers exceeded 500. However, Abkhazians never held an overall numerical advantage. Locally-based UN military observers substantiate these Abkhazian claims, suggesting that Kartvelian troops did indeed outnumber Abkhazian personnel but were so ill-disciplined that the Abkhazian victory at Gagra should have come as no surprise
What was a surprise was the ability of the Abkhazian movement successfully to incorporate volunteers from the North Caucasus and elsewhere, primarily Turkey, arriving to fight for Abkhazia. Abkhazia would prove most adept at this throughout the course of the war. Military cohesion on an individual- and group-level was always better on the Abkhazian side. The reasons for this need to be explored in depth. However, it must suffice to say that this factor, illustrated so clearly at Gagra, was one of the most crucial determining factors in Abkhazia's success and Georgia's failure.
In many ways the battle for Gagra was the battle for Abkhazia itself. Once in control of the border and port-facilities in the northern corner of Abkhazia, the Abkhazian leadership was assured that supplies and manpower would get through. On the other hand, after the loss of Gagra, Georgia could only hope for a break-out on the Sukhum front. Reeling from the loss of Gagra, Kartvelian forces proved incapable of further large-scale offensive operations. There were only four more meaningful offensives undertaken that are worthy of note (January 1993, March 1993, July 1993 and the final offensive of September 1993), and all were conducted by the Abkhazian side.
It is perhaps understandable (if not pardonable) if utterances that come tripping from the mouths of representatives of the side which started the war and suffered a humiliating defeat often play fast and loose with reality in order to mislead a world largely ignorant of the region into believing that the West's chief bogey-nation, Russia, was responsible for dashing Georgianss bright hopes in the early years of post-communist independence — sadly, the West all too readily allowed itself to be duped into falling for this deception. But it is more perplexing to find a host of non-Georgians playing the same game and serving up assertions straight out of the pages of the Georgian propaganda-manual. One such is Svetlana Chervonnaja, whose main publications over the years have been concerned with Tatar art. In 1993 she published in Russian Abxazija 1992: Post-kommunisticheskaja vandeja, which appeared in English translation in 1994 under the title Conflict in the Caucasus: Georgia, Abkhazia and the Russian Shadow. Here is a quotation from a short review I wrote of it at the time:

Anyone unwise enough to believe the purpose of this book is to shed light should ponder the following. Much is made of the distribution of seats in the Abkhazian parliament of 1991, whereby the 17% Abkhazians held 28 of the 65. This fact was stressed at the book's London launch by Levan Alexidze, human rights' officer at the UN Secretariat (1970-77) and now chief advisor to Shevardnadze, who also contributed a Postscript to the work, as an example of anti-Georgian machinations in Abkhazia. This electoral law was also the sole document shewn to the second mission to Abkhazia/Georgia from the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples' Organisation (The Hague) when visiting Tbilisi in November 1993 in support of allegations of genocide against the Georgian population. As UNPO's report tersely notes, the personal advisor to the Georgian President, Levan Alexidze, was co-author of this law...[5].

Of late, however, the most consistently egregious example of a non-Georgian propagandist for the Georgian cause is Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation. His latest 'contribution', if that is the appropriate word to describe what flows from his pen/computer-keyboard, namely 'The West can respond more effectively to Russia's assault on Georgia: part III', appeared on 9th May. In it we read the following:

The Russian military, not the Abkhaz (17 percent of the region's pre-conflict population) evicted the Georgian population (45 percent of the pre-conflict population) from Abkhazia by force[6].

This, of course, is completely consistent with the charge discussed above with particular reference to the retaking of Gagra. But is Socor's description of events actually what happened?

As noted above, in November-December of 1993 the Unrepresentated Nations and Peoples' Organisation (UNPO) organised a visit to (now post-war) Abkhazia. Their report was published in 1995 in Central Asian Survey 14.1 (pp. 127-154). Regrettably (if perfectly understandably, given human nature) after a bitterly contested civil war, there were cases of retribution by the victorious side for the atrocities committed by the occupiers[7], and this has to be openly acknowledged, as indeed the UNPO report did. However, due attention should be paid to the closing sentence of the following remarks from p. 138:

In the final stages of the war, when Abkhazian forces, supported by military units from the Northern Caucasus, took back Sukhum and the remaining Abkhazian territory to the Ingur river, there is evidence of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by members of the Abkhazian forces, Northern Caucasus troops and by armed civilians. When Abkhazian troops entered Sukhum many civilians were killed. Similar incidents also occurred in other parts of Abkhazia. THE MAJORITY OF GEORGIANS, HOWEVER, FLED BEFORE ABKHAZIAN AND NORTHERN CAUCASUS TROOPS ARRIVED (stresses added).

The Kartvelian inhabitants of the occupied areas might well have had good reasons to fear what would happen to them, especially if they had given active support to the occupation, but, if the majority abandoned Abkhazia before the arrival of the Abkhazians and their north Caucasian allies, how can that flight be accurately described as 'ethnic cleansing', as it usually is, or to have been occasioned by military force (let alone RUSSIAN military force)? It was a case of 'self-cleansing', carried out in the desperate chaos of the hour despite the distribution by the Abkhazian authorities throughout the relevant parts of Abkhazia of a leaflet (appended below) reminding everyone of their moral obligation to treat with respect anyone laying down weapons as well as members of the civilian population.

Lest anyone be tempted to see in the phrase 'military units from the Northern Caucasus' a reference to the Red Army, the explanation comes from the previous page of the Report, where we read (p. 137-8):

A group of approximately 300 soldiers from the Northern Caucasus served in the Abkhazian army. According to official representatives of the Northern Caucasus Federation these men came voluntarily 'to the rescue of their neighbouring people'...A number of Chechen soldiers were incorporated into the Abkhazian army, while others served in a Chechen battalion under Chechen command.

So much, then, for the latest example of Socor's fanciful rewriting of history.


[1]'The Georgian Chronicle', Monthly Bulletin, Center for Peace, Development and Democracy, March-April 1993, p.5.
[2]During the war between Georgia and South Ossetia, V. Adamia (leader of the Georgian military), claimed that both his forces and South Ossetian units rented Russian heavy weapons and personnel for military operations.
[3]'The Georgian Chronicle', Monthly Bulletin, January-February 1993, p.7.
[4]Interview with UNOMIG commander J. Hvidegaard, Sukhum, June 1995.
[5]It should be stressed that the Abkhazians never wanted such a parliament; their preference was for a bi-cameral arrangement, but the single chamber-parliament with an ethnically determined division of seats was forced upon them by Tbilisi.
[6]I personally never refer to the 'Georgian' population of Abkhazia, since most of them were Mingrelians. As there were also Georgian and Svan (concentrated in the Upper K'odor Valley) contingents, I prefer to refer to this section of Abkhazian society holistically/generically as 'Kartvelian'.
[7]The Report gives details; for example (p. 137): 'During the Georgian occupation, Abkhaz, Armenians, Greeks and Russians were harassed, imprisoned, subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment for the sole reason of belonging to those ethnic groups...A number of mass-graves have reportedly been discovered in Abkhazia since the end of the war. In one of the graves, located in Sukhum near the municipal hospital, 128 bodies were discovered. All bodies had bullet woulds and traces indicating that the hands had been bound with barbed wire behind the victims' backs.' And, of course, no-one forgets (even today) the chilling threat from the autumn of 1992 by the general in charge of the Georgian troops in Abkhazia, Gia Q'arq'arashvili, when he said on TV that he was perfectly prepared to sacrifice 100,000 Georgians to liquidate all 97,000 Abkhazians, if that is what it took to keep Georgia's borders inviolate...
Related Issues

Friday 9 May 2008

Russian military says more Abkhazia peacekeepers possible; Georgian leader warns of war

The Associated Press Published: May 8, 2008

MOSCOW: Russia's Defense Ministry said Thursday that it could further bolster its peacekeeping forces in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, a move that would further anger Georgia and stoke fears of a new war in the strategic South Caucasus.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, meanwhile, said the threat of war with Russia remained high, and fightingnearly erupted just a few days ago.

Western-leaning Georgia and breakaway Abkhazia are at the center of struggle between Russia and the West for influence in the strategically located South Caucasus. And as Georgia pushes aggressively for NATO membership and tries to draw closer to the United States, tensions have grown dramatically in recent months.

Russian peacekeepers, which have served in Abkhazia since the region broke away from Georgian control in the 1990s, are an irritant in relations between Russia and Georgia.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a recent increase brought the number of peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542 — up from 1,997. The increase was criticized by the United States and European Union.
The ministry also accused Georgia of dispatching forces to the area and said any further steps could prompt Russia to increase its forces to the maximum 3,000 peacekeepers allowed under a 1994 agreement.

"All of this is for one purpose — to keep peace and avoid bloodshed," the ministry said in a statement.

Abkhazian and Russian authorities have claimed Georgia is preparing for an offensive to take control of the region by force.

Georgian Defense Minister David Kezerashvili rejected those claims, but he said Georgia would respond if attacked. He said Russia had already exceeded the limit on peacekeepers and additional troops would be viewed as aggressors.

"We are not going to wage a war in Abkhazia and solve this conflict by military means," he said in remarks broadcast by Georgian TV.

Saakashvili was quoted by the Interfax and RIA-Novosti news agencies as saying Russia and Georgia had been on the verge of war.

"I believe that we were very close a few days ago, I think, and this threat persists," Saakashvili was quoted as saying.

Still, "Georgia is not planning and cannot fight against Russia. We do not even have enough combat capable units," he was quoted as saying.

The United Nations, which has a small observer mission in Abkhazia, disputed Russia's assertion that the U.N. mission had approved of the peacekeepers' increase.

The mission said in a statement that it was seeking more information from the peacekeeping force "on their perception of the current threats to the cease-fire regime and how the strengthening of the (peacekeepers) both in personnel and weapons meets those threats."
Abkhazia has long been supported by Russia, which has stepped up its backing in recent weeks, lifting trade sanctions, establishing legal ties and increasing the peacekeeping force. Russia also supports South Ossetia, another separatist region that, like Abkhazia, seeks either independence from Georgia or absorption into Russia.

Abkhazia's foreign minister said in a Russian newspaper interview published Tuesday that Russia had in essence already recognized the region's independence.

"The lifting of the sanctions came on the orders of (Putin). Russia has de-facto recognized us!" Sergei Shamba was quoted by Izvestia as saying.

Georgian officials claim that Russia is bringing the region to the verge of war and accused Russia of shooting down a pilotless Georgian spy plane over Abkhazia last month — a claim Russia denied.

Abkhazia claimed last weekend that it downed two more spy planes and said another Georgian spy plane had been shot down Thursday. In televised comments, Deputy Defense Minister Garry Kupalba also asserted that Georgia had up to 7,000 troops, along with weaponry, concentrated along the administrative border with Abkhazia.

Georgian defense officials could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
Georgia's push for NATO membership has worried Russia. The alliance declined last month to begin membership preparations for Georgia, but assured its U.S.-allied leadership that the country would eventually join the alliance.

The United States sharply criticized Russia on Tuesday for what it called a series of "provocative actions" surrounding Abkhazia and said Russia must "de-escalate and reverse its measures," and reiterate its commitment to Georgia's "territorial integrity and sovereignty."

The foreign ministers of Sweden, Poland, Slovenia and Lithuania will travel to Tbilisi on Monday for discussions on the situation in Abkhazia, a spokeswoman for Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said. The diplomats will meet with Saakashvili, as well as the prime minister and foreign minister, spokeswoman Irena Busic said.
Associated Press writers Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia and Ruslan Khashig in Sukhumi, Georgia, contributed to this report.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Some chapters from the UNPO's Abkhazia Report. November 1992

November 1992 Mission to Abkhazia

On 15 May, 1992 Mr. V. Ardzinba, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia, sent an appeal to UNPO’s General Secretary for assistance in preventing the outbreak of violent conflict between Abkhazia and Georgia. He cited fears of the use of force by Georgia to resolve a political problem with respect to Abkhazia as the reason for urgent UNPO action, such as mediation.
In response to President Ardzinba’s request, UNPO’s General Secretary, Dr. Michael van Walt van Praag traveled to Sukhumi, capital of Abkhazia, in order to investigate the situation and assess what UNPO could contribute. The visit took place in the first week of July, 1992. Van Walt met with President Ardzinba, deputies from the Abkhazian Supreme Soviet on both sides of the dispute (the Abkhazian and the Georgian side), and local officials and residents.
In response to the Abkhazian requests, UNPO invited a number of parliamentarians or parliamentary staff members to be part of a UNPO Mission to Abkhazia, Georgia and the Chechen Republic in order to investigate the situation in Abkhazia, paying special attention to the principal elements of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, the human rights situation, its relationship with developments throughout the Northern Caucasus region, and the potential for peaceful resolution of the conflict. The full report in PDF can be downloaded by clicking here (1 MB)

''On 21 August, Shevardnadze denied all responsibility for the military action in Abkhazia and announced the withdrawal of troops. Instead, an unsuccessful attack was staged by Georgian troops on Gudauta. Three days later, on 24 August, Shevardnadze threatened Abkhazians with full-scale war if they continued their struggle. On the same day, the new commander of Georgian troops in Sukhumi, General Georgiy Karkarashvili, warned Abkhazians in a televised address that he was prepared to sacrifice 100,000 Georgian lives to destroy 97,000 Abkhazians (the official figure for the Abkhazian population in Abkhazia) and that the Abkhazian nation would cease to exist.''

b. Human Rights and Cultural Destruction

The Mission paid special attention to allegations by both sides in the conflict of human rights violations, especially in the form of atrocities committed by the armed forces of the other side. It also paid special attention to allegations of cultural genocide. In order to assess the situation, members of the delegation spoke with refugees (Abkhazian, Georgian and others), prisoners of war in the Abkhazian camp, and residents of Sukhumi, of villages in areas under Georgian military control, and of Gagra, where some of the worst atrocities are claimed to have occurred; to local officials of these and other places; and to the representative of the ICRC (International Red Cross).

The Mission was able to obtain testimony from victims and witnesses of human rights abuses and from medical authorities. It spoke to witnesses and other credible sources about allegations of attacks on cultural institutions. And it spoke to political leaders and military authorities, including Georgian prisoners of war, about the activities and behavior of the military. The Mission's findings in this respect are necessarily preliminary, and more comprehensive investigations by human rights organizations should be undertaken as soon as possible, so as to obtain a complete picture of the situation.

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.

With respect to allegations of gross violations committed by Abkhazian troops in Gagra, the Mission found evidence of burning of numerous houses of Georgians in a region captured by Abkhazian forces from Georgian forces. The Mission was not able to find any basis to allegations of mass killings.

The above conclusions are based on the following information gathered by the Mission:

When Georgian troops under general command of Defense Minister General Tengiz Kitovani first entered Sukhumi on August 14, Georgian soldiers attacked nonGeorgian civilians, beat them, killed many, robbed them, and looted their houses and apartments. Reports of attacks on Abkhazian, Armenian, Russian, and other non-Georgian minority civilians, including killing, torture, and burning, looting or smashing of houses or other belongings, originate from many regions of Abkhazia under Georgian military control and for the entire period since August 14.

Medical authorities in Gudauta reported that virtually all men who had come through the Gudauta hospital, after having been held prisoner by Georgian authorities, appeared to have been severely tortured. Many had sustained multiple broken bones and burns from cigarettes or other objects on various parts of their bodies. Some had their ears partially or completely torn off.

In substantiation of what appeared to be more than isolated instances of extreme atrocities, medical authorities reported an Abkhazian woman brought in for autopsy, who had been shot both down her throat and up her vagina. They reported a man brought for autopsy (after a large sum was demanded by Georgians for his body) whose genitals had been cut off and stuffed in his mouth. The delegation took eyewitness testimony of other atrocities against Abkhazians and members of other non-Georgian ethnic groups, and further accounts of atrocities abound among these groups.

On the one hand, the activities of Georgian soldiers may be partly attributed to what Georgian authorities admitted, even maintained, was lack of control and discipline in the armed forces. A Georgian commanding officer taken prisoner by Abkhazian forces in Gagra, confirmed reports that Georgian troops had committed atrocities in Gagra. Mr. Eduard Shevardnadze himself agreed that there is no regular army in Georgia, and Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Kavsadze, Chairman of the Georgian State Committee for Human Rights and Nationality Relations, admitted that soldiers had vandalized and looted and said they were "out of control."

The "out of control" explanation is not satisfactory, however, because evidence points to authorization or encouragement by the Georgian authorities for attacks on Abkhazian and other non-Georgian civilians. Georgian soldiers who are reported to have entered Abkhaz homes and to have beaten, raped, or otherwise terrorized the inhabitants and to have looted or destroyed their belongings, are repeatedly reported to have had a list with them of names and addresses of Abkhazians to visit in this manner.

The attacks therefore did not appear to be at random. Georgian soldiers and police are reported to continue to ask persons in the streets, in particular in bread lines, to show their identity papers. When an Abkhaz is found he or she is seriously abused. The result is that the greatly diminished number of Abkhazians left in Sukhumi hardly dare to leave their rooms.

Concerning the direction given by Georgian military authorities in relation to the conduct of battle and the behavior of troops during and after battle, Georgian Minister of Defense Kitovani is reported to have told his troops that under the law of war soldiers have the right to loot for three days. The Geneva Convention forbids the use of cluster bombs, yet Abkhazian medical authorities in Gudauta report having treated a number of cluster bomb wounds in victims brought from battle areas. Cluster bombs reportedly were used extensively during late August by Georgian forces and have continued sporadically since then.

Another extensively used weapon is the "GRAD" The attacks therefore did not appear to be at random. Georgian soldiers and police are reported to continue to ask persons in the streets, in particular in bread lines, to show their identity papers. When an Abkhaz is found he or she is seriously abused. The result is that the greatly diminished number of Abkhazians left in Sukhumi, for example, hardly dare to leave their rooms.

Concerning the direction given by Georgian military authorities in relation to the conduct of battle and the behavior of troops during and after battle, Georgian Minister of Defence Kitovani is reported to have told his troops that under the law of war soldiers have the right to loot for three days. The Geneva Convention forbids the use of cluster bombs, yet Abkhazian medical authorities in Gudauta report having treated a number of cluster bomb wounds in victims brought from battle areas. Cluster bombs reportedly were used extensively during late August by Georgian forces and have continued sporadically since then.

Another extensively used weapon is the "GRAD" artillery system, which delivers a large number of shells in a chess board-like pattern, causing heavy losses to the enemy and to civilians when used on civilian targets. Additionally, the Commander-in-chief of Georgian troops in Abkhazia, General Georgiy Karkarashvili warned in a televised formal address to the Abkhaz and Georgian people in Sukhumi on August 24, that "no prisoners of war will be taken" by the Georgian troops, that "if 100,000 Georgian lose their lives, then [on the Abkhazian side] all 97,000 will be killed"; and that "the Abkhaz Nation will be left without descendants." The delegation saw a video recording of this ominous speech.

In contrast with such evidence, it appears that several weeks after Georgian troops were brought into Gagra, and while that area was still under Georgian control, Georgian troops stationed in South Ossetia were flown to Gagra. The commander of hose troops claimed they were sent by Georgian authorities in Tbilisi to restore order and to protect the civilian population in that city from ongoing rampages by Georgian troops already there.

It is also worth noting that, in contrast to the considerable number of Georgian civilians who are reported to have cooperated with Georgian military authorities in some of the acts against Abkhazian civilians and members of other minority populations, there are very frequent accounts from Abkhazians and others of local Georgians helping these Abkhazians and other persons in danger to escape, sometimes at severe risk to themselves. system, which delivers a large number of shells in a chess board-like pattern, causing heavy losses to the enemy and to civilians when used on civilian targets. Additionally, the Commander-in-chief of Georgian troops in Abkhazia, General Georgiy Karkarashvili warned in a televised formal address to the Abkhaz and Georgian people in Sukhumi on August 24, that "no prisoners of war will be taken" by the Georgian troops, that "if 100,000 Georgian lose their lives, then [on the Abkhazian side] all 97,000 will be killed"; and that "the Abkhaz Nation will be left without descendants. " The delegation saw a video recording of this ominous speech.

In contrast with such evidence, it appears that several weeks after Georgian troops were brought into Gagra, and while that area was still under Georgian control, Georgian troops stationed in South Ossetia were flown to Gagra. The commander of those troops claimed they were sent by Georgian authorities in Tbilisi to restore order and to protect the civilian population in that city from ongoing rampages by Georgian troops already there.

It is also worth noting that, in contrast to the considerable number of Georgian civilians who are reported to have cooperated with Georgian military authorities in some of the acts against Abkhazian civilians and members of other minority populations, there are very frequent accounts from Abkhazians and others of local Georgians helping these Abkhazians and other persons in danger to escape, sometimes at severe risk to themselves.

The Mission heard evidence from six Abkhazian intellectuals and professionals from Sukhumi concerning the destruction or looting of the contents, with some destruction of the buildings themselves, of the Abkhazian University, the offices of several Abkhazian cultural journals, an Abkhazian language publishing and printing house, an Abkhazian secondary school, the Abkhazian Institute of Language, Literature, and History, the Abkhazian National Museum, and the Abkhazian National Archives. Testimony concerning the burning of the National Archives building was confirmed by a Georgian witness employed in a Procuratorial office in Sukhumi at the time.

Abkhazians interviewed in Gudauta and elsewhere believe that the Georgian government is engaged in a systematic attempt to destroy the Abkhazia as a nation and the Abkhazians as a people. They point to the systematic attacks and the killings of Abkhazian civilians; and to the destruction and looting of Abkhazian homes. They also point to General Karkarashvili's television statement and to the destruction by Georgians of the principal Abkhazian institutions of cultural or historic significance in Sukhumi. They see all these as a continuation of an ongoing Georgian government policy, pointing to passages in an earlier book by now exiled Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, in which Gamsakhurdia apparently advocates the elimination of the Abkhazian intelligentsia and other extreme and oppressive policies.

With respect to human rights violations by Abkhazian and allied forces, the delegation was able to determine that some human rights violations had occurred against Georgian civilians. However, those acts did not appear to be systematic, and they never reached anything like the scale or gross nature of those committed by the Georgian military. Witnesses reported that Abkhazian authorities have been taking steps to prosecute and punish Abkhazian perpetrators of human rights violations. Georgian prisoners of war reported they were being well treated by the Abkhazian authorities. They were relaxed, shared the same rations with Abkhazian troops, and appeared to be on relatively good terms with their captors.

The Mission was particularly interested in investigating allegations of atrocities by Abkhazian troops in Gagra at the time of the recapture of that city from Georgian forces. The delegation was able to find absolutely no evidence to support two major allegations: One was the story that hundreds of Georgians had been driven into a stadium and killed; the other was that Abkhazian soldiers had gone to the hospital and killed doctors and patients there. What did seem to have taken place was the burning of many houses of Georgians who had fled the area before the Abkhazian advance. Members of the delegation saw many such houses, and were told by the Mayor of Gagra that such acts had occurred, but that he had taken measures rapidly to prevent them from continuing.

PREPARED BY THE MEMBERS OF THAT MISSION Lord Ennals, Ms. Margery Farrar, Mr. Alvaro Pinto Scholtbach, Dr. Linnart Maell, Dr. Michael van Walt van Praag with Ms. Charlotte Hille.