Monday 2 June 2008

Foreign Minister of Abkhazia' Sergey Shamba arrives in Turkey

by Hasan Kanbolat, Today's Zaman

The "foreign minister" of Abkhazia, located on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, Sergey Shamba will arrive in Turkey today. Shamba, who will speak at the Selimiye Caucasus-Abkhazia Association in İstanbul on June 2, will also hold a press conference in Ankara on June 4. The same day he will deliver a speech on developments in the region, Abkhazia and the future at the Ankara Hilton. Shamba will subsequently attend an "Abkhazian Night" in Ankara and return to his country on June 6.

The people of Abkhazia, along with other northern Caucasus peoples, resisted Russian invasion, and for this reason the Sunni-Hanefi bloc that made up 70 percent of the country's population was subjected to genocide in 1864 and 1878; they were forced to migrate to Ottoman territories. This laid the foundation for the current Abkhazian problem. Abkhazia, an autonomous republic subordinate to Georgia, declared de facto independence on July 23, 1992, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. War subsequently broke out between Georgia and Abkhazia, lasting through to 1993. The war proved destructive and exhausted the options and prospects for the coexistence of these two nations.

The Abkhazian government that took office on Jan. 12, 2005, took some aggressive steps to restructure the country's domestic and foreign policy. The visit by President Sergey Bagapsh to Turkey was postponed until fall 2007 for health reasons. Bagapsh's second visit, scheduled to take place in late October 2007, was postponed upon the request of Turkish authorities, given the general elections due to take place in Turkey and the increased tension in Georgia. To this end, it is argued that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Bagapsh will meet in Turkey in 2008.

Following Kosovo's declaration of independence on Feb. 17, the Abkhazian government called on the international community to recognize its independence. But the real problem for Abkhazia is the probability of annihilation. Abkhazian intellectuals are particularly concerned by an unrecognized state order, a failure to increase the already small population and Russian domination of the Abkhazian language. For this reason, the local authorities seek to maintain good ties with Turkey to offset the Russian influence and ensure their survival in the region. The upcoming visit by Shamba to Turkey is important for the future of the Caucasus. Shamba will probably ask for Turkey's mediation to resolve the problems with Georgia and its role with the aim of narrowing the scope of embargo measures against the country.

Suspension of the Georgian-Abkhazian dialogue causes escalation of tension between the parties. To maintain peace in the southwestern Caucasus and resolve the disputes between the parties, the tension needs to be gradually decreased. Russia is uneasy with the involvement of external actors (EU, US) in regional issues with regards to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For this reason, Georgia seeks to ensure the issue remains an international one. Georgia will also benefit from Turkey's role in resolving issues pertinent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia; it will be in Georgia's best interests if the Georgian government allows the establishment of a sea connection between Trabzon and Sohum. Otherwise Saakashvili will have to meet with Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev to resolve these problems if he is eager to achieve their resolution by summer 2008.

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