Thursday, 31 July 2008

Can Anyone Stop the Rise of Russia's Skinheads?

by Paul Goble, Windows on Eurasia

Vienna, July 31 – Despite high-sounding rhetoric to the contrary, the Russian government has organizationally disarmed itself for the fight with extremist groups like the skinheads and failed to reach out to the business community and the institutions of civil society to combat this "most serious" of challenges to the country, according to a leading human rights activist.

In an article posted online this week, Natalya Rykova, the executive director of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, not only provides new details on the threat extremist Russian nationalist groups pose but also discusses how the Russian state and society are failing to combat them

Like almost all information about the number of extremists and their activities is highly problematic. On the one hand, many hate crimes are never reported or are classified by the authorities as something else, a pattern that forces to use expressions like "at least" or "not less than."

And on the other, supporters and opponents of such tendencies have political reasons to exaggerate or minimize the problem, either because they want to attract attention by providing a large number that may or may not be true but cannot in any case be trusted or because they want to suggest that these are truly marginal groups with little or no popular support.

One example of such a figure is supposed existence of 70,000 skinheads in the Russian Federation today. Not only is there no precise definition of who is a skinhead and who is not, but there is no agreement on what sources should be used to determine the number. Consequently, there may be far more or far less that this widely cited number.

But while admitting these limitations, Rykova and her organization do provide some numbers that are both more trustworthy and indicative of a rise in the number and influence of Russian extremist groups. In the first six months of 2008, she notes, there were "no fewer" than 170 hate crimes, as a result of which at least 72 people were killed and 190 wounded.

According to her report, Moscow and Moscow oblast led in terms of the number of victims, followed by St. Petersburg, Sverdlovsk oblast, Omsk, and Ulyanovsk oblast. In terms of the nationality of the victims of such attacks, Uzbeks were the most victimized, followed by Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Azerbaijanis and Russians.

But significantly for any assessment of what is taking place, she writes, "the nationality of not fewer than 84 of those killed or wounded at the present time cannot be precisely established" – although she says that skinhead attacks on other groups increasingly result in deaths and have spread to "all regions of Russia."

Such attacks are leading non-Russians to live together and even to form self-defense groups, steps that may help in some cases but that in others may actually make the problem worse, by attracting greater but unwanted attention from skinhead groups or by ensuring that ay clashes will be more violent and lethal, not less.

Polls show that many Russians believe the problem of hate crimes can be solved either by restricting immigration or by toughening law enforcement, but both views are at a minimum incomplete, Rykova points out. Any cut in the number of migrants will have harm the economy and that in turn will lead to an increase in the number of extremists.

And toughened enforcement of existing laws, something she suggests is taking place, may not work as intended with many judges and juries unwilling to convict and those that do bring back guilty verdicts often unintentionally creating new martyrs for the extremist causes they represent.

Most Russians, she says, fail to consider the danger that the flood of nationalistic and xenophobic literature presents. At present, there are some 100 openly xenophobic newspapers, and seven publishing houses that specialize in printing extremist materials. And there are thousands of websites, which include among other things lists of "targets" for the nationalists.

Confronted with this challenge, the Russian government has largely failed to do what is necessary to contain it. It "liquidated" a special ministry for nationality affairs. It closed the federal program for promoting tolerance and countering extremism. And it fails to provide sufficient funds and staff to other ministries to deal with the challenge.

But the government's most serious failing, Rykova continues, is its unwillingness to work together with the business community and the institutions of Russia's nascent civil society. "Without such coordinated efforts," she says, "it is impossible to stem the growth of xenophobia and militant nationalism and to conduct an effective struggle against ethnic discrimination."

To start this process, she calls for the government to "clearly articulate the goals and priorities of ethno-national policy," to quickly adopt the new version of the country's Concept Paper on Nationality Policy and to adopt a "Concept Paper on the State's Migration policy," all of which will be facilitated by reestablishing a nationalities ministry.

"The struggle with ethnic hatred must become a long-term priority of social policy," she continues, with a countrywide system of monitoring such violence and the creation of a system for the retraining and thus improving the qualifications of government and municipal officials who work on such issues.

But even such efforts will be "condemned to failure" if the government does not involve the business community and the various institutions of civil society as well as individual Russian citizens. Without that, she says, "the indifference [many of them now display toward skinheads and their actions] will also play into the hands of the nationalists."

Abkhazardous Waste

July 30th, 2008 by Vadim Nikitin - Foreign Policy Association

Ever in search of free food, my friend and I decided to attend the Atlantic Council's talk entitled “Dealing with Russia to Rescue Abkhazia from the Brink”. As most of these things serve delicious deserts and canapés, I should’ve recognised this event’s paltry offering of nothing more than a bizarre choice of Snapple Iced Tea or Whole Foods brand cola as a bad omen. Alas.

The presentation, by a David L Phillips, read like an excruciating Greatest Hits compilation of bellicose anti-Russian posturing, Pavlovian nonsense, and Cold War-itis.

For those who don’t know or care about Abkhazia, good news!: it was hardly mentioned. Abkhazia wasn’t the point; the point was ‘dealing with Russia’. And, those wondering what that implies were quickly satisfied:

–sanctions of Russian businesses ‘illegally investing in Abkhazia’

–declarations of solidarity with Georgia

–boycott of the 2014 Sochi Olympics if Russia continues to ‘undermine Georgian sovereignty’

–“resistance to Russian Imperialism”

&c &c &c

As for the creepy Pavlovian factor, a constant undertow of “behaviour change” and “carrots and sticks” punctuated the meeting. Phillips spoke of how the west must “deal with Russia”, “changing its behaviour” of “obstructionism” and “neo-imperialism”. “Russian demeanour around the world”, he said, “calls into question its leadership”, as when Russia “misused its role” and “ambushed” German peace proposals. Thus, “well-intentioned countries” must step in and “present the Russians with a clear choice”: “play a constructive role” or else. Or better yet, don’t play any role at all, as “there is no way that Russia can be mediating in a conflict when it is a party to the conflict”.

Even the moderator observed that he “heard more sticks than carrots towards the Russians”.

A good rule of thumb is that whenever the words “imperialism” and “neo-imperialism” are casually bandied about; whenever countries are anthropomorphically defined as either “well intentioned” or “obstructionist” and referred to not with geographical place names but rather prefixed with definite articles, viz. “The Russians”; whenever this happens, chances are you are dealing with an ideologically driven rant, not a reasoned discussion.

As an Abkhazia expert in the audience pointed out, “the very title, ‘Restoring Georgia’s Sovereignty’, is prejudiced against Abkhaz interests….It will be received in Sukhumi as further evidence that there is no sympathy in Washington for the Abkhaz people. They are regarded as expendable”. The only country the Abkhazians hate more than Russia is Georgia, but it is precisely this sort of language that sends them running into the arms of their despised northern neighbour.

Phillips’s reply was phenomenally, defiantly meaningless: I agree that the title was prejudiced, “but it was prejudiced to the reader, not the writer”.

Of course, Phillips knows a lot about Abkhazia. More, in fact, than even its own people, who voted overwhelmingly for independence from Georgia but whose “core interests are best served as part of Georgia”, according to Phillips. Perhaps someone should tell them!

Apart from Abkhazia itself, the other conspicuous absentee from the discussion was Kosovo. In the report, Phillips briefly ridicules Russian officials for suggesting a ‘Kosovo Precedent’, but does not explain precisely why it is such an absurd notion.

After all, as Harvard’s Alex de Waal has noted, Abkhazia and Kosovo share many fundamental features.

When I asked him about this, Phillips said he didn’t have time to get into it and pointed to his paper entitled “Abkhazia is not Kosovo”, which I haven’t got round to reading yet.

However, it is clear that while Phillips believes that the interests of Kosovo Albanians are best served by being given their own state, exactly the opposite holds for the Abkhazians.

The point of my criticism is not Phillips’s position on Abkhazians independence. Like any civil war situation, the issue is extremely complex and must continue to be seriously and rationally debated; strong arguments can be made for both sides.

The problem with Phillips’s polemic is his Manichean, zero-sum view of Russian and American interests in Eurasia. For Russia to be “constructive”, it must renounce any interests in the region. And any such interests are immediately seen by the US as “challenges” warranting a robust Western “response”.

More dangerous still is his treatment of Abkhazia and Georgia as pawns in a great power confrontation between Russia and America. The report states that “Georgia has become a testing ground for the West’s resolve to advance democracy, security and free markets in the post-Soviet space”. For Russia, that is fighting talk.

Such hyperbolic rhetoric of democracy-spreading gives Russia exactly the ammunition it needs to accuse the West of orchestrating “colour revolutions” to spread its influence and then crack down on legitimate mass movements. Disturbingly, it is uttered at the highest levels.

I remember one day shortly after Georgia’s Rose Revolution, the US ambassador Richard Miles gave an intimate, closed door talk at a Harvard Junior Common Room about his role in the events of 2005. He was practically bragging about giving “my friend Misha” Saakashvili a call and offering him US Embassy services to print opposition leaflets and other help. The way he described it, Miles made it seem like the US was directly responsible for the whole thing. If a Russian official had been in the room listening, Miles’s speech would have confirmed all the vilest Putinite conspiracies about Western meddling in the ‘near abroad’ and democracy activists being one giant American ‘fifth column’.

Of course, the real truth could not have been further from Miles’s smug braggadocio, as a senior Georgian official later confided to me. Apparently, Saakashvili actually mistrusted the US ambassador and hated his insistence that any serious help from the US was conditioned on Saakashvili sitting down for talks with Shevardnadze. So, far from single-handedly saving the Revolution, turns out the US had actually been hedging its bets and pushing for a compromise with the Ancien Régime!

That is the kind of cautious real-politik that Russia understands. Thus, the sooner the US foreign policy establishment gets rid of propagandists like Phillips and casts off the ideological dressing from its actions, the sooner it will arrive at a dispassionate relationship with Russia based on amoral great power politics and mutual respect.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law

by E.K. Adzhindzhal, Akua (Sukhum), 2007


The essay “Abkhazia’s Liberation and International Law” is devoted to the part of International Law that focuses on the right of nations to self-determination. In line with basic documents of international law, the essay discusses the struggle of the nation of Abkhazia against colonial dependence on Georgia – for the right of its people to political self-determination and the creation of an independent state, following its liberation as the result of the Abkhazians' victory in the war imposed from Tbilisi.

V.Mikadze, Candidate of Law


E. Adzhindzhal’s work “Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law’’ discusses questions which are not limited to Abkhazia. Discussion of the contradictions between the basic principles of the modern international law: the “right of nations to self-determination” and “territorial integrity of a state”, attracts great attention at the beginning of XXI century. Undoubtedly, E. Adzhindzhal’s work will appeal to international lawyers, political researchers, practitioners in the field of international relations and policy studies as well as specialists in conflict resolution. It will give an opportunity to understand the essence of different processes connected with the problems of conflict settlement, especially in regard to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and possible paths to its resolution.

Sergey Shamba, Ph.D. in History
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia

The essay is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.

Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law

“Those who refuse freedom to others do not deserve it themselves and, thank God, are not able to preserve it for a long time.” A. Lincoln.

Certainly there is a view that the right of nations to self-determination is the corner stone of democracy. When we speak about democracy we first of all mean the power of the people. But power does not exist without rights. Thus, to deny the nation its rights obviously can lead to the deprivation of power. T. Frank, a professor at New-York University, is absolutely right when he says that self-determination is the basis for democracy and for the fully fledged international status of a state.[1] It is necessary to emphasize that self-determination has gained particular importance in the system of power relations between peoples and states. Ignorance of this natural and lawful right of nations by some governments of the UN member-states (those that try to keep other nations in servitude) has resulted in conflicts and wars in many regions of the world.

It is well known that Woodrow Wilson, one-time president of the United States of America, formally expressed theoretical and practical support for the principle of national self-determination on the basis of the fundamental principles of the American Constitution at the end of World War I, and also during the post-war peace negotiations. He presented a programme for the post-war peace settlement known as the Fourteen points in his speech to Congress on 18th January 1918. He concluded that the subject of power is a nation that has the right to self-determination.[2]

The concept of a nation’s right to self-determination (NRS) dates back to the Enlightenment. It is connected with the names of such thinkers as John Locke, Hugo Grotius, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. This idea was implicit not only in the US Declaration of independence of 1776 (“the Consent of the Governed”), and in the French revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789 (“the divine right of people”), but also in national liberation movements in Poland, Greece, Israel, Germany, and Spain and many others. The idea of self-determination also helped the Bolsheviks to strengthen their power, although class struggle was given primacy over national self-determination in the theory of Marxism-Leninism - “there are two nations in each modern nation, two national cultures in each culture”.[3]

The term “self-determination” was used for the first time in relation to a nation at the Berlin Congress in 1878. Since then the concept of the “right of nations to self-determination" has undergone a thorough test of history. It also maintains high political relevance in the contemporary world. Some historical examples illustrate the use of the concept in the practice and theory of international relations. First of all, the very idea of the right of nations to self-determination in relationship to international law came into use with the following: the Declaration of 1776 (Thomas Jefferson); other basic acts of the young American states; historical documents of the French revolution; the outcomes of World War I and II. The UN Charter in 1945 fixed it as one of the general, compulsory, imperative, and basic principles of modern international law. If all the other principles are about the legal personality (the sovereignty) of a state, then this principle is about the legal personality (the right to self-determination) of a people. On the basis of this principle, a separate branch of law, a special system of standards has been developed in international law – the International law of peoples. Interest of politicians and lawyers in the use of this concept has sharply increased since this problem was included in the “Program XIII” of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 1985 the national Australian commission of UNESCO held two symposia on people’s rights. These two scientific forums served as turning points in the history of western thought after Woodrow Wilson. Once again they faced up to this serious problem. Such thinkers as the American R. Falk and Englishman Ian Brownlie took part in the symposia. Both of them devoted their latest books to the rights of nations in modern international law.[4] Materials from these two Australian symposia were published in 1988.[5]

The UN Charter Chapter 1, Article 1, paragraph 2, states the following: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”.[6] Chapter 9, article 55, of the Charter speaks of the principle of equal rights and self-determination.[7] The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 1966 clearly defined the principles of equal rights as well as the right of nations to self-determination. Article 1, paragraph 1 says: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”[8] One can also read about the right of peoples to self-determination (RNS) in the “Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe”, 1975: “By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, all peoples always have the right, in full freedom, to determine, when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without external interference, and to pursue as they wish their political, economic, social and cultural development.”[9] Also, the idea was expressed in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples, adopted by the Algerian Convention of 1976. Article 5 states: “Every people has an imprescriptible and unalienable right to self-determination. It shall determine its political status freely and without any foreign interference.”.[10] There are many other international documents and theoretical works on the subject existing today. We will limit ourselves to the above-mentioned.

The consequent policy of progressive powers supporting the Right of Nations to Self-determination (RNS) worldwide led to the appearance of many small and large states. They represent a significant factor in contemporary international relations. The appearance of these states has played an important stabilizing role in furthering of peace and stability of the whole of mankind.[11] If the principle of national self-determination is ignored, the UN will become the centre of the global metropolis. Up until today the RNS principle has somehow softened international power relations. If it weakens then the wars for the world metropolis will begin. Unfortunately this process has already started. Read more...

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Abkhazia's archive: fire of war, ashes of history

Dear readers of the Circassian World Blog,

A few days ago i have read Sam Topalidis' book ''A Pontic Greek History''. There is a little chapter related to how Abkhazian State Archive was destroyed, i also wanted share with you. Of course it was no accident that the Abkhazian research-institute and archives were torched (after cherry-picking), it was done to try to erase documentary proof of the Abkhazians' presence over the centuries (not to say millennia) on Abkhazian soil.



Note 2.3 Ascherson (1,1995, pp. 253-4), describes how the State Archives building was destroyed during the civil war in Abkhazia.

One day in the winter of 1992, a white Lada without number-plates, containing four men from the Georgian National Guard, drew up outside. The guardsmen shot the door open and then flung incendiary grenades into the hall and stairwel. ... Sukhum citizens tried vainly to break through the cordon and enter the building to rescue burning books and papers. ... The archives also contained the entire documentation of the Grek community, including a library, a collection of historical research from all the Grek villages of Abkhazia and complete files of the Grek language newspapers going back to the first years after the revolution.

Please note that this story was previously quoted in Agtzidis (Jan 1994). Agtzidis (1994) states on page 27 that, Kharalombos Politidis witnessed the catastrophe described above. Clogg (1999) add that these irreplaceable documents for around 45 Greek communities in Abkhazia included the only complete set of the Pontic Grek newspaper Kokinos Kapnas. This story is distressing, since records of my parent's families in Yiashtoha and Portch, near Sohoumi could be lost forever.

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


Abkhazia's archive: fire of war, ashes of history

by Thomas de Waal

The documented history of the cosmopolitan Black Sea territory of Abkhazia was destroyed in war on 22 October 1992. Its Greek archivist is conserving what little remains, reports Thomas de Waal.

(This article was first published on 20 October 2006)

For me the tragic story of Abkhazia's archive is inseparable from the story of its archivist.

I first met Nikolai Ioannidi in May 1992 in Sukhumi, then capital of the autonomous republic of Abkhazia and still firmly part of Georgia. War was about to break out between the Abkhaz and the Georgians, but I sensed this only vaguely, noticing that there was a curfew at night, a dispute over which security forces had the right to bear arms and worried speculation from the people I spent my time with about the future.

I had a rather skewed view of this strange tense situation because all my companions happened to be Greek. I had chosen Abkhazia, pretty much at random, as a location to make a BBC radio feature about the plight of the Pontic Greeks, and the dilemma they were facing as the Soviet Union collapsed: should they abandon their ancient Black Sea habitat and emigrate to a strange country called Hellas?

I spent several days, living in a wooden hut by the Black Sea, being plied with too much cognac, touring villages, schools and cultural societies - and never for a moment freed from the hospitable guard of my Greek hosts. It felt as though I was the captive of some long-lost Greek domain from the Byzantine era.

One day they took me to see the archive and its remarkable Greek curator, Nikolai Ioannidi. He was tall, gaunt, with parchment-pale skin and keen blue eyes - from his German mother, it seemed, rather than his Greek father. He smoked a lot, talked clearly and exactly and wore a navy-blue beret. He was the great expert about the history of Abkhazia and about the Pontic Greeks of the Black Sea

As Ioannidi spun a fascinating tale about the history of Abkhazia's Greeks- their role in the 19th-century Russian-Ottoman wars, the fortunes they made in shipping and tobacco, their mass deportation by Stalin in 1949 and begrudged return a decade later - I barely noticed the archive we were sitting in, except to register that it was home to a unique collection of Pontic Greek newspapers.

Abkhazia had only three more months of peacetime existence. In August that year the Georgian army - or to be precise a collection of ragged armed looters nominally subordinate to the embryonic military forces of a new and barely functioning state - entered and sacked Sukhumi and ousted the Abkhaz authorities. War broke out. The Abkhaz were first driven north by the Georgians, then in the autumn of 1993, with Russian help, turned into vengeful victors, driving out the Georgians.

A history erased

It was ten years before I saw Sukhumi, the archive and Ioannidi again. In the meantime I had covered the war in Chechnya and the aftermath of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, but had not been back to my first conflict zone in the Caucasus

I could barely make sense of the geography of the place I visited. Although fighting had ended eight years before, grass was growing in the streets of Sukhumi and half the city was still in ruins. The vast burned hulk of the Abkhaz parliament loomed over the town, a blackened shipwreck beached in the middle of the central square. There was an air of Pompeii about it: the city's largest community, its Georgians, had fled in their entirety, leaving Sukhumi the half-empty capital of a new seperatist state, recognised by no one. The Abkhaz had won a "victory", but the price was impossibly high.

Instead of an archive there was a damp square of ground with the low black empty shell of a building - one wreck amongst many. Ioannidi now worked out of two corridors in the cold wing of the university, piled waist-deep with cardboard packages. He told me the story of what had happened.

Ioannidi lived in Sukhumi's "new town", a Soviet dormitory of tower-blocks two miles from the centre, where the archive was. On 22 October 1992, the city was under Georgian military control and curfew and he had made his precarious way home when it was still light, as the snipers were beginning their evening's work.

At 8pm a neighbour who lived next to the archive rang and said the building was on fire. There was no way Ioannidi could make his way back, so he had to wait until morning to find out what had happened during the night.

Late in the afternoon a car with five or six young Georgians wearing black uniforms of the Sukhumi military police had drawn up outside the archive. They broke down the door of the building, went in and set it on fire. Neighbours of all nationalities, including Georgians, rushed to put the fire out. However, the armed men returned forty minutes later. This time they drove away the neighbours with shots, ringed the building, poured kerosene over it and set it ablaze again. A fire-engine, which came to put out the fire, was not let through.

Frantic telephone calls to the KGB, the police, even the Orthodox bishop, yielded no result. It seemed as though the arson had been officially sanctioned, though no one would ever claim responsibility for it.

Ioannidi arrived at 6am the next morning to find it all gone. When he opened the safe in his wrecked office he believed for a moment that his own unpublished manuscripts had survived, only to see them turn to ashes from the heat before his eyes.

A crowd of curious onlookers gathered. Then the distinguished Abkhaz writer, Shalva Inal-Ipa, walked up stiffly and, observing the ritual of an Abkhaz funeral, bowed his head to the ground.

In a single night Abkhazia's documentary history had been virtually erased. 95% of the archive was destroyed. The only section that more or less survived at all was the radio archive from the 1930s. Nothing from the extensive 19th-century collection was preserved.

The following year, Abkhazia's Communist Party archive, kept in a different building, was annihilated in fighting, as the Abkhaz recaptured Sukhumi from the Georgians. Ioannidi estimates that of 176,000 archival documents in Abkhazia, before the war, 168,000 were destroyed. He ensured that at least some of it survived, for a long time keeping the remaining documents piled at home in his damp ninth-floor apartment, before he was allocated the empty rooms at the university, where the remnant of the archive is now housed.

A legacy Project

It is a truism that combatants in war try to rewrite history. This is a chilling instance where one side succeeded comprehensively in actually destroying the history of its adversary. Part of the struggle between Georgians and Abkhaz is the complaint by the latter that their history was always belittled by their bigger neighbour. But there are multiple ironies here: Abkhazia was a cosmopolitan Black Sea territory with many different nationalities. By erasing the documentation of its rich multi-ethnic past, the Georgians were not only denying the Abkhaz their right to have a history of their own, they were also wiping out the complexity of the real history of this mixed region and sending it back to Year Zero. And of course they also erased themselves.

Nowadays, you would barely know that any Georgians had lived in Sukhumi as traces of their heritage have been removed. And the Greek community of the city, amongst which Ioannidi grew up, has virtually disappeared. What Stalin began and the Georgian warlords continued, the Greek government helped complete by sending a big empty cruise ship to evacuate a thousand Greek citizens from Abkhazia at the end of the war in what they grandly called "Operation Golden Fleece".

Ioannidi stands as a dignified emblem of a multicultural road not taken. He has an unpublished manuscript on the Stalinist deportation of 1949 based on his study of KGB archives that went up in flames. And he has the authority to assert that that mass expulsion deprived Abkhazia of a community which was binding Abkhaz and Georgians together. "If there had not been 1949, the whole situation in Abkhazia would have been different," he told me. "If there had been a neutral force in the middle, war would not have been so possible."

Ioannidi has now formally retired as chief archivist of Abkhazia, although he still spends most of his days there, drinking Greek coffee, casting a fatherly eye over what is left of the institution he ran for forty years. But he is no romantic and wants a younger person to carry on with the job. "I am from the Soviet generation, I am not the best person to know what to do with this now."

The only catalogue perished with the archive itself and Ioannidi would dearly like to see the stacked bundles that remain properly catalogued. But the trouble with being an unrecognised state, he said, is that no one from the outside world offers any help and you live in international limbo, cut off from contact with international archivists.

I am writing this partly in the hope that someone can suggest how to preserve the small charred archive of an inaccessible unrecognised state. It would not be an easy task. But it would be a blow for civilisation in this sad corner of the Caucasus - and a gesture of deserved respect for someone who is a rare curator of decent values as well as of yellowing papers.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Abkhazia calls on the world to stop 'Georgian terror'

Abkhazia cuts all ties with Georgia after latest blast kills four.


Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning terrorist acts in Gal district of Abkhazia on the 6th of July 2008

MFA Abkhazia

Against the backdrop of heightened preparation by Georgia for a militaryaggression against Abkhazia, a series of terrorist acts in the cities ofAbkhazia were directed against peaceful population and caused injuries ofinnocent people. Recent blasts in Gal town on the 6th of July 2008 killedfour people and seriously injured many others. For the past 15 post-conflict years, Georgian leadership has been suspectedof supporting terrorism. The UN Joint Fact Finding Mission asserted in itsreport of 20 - 24 November, 2000, that: ". armed groups, consisting ofGeorgians were carrying out aimed attacks in Gal district. Their immediatetask was to create an atmosphere of fear and instability among returnees toGal district in order to show that it is impossible to stay in the territorycontrolled by the Abkhaz side. They used ambushes, kidnappings and aimedmining ". The destiny of those kidnapped by the Georgian secret services -Chairman of the Election Committee of the Gal district Mr. David Sigua - isstill unclear. Similarly, the international community, has also been accused of failing togive objective assessment of Georgian authorities, and condemning violationsof human rights in Georgian policy in Abkhazia and South Ossertia. Considering the above, Abkhazia appeals to the G8 countries, the UN SecurityCouncil, the OSCE and the Group of Friends of the UN Secretary General totake adequate measures to suppress the threat of terrorism arising fromGeorgia, as neglecting such provocations will lead to irreversibleescalation of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. Sukhum 07.07.2008

Monday, 7 July 2008

Breakaway region shows map of alleged Georgian invasion

The leader of Abkhazia has accused Tbilisi of planning to seize the self-proclaimed republic by force. Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh says Georgia was going to block Russian peacekeepers' posts and launch a land and sea offensive.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Why Independence For Abkhazia Is The Best Solution

Eurasia Critic, June 2008

By George HEWITT (Professor; London School Of Oriental and African Studies)

Historical BackgroundBagrat' III (d. 7th May 1014) was the first ruler of the united feudal kingdom of Georgia, having inherited the 200 year-old 'Kingdom of Abkhazia' (which encompassed not only today's Abkhazia but western Georgia too) from his mother. In the Georgian chronicles he (and his successors) carried the title /mepe apxazta da kartvelta/ 'King of the Abkhazians and Kartvelians' in recognition of the role played by the Abkhazians in creating this union. The arrival of the Mongols in the 13th century dissolved it into smaller statelets, of which Abkhazia (under the Chachba ruling family) was one. The political border with neighbouring Mingrelia (under the Dadiani ruling family) was set along the River Ingur in the 1680s. It has remained here ever since, serving today as the front line between de facto independent Abkhazia and post-Soviet Georgia. In the north, Abkhazian speakers traditionally occupied the coastal strip up to the River Mzymta, where settlements belonging to their Ubykh cousins began; further north (up to the River Kuban and in land) lived the various communities of their other cousins, the Circassians . Since the Mzymta lies north of Abkhazia's current border with Russia (River Psou), any Abkhazian irredentist claims would be lodged in Moscow (not Tbilisi)!

Over the centuries the littoral attracted Genoese, Ottoman and Catholic missionary interest, but little altered the population-distribution until the tsars moved south, having gained a foothold in Transcaucasia with the 1783 Treaty of Georgievsk between Catherine the Great and Erek'le II, King of the Central and Eastern Georgian Kingdoms of Kartli and K'akheti. At the end of the Great Caucasian War (1864), all Ubykhs plus most Circassians and Abkhazians migrated to Ottoman territory — a further outflow followed the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. As of 1878, then, the Abkhazians would have regarded the Russians as their worst nightmare. This is what the Georgians think their attitude should still be. But history moved on...

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Origins and Evolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict

By Stephen SHENFIELD (JRL Research & Analytical Supplement)

In this paper I trace the emergence and evolution of the Georgian—Abkhaz conflict up to the invasion of Abkhazia by Georgian forces on August 14, 1992. I try to pinpoint the most crucial events and causative factors, and to infer the likely motives and calculations of the parties to the conflict. Section I is an analytical narrative, subdivided into the following seven periods:

1) The period before the Russian occupation of Abkhazia (up to 1810);
2) The tsarist period (1810—1917);
3) The period of independent Georgia (1917—1921);
4) The early Soviet period (1921—1936);
5) The period of the Stalin--Beria terror (December 1936—1953);
6) The post-Stalin period (1953—1985);
7) The period of perestroika and post-Soviet transition (1986—August 1992).

Section II is devoted to the decision taken in summer 1992 by the State Council of Georgia, headed by Shevardnadze, to intervene militarily in Abkhazia: the likely motives and goals of the Georgian leadership, the direct trigger of the decision (if any), and whether and how the decision might have been averted by preventive diplomacy. Also considered is the related question of why the intervention occurred during the presidency of Shevardnadze rather than during that of Gamsakhurdia.

In Section III I share some general reflections concerning the failures of perception and calculation on both sides that contributed to the escalation of the conflict to large-scale violence.

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