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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