Saturday, 26 December 2009

Hitler calls on Georgians to win back Abkhazia‏

December 25, 2009 - by Kirill Kolodin (Tbilisi) - Izvestiya

The television channel “Sakartvelo” aired a remarkably creative video that, in theory at least, should entice young people to join the army. The video does not particularly have any distinguishing special effects; in it, some cheerful young men are heading from a recruiting station to the army headquarters. As they enter through the welcoming, swung-open doors, it seems to be the perfect place for a slogan such as: “Welcome to the army, son!” But instead, a quote by Adolf Hitler appears on television screens.

“We once and for all must understand that we will never be able to regain the lost territory with prayers, which have become a formality, nor with hopes in the League of Nations, but with the strength of our weapons. Adolf Hitler. 1932.” These subtitles are accompanied by a well-performed voiceover – perhaps to make it more convincing.

Perhaps only the creators of the video know why the Fuhrer needed to be included in the propaganda campaign – especially since there is already an abundance of similar banal expressions that could be found in the repertoires of many politicians and military commanders. Thus, there was absolutely no need to include Hitler as the main “revenge expert.”

The misstep of the political strategists is clear. A television campaign was being created based on the approval of an official representative of Georgia’s Ministry of Defense and according to the example of the NATO countries. But it is hard to imagine that “in order to promote the military,” Americans, the English, the French and especially the Germans would use “Mein Kapf” or other classical writings of the Fuhrer.

It is not clear as to how long the scandalous clip has been on the air. The television company does not have a wide audience, despite the fact that it is broadcast over the entire country. In April 2007, Sakartvelo began cooperating with the military based on the “Law on State Procurement,” and began operating in September of the same year.

Prior to that, Channel 33, which broadcasts Sakartvelo, belonged to the opposition television company of Eduard Shevardnadze and Mikhail Saakashvili, 202. According to the latest available information, currently Sakartvelo is owned by Denal Union. In November 2009, the non-governmental organization Transparency International called the company “mysterious” in one of its reports.

While it is just a coincidence, Georgian activists of the Center for Human Rights posted the clip on their website – and – almost immediately after the clip on the destruction of the Memorial of Glory in Kutaisi. The clip was posted on the eve of the Georgian government’s presentation of the “State Strategy in Relation to the Occupied Territories,” according to which Georgia’s leadership plans to resolve the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts only thought peaceful means.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Circassians latest to demand rights in Turkey

Dec. 9 - Hurriyet Daily News - The Circassians, a small section of Turkish citizens, have granted support to the government’s recent democratic initiative, saying that rights should be granted to all communities in TuKalınrkey without having to resort to violence or racism. They say the Constitution should be amended to better ensure individual rights and to remove any mention of ethnicity

Although the recent Kurdish initiative in Turkey is focused on Kurds’ rights, there are others who say they are in the game, too. Approximately 1,600 Circassians launched the “Circassian Initiative for Democracy” to voice the demands of Circassians living in Turkey.

“We came together to voice democratic rights for everyone in Turkey. These rights should not be dependant on any kind of ethnicity but on the grounds of citizenship,” said Yalçın Karadaş, spokesperson of the initiative, at a press conference in Istanbul on Wednesday.

At the conference, Hulusi Üstün, another spokesperson, listed the Circassians’ requests, saying that first the Circassian language should be offered as an elective course in areas in Turkey with high Circassian populations. “The Circassian language has several dialects and some of these have already died from not being used by the young generation,” he said.

Üstün said the group’s second request was to have a center established to collect and research the Circassians’ cultural and historical assets that have been dispersed to different geographies.

He said the group’s official history had to be “repaired” and all the discourses that falsely accuse communities including Circassians should be removed from history textbooks and official history.

Members of the Circassian initiative complained that Circassians have been depicted in textbooks as a rebellious community, which has undermined their contribution to history and culture. “Circassians published the first magazine with the Latin alphabet and launched the first sports club in Turkey, but these are unknown truths,” said Karadaş, who is also an architect.

Another request was for the Constitution to be amended with civil society and individual rights in mind and it should not have any mention of ethnic identities, said Karadaş. “Any emphasis on ethnicity in the Constitution as well as in the democratic initiativewill harm the country and the communities living in it,” said Karadaş.

Refraining from being associated with separatist groups or ideologies, the Circassian initiative members underlined the importance of calling for democracy through peaceful measures. “Among the Circassian community in Turkey, some might accuse us of being separatist. To the contrary, if this democratic initiative is stopped, then Turkey will deteriorate,” said Karadaş.

The Circassian Initiative for Democracy was launched to voice all the people’s rights, not only Circassians, in a peaceful way by using dialog, said Karadaş, adding that the initiative is focused on voicing demands through peaceful channels. “No one deserves to die for the right to education in their mother tongue,” said Karadaş, recalling Serap Eser, 17, who recently killed in a bus by a Molotov cocktail thrown by alleged members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. “We are not planning to go to the streets to voice our demands because the streets are open to provocation,” he said.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Support for Circassian Nationalism Grows in the North Caucasus, by Fatima Tlisova

Fatima Tlisova - Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation — December 3, 2009 — Volume 6, Issue 222

Rising tensions in Kabardino-Balkaria (KBR) involving two neighbouring republics Karachaevo-Cherkessia (KChR) and Adygeya (EDM, November 25) have led to violence. On December 1, the headquarters of the “Khasa” Circassian in Nalchik was attacked by a group of 50 people described as well-built sportsmen. The attack happened the day after the “Khasa” released a declaration of its goal to unite the Circassian republics and create an independent state (, December 1).

The young leader of the Circassian Congress of the KBR, the scholar and political activist Ruslan Keshev, who is known for his public resistance against the Sochi Olympics and his aspiration for recognition of the Circassian genocide, was hospitalized with multiple injuries after being brutally beaten. In the statement released immediately after the December 1 attack, “Khasa” gave details of the incident. According to the statement, the attackers’ goal was to neutralize physically the Circassian leaders in order to prevent them from holding a national meeting set to take place in Nalchik on December 5 (, December 1).

On November 26, four days prior to the attack on the Circassian leader in Nalchik, a national protest demonstration took place in the neighbouring republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. More than 3,000 young Circassian and Abaza people (ethnic cousins of the Abkhaz) attended the demonstration, which took place in Cherkessk, the KChR capital. Approximately 200 Circassians from Kabardino-Balkaria, led by Ibragim Yaganov and Ruslan Keshev, drove from Nalchik to participate in the protest. The group was blocked at a checkpoint by the Stavropol Krai police. The Circassian delegates were told to leave their vehicles and walk to Cherkessk if they really intended to join the demonstration. Given that the distance from the checkpoint to Cherkessk is more than 35 miles, the suggestion to walk made by the police was not a serious one. However, the Circassians left their cars at the checkpoint and marched four miles on the highway holding Circassian flags until forty vehicles sent from Cherkessk arrived to pick them up (

The demonstration in Cherkessk declared a need for an emergency national meeting to discuss and decide on immediate steps the Circassians need to take in order to survive in the Motherland. On November 28, two days prior to the attack on the Circassian leaders, a public meeting took place in the KBR capital, Nalchik, in which a group of the people known to be part of the team of the president of the republic, Arsen Kanokov, made a public statement about the political activities of the “Khasa” and the Circassian congress. The leaders of both organizations were described as public enemies, agents of the ChRI (the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria) and provocateurs trying to destabilize the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria ( , November 28).

On November 1, the parliament of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia lodged a complaint with the Russian prosecutor-general against the Circassian movement in the KChR, accusing its leaders of crimes under articles 280 and 282 of the Russian criminal code (, November 26).

Article 280 defines crimes falling under the category “public calls to overthrow the constitutional regime of the Russian Federation.” Article 282 defines crimes “inciting ethnical, racial and religious hatred” ( It is quite likely that the meeting in Nalchik to accuse the Circassian leaders of having relationships with Western intelligence agencies and acting against the interests of the state, and the appeal to the prosecutor-general issued by the parliament in Cherkessk, are inter-connected and were even initiated by the same behind-the-scenes power. This is the technique used by Moscow to humiliate the opposition: first, marginalize the leaders in the eyes of public opinion; second, accuse them of the most serious crimes.

This policy, combined with physical elimination when necessary, proved to be effective when used against all types of opposition in the USSR, as well as during last 10 years of Russia’s “special type” of democracy. Studying the history of both the Circassian resistance against Russian power since the period of colonization and the Kremlin’s typical responses to resistance helps to reach a better understanding of the current situation. According to the chronology listed in the Circassian Encyclopaedia, 17 officially recorded mass insurrections took place on the territory of historical Circassia. The invariable response from the Russian state, no matter what regime was in power, was to send it troops to carry out merciless repression (The Circassian Encyclopaedia, Moscow 2006, pp. 1130-1138).

The most recent example was the insurrection in Nalchik in October 2005. It might be one of the very rare battles in which no rebel was left injured, and assassinations of the helpless wounded continued after the battle was over (Novaya Gazeta, December 22, 2005). It is possible that Moscow may once again consider using military force to solve the problem if the protests in Circassia turn into mass protests.

An escalation of the situation in the Caucasus, however, strengthens the ties between the Circassian Diaspora and their homeland in the Northwest Caucasus. Diaspora Circassians are expressing their deep concern about the events in the Caucasus. At the end of November, the leaders of Circassian organisations in Israel, Jordan and Turkey made public statements in support of the Motherland. Two meetings of Circassian organizations are set to take place on December 4 and 6 in Turkey and Jordan. Recent developments in the Northwest Caucasus will be a major subject of focus during these discussions

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Abkhazia time-lapse film

Filming in Abkhazia, with 5DMII September - October 2009 Gagra, Mamdzisha

Abkhazia time-lapse film from Animi on Vimeo.

Sergey Yazvinsky (Director)
Viacheslav Ivanov

Maria Sannikova
Nadejda Churumova

Wayne Gratz
Michael Gettel
Craig Armstrong
Ludovico Einaudi

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Circassians who saved Jewish children: what are we slandered in mass-media for?

NatPress - November 10, 2009

On Wednesday, November, 4th in aul Beslenei of Khabezsky area, Karachaevo-Circassia, a gathering of inhabitants in which over 500 person participated, took place. As IА REGNUM News correspondent reported, the orators of the gathering expressed their protest in occasion of some publications in mass-media, devoted to the feat of inhabitants of that village during the Great Patriotic war. At the gathering there was the chairman of National assembly of Karachaevo-Circassia Zurab Dokshokov, the deputy of National assembly Vyacheslav Derev, representatives of the Karachaevo-Circassia president administration.

As IА REGNUM News had earlier informed, in August, 1942 inhabitants of Circassian aul Beslenei had sheltered at themselves a group of Jewish children of one of children's homes of the blocked Leningrad. That group of 32 children were taken out from the blockade ring on ice of Ladoga lake in April of 1942, then they, accompanied, reached by railways to Armavir (Krasnodar region), but could not stay there because of fascist aggressors’ coming there. Local authorities supplied them with a dray and a stock of meal for one day having recommended going to Caucasian mountains, to get to Georgia whenever possible. At the height of approach of Germans to Northern Caucasus, inhabitants of Beslenei, having seen on a road near their village a group of extremely exhausted children, sheltered them at their homes. As the fascists shot people for Jews’ concealment, all the children were brought in the registration book of the village under Circassian surnames: they introduced as sons and daughters of those who sheltered them. For conspiracy the Leningrad children were forbidden to play and communicate with each other. The fascist occupation proceeded for five months. Germans appeared to discover that Beslenei inhabitants had covered Jewish children, but they managed to find out only one of them who was immediately shot. After the war many children were found by their natives and left Beslenei; four of them lived in the village till their old age. Now, on available data, two are alive from among them.

Negative reaction of the village’s inhabitants was caused with an article published on September, 23rd, 2009 in the newspaper "Express mail" (Cherkessk). In that article there is a negative characteristic of the elder of the Murzabek Ohtov, who provided in many respects the children’s rescue during the occupation, in particular: "That Ohtov appears in the article as an elder, and actually was the head of the aul appointed by Germans. Germans, as it is known, appointed heads from among traitors or enemies of the Soviet authority. However today his fellow tribesmen try to present this fascist servant as a hero”. Simultaneously the author of "Express mail" expressed his extremely negative estimation to the article about the events in Beslenei, published in December, 2008 in the newspaper "Moscow Komsomolets". In particular, his disagreement was caused with the fragment of the article where according to the memoirs of Beslenei inhabitants the words of the worker of the Leningrad boarding school who accompanied the children when they had appeared near the village: "How long is left for us? A day, a week? Shall we die of famine or shall we be shot, like those, others, the kids from blockaded Leningrad being betraid by the enemies, - when Karachai chastisers dumped them from an abrupt rock. And tens corpses were floating down the mountain river of Teberda..." (We shall remind that Karachai, lived to the south from Beslenei, in the mountain part of present Karachaevo-Circassia, in November, 1943 were declared Hitler's helpers and were deported, but in 1957 they were rehabilitated.) The author of the article considers as unreasonable the offers about immortalization of Beslenei inhabitants’ feat, referring that Jewish children were hidden in that part of Caucasus by not only them. He reminded about the feat of Karachai Husey Laipanov who led 60 Leningrad children being then in Teberda, by Klukhorsky pass to Georgia, and after his returning was shot by Germans. "For us, even his relatives are not occurred with an idea to ask to award the lost posthumously. As any of us should do that. For some reason there were forgotten Abazinian women (Abazinians are one of the people occupying Karachaevo-Circassia) who also participated in the children’s adoption," - the author wrote.

As the head of Khabezsky area of Karachaevo-Circassia Rauf Arashuhov told IА REGNUM News, "a monument devoted to the feat of Beslenei inhabitants will be constructed irrespective of who and what says and writes about it". "I wished to finance its construction from my own means, but the president of our republic told me that it should be the common, international issue. Now a bank account for donations for the monument’s construction is open," - the head of the area explained.

In the press-service of Karachaevo-Circassia president Boris Ebzeev IА REGNUM News correspondent was informed that the head of the republic pays a great attention to immortalization of the feat of Beslenei inhabitants. In the press-service they reminded that according to a decree of B. Ebzeev the director of the documentary film "Beslenei. Right to Life" Vyacheslav Davidov was awarded with the honorary title "National actor of Karachaevo-Circassian Republic" (the film was created by the film studio ТОНАП in 2008, and narrates about the events in Beslenei). In the press-service they also told that Ebzeev granted his monthly wage to the fund of the monument construction in Beslenei, and emphasized that the president considers necessary to demonstrate the international character of the feat of the inhabitants of the republic during the war. In particular, in his address to the author of the film about Beslenei B, Ebzeev reminded about the Karachai family of Kholamlievs to which for rescue of the Jewish children the Israeli ambassador in Russia handed over 15 years ago the medal and the diploma "Certificate on nobleness" with inscription "Who saved one life - has saved the whole world".

Let's note, the inter-regional public organization "Holocaust" in 2008 had addressed to the management on archive affairs of Krasnodar region with a request to give data about children-Jews evacuated to the region from the blockaded Leningrad. As the authors of the addressed explained, documentary confirmations of the nationality are necessary for the organizations paying indemnification to the victims of the Holocaust. However any documentary confirmations of the evacuation from Leningrad of "Beslenei" children, and accordingly, data on their nationality, were not found in the archives.

Murzabekov Okhtov (center) with family

Katya Ivanova (Fatima Okhtova) in the family

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Vol. 3 (4) -Autumn 2009 issue of CRIA published‏

Vol. 3 (4) -Autumn 2009 issue of the Caucasian Review of International Affairs (CRIA) is now available on-line at

VOL. 3 (4) - AUTUMN 2009


-Note from the Editor-in-Chief (331-332)
Nasimi Aghayev (


-Alternative Dispute Resolution in the North Caucasus (pp. 333-341)
by Renée Gendron (

-The Implications of the 1993 U.N. Security Council Action for the Settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict (pp. 342-370)
by Rovshan Sadigbayli (

-Political Economy of Old-Age Pension Reforms in Georgia (pp. 371-386)
by Alexi Gugushvili (

-Corruption in Russia: A Model Exploring its Economic Costs (pp. 387-403)
by Michael P. Barry (

-Experiments in Soft Balancing: China- led Multilateralism in Africa
and the Arab World (pp. 404-434)
by Nicola P. Contessi (


-Between NATO & Russia: Ukraine's Foreign Policy Crossroads Revisited (pp. 435-444)
by Mykola Kapitonenko (


-"An Endless War: The Russian-Chechen Conflict in Perspective"
by Emil Souleimanov (pp. 445-446)
Review by Martin Malek (


-"Armenia & Georgia:
Corruption, the State, and Change" (pp. 447-451)
Interview with Dr. Christoph H. Stefes, University of Colorado Denver, US (

-"If Turkish-Armenian Border Reopens,
Georgia Will Become Less Important" (pp. 452-455)
Interview with Dr. Hans Gutbrod and Koba Turmanidze,
Caucasus Research Resource Centers, Tbilisi, Georgia (

CRIA is a Germany-based quarterly peer-reviewed online academic journal. The Review is committed to promote a better understanding of the regional affairs by providing relevant background information and analysis, as far as the Caucasus in general, and the South Caucasus in particular are concerned. CRIA also welcomes lucid, well-documented papers on other countries and regions including especially Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe, as well as on all aspects of international affairs, from all political viewpoints. CRIA is indexed/abstracted in Columbia International Affairs Online, Directory of Open Access Journals, ProQuest Research Library, EBSCOhost Research Database, Ulrich's Periodicals Directory, Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, etc.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Dialogue With Georgia Seen as Needed, 'Agree To Disagree'

November 2, 2009

Article by Sergey Markedonov, head of the Department of Problems of International Relations of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, under the rubric "Analysis": "In Search of a Dialogue"

After breaking off diplomatic relations with Russia in August of last year, Georgian politicians have not flattered our country with their visits. So the recent official visit to Moscow by Zurab Nogaideli, the ex-chairman of the Georgian government (he held this post from February 2005 to November 2007) and now an oppositionist and leader of the Movement for a Just Georgia, was perceived both in Moscow and in Tbilisi as all but a political sensation. The situation was made even more striking by the fact that on 27 October Grigoriy Karasin, the deputy head of the Russian Federation MID (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), met with the former head of the Georgian government.

Allow me to mention also that the high-ranking Russian diplomat is not an ordinary official of the foreign policy department; he heads the Russian Federation delegation at th econsultations in Geneva (this negotiation format encompasses problems of security and humanitarian development of Abkhazia and in South Ossetia in the context of forming a new status quo in the South Caucasus). So for official Tbilisi, Karasin is in many respects the embodiment of Russian policy in the Caucasus arena. In the meantime, the former Georgian premier did not simply hold a productive meeting. He announced that Georgia needs a dialogue with Russia with no preliminary conditions. If the Kremlin's constant declarations on the need to resume relations with Tbilisi only after Saakashvili's departure are added to that, Nogaideli's visit indeed acquires special significance. Some politicians and experts in Georgia have started talking about almost the "casting" that Moscow is doing, trying to figure out who would best correspond to its interests in this republic of the South Caucasus.

Today the topic of organizing relations with the northern neighbor is very popular in the ranks of the Georgian opposition. Of course, everybody has his own interpretation of what normalization means, bearing in mind the positive resolution (for Georgia, naturally) of the problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But be that as it may, not one of the key figures of the Georgian opposition had been in Moscow and met with the deputy minister of foreign affairs. Or sounded the ideas of starting a dialogue with Moscow in Moscow itself. The one that did this was Zurab Nogaideli, a politician who does not have as much charisma as other oppositionists but then has quite good financial potential to carry out political activities. His team includes quite experienced people such as Petre Mamradze, the parliamentary deputy and former chief of the state chancellery (similar to the president's staff) of Georgia. Nogaideli himself held the post of minister of finance back before the "revolution of the roses" in 2000-2001. From that moment he was considered a very close associate of Zurab Zhvania, one of the key players in Georgia after Eduard Shevardnadze's departure and before his tragic death in February 2005. According to the "white fox" himself, Nogaideli is a "level-headed and hardworking man." At least up to this point, he has not made any zig-zag political moves in the style of Nino Burjanadze or Irakli Okruashvili; in other words, he has not been drifting into radicalism after being on the political Olympus.

At the same time, let us not forget that today Nogaideli is not an official figure. And he cannot even be called the spokesman of the opposition's interests. The opposition in Georgia is a conglomerate of politicians dissatisfied with Mikheil Saakashvili's regime. At the same time, the dissatisfaction with the Georgian president of all oppositionists varies (in both form and substance). So the ex-premier in Moscow was representing himself as well as his movement, which, allow me to repeat, has quite good resource potential but should hardly be considered a potential favorite of Georgian politics. Most likely it is for that reason that within Georgia itself Nogaideli's trip to Moscow was perceived coolly. There was no praise nor was there any excess verbal abuse with the typical labels of treachery and cooperation with Gazprom or the special services. In the opinion of Levan Vepkhvadze, the deputy chairman of the Georgian parliament, all the talks with the Russian Federation can be conducted only around a discussion of the "de-occupation" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (in other words, within the framework of advancing preliminary conditions). In this connection a natural question arises -- "Should th evisit to Moscow by a Georgian politician who has a rich political biography but does not have real levers of power be overrated?"

I think that the visit of a prominent opponent of the Georgian president and former high-ranking statesman is extremely important even with all the nuances mentioned above. And the point here is not only that this is the first visit to Moscow by a prominent oppositionist since the "five-day war." Actually for the first time, Russia's official representatives are trying not to devise an opposition insidet he country (as was the case with Igor Giogadze or Aleksandr Yebralidze (as transliterated)), but to set up a dialogue with representatives of the "inconvenient country." It is clear that today Nogaideli's ratings in Georgia are not off the scale. But he personally and the members of his team represent at least a small part (but who knows what will happen tomorrow) of Georgia, but it is not Georgian politicians and not representatives of the diaspora or "emigration." The very fact of Nogaideli's visit (as well as its public consequences) showed that a dialogue with Georgia is necessary no matter what disagreements the Russian Federation has with this country (and not only on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but on NATO, interrelations with the United States and the European Union, and other foreign policy questions). It has long been time to acknowledge that the incessant statements by official figures that "we are not speaking with the Georgians until Saakashvili leaves" are no more than a propaganda formula.

Just whom are our diplomat stalking with in Geneva is no idle question. Or does Giga (Giorgi) Bokeria now represent himself rather than his president? And with whom did the representatives of Inter RAO YeES (Russian Joint-Stock Company Unified Energy System) hold talks and sign papers in December of last year? Let me remind you that at that time the Memorandum on Joint Management for 10 Years of the Inguri GES (hydroelectric power plant), the largest hydroelectric power plant in the South Caucasus, was formalized between the Russian energy company and the Georgian energy ministry (which caused displeasure in Abkhazia). One wonders, since when has this Georgian ministry not been subordinate to Mikheil Saakashvili? The economic presence of Russian business in Georgia since August 2008 has not become any smaller. The absence of diplomatic relations is not preventing well-known Russian companies such as Lukoil, Vympelkom, VTB (Foreign Trade Bank), the already-mentioned Inter RAO YeES, and the OAO (open-type joint-stock company) RZhD (Russian Railways) from working in Georgia (the latter is making a "stop-off" through Armenia). In February of this year (2009), even the expressive President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili said: "Our policy was always that we welcome Russian economic and business interests in Georgia." Nor will we ignore the interaction along the lines of the Russian and Georgian Orthodox churches (in November Patriarch Kirill plans to meet in Baku with the Catholicos- Patriarch of all Georgia Ilia the Second). All this creates the prerequisites to allow bilateral relations to be set up on a pragmatic (rather than a propaganda) basis. If after the universally known events, a certain (although minimal) level of contacts even with Saakashvili's team is maintained!

Here let me add the fact that with the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, the importance of Georgia as a unique transit country will markedly decline. In this connection, out of purely objective considerations of an economic and geographic character, the interest in the Russian direction of transit will rise. And that will be a pragmatic basis for revising relations with the Russian Federation. The second consideration deals with an altogether different subject, security. The drastic step-up in terrorist and sabotage activity in the Russian North Caucasus today is not occurring under the slogans of ethnic separatism, but under the green banner of radical Islamism. But the Islamists' final goal is not Chechnya or even the North Caucasus. They are thinking in categories of a global jihad. Here is what Doku Umarov, the leader of the best-known terrorist group today, the Caucasus Emirate, has to say on that topic: "I do not think that there is a need to draw the borders of the Caucasus Emirate. In the first place, because the Caucasus is occupied by infidels and apostates and is Dar al-Kharb (as transliterated), a territory of war, and our immediate task is to make the Caucasus Dar Es-Salam (as transliterated -- haven of peace) by affirming the shariat on its land and driving out the infidels. Secondly, after the infidels are driven out, we must get back all the historical lands of the Muslims, and these borders are outside the limits of the borders of the Caucasus." All this allows us to assume that the fighters' activism will move to the other side of the Caucasus range any day now, and consequently, Georgia and Russia will be forced by life itself to revise their relationship and establish acceptable formats for cooperation in the security sphere. And although there are emotional supporters of the struggle of the "North Caucasian brothers" against Russia in Georgia today (for example, Zaal Kasrelishvili, the chairman of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus), there is also a strong realization that the North Caucasus outside the Russian Federation and without the Russian Federation would be a greater danger for Tbilisi than an "occupier" country.

Consequently, ways and methods to interact with Georgia are necessary. Without deviating from the obligations to Abkhazia and South Ossetia that we have taken on and placing the accent on Russian national interests. But in spite of all that, the Georgian direction must not be abandoned. Above all out of pragmatic considerations. And so we must not be afraid of visits by people like Nogaideli, but also ourselves try to actively propose a new agenda for the Georgian political class and the expert community. As if there were no Saakashvili. Only such a proposal should actually be made to the Georgians rather than the Moscow Georgians. At the same time, we should understand one more important truth. The statements of any oppositionist are not the same as conducting real domestic and foreign policy. The examples of Leonid Kuchma and Vladimir Voronin should be analyzed well. And so we should have no illusions about the idea that a new president of Georgia (Nogaideli, Alasania, or another as yet unknown so-and-so) will turn around policies toward the Russian Federation, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia 180 degrees. But even so, holding a dialogue based on the principle of "agree to mutually disagree" (when your partner acts within a certain framework and is controlled in that way) is better and more advantageous than going on the all-out defensive. However, more fine tuning is required to realize that. Intellectual and diplomatic tuning.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Window on Eurasia: Nationalism, Not Radical Islam Now Main Threat in North Caucasus, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 3 – In the 1990s, most specialists on the North Caucasus argued that ethno-nationalism was the greatest challenge to public order and Moscow’s control in that region, but more recently and reflecting both foreign and domestic policy priorities, Russian analysts and officials have suggested that radical Islam has displaced ethnicity.

But this week, Anton Korablyov, a Moscow commentator, argues that “the greatest threat may come not from ‘Wahhabism’ but from nationalistic ideologies,” a shift in perception that regardless of its adequacy – clearly both nationalism and Islam play a role in the region – could prompt a change in Russian policy there (

Indeed, he argues, it is time to speak about “a renaissance of national social movements there, which are working in the political sphere” and using the ideas of pan-Turkism rather than Islam to form the kind of alliances among the smaller nationalities of the region that all analysts have suggested the peoples there must build if they are to have success.

And while Korablyov does not focus on this aspect of the rise of pan-Turkist ideas in parts of the North Caucasus, it is clear from what he does say that one of the reasons this ideology is so powerfully attractive to some groups is that it plays the same kind of bridging role that Islam often does elsewhere in the region.

Korablyov points out that “not one of the serious investigators of the religious situation in the North Caucasus speaks about popular support of the ideas of radical Islam being higher than two to three percent of the population.” But that means, of course, that “Wahhabism as such … is insufficient for the massive destabilization of the situation” now on view.

In a few republics – Daghestan and Ingushetia are the clearest cases – it has been possible to fill the gap between small number of supporters of Islamist ideologies and the total number of people needed for effective opposition by pointing to the illegal actions of the local interior ministries especially where those bodies work as “a state within a state.”

But in the western regions of the North Caucasus, Korablyov says, “the ‘militia’ problem’” is either smaller or “hardly sufficient so sow” serious discord in society. “On the other hand,” he continues, “another factor useful for anti-Russian forces has shown itself again – and that is the nationality one.”

There are three regions of the North Caucasus where pan-Turkic ideas are already playing a role in this regard and can be expected to play a larger one both absolutely and relative to Islamism and “militia” nationalism. These are Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria.

In Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Daghestan, the role of pan-Turkism has been limited to local conflicts, but in Kabardino-Balkaria, Korablyov says, the situation is far more serious because in that republic “there have been attempts to construct national organizations which would be in a position to put constant pressure on everything taking place” there.

After a presidential vote in 1999 which almost led to a civil war, Karachayevo-Cherkessia was relatively quiet for most of the last decade, at least in terms of inter-ethnic conflicts. But now the selection of a new representative to the Federation Council threatens to trigger a 1999-style fight.

Five times, the local parliament has failed to confirm the man nominated to be the republic’s senator, in each case largely because representatives of the Karachays, a Turkic group, refused to vote for him and thus denied the parliament a quorum, even though, Korablyov says, there is little difference in the conditions and treatment of the two titular nationalities.

Meanwhile, in the Khasavyurt district of Daghestan, members of the Turkic Kumyk nationality have been engaged in a power struggle between the district head who is a Kumyk and the mayor of the major city who is an Avar. In the course of this fight, there have been two murders in the last year alone.

But in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, the Turkic issue is at least potentially far more serious. The Balkars of Kabardino-Balkaria (11.6 percent of that republic’s population) and the Karachays of Karachayevo-Cherkessia are “in fact one people.” In the 1990s, these two peoples, both deported by Stalin, sought separate autonomy but didn’t obtain it.

The Balkars continued to press their case, but they became significantly more active over the last two years in response to Cherkess moves to deprive them of land they considered their own through the redrawing of municipal boundaries. Some on both sides are seeking a compromise, but the role of the irreconcilables appears to be growing.

The interest of Turkish and Azerbaijani media in these developments has encouraged the Turkic groups, and that encouragement means, Korablyov insists, that “despite the widespread option, the greatest threat [to the North Caucasus] may arise not from the widely-advertised ‘Wahhabism’ but from nationalistic ideologies” like Turkishness.

Friday, 30 October 2009

eBooks in PDF Format in Russian‏

- Narodi Severnogo Kavkaza i ix Svyazi S Rossiey
E. N. Kusheva, Moscow, 1963 [11.6 MB]

- F.F. Tornaou I Ego Kavkazskie Materiali XIX Veka
G. A. Dzidzariya, 1976 [4.23 MB]

- Iz Istorii Srednevekovoy Abkhazii (VI - XVII. Veka.)
Z. B. Anchabadze, Sukhum, 1959 [10.2 MB]

- Istoriya i Kultura Drevney Abkhazii
Z. V. Anchabadze, Moscow, 1964 [7.31 MB]

- Ocherki Istori Abkhazii 1910 - 1921
G. A. Dzidzariya, Tbilisi, 1963 [15 MB]

- Dekabriysti v Abkhazii
G. A. Dzidzariya, Sukhum, 1970 [2.44 MB]

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The death of language?

By Tom Colls - BBC - 19 Oct. 2009

An estimated 7,000 languages are being spoken around the world. But that number is expected to shrink rapidly in the coming decades. What is lost when a language dies?

In 1992 a prominent US linguist stunned the academic world by predicting that by the year 2100, 90% of the world's languages would have ceased to exist.

Far from inspiring the world to act, the issue is still on the margins, according to prominent French linguist Claude Hagege.

"Most people are not at all interested in the death of languages," he says. "If we are not cautious about the way English is progressing it may eventually kill most other languages."

According to Ethnologue, a US organisation owned by Christian group SIL International that compiles a global database of languages, 473 languages are currently classified as endangered.
Among the ranks are the two known speakers of Lipan Apache alive in the US, four speakers of Totoro in Colombia and the single Bikya speaker in Cameroon.

"It is difficult to provide an accurate count," says Ethnologue editor Paul Lewis. "But we are at a tipping point. From here on we are going to increasingly see the number of languages going down."

What is lost?

As globalisation sweeps around the world, it is perhaps natural that small communities come out of their isolation and seek interaction with the wider world. The number of languages may be an unhappy casualty, but why fight the tide? Read more...

Related issues

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A history erased - Abkhazia's archive: fire of war, ashes of history‏

- October 22, 1992 - Georgian special forces in Sukhum burn down the state historical archive of Abkhazia and the archive of the Institute of Abkhazian language, history and literature.

- It was done to try to erase documentary proof of the Abkhazians' presence over the centuries on Abkhazian soil.

- In a single night Abkhazia's documentary history had been virtually erased.

- Institute of the Abkhazian Language, Literature and History: %95 of the archive was destroyed. 176,000 archival documents in Abkhazia before the war, 168,000 were destroyed.

- Abkhazian National Library: The works in the library numbered more than 1.5 million, including magazines and periodicals. Actual books numbered c.800.000. Not yet completed the calculation but there are 200 thousand works are missing.

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.

Two months after the Sarajevo library was left in ruins, similar deliberate acts were perpetrated in another part of Europe in a war which was never the centre of media-attention, though the consequences of the war resurfaced in August 2008 with Russia's recognition of the Republic of Abkhazia in Transcaucasia. Georgian troops entered Abkhazia on 14th August 1992, sparking a 14-month war. At the end of October, the Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature named after Dmitry Gulia, which housed an important library and archive, was deliberately torched by the invaders, who were bent on destroying the documentary evidence that proved Abkhazians' residence in their historical homeland; also targeted was the capital's public library. Though help to restore the losses has come from institutions and private donors in Russia, no further assistance has been offered by the wider international community. The short film you are about to watch is designed to alert the world to this cultural loss and thereby to encourage all in a position to do so to make the kind of help described above for Sarajevo available also to Abkhazia.

Related Articles & Excerpts

- Abkhazia's archive: fire of war, ashes of history, by Thomas de Waal - Open Democracy

- Abkhazia: Cultural Tragedy Revisited, by Thomas de Waal - IWPR.

''...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. (UNPO: November 1992 Mission to Abkhazia Report)''

''...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.''('A Pontic Greek History'' by Sam Topalidis. p.140)

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Won’t Achieve Stability in North Caucasus without Competitive Elections, Markedonov Says‏

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 20 – The local and regional elections on October 11 in the North Caucasus show confront Moscow with a choice: it can insist on “a 100-percent harvest of votes for the ruling party” with “a parallel growth of extremism,” or it could allow competitive politics so that people there will be able to influence the authorities and have a stake in their survival.

That is the judgment of Sergey Markedonov, perhaps Moscow’s most thoughtful commentator on the North Caucasus, in an essay on the various elections last Sunday across a region infamous in the past for the way in which regional officials engaged in Soviet-style manipulation of the results (

Because of that history, few analysts have looked at the recent results there with care, but that is a mistake, Markedonov insists, because “given the actual lack of public politics (at both the regional and federal level), the election campaigns at the local level” become “a most important source of information about the situation and internal dynamics” of that region.

At the very least, he continues, today they represent an important supplement to “the main source” of information the central Russian government has about the region: “analytic reports or communiqués of the law-enforcement structures and special services,” none of which are entirely disinterested or reliable.

Although over all, the party of power “celebrated is latest triumph” across the region as a whole, Markedonov notes, it did not win everywhere – indeed, in some places, no victors have been declared because of problems with the voting – but the pattern of electoral outcomes is extremely instructive, he argues.

In his essay, the Moscow specialist draws five major conclusions from the October 11 voting in the North Caucasus. First, he says, “the results show that a significant part of the population is dissatisfied with the current power and there where there is a chance, this dissatisfaction is converted into votes.

That is important, he argues, because it highlights something outside observers frequently miss: “the internal situation in the North Caucasus does not reduce itself to a choice between ‘terrorist/extremism’ and United Russia,” but rather involves “a broader spectrum” of opinion, one that could undercut the extremists if the party of power were more tolerant of opposition.

Second, those candidates who did defeat United Russia were generally independent of any exist party, an indication that “the current party structures [of the Russian Federation as a whole] are not terribly attractive for residents of the region,” something that highlights “the mistaken quality” of Moscow’s decision to ban regional parties.

Were Moscow to reverse itself on this, such regional parties would, Markedonov suggests, both attract many who might otherwise turn to radical separatism and help ensure that voters in the region would not “swell the ranks” of all-Russian parties that United Russia sees as its opponents.

Third, the elections showed that where local officials used administrative resources as was the case in Chechnya, they could achieve “Soviet-style” outcomes but that this in no way enhanced either stability or security. And where the authorities did not employ such resources, United Russia often won but by a far smaller margin.

Fourth, the protest voting, Markedonov continues, “frequently masks the frustration” residents of the North Caucasus have in their dealings with the power structures but which, except for voting they have no attractive and within-system way of manifesting. Consequently, the powers that be should welcome this rather than see it as a threat.

And fifth, the Moscow analyst argues, United Russia and its supporters need to recognize that electoral “triumphs” achieved by administrative means “have little in common with real stabilization of the situation in the North Caucasus.” Indeed, the way in which these triumphs are achieved may make the path toward stabilization even longer.

By orchestrating electoral outcomes, United Russia and the powers that be are effectively closing “official channels for the expression of opposition and protest energy (through elections and then through the activity of deputies and mayors)” and that in turn “leads opposition people to the path of radicalism.”

“In no other region of Russia,” Markedonov concludes, “are the problems of security so closely connected with the issues of democracy and the development of intra-political competition.” By closing down this feedback loop from the population, he adds, Moscow “risks struggling for the North Caucasus people without this people itself.”

Friday, 16 October 2009

Abkhazia will succeed, by President Sergei Bagapsh

Abkhazia will succeed

In freedom, not as a ward of any other nation

The Washington Times - October 16, 2009

My country is recognized by Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. A long-awaited European Union report recently concluded that any government recognizing us would be violating the law.

You might wonder then why I am so optimistic, indeed certain, that the independence of Abkhazia not only is assured, but that we will thrive politically and economically. Furthermore, I believe it is only a matter of time before we are recognized by most countries of the world.

Let me explain why I am so confident of our future.

c Most important, I am confident because our independence is rooted in a desire for justice, freedom and democracy for the Abkhazian people. I believe what the Martin Luther King said, in a statement heard around the world, "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."

Against our genuine aspirations for freedom, Georgia's leaders offer a legalistic challenge - the reclaiming of their "territorial integrity," a claim based primarily on extreme nationalism and a shotgun marriage forced upon Abkhazians by Josef Stalin in 1931.

c Second, despite war and blockade, we already have survived as an independent state for 16 years, an accomplishment conveniently disregarded by Georgia's Western friends.

c Third, we have ample potential as a nation, with a strong ethnic identity and formidable economic potential. Abkhazia's mild climate and location on the Black Sea makes us an attractive tourism destination and a crossroads for trade between Europe and Asia. We look forward to receiving thousands of visitors during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, only 20 miles north of us.

c Fourth, our people are smiling again. They no longer wear military uniforms or clean their rifles regularly. They no longer dress for mourning. They believe in a future for themselves and for their families.

c Finally, we are confident because we are no longer desperate. We can wait as long it takes for the world to come to its senses.

History tells us that no struggles for independence are regarded as legal by those who oppose them. That was true of the American War for Independence, and it's true of Abkhazia today. While we go about building our democracy and our economy, the United States and Europe continue to base their policies toward us on a false foundation.

The recent EU report concluded that Georgia started the war last year by indiscriminately killing civilians in South Ossetia, a brutal surprise attack that violated international law. Yet so many Westerners appear more concerned about the legality of our independence than Georgia's vile and unnecessary attack on civilians.

Perhaps such views are not surprising. The Cold War intellectuals who dominate thinking in Washington and Brussels don't care about Abkhazia or Abkhazians. Frankly, they don't care about Georgians either. They care only whether something is good or bad for Russia, which they hate.

Ironically, it is these intellectuals, journalists and the leaders they influence who so hotly criticize us for being reliant on Russian aid and support.

A friend of mine told me about a line from a famous old American movie called "The Big Sleep," in which Humphrey Bogart says, "You know what he'll do when he comes back? Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling." By supporting Georgia's policy of diplomatic and economic isolation of Abkhazia, the United States and Europe are, figuratively, doing that to us. They give us no alternative, then criticize us for doing what we must to survive.

When the international community denies us banking codes, Russia offers a solution. When we cannot get international railroad codes, Russia agrees to manage our railroads. When we cannot send our sickest citizens to European hospitals, we send them to Moscow. When Georgia blockades us from getting goods by sea, we get them by road and rail from Russia.

If Europe and the United States based their policies on the reality of what is happening now in our region, not on a fantasy that the Georgians will someday restore their "territorial integrity," they would recognize there is a diplomatic path of compromise and humane action that would benefit all citizens of the Caucasus, regardless of their ethnicity.

Though I first ran for office four years ago against the pro-Russia candidate, I'm more grateful than I can say for Russian support at this critical time in our history. But like other Abkhazians, I would leap at the chance to build our economy with support from others. We are an independent country, and we will not accept a future as a ward of any other nation.

I encourage the United States and Europe to join us in seeking a peaceful path forward. Nothing can make us return to rule by Georgian nationalists and despots.

We are convinced that justice eventually will arc in our direction. But it can, and would, arc much sooner with wise international leadership.

Sergei Bagapsh is president of the Republic of Abkhazia. Mr. Bagapsh is a former energy executive who was first elected president in 2005. He is running for re-election.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Documentary: ''Kanzhal Battle"

Language: Kabardian (Circassian)

Part 1 of 5

- (Part 1)

- (Part 2)

- (Part 3)

- (Part 4)

- (Part 5)

About Kanzhal battle the historical sources inform the following.

Since the beginning of 1708 the Crimean khanate began mobilization of the military forces for a war against Kabarda. The number of Crimean-Turkish army made from 40.000 up to 100.000 men.

Before the Crimean intrusion in Kabarda the Supreme prince of Kabarda Kurgoko Atazhukin achieved the full consolidation of the political elite and, accordingly, association of the military resources of specific princedoms. However the number of the armed forces of Kabarda was much lesser than the conquerors’ one (from 7 up to 12 thousand soldiers).

In the middle of the summer 1708 Tatar-Turkish armies started a military operation. The active military opposition proceeded within a month and a half.

In the beginning of September, 1708 there was a night battle near Kanzhal mountain that was the culmination of all the military campaign of that year. From the Khan’s armies approximately 5 thousand men escaped.

Kabarda, after its victory by Kanzhal, not only did not pay any tribute to Bakhchisarai, but also went over to the offensive, and in August, 1711 crushed again on Kuban the 15-thousand Crimean army.

Kanzhal battle belongs to the number of the largest night battles in the military history.

We Italians are everywhere and forever with Abkhazia

''Noi Italiani siamo d'appertutto e per sempre con l'Abkhazia''

''We Italians are everywhere and forever with Abkhazia.''

Circassian Day in Europe. 5 October 2009, Brussels

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Europe must stand up for Abkhazia and S. Ossetia: 'Response to recent correspondence in The Guardian'

Abkhaz World - 9 Oct. 2009

Pace Vaclav Havel and the co-signatories of his letter (Guardian 22nd September), ''Europe must stand up for Georgia''

The lessons of history seem not to have been learnt by your correspondents, for they blindly ignore the fact of the existence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as entities in their own right. As long as the problem is (mis)conceived as a purely Russo-Georgian affair, in which Russia is demonized as the aggressor and Georgia the victim, there will be no resolution. Mr. Havel and his colleagues are perhaps unaware that the borders of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic were drawn by Georgian nationals, Stalin and Beria, who incorporated our Abkhazian homeland into Georgia against the will of the Abkhazians themselves. This should be considered an act of national shame on a par with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact mentioned by the authors. Such biased and superficial thinking on the part of the letter's renowned signatories raises doubts about the abilities of EU policy-makers correctly to formulate policy towards Georgia in line with the continent's purported commitment to democracy and minority rights.

The EU’s 27 democratic leaders should now be thinking not of the geopolitical implications of Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia but rather how best to safeguard the security of the Abkhazian and S. Ossetian peoples in the face of the continuing threat from a Georgia which has consistently refused to sign a non-aggression pact.

Rather than pen letters urging EU support for Georgia, the first signatory, Vaclav Havel, could more usefully have advised Tbilisi on how to follow his own country's experience of a bloodless national divorce, which is why we say that Europe should follow Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela in recognizing two states which want to normalize relations with neighboring Georgia.


To Mr. Irakli Alasania:

Judging by Mr. Alasania's recent letter, Georgia had long planned military intervention in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The EU report prepared by Heidi Tagliavini and other experts has now confirmed Georgia’s aggression. Can history provide any precedent whereby such action has led to reconciliation between peoples or reunification of a fractured state? Rather than talking about mutual respect, Alasania should address his fellow Georgians with a recommendation properly to respect their Abkhazian and Ossetian neighbors.

Alasania demands of the International Community that it guarantee the security of Georgian refugees, but how can one take seriously such 'demands', when the refugee-numbers quoted in Georgian sources exceed the actual total of Georgian resident in pre-war Abkhazia, where some 60,000 have been allowed to return? Moreover, Georgia's former UN Ambassador fails to inform his readers that in 1993 Amnesty International sent the then-leader of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, a letter accusing Georgia of ethnic cleansing AGAINST Abkhazians. Georgian security has supposedly been acutely observed by a cohort of OSCE and now EU observers. Despite this, Georgia managed to attack S. Ossetia on 7 August 2008 and to escape punishment. The EU's pusillanimous silence last August and since will probably lead to further manifestations of Georgian extremism.

On the basis of the good relations he has established with certain leading members of the Abkhazian government, Alasania optimistically hopes to be able to negotiate with the Abkhazians. This clearly attests to the peaceful nature of us Abkhazians and our readiness to compromise, despite the deep wounds inflicted by Georgia's bringing war to our homeland on 14th August 1992.

Dear Mr. Alasania and Georgians, the only way to achieve reconciliation between Abkhazia and Georgia is for Georgia to recognize Abkhazia as an independent state and to build with it normal, good-neighbourly relations.

Yours sincerely,
Asida Chichba & Liudmila Agrba
Abkhaz Civil Society Activists

Friday, 9 October 2009

The EU Report: Little and Late, by Patrick Armstrong

Patrick Armstrong
Political Analyst, Ottawa, Canada - Russia: Other Point of View - October 8, 2009

The long-delayed Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia was finally issued on 30 September, 13 months after the war. It is to be found here: Vol I (Introductory); Vol II (Report); Vol III (Submitted material). In what follows quotations are from the BBC-supplied version (which is somewhat faster loading). Generally speaking, I regard it as rather little, rather late, naïve and incomplete. It is also excruciatingly delicate – even precious – in what it says and what it avoids saying. It concludes with a number of unexceptionable, but rather vague, recommendations.

It is incomplete because it, evidently seeing the conflict as one between Georgia and Russia as other commentators have, leaves the Ossetians out. While the authors feel it useful to give some historical background on Georgia, going back to the Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783, there is no equivalent discussion of the Ossetian (or Abkhazian) point of view. But, if asked, Ossetians would certainly speak of their unwillingness to be part of Georgia and refer to earlier Georgian attacks in 1920 and 1991. Their arguments for independent status (here is Abkhazia’s) should be heard out even if they are to be refuted. Tendentious perhaps but a significant factor in Ossetian (and Abkhazian) perceptions.

The fact is that the Ossetians, rightly or wrongly, do not want to be part of Georgia, fought for their independence when the Russian Empire collapsed, were placed in the Georgian SSR by Stalin-Jughashvili, tried to be excluded from it when the USSR collapsed, fought another independence war and, very probably, stopped the Georgian attack before the Russian forces got there (some Tskhinvali combat footage at 7:50). To leave their point of view out of the Report is to be incomplete. Added to which, the discussion about their citizenship (the authors assert that they were Georgian citizens) is to altogether ignore their contention that, while they were certainly Soviet citizens in 1991, they never agreed to becoming Georgian citizens. Indeed the world recognised Georgia, in the borders that Stalin gave it, while the disputes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were actually going on.

The Report is legalistic: “According to the overwhelmingly accepted uti possidetis principle, only former constituent republics such as Georgia but not territorial sub-units such as South Ossetia or Abkhazia are granted independence in case of dismemberment of a larger entity such as the former Soviet Union. Hence, South Ossetia did not have a right to secede from Georgia, and the same holds true for Abkhazia for much of the same reasons.” This may well be true from a narrow legal perspective but by dismissing the Ossetians’ wishes it hardly points to a solution of the problem. Nor should it mean that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should lose the status they had had under the Soviet system just because Tbilisi says they should. It is not Moscow’s fishing in Georgian waters, but Tbilisi’s refusal under Gamsakhurdia in the 1990s to entertain the possibility of South Ossetia and Abkhazia retaining the quasi-autonomy they had had in the Georgian SSR that is where and when this latest round in the conflict began. The world recognised Stalin’s Georgia without consideration of this problem (just as it did with Azerbaijan and Karabakh and Moldova and Transdnestr. And Russia and Chechnya). In retrospect, it would have been better had we all made recognition conditional on a civilised compromise (as, for example, Ukraine’s government negotiated with Crimea).

The Report is incomplete because it fails even to mention two important pieces of evidence. One from the former Georgian Defence Minister, Irakly Okruashvili: “But Okruashvili, a close Saakashvili ally who served as defence minister from 2004 to 2006, said he and the president worked together on military plans to invade South Ossetia and a second breakaway region on the Black Sea coast, Abkhazia.” The second, from Georgia’s former Ambassador to Russia in 2008 Erosi Kitsmarishvili who said in his November testimony in Tbilisi:
  • first that an attack was considered in 2004 (“During that meeting, President Saakashvili asked the question whether to launch a military assault on Tskhinvali or not?... We were very close to taking a decision in favor of the operation, because Okruashvili, who was in favor of the military operation, was at that time very close associate to President Saakashvili”);
  • second that there was a plan to attack Abkhazia earlier in the year that was put off (“The military operation should have been undertaken in direction of Abkhazia; military instructors from Israel were brought here in order to prepare that military operation; Kezerashvili also said at that meeting that the operation should have started in early May, or at least before the snow melted on the mountain passes; This decision was not materialized);
  • and third that Saakashvili thought that he had Washington’s approval for the attack on South Ossetia (“In the second half of April, 2008, I have learnt from the President's inner circle that they have received a green light from the western partner to carry out a military operation; When asked to specify “the western partner” Kitsmarishvili said: after a meeting with the U.S. President George W. Bush [the meeting between Bush and Saakashvili took place in Washington on March 19], our leadership was saying that they had the U.S. support to carry out the military operation; In order to double-check this information, I have met with John Tefft, the U.S. ambassador in Tbilisi and asked him whether it was true or not; he categorically denied that;”).

Thus, these two men, close to Saakashvili and to decision-making in Tbilisi, attest there was always a war plan and that there had been several close calls. This is a very important part of the background to the August war: one can assume that Moscow and Tskhinvali had knowledge of this. To leave testimony from such sources out of the Report altogether is to seriously distort the discussion of the immediate background.

The Report is naïve in its discussion of the ceasefire. In one part the authors say “On 10 August, the Georgian Government declared a unilateral ceasefire and its intention to withdraw Georgian forces from South Ossetia. This ceasefire, however, was not followed by the opposite side”. Why would Moscow believe Saakashvili? He preceded the attack on Tskhinvali with a ceasefire declaration. It is naïve of the authors to expect Moscow – or anyone – to trust Saakashvili’s declarations after that. But at another place they write: “After five days of fighting, a ceasefire agreement was negotiated on 12 August 2008 between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and French President Nicolas Sarkozy”. But did Saakashvili sign it? A French Report says that he did but another report suggests that he only signed on the 15th. There was also some confusion over just what he signed. Then the Report refers to an implementation agreement on 8 September. The Report charges “However, the Russian and South Ossetian forces reportedly continued their advances for some days after the August ceasefire was declared”. My question is which “August ceasefire?” the 10th, the 12th or the 15th? At one point the authors write “Furthermore, all South Ossetian military actions directed against Georgian armed forces after the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008 had come into effect were illegal as well.” Ah, but when did it “come into effect”? It is naïve to think that there is any such thing as a unilateral ceasefire and it is naïve to expect forces in contact to stop shooting immediately.

The Report is incomplete in its charge that “Russian armed forces, covered by air strikes and by elements of its Black Sea fleet, penetrated deep into Georgia” going “far beyond the reasonable limits of defence”. Georgia is not a very large country, to be sure, and “deep” there does not mean the same distance as it would in a larger country. But of the list of towns mentioned in the Report – Gori, Zugdidi, Senaki and Poti – Senaki, at about 40 kilometres from the Abkhazian border, is the deepest. I would not have used the word “deep” here, but that is a matter of opinion. What is more important, showing both naïvety and incompleteness, is that no reason for the Russian “penetration” is entertained. But the fleeing Georgian forces, still in contact, with no mutually agreed ceasefire, abandoned significant amounts of weapons, armoured vehicles, ammunition and fuel in the army bases at Senaki and Gori (at least a battle group’s worth in the latter). In the case of Gori, certainly and probably also Senaki, all local authorities, from the mayor to the police, had fled with the retreating army. Should Russian forces have just left these weapons unguarded? One can imagine what the authors of the Report would have said had the Russian commanders shrugged their shoulders and left these tanks, APCs and artillery pieces, fuelled and armed, to the first group of Ossetians or Abkhazians bent on revenge. Poti was a naval base for warships that had fired at Russian ships and Zugdidi is on the way to Senaki. War has its logic and part of that logic is that forces, once set in motion, seek out the enemy and destroy his resources. Until there is a ceasefire, and as we have seen, the authors of the Report fudge the issue of just when there was a mutual ceasefire, that military logic holds. Therefore this charge is weak, naïve and, its use of “deep” is rather questionable.

The Report several times charges the Russian forces with “massive and extended military action ranging from the bombing of the upper Kodori Valley to the deployment of armoured units to reach extensive parts of Georgia, to the setting up of military positions in and nearby major Georgian towns as well as to control major highways, and to the deployment of navy units on the Black Sea.” More naïvety: just because an artillery piece, or air base firing on Russian forces is not actually located in South Ossetia does not give it immunity. Russian forces attacked Georgian air assets until they stopped action; it attacked artillery units until they stopped action. It occupied key positions until there was a solid ceasefire and then it left them. That is war and, it is to be recalled, Saakashvili chose war. At least the Report avoids the fatuous expression “disproportionate”. The Russian reaction was in fact quite “proportionate”. If one wishes to see what a “disproportionate” use of force would be, one may consider the case of Novy Sad which was bombed many times by NATO aircraft in 1999: every single bridge over the Danube was destroyed, the oil refinery was destroyed, the TV station was destroyed and its water and electrical supplies were knocked out. Novy Sad is over 200 kilometres from Kosovo. Nothing like that happened to Georgia.

Many refugees were created (“far more than 100 000 civilians who fled their homes. Around 35 000 still have not been able to return to their homes”). And, given the way the war turned out, most of them are Georgians who have left (or been pushed out) from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Report spends much time discussing them, and rightly. But it fails to take into consideration what would have happened had the outcome been different. Which is naïve. There is some reason to suspect that the Georgian aim, by bombarding the population of Tskhinvali just after Saakashvili had secured surprise by saying “I have been proposing and I am proposing Russia act as a guarantor of South Ossetian autonomy within Georgia”, was to force as many Ossetians to flee north as possible. The Report ought to at least entertain the alternative possibility. But, throughout, it refuses to speculate on Tbilisi’s intentions. Which is remarkable given that the authors accept that Tbilisi fired first. What was Tbilisi trying to do? The authors are quite incurious.

On the other hand, the authors are clear that Tbilisi fired first and that its action was unjustifiable: “There is the question of whether the use of force by Georgia in South Ossetia, beginning with the shelling of Tskhinvali during the night of 7/8 August 2008, was justifiable under international law. It was not…. It is not possible to accept that the shelling of Tskhinvali during much of the night with GRAD multiple rocket launchers (MRLS) and heavy artillery would satisfy the requirements of having been necessary and proportionate in order to defend those villages.” The authors of the Report judge the action, but they do not understand it because they fail to ask the key question: “What war did Saakashvili think he was starting?” Certainly not the war he got. This failure is probably the most naïve and unreflective part of the Report. The authors treat the events of August and September 2008 as if they were disconnected: Russia is justified to do this but not that; Georgia that but not this (“In a matter of a very few days, the pattern of legitimate and illegitimate military action had thus turned around between the two main actors Georgia and Russia”). When Saakashvili ordered the opening of fire, he took an irrevocable step and transformed a long crisis into something else. The Ossetians fought back, the Russians intervened, the Georgians collapsed and fled leaving their weapons and the population they were supposed to defend behind, a period of confusion ensued in Tbilisi and elsewhere, revenge for the devastation of Tskhinvali was taken, soldiers secured themselves against danger, eventually an agreed settlement appeared and it stopped. It is a continuous flow of actions and reactions; it cannot be packaged into discrete segments and judged independently. The weakness of the legalistic approach taken by the authors of the Report is precisely this lack of context and understanding of the connectedness of events. Especially as concerning wars which are easy to start but difficult to finish. The authors seem to assume that everyone had perfect knowledge and perfect control.

But at least the Report got who started the war right and most of the headlines have concentrated on that point. It is amusing to see Tbilisi’s apologists now pretending that the bombardment didn’t really matter: “Tagliavini’s Report does state that Georgia started the war. That should not be confused with the question of responsibility. Indeed, the Report acknowledges that firing the first shot does not necessarily mean bearing responsibility for the conflict”. This is to burke the essence of what happened: Saakashvili claimed that Ossetians were Georgian citizens, and after professing his “love” for them – indeed the timing means that he must have already given the preparatory orders – ordered what the Report calls “a sustained Georgian artillery attack” on the town of Tskhinvali. Curious indeed to pretend that this action, from which there could be no turning back, is not “responsibility”.

The Report is dismissive of Moscow’s claimed justifications for action. To prevent “genocide”: well, it’s true that there were no mass deaths in Tskhinvali but the Report does not take into consideration the excited reports of casualties at the time, the thousands of refugees fleeing north or what might have happened had Tbilisi won. This is consistent with its inexplicable lack of curiosity over what Tbilisi’s plans and intentions were. It spurns Moscow’s rationale of protecting Russian citizens by decreeing that the South Ossetians were not Russian citizens at all, dismissing the issue of whether, in the conditions of the collapse of the USSR and the skirmishing already happening there (and in Abkhazia), it is really correct to say that they were Georgian citizens, given that to have accepted Georgian passports would have been to concede their whole argument and desire. It dismisses the “humanitarian intervention” justification in what seems to me to be a rather confused paragraph, (“Could the use of force by Russia then possibly be justified as a “humanitarian intervention”, in order to protect South Ossetian civilians? To begin with, it is a highly controversial issue among legal experts whether there is any justification or not for humanitarian intervention. It might be assumed, however, that humanitarian intervention to prevent human rights violations abroad is allowed only under very limited circumstances, if at all. Among major powers, Russia in particular has consistently and persistently objected to any justification of the NATO Kosovo intervention as a humanitarian intervention. It can therefore not rely on this putative title to justify its own intervention on Georgian territory. And as a directly neighbouring state, Russia has important political and other interests of its own in South Ossetia and the region. In such a constellation, a humanitarian intervention is not recognised at all”.)

But, to be sure, there was plenty of hypocrisy on Moscow’s side. In August 2008 Moscow posed as a humanitarian hero – a quality in short supply in the Chechen wars, especially the first – and a defender of self-determination, ditto. But NATO’s position (and the EU’s) was equally hypocritical: they took their stance on the principle of territorial integrity – something that apparently didn’t apply in Kosovo – and Russia’s supposedly “disproportionate” response, despite their actions in Kosovo. Moscow’s real concern, in my opinion, was the fear that Georgia’s war with South Ossetia and Abkhazia would, as it did in the 1990s, attract fighters from the North Caucasus and spread back into Russia. But, it is certain, Moscow cannot be unhappy with Saakashvili’s discomfiture and the likely end of Georgia’s entry into NATO.

Saakashvili’s story changed several times. Initially, in his “victory speech” on the 8th when he believed Georgian forces controlled “most of South Ossetia”, he made no reference to Russian forces entering South Ossetia before the Georgian attack. It was later, on the 23rd when he had a catastrophic defeat to explain away, that his story became “Russia then started its land invasion in the early hours of Aug. 7”. (No matter how preposterous the idea was that, having giving the Russian forces an 18-hour head start on a 55 kilometre road race, he would order the attack anyway). It is evident that the later charge was false – had he had evidence that the Russians had invaded, he would certainly have mentioned it on the 8th. The Report is coy in its assessment of this obvious falsehood: “The Mission is not in a position to consider as sufficiently substantiated the Georgian claim concerning a large-scale Russian military incursion into South Ossetia before 8 August 2008.” Not “sufficiently substantiated” – does that mean it’s not true? Tergiversations like this justify the adjective “little”.

As to Abkhazia; of course it seized its chance to clear Georgian forces out of the last corner of the former Abkhazian ASSR – and Tbilisi should count itself fortunate that Svanetia, Javakhetia and Ajaria did not: perhaps they would have had the war lasted longer. But, as Kitsmarishvili’s testimony shows, Abkhazia had reason to fear it would be next on the list.

This sentence caught my eye: “The military aid [from Washington to Tbilisi] was at first designed to assist Georgia in regaining full control over the Pankisi Valley in the Caucasus where Chechen fighters had allegedly sought refuge, as Russia had claimed.” “Allegedly” “as Russia claimed”? More tergiversation: was Russia correct in so claiming? A very confused sentence altogether. In fact, Moscow was correct in so claiming, as Georgian officials finally admitted in 2003 and the earlier denials by the Georgian government helped to form Moscow’s opinions about Tbilisi’s veracity and reliability.

This Report is late because all of its conclusions, thirteen months afterwards, were knowable at the time. There is nothing in the Report from Tbilisi’s starting the shooting, to the falseness of Saakashvili’s claims, to the hypocrisy of Russia’s stated war aims that I (and many others) did not see.

Thus the Report is little, late, naïve and incomplete.

And finally, I don’t pretend to any kind of knowledge of international law but, according to Wikipedia, uti possidetis is defined as “a principle in international law that territory and other property remains with its possessor at the end of a conflict, unless provided for by treaty. Originating in Roman law, this principle enables a belligerent party to claim territory that it has acquired by war. The term has historically been used to legally formalize territorial conquests, such as the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by the German Empire in 1871”. Does that mean that South Ossetia and Abkhazia were independent in 2008 by virtue of having won their independence wars against Georgia in the early 1990s? The Report is clearly referring to this meaning of the term, but one can ask. Certainly the so-called international community has to come up with a better answer to long-held grievances than the mantra of “territorial integrity”. Especially when the territory in question was designed by someone like Stalin.

Patrick Armstrong received a PhD from Kings College, University of London, England in 1976 and started working for the Canadian government as a defence scientist in 1977. He began a 22-year specialisation on the USSR and then Russia in 1984, and was Political Counsellor in the Canadian Embassy in Moscow from 1993 to 1996.