AN ABKHAZIA PHOTOGRAPH
But extreme tension.
(ABKHAZIA REPORT OF THE CAUCASUS
FOUNDATION. OCTOBER 2001)
by Fehim Taştekin
Although Abkhazia was the only one to declare its
independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union and had unilaterally put on
its agenda a federation agreement with Georgia, it unexpectedly found itself
under attack by the Georgian army. In this respect, the date of Georgian
incursion, August 14, 1992, not only brought great social and economic upheaval,
but it also exhausted all possibilities of coming together again with Georgia.
Possessing a federal structure in the Soviet Union together with the autonomous republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Adjaria, Georgia chose a unitary state structure when it became independent. In doing this it showed no regard for an autonomous republic structure like Abkhazia`s. Opposing this, the Abkhazia Parliament declared Abkhazia`s sovereignty, and while it was preparing for discussions on the federation alternative, the Abkhaz people were at least not as far from such an alternative as they are today.
In fact, on the Abkhazia side a rough draft of a federation agreement had been prepared that is almost equivalent to the idea of "Abkhazia being given broad authority within Georgia," which is frequently brought up by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. After the movement begun in 1992 and 1993 to fully annex Abkhazia to Georgia soil had cost thousands of lives, the Abkhaz side abandoned its pre-war position and chose as its indisputable goal the "fully independent state" alternative.
TO AVOID ANOTHER ABKHAZIA GEORGIA WAR
An armed terrorist group of 500 men were stationed in Georgia for the last 3-4 months and started aggression against Abkhazia since 2 October 2001. Georgia have denied the presence of this armed group but the responsibility of controlling this group is still with Georgia. The Abkhazian side believes that the said group is supported by the Georgian intelligence.
This armed group have stepped into the Kodor region of Abkhazia and have attacked to some villages and have downed a helicopter of United Nations Observers on 09 October 2001. The next provocation have been the bombardment of Kodor region by SU-25 aircraft. Georgia claimed them as Russian aircraft. Tiflis and Sohum took war positions and Russia fortified its borders.
Abkhazia is now surrounded by Georgian and Russian armies. Common sense is expected from Georgia. Any Georgian adventure will provoke all of the North Caucasu. Abkhazians have not forgotton the Georgian invasion in 1992 when everything seemed peaceful and there were plenty of federation talk.Abkhazian Parliament were reviewing the proposals of federal structures with Tiflis.There the unexpected Georgian invasion came.
There is confidence crisis between the sides. International community must take necessary steps to prevent the start of a new conflict.
HISTORY OF EXILE
The Abkhazia Kingdom, which expanded by including Western Georgia in the 10th and 11th centuries, was founded in the year 730. Later facing Arab, Persian and Byzantine incursions, Abkhazia along with other Northern Caucasian regions became a stage for seizure by the giants as an area where the Ottomans and Russia wanted to make their influence felt. Passing to the control of the Ottomans in 1555 and the Russians in 1810, Abkhazia succeeded in continuing its political existence in spite of everything.
Passing under Russian protection in 1810 under its own desire, Abkhazia entered a new period in 1864 when the autonomous administration system was eliminated, and in the 1870`s it experienced an ethnic disaster. When the wars in Caucasia ended to the disadvantage of the Caucasian people, Russia`s influence in the area increased. Close to 300,000 people, equivalent to more than half of the Abkhaz population, left their country and settled in Ottoman lands. With the abandonment of Abkhazia by its native people, groups such as Russian, Armenian, Greek, Bulgarian, German, Estonian and especially Georgians and Megrels were settled there. According to a census in 1886, the percentage of Abkhaz people was 85.7 and the Georgians comprised 6%. In the 1897 census the Abkhaz population was seen to be 55.3% and the Georgians rose to 24.4%. The population balance continued to change in the following years to the disadvantage of the Abkhaz people.
Due to opportunity presented by the political vacuum and chaos of the first years following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and with the collapse of the Northern Caucasia Republic in which Abkhazia was included, it became a part of the USSR and in 1921 Abkhazia became the Abkhazia Soviet Socialist Republic.
The essential blow to Abkhazia was made by Stalin who was a Georgian. In 1931 Abkhazia was reduced from the status of a "republic" in the USSR to an "autonomous republic" tied to Georgia. Abkhazia was not only bound to Georgia, but by means of migration policies Abkhaz people were reduced to a minority position in their own country. Sending a large part of its population to the diaspora after the 1864 exile, Abkhazia was not able to prevent its population percentage falling from 55% in the 1900's to 18% in the 1970's. In the 1937-1953 period, tens of thousands of Georgians were settled in Abkhazia from Georgia's internal regions. Georgia's population rose from 30% in 1939 to 39.1% in 1959. Without giving up anything from their steady migration policy, the Georgians' presence in Abkhazia rose to 41% in 1970, 43% in 1979 and 49% in 1989.
THE TIFLIS TRAP
While after Stalin's death in 1953 there was a sign of new hope for returning to their homelands on the part of Chechens, the Ingush and Karachais who had been exiled to Central Asia and Siberia, the Abkhaz regained some of the freedoms they had lost. However, this did not occur suddenly, but rather as the end of a process. Georgia's efforts to squeeze Abkhazia in a constitutional trap boomeranged and a new legal order was necessitated by events that had occurred. Of course, the Abkhaz, who had entered a tough war with the Russians in the 19th century, again leaned towards Moscow as a result of Georgia's oppressive policies. With the support of many Abkhaz intellectuals, meetings were held in 1957, 1964, 1967 and 1978 to remove Abkhazia from Georgia.
Abkhazian and Georgian constitutions were reshaped on the model of the new USSR constitution that was produced after events in 1978. The new constitution went one step further than the old one regarding political rights.
INDEPENDENCE, BUT HOW?
While relations between Abkhazia and Georgia were extremely tense under the Soviet umbrella, they became explosive after 1990. After Zviad Gamsahurdiya, nationalist wing leader, came to power in October, 1990, events in Georgia fanned polarization. On March 18, 1989, at the end of a meeting attended by Abkhazia, the USSR was asked to give back the status of republic to Abkhazia, which it had lost at one time. In July, 1989, a Georgia-Abkhazia conflict resulted in 19 deaths. While these conflicts made Tiflis-Sohum relations tenser, they inflamed nationalistic behavior in Georgia.
On August 25, 1990, a declaration of sovereignty was made that determined Abkhazia's destiny. The declaration accepted by the Abkhazia High Soviet proclaimed Abkhazia to be "a sovereign, socialist state fully sovereign over its own soil except for legal areas turned over to the USSR or the Georgia Soviet Socialist Republic."
Just as the glasnost process beginning during the Gorbachov period raised Abkhazia's desire for independence, the inevitable period of separation from the Soviets began in Georgia. In the Glasnost process Georgia began canceling all legal texts written since 1921. Invalidating the 1978 constitution in February, 1992, Georgia decided to return to the 1921 constitution before the Soviets. Abolishing the 1978 constitution and returning to the one of 1921, Georgia made the last document dealing with relations with Abkhazia invalid. The constitutional articles that tied Abkhazia to Georgia during the time of the USSR were considered to be invalid by Tiflis, but, with a contradictory attitude, she showed that she favored Abkhazia land to be a part of Georgia. In response, the Abkhazia side called Tiflis to determine the basis upon which Georgian-Abkhazian relations were to continue, but when there was no answer, Abkhazia abolished the 1978 constitution on July 23, 1992.
In Russia, the election of Eduard Shevardnadze's government was perceived as a new hope and beginning. In March 1992, the optimism faded as Shevardnadze's attitude that "the Abkhazian conflict would be solved in Tiblisi" became clear in Tiblisi. The Georgian leader would not admit the fact that an Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic existed. The appeals for dialogue were left unanswered during this period as well.
Abkhazia decided to form a work group in order to prepare a draft for a pact as well as to follow its 1925 Constitution until a new one could be prepared. A proposed pact between The Abkhazian Republic and The Georgian Republic, prepared by Taras Shamba was also published in three newspapers to open the proposal to the public opinion. According to this pact the republics would form "federative relations" as a "unified state." The third and the most remarkable section of the pact read, "The Abkhazian Republic voluntarily joins with The Georgian Republic, and keeps its rights to legislation, government and judgment in its borders other than those relinquished by the Georgian and The Abkhazian constitutions."
The proposal was in the Abkhazian High Soviet's agenda. Even the Abkhazian Parliament had scheduled to discuss it on 14th of August 1992 but the same day, an unexpected event turned everything upside-down: The Georgian Army crossed the Abkhazian border. Abkhazia considered the actions between 1992 and 1993 as war between the two states Georgia and Abkhazia.
It was predicted that Abkhazia would join Georgia very soon. Nobody could foresee the North Caucasian volunteer army that would join the war. The Georgian invasion happened very fast and by the end of the first day, the government buildings, broadcast centers and the most important roads were occupied but the Abkhazian side regained its power with Adighe, Abkhazian, Chechen, Armenian and even Russian voluntary forces starting from the first day of the invasion.
TRYING TO END THE WAR
Abkhazia lost five thousand people in this unexpected war. There were also thousands more wounded and permanently disabled. It is estimated that this almost two year war caused 10 billion dollars of damage.
When the war started to get out of Georgia's control, it was arranged so that Russia would start pressuring Sohum. On the 27th of July, 1993 a truce was signed by both sides in Sochi. According to the truce the Georgian forces and all the voluntaries would leave Abkhazian territory, and the Abkhazian government would resume its power. It was soon obvious that the truce had no practical meaning as both sides absolutely had no trust for each other.
In September 3rd, 1993 Boris Yeltsin, Eduard
Shevardnadze and Vladislav Ardzınba convened once more. The exhausting meeting
ended with the signing of a final declaration. According to this declaration, a
cease-fire was to be arranged, the Georgian forces were to retreat, the exchange
of prisoners of war and the return of refugees would be ensured, the powers of
the Abkhazian government would be returned throughout the republic.
Unfortunately neither the Georgian forces retreated nor the rest of the
declaration was carried out. The war continued intensely.
While Georgia and Russia were dealing with their own constitutional problems the war resumed in September 16th, 1993. Abkhazians regained the lost territories one by one until in September 30th they reached the Georgian border before the war along the Inghur River. The war ended in September 30th as the Abkhazian forces got Gagra, Sohum, Ochamchira and Gal regions back.
The meetings for an acceptable solution between Georgia and Abkhazia could only start after two months. The first round took place in Geneva in December 1st, 1993. The meetings ended with the signing of "Memorandum of Understanding," which portrayed an optimistic picture. Both sides would not threaten or revert back to the use of force until a diplomatic agreement could be reached.
UNENDING PEACE TRAFFIC
From 1993 to present there have been more than 350
stops made in the traffic of UN and OSCE meetings and around 400 documents have
been signed. After the Geneva meetings of December 1993, 11-13 January 1994, and
22-25 February 1994 and the New York meeting of 7-9 March, there was an end to
the consensus of opinion that the dispute between the two parties could be
settled through meetings. In the 29-31 March 1994 Moscow meetings, procedures
for the return of refugees from Abkhazia were discussed.
In the 4 April 1994 Moscow meeting, under the supervision of the UN General Secretary's special representative on the problem of Georgian-Abkhazian relations, E. Brunner, the Russian representative B. Postukhov and OSCE representative V. Manno, the two sides adopted the path of a political solution. The issue of the return of refugees was under the authority of the UN Refugee High Commission. A declaration was announced regarding measures for a political solution to the Georgia-Abkhazia dispute. At this stage the two parties reached an agreement on common action in the fields of foreign political and foreign economic relations, border services, customs services, energy, transportation, communication, ecology, dealing with the outcome of natural disasters, human freedoms and the rights of national minorities, as well. In Moscow in 1994 meetings were held that recommended the withdrawal of forces from the borders, a continuation of the ceasefire and the creation of a tampon region. On August 14, 1994, the Shevardnadze-Ardzinba meeting took place and resulted in a decision to continue talks. In the August 31st 1994 Geneva meeting it was recommended that Georgian soldiers evacuate Kodor. In addition, an agreement was made for those who left Abkhazia, with the exception of those who participated in the war and criminals, to return to the Gal region. On September 16th, 1994, leaders of the two countries met in Novy Afon, and renewed the effectiveness of former decisions, emphasizing the invigorization of the Trans-Caucasian Railroad. In the meeting held in Sohum on September 17th a decision was made to halt return migration operations until the Georgians left Kodor.
In the meeting held in Sochi between Shevardnadze and Ardzinba on September 19, 1994, Yeltsin was also present.
Recommending a federation to Georgia in 1997, Abkhazia took back its offer when it failed to receive either a positive or negative answer as in 1992.
On May 26, 1998, a new war rehearsal was made.
When, according to the Abkhaz side, Tiflis supported armed Georgian groups
attempted to invade the Gal region, conflict broke out and after five years
Abkhazia and Georgia were once again on the threshold of war. This attack was a
blow to floundering Georgian-Abkhazian talks, but with UN, OSCE and Russian
mediation, both sides came together in Athens on October 16-18. 1998, in
Istanbul on June 7-9, 1999, and at Yalta on March 15-16, 2001. Issues that were
decided upon but not put into operation were discussed again and confirmed.
In a referendum held on October 3, 1999, Abkhazia voted for independence.
THE EMBARGO THAT SENTENCED ABKHAZİA TO DEATH
Georgia could not manage to subject Abkhazia to
herself within the expected limit of short period and the diplomacy policy in
1994 failed. However, Georgia managed to get the CIS to accept the decision of
embargo with the help of the initiatives through diplomacy. The aim was to
isolate Abkhazia and push them to the point defined by Tiblis, Altough the
embargo is still in practice, it did not do as much harm to Abkhazia as they had
expected. Abkhazia came to a situation which disabled its exports and importing
their neneds was subjected to severe conditions as well. Abkhazia cannot even
take the products such as citrus fruit to the nearest seaport Sochi. While being
unable to take its natural resourses and products to the international markets,
Abkhazia can hardly import even the medicine it is in need of. Obstacles on
Communication and Travel
In this era of communication, Abkhazia is sentenced also to communication breakdown. In the country where all the communications network rely on the infrastucture provided by Georgia and respectively Moscow, it is very difficult to contact through the phone, send mails or telegrams , there are only a few international lines available. It is impossible for Abkhazia to reach the world when it is banned by either Tiblis, land transfer is under military supervision and and also the seaports on the Black Sea coast are under control. The embargo on transportation on Abkhazia does not allow for even standard travel on top of what is lived as a serious crisis economically. The documents issued by Abkhazia, de facto an independent state, are not accepted as valid by other countries thus it is impossible to talk about freedom to travel. Abkhazia cannot sent its citizens abroad with either a document or Id or a passport. When wanted, even the prime minister of the conutry can be denied to visit another country through procedures. Food Aid that is assumed to be extravagant.
Abkhazia could not benefit from the help provided
by other countries as food aid either. Aid sent by international humanitarian
organisations such as medicine, food and other economic support couldn't get
further than Georgia and got stuck there. Tiblis assumed an obstructive role in
passing the aid to the needy.
The Diplomacy Draw
What is more unjust is that while Georgia has full acceptance as a state by other coutries Abkhazia does not have the tools and means to support its own right in international arenas. This diminishes the chances for Abkhazian theses to be discussed. It goes without saying that Abkhazia does not have the chance for self-defence. The opportunities Georgia has in the international fields work counter to the Abkhazian diplomacy. This is more evident in the process of the emigrants' return. It has bben impossible for Abkhazia to explain to the world that 70,000 emigrants have returned to Abkhazia and settled there.
One of the most heated debates in the area has been carried on the issues of number of refugees and the conditions for return. Abkhazia claims that 70,000 of those 220,000 who had left the country were accepted back within agreements. Peace Corps Commandership also confirms the numbers. Georgian government claim that the number of refugees is 320,000 alhough the whole Georgian population according to 1989 Census in Abkhazia according to the Abkhazian officials was 239,000 , which shows the exaggeration in numbers.
The Abkhazian side maintain that in accordance with the agreement done in Tiblis in 1994 the Georgians are supposed to return in smaller groups rather as a whole. İgnoring this Tiblis poses problems on the way to solutions. At the same time uses the situation against Sohum on the international platforms. Another alleged scenario is that: Georgia exaggerates the number intentionally so as to get more aid from UN Refugees High Comissary Sohum claims that there are about 40,000 Georgians in Abkhazia who have not left their home which is disregarded by Tiblis.
Beside about 2,000 Svans now live in the Kodor valley which is not controlled by Abkhazia, and that 20- 30,000 thousand Georgians are now settled in Russia and lie there and these are not taken into consideration.
The agreement signed by Georia, Abkhazia, Russian Federation and the UN representatives in 1994 concernig the return of the refugees suggested that "Dislocated people are entitled to return to their land without any threat of arrest, custody, imprisonment or punitive act, in peace. The immunity does not encompass those who : commit crimes against humanity or military crimes, commit serious crime, have been involved in battle before and there is evidence of their being in armed formations against Abkhazia for war. However, the articles of the agreement are not in practice and the problem itself remains as a field of speculation and debate. Tiblis wants the refugees to return all at once quickly to the places they had left while Abkhazia insists that the conditions of teh agreement are followed. Sohum is especially not turning a blind eye to the ones who had fought in arms against Abkhazia.
Georgia's aim is to restore the demographic majority situation of the Georgian population in the area. However, Abkhazia claims that "the refugee problem is part of a whole picture and must be considered together with a general permanent political solution." In Shevardnadze's view, the "main problem" is the return of the refugees and the rest will come later after this issue is taken care of.