Western bias towards Georgia
The Parliamentary Human Rights Group was founded in 1976 as an independent forum in the British Parliament concerned with the defence of international human rights. Since 1976, its members have increased to a current level of 130 Parliamentarians from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. With the increase in numbers has come an increase in the range and extent of its activities. Members of the group represent all political parties, making the group broadly representative. The group undertakes human rights missions, publishes discussion papers, receives visitors and engages in dialogue with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
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George Hewitt is lecturer in Caucasian Languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and has travelled extensively in Georgia and Abkhazia since 1975. His publications include grammars of both languages and since 1985 he has published a number of articles on the politics of the region.
One of the new states to emerge from the break-up of the USSR in 1991 was the republic of Georgia in Transcaucasia, with a coast-line along the eastern littoral of the Black Sea. The north-western section of the republic had since 1931 consisted of the Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Abkhazians are a North West Caucasian people (like the Circassians, Abazinians and Ubykh) and are totally unrelated to the Georgians, who are one of the four Kartvelian peoples (the others being Mingrelians, Svans and Laz). For a variety of reasons, which are extremely pertinent to the recent tragedy of the region, the Abkhazians had been reduced to just over 17% of the population of their ancestral homeland by the time of the last Soviet census in 1989. One consequence of the virulent chauvinism which characterised the unofficial, anti-communist leadership that became ever more vocal and powerful in the Georgian independence-movement from 1988 were the ethnic clashes which occurred in Abkhazia (specifically the capital Sukhum and the southern town of Ochamchira) on 15-16th July 1989. With independence for Georgia and one of the leading demagogues, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, as president, tensions between Sukhum and the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, continued to worsen. Gamsakhurdia was ousted as a result of intra-Kartvelian feuding in January 1992, and the former General Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party (1972-85), Eduard Shevardnadze, who had come to world-prominence as Soviet Foreign Minister (1985-90), returned to his former fiefdom in March. The result for Abkhazia, when Shevardnadze sent in his forces on 14th August, was a devastating war.
That war ended in total Georgian defeat and humiliation on 30th September 1993. It is with events since that defeat that the following paper is concerned. Those interested in a detailed discussion of the background to the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict should consult my 1993 article, which takes the conflict upto the end of 1992 and includes among its appendices the English translations of both the Constitution of the Confederation of (Mountain) Peoples of the Caucasus and the draft-treaty proposed before the war by the Abkhazians for confederal union with Georgia - a variant bringing the conflict upto the start of 1994 but minus its forerunner's appendices came out in Wright et al. (1996). Another discussion, but with differing emphasis, is available in my first 1995 article. Rachel Clogg (1995) translated some highly revealing old KGB materials relating to Georgian activity in Abkhazia in the 1940s, and my own further translations of relevant materials are available this year (1996). Those wishing to find out more about Mingrelians and their language can consult my second 1995 publication.
A brief list of important events relating to the history of Abkhazia is given in Appendix 1. In Appendix 2 there is the English translation of a shortened version of a piece 'Chronicle of the Patriotic War' which appeared in the Abkhazian newspaper 'Abkhazia' on 30th September 1994 - this translation, together with the original Abkhaz and a vocabulary, will appear in George Hewitt and Zaira Khiba's 'An Abkhaz Newspaper Reader' (to appear in December 1996). Appendix 3 is the English version of the important agreement between the Abkhazians and the Georgians, signed in Moscow on 4th April 1994.
Apart from the fact that a war took place with all the consequences in terms of death, destruction and displacement of populations, little has changed since the final days of the USSR. The future political status of Abkhazia (now coupled with the question of the refugees) remains at the root of the problem, both locally and internationally The background, then, has an all too familiar ring about it, as the following discussion, divided thematically, should demonstrate.
After the expulsion from Abkhazian territory of the bulk of the invading forces on 30th Sept 1993, the immediate problem for the authorities in central Georgia was to ward off the threat posed by Gamsakhurdia (the ousted, democratically elected president of Georgia) and his supporters based in the western Georgian province of Mingrelia, which splits Abkhazia from Georgian-speaking areas proper. As Shevardnadze's defence seemed to evaporate in town after town, Gamsakhurdia set out from Mingrelia towards Georgia's second city, Kutaisi, and threatened to march on Tbilisi itself. Shevardnadze, whose entire career had (?has) been predicated on serving the Kremlin's interests in Georgia, finally gave up his attempt to keep Georgia out of the CIS and applied for membership (against a background of opposition in Parliament, ongoing even in 1996). Russia sent aid, supposedly humanitarian and of a nature to protect bridges and other transport-facilities in the west. The Gamsakhurdia-rebellion straightaway crumbled in the face of this notionally humanitarian aid, and government-forces re-established a shaky control throughout most of Mingrelia. Over the New Year 1993-94 Gamsakhurdia died under still uncertain circumstances.
Despite huge sympathy for the Abkhazian cause in Russian circles, under the influence of the Foreign Ministry, then in the hands of Shevardnadze-protege Andrei Kozyrev, an embargo was placed on Abkhazia. Even so, during this period the Abkhazians were chiefly occupied with trying to clear the last remnants of fighters from high in the Kodor valley, inhabited largely by Svans, and to secure their border with Georgia (specifically Mingrelia) along the R. Ingur. The UN had had a small presence in the shape of a group of observers in Abkhazia even before the end of the war, but now under UN auspices (Ambassador E. Brunner of Switzerland being Boutros Ghali's personal representative for the purpose) a series of meetings between Georgians (delegation-head for most meetings was Dzhaba Ioseliani, strong-man leader of the Mkhedrioni, or Cavalrymen, militia - he was eventually manoeuvred out of political life by Shevardnadze in 1995) and the Abkhazians (delegation-head was the then-Premier, Sokrat Dzhindzholia), with the Russians as facilitators (under Deputy Foreign Minister, Boris Pastukhov) began, usually alternating between Geneva and Moscow. These meetings led to the most significant political development so far, namely the "Declaration on measures for a political settlement of the Georgian/Abkhaz conflict", signed in Moscow on 4th April 1994 (see Appendix 3). A quadripartite commission (Abkhazian, Georgian, Russian, UNHCR) would be established to process applications for the return of refugees from Georgian soil, a peace-keeping force would be introduced, and UNOMIG expanded. Article 6 reads: 'Abkhazia shall have its own Constitution and legislation and appropriate state-symbols, such as anthem, emblem and flag'. Article 7 continues: 'The parties held discussions on distribution of powers on the understanding that any agreement on this issue is part of a comprehensive settlement and will only be reached once a final solution to the conflict has been found'. Furthermore, Article 5 stated that the details of the proposed peace-keeping operation would have to be agreed by both parties.
The 'Quadripartite agreement on the voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons' includes in Clause 3c the following exclusions to the right to peaceful return without detention, arrest, etc...: 'This immunity does not extend to an individual in cases where there is serious evidence that
they committed military crimes or crimes against humanity, as defined in international documents, or
they committed serious criminal offences, or
they earlier took part in military actions, and at the present time are members of armed formations prepared for military activities in Abkhazia'.
Already on a visit to New York in March Abkhazian President, Vladislav Ardzinba, had been pressured to accept peace-keepers throughout the territory of Abkhazia, which he rejected as being tantamount to occupation. Also, murky behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity was taking place under the guise of an organisation universally known as 'Friends of Georgia (FOG)' (which includes the UK, US, France, Germany and Russia), but, by the history of its actions, it has been manifestly shewn to be concerned only with bolstering the position of Shevardnadze rather than the well-being of all parties to the various conflicts disfiguring post-Soviet Georgia. Also, Russia and Georgia were growing ever closer - a military/economic agreement was signed on 14th February. In the event, the agreement on the introduction of 3,000 CIS (essentially Russian) peace-keepers along the Ingur and the delimitation of the various security-zones was signed on 14th May. In the Protocol it is stated: 'While carrying out their mission they are to observe the local laws and decrees and not create any obstacles for the activities of the local administration'.
Since spring 1994 there has been little progress - on the contrary there have been signs of attempts to go back on the accords of 4th April, which Abkhazia interprets as accepting it as a state-entity of equal status to Georgia. On 21st August Abkhazia signed a treaty with Tatarstan (part of the Russian Federation), to the ire of Moscow. Contrary to the April agreement, the head of the peace-keepers, Kondratiev, attempted to arrange a mass-crossing of the Ingur by refugees, which was in response to an order from Russian Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev (baptised in Tbilisi following the Georgian-Russian rapprochement with Georgian Defence Minister, Nadibaidze, as his godfather!), ordering the use of 'all available force' for the purpose. Prompt response from the Abkhazian population demonstrated beyond any doubt that such tactics would not be tolerated. On 26th November Abkhazia passed its new constitution (as it was entitled to do according to the April agreement), Article 1 stating:
'The Republic of Abkhazia (Apsny) shall be a sovereign democratic state based on law, which has historically become firmly established by the right of a nation to self-determination'.
Contrary to what is widely believed in the West, Abkhazia has never declared independence from Georgia, neither before nor during nor after the war, as indeed is made clear in this opening statement. Objections have been raised about the promulgation of this constitution both in Georgia and the West on the grounds that Georgia did not sanction it.
In December 1994 Yeltsin's adoption in Chechenia of the Shevardnadze-strategy for dealing with troublesome North Caucasians, namely attempted obliteration in all-out war, cast a shadow over attempts to solve the problem of Abkhaz-Georgian relations, particularly as Shevardnadze gave his unconditional backing to Yeltsin right from the start of this genocidal campaign - did Yeltsin covertly back Shevardnadze's initial invasion of Abkhazia, as many believe? Unlike the former apparatchiks still in power across most of the North Caucasian republics, Abkhazian president, Vladislav Ardzinba, did not put his signature on the document circulated by Yeltsin for rubber-stamp approval of his Chechen policy. Supposedly in a move to prevent Abkhazian fighters travelling to help the Chechens in return for strong Chechen support in 1992-93 but actually to pressure Abkhazia into being more compliant towards Georgia, Russia had closed its border with Abkhazia over the R. Psou on 19th December. In November Boutros Ghali had accepted an Honorary Doctorate from Tbilisi University, and in February 1995 his representative, Amb. Brunner, said that it was time for Abkhazia to cash in on their gains; at the talks in Geneva a FOG representative helpfully reminded the Abkhazians of the distinct lack of Western concern for the fate of the Chechens, adding that the Abkhazians had it in their own hands to destroy their own people - at an earlier round the French Ambassador had reportedly informed the Abkhazian delegation of a Georgian plan to divide Abkhazia on racial lines and that FOG endorsed this idea... Interestingly, FOG's insistence on thwarting the Abkhazians' right to self-determination contrasts markedly with the attitude of the British Foreign Secretary to self-determination in another of the world's trouble-spots: on the Radio 4 programme "Any Questions" Malcolm Rifkind stated in the very week that this article was drafted that he was in favour of self-determination for the Palestinians, and that, if such was their wish, they should have a state independent of Israel.
In March 1995 a Russo-Georgian agreement was initialled granting Russia the right to keep military bases in Georgia (including one in Abkhazia) for 25 years. During talks in Moscow on 30-31st August Abkhazian Foreign Minister, Leonid Lakerbaia, objected to moves to go back on the position agreed in April 1994, and the Abkhazian Parliament rejected the draft-protocol proposed by Russia on 24th July for Abkhazia to become part of a Georgian federation. Russian Premier V. Chernomyrdin visited Tbilisi on 15th September to agree at government-level the Russo-Georgian agreement (even though this has still not received parliamentary ratification) - alarm in Abkhazia was caused by reports that Russia would give Georgia landing-craft and even possible help in a sea-borne invasion north of the Gal province in S. Abkhazia. A limited boat-link between Trebizond and Sukhum had been established (to the intense displeasure of Tbilisi), and following orders from Russia's Foreign Ministry the port of Sukhum was closed to Abkhazian shipping on 30th October on the spurious grounds that this crucial route for supplying Abkhazia with essential supplies was being used for drug-smuggling. At the same time the travel-documents that Abkhazians had previously been using to travel not only to Russia but to Turkey and the West suddenly became invalid in Russia - even if individuals had visas to travel to the West, Russian border-guards, though letting Abkhazians cross the Psou (usually after a bribe had been paid), prevented them from leaving Russia, which is surely in contravention of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which states in paragraph 12(2): 'Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own'. In advance of a meeting in Moscow of the CIS heads of state on 19th January 1996, Shevardnadze sent Yeltsin a detailed paper on his ideas for resolving the Abkhazian problem, which in essence amounted to a total blockade of the republic. In advance of this meeting on 5th January the port of Sukhum had been closed to all shipping by order of the Russian government. The CIS meeting approved Shevardnadze's proposal effectively to strangle Abkhazia. According to Monitor (29th March), Ardzinba stated on 27th March that, unless these sanctions are removed, he would arrange an immediate referendum on whether Abkhazia should rejoin Georgia or secede and request annexation by Russia. Pressure from the Russian Parliament has led to a certain degree of backtracking from the 19th January decision, but (?illegal in international law) travel-restrictions and the port-blockade still apply. The Georgian side has for some time also been pressing for the peace-keepers to take on police-duties, which the Abkhazians absolutely reject (as indeed does the head of those peace-keepers himself).
The world's media really only started paying attention to the war in Abkhazia during the final days when Shevardnadze, instead of behaving like a sensible head of state doing all in his power to solve a crisis of his own making peacefully from his capital, was hold up with his fighters in Sukhum and was thus in a life-threatening situation. As the Kartvelians were routed, much of the Kartvelian population, which in the final Soviet census of 1989 had made up (if the figure of 239,872 is to be believed) around 46% of Abkhazia's population, fled. This was portrayed as an example of the phenomenon, which had become as a result of the multitude of examples in the former Yugoslavia a media-fad, of "ethnic cleansing", even though there was no such policy on the part of the Abkhazian authorities, and even though most of those who took flight did so before the appearance of the troops of the Abkhazian alliance.
The first accurate assessment of this flight of Kartvelians from Abkhazia that I saw was as late as 26th June 1994 in a report from Reuters - see also 'Report of a UNPO Coordinated Mission to Abkhazia and Georgia' (also from July 1994), stating: 'The majority of Georgians [sc. Kartvelians], however, fled before Abkhazian and Northern Caucasus troops arrived'.
Not only was the nature of the mass-Kartvelian withdrawal from Abkhazia misdescribed to the disadvantage of the Abkhazians, the numbers of those involved were wildly exaggerated. Initial reports spoke of 200,000 exiles, though this has increased to 250,000 (from at least the time of the April 1994 accords) and even to 300,000 (e.g. during Shevardnadze's London visit in February 1995) in the course of various propaganda-statements from Georgian leaders. The higher the number, the more sympathy the world is likely to shew towards the situation in Georgia proper and, more significantly, the greater the likely aid to the Georgian side of the Ingur. But what is worrying is the way that international bodies (from the UNHCR down) have simply accepted these figures at face-value without carrying out any sort of check themselves.
Since by no means all Kartvelians (largely Mingrelians) left Abkhazia in 1993, it is unlikely that the number of refugees reached even as many as the lowest of the three figures quoted above. Only on 15th September 1995 did the British Foreign Office minister responsible for the area, Sir Nicholas Bonsor, finally acknowledge the inaccuracy of the figures regularly bandied about by the UN and UNHCR in their unquestioning acceptance of typically unreliable information stemming from Tbilisi.
From the start of the post-war period the Abkhazians have been condemned for the reduction in Abkhazia's Kartvelian population and have been urged to permit the complete return of these displaced persons - e.g. from Security Council 3332nd Meeting of 31st January 1994: 'Condemning any attempts to change the demographic composition of Abkhazia, the Council recognized the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return without precondition'. In the first place this international concern has been concentrated on only persons displaced from Abkhazia to Georgia (viz. the Kartvelian exiles), but during the 14-month occupation by Kartvelians of the southern half of Abkhazia many Abkhazians, Armenians, Russians, Greeks (see, for instance, Clogg 1994) and Jews were forced into exile, and they most assuredly did not seek refuge on the Georgian side of the Ingur. What concern has been shewn for these, or what help has been given to facilitate the return to Abkhazia of those amongst them who wish to go back? The Georgian authorities have been repeatedly calling for a total, mass-return of exiles. As Marrack Goulding, UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs, welcomely acknowledged in a private letter on 22nd May 1995, this is, of course, out of the question. On 15th March 1995 Ardzinba offered (and this offer is still in force) to vet 200 applications per week (sc. in accordance with the quadripartite agreement of the previous year), also expressing a willingness to register the many thousands of spontaneous refugees already returned to the southernmost Gal province. This was said to be unacceptable to Tbilisi and the UNHCR, who refused to cooperate (the Quadripartite Commission has apparently not convened since 16th February 1995) - an orderly, but necessarily slow, return does not suit Tbilisi's purposes, for only by a mass-influx of people can the situation in Abkhazia be made sufficiently unstable to allow Tbilisi a pretext to send in troops for the fanciful purpose of 'establishing order' in Abkhazia.
With regard to the exiles the following points have to be taken into consideration: there are not as many exiles as is popularly believed currently in Georgia from Abkhazia. Even when applications are vetted according to the restricted numbers allowed by the Abkhazians, the individuals concerned have often not appeared at the appointed time to cross the Ingur into Gal, which raises questions about the validity of the applications and the actual desire of individuals to return anyway.
After the hatreds roused by the war and the fact that the more recent Kartvelian settlers in Abkhazia (i.e. those living north of the Gal region) were those who more willingly participated in the fighting, it cannot reasonably be expected that they will be accepted by neighbours whom they may have terrorised or whose houses they may have burned down there is no way their safety can be guaranteed (and they well know this), nor is it certain that there are homes left standing for them to occupy. When Abkhazians were driven into exile, Kartvelians looted or occupied or burned down their homes. When these Abkhazians returned, they either reoccupied their own homes, refitting them with furnishings left in abandoned Kartvelian homes (which may then have been burned), or moved into vacated Kartvelian houses. Most of these exiles from north of Gal have close relatives in Georgia and many will recall the villages from which they first moved into Abkhazia during the Beria period and will naturally feel safer in these regions of Georgia. Vastly greater numbers have left Georgia proper since the fall of the USSR in 1991 than have fled to it from Abkhazia (or South Ossetia) - the Covcas Bulletin of 20th September 1995 wrote: 'The Social Welfare Ministry of Georgia reported that one million out of the country's population of 5.5 million have emigrated since the country gained its independence in 1991', quoting, from the Georgian Iprinda news-agency, the official Archil Tsersavadze. This means that there is more room to accommodate these individuals in Georgia, where they should also be much safer, than in Abkhazia. It is here, then, that they should seek new homes, leaving Abkhazia slowly to rebuild its population from people who wish to live their NOT as agents for the nationalist politics of Tbilisi but as voluntary contributors to the future well-being of this North West Caucasian homeland. It is well known in Tbilisi that there are more possibilities to house these individuals in Georgia itself, but the government prefers to use them purely as political pawns. A further reason why their welfare is not receiving the attention it deserves and why moves are not being made actively to find them accommodation may well have to do with the fact that they are largely Mingrelians, and Mingrelians are only valued as census-fodder (when they style themselves 'Georgians') but otherwise are not very highly regarded by their Georgian cousins.
Realistically, then, it is only to the Gal district, which was originally Abkhazian but where Abkhazians were early converted to become Mingrelian speaking (i.e. towards the end of the last century) that a programme of resettlement of refugees can be seriously contemplated. As a gesture of goodwill to the Mingrelian speakers of this region the Abkhazians instituted a new trilingual newspaper in the summer of 1995. Called 'Gal', it appears in Abkhaz, Russian and Mingrelian - this is the first time since the mid 1930s, when it was banned in Mingrelia itself, that Mingrelian has been used for the benefit of native speakers of the language (other publications of folk-material have been designed primarily for scholary use alone). This attempt to do something to improve the self-pride of Mingrelians and make them aware of their distinct culture has been given no recognition in any Western comment that I have seen (and in Tbilisi it is regarded as a mere attempt to foster Mingrelian separatism).
One of the reasons that Abkhazia was always destined to become troublesome for the central Georgian authorities as the USSR started to disintegrate was that, as part of their descent into nationalist fervour, the unofficial leaders in Tbilisi (specifically the now dead Mingrelian trio of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Merab Kostava, and Gia Chanturia, Shevardnadze's most dangerous opponent of the day who was gunned down leaving his home in December 1994) whipped up the anti-Abkhazian feelings that had played such a part in the politics of Georgia since the days of Menshevik independence (1918-1921). A historian, D. Bakradze, had proposed the nonsensical idea back in the late 19th century that the present-day Abkhazians were relatively late interlopers on the 'Georgian' territory of Abkhazia, and this idea seems to have been quite independently promoted (unless, of course, he just failed to acknowledge his debt to Bakradze) by the self-taught literature-expert, Pavle Ingoroqva, in the late 1940s. When the motives for Ingoroqva's unpardonable behaviour were able to be properly and openly assessed after the deaths of Stalin and Beria in 1953, he justifiably became something of an academic outcast (till his death as a nonagenarian in the 1980s). However, these ideas were deliberately and enthusiastically resurrected in 1989, and calls were made for his academic rehabilitation for his 'contribution' to the history of Western Georgia. The most prominent academic in Tbilisi today, member of the former Soviet Academy and Hon. Member of the British and American Academies, Prof. Tamaz Gamqrelidze, published his own crude varation on this theme in 1991, arguing that the 'true' Abkhazians of history were a Georgian tribe eventually ousted by North West Caucasians who descended from the north and took over their name when they settled in their place. This was all part of a campaign to convince opinion both at home and abroad that the Abkhazians had no basic rights in what was hoped would soon become an independent Georgia. Naturally, the Abkhazians objected to this abuse of history and felt they were being subjected to similar threats to those of the Beria period - threats which were all too nastily effected with Shevardnadze's 1992 invasion. As late as May 1995 a Mingrelian member of the so-called Supreme Soviet of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia (viz. the Kartvelian faction from the pre-war governing-body of Abkhazia), one Gia Gvazava, interviewed in Georgian on Radio Liberty, was actually repeating this dangerously provocative nonsense, making it clear that Kartvelians even today will not acknowledge historical reality. Incidentally, various street-names in Tbilisi were changed after independence to eradicate signs of Soviet heroes - Georgia's State Committee for Human Rights and Ethnic Relations happens to be located (at No. 7) on one of these renamed streets: it is called "Pavle Ingoroqva Street"...
From the start Kartvelians have refused to accept any responsibility for events in Abkhazia, laying the blame on the 'some third force' or the 'Kremlin's playing the Abkhazian card'. Take the statement of Prof. Zaza Gachechiladze to the National Defense University, Strategic Forum, Institute for National Strategic Studies, March 1995: 'The civil war in Georgia [he means the war in Abkhazia] was inspired, plotted, and provoked by forces from outside Georgia, particularly Russia'. Not only do they blame Russia for the problem in Abkhazia, they lay the blame for their defeat in the Abkhazian war on Russian assistance to the Abkhazians and specifically on their participation in the fighting. As Dodge Billingsley perceptively wrote in his article 'Georgian-Abkhazian security issues' (Jane's Intelligence Review, February 1996):
'...empirical evidence suggests that Georgia is largely responsible for its own disintegration. [...] It is difficult to prove Georgian accusations of universal Russian support for Abkhazia. On many occasions, Russian actions benefitted Georgia more than Abkhazia...Georgian accusations of Russian intervention must be weighed against the neeed for assistance and a scapegoat in the face of an ill-planned military adventure with an ill-prepared military'.
Georgia is a member of the UN (and various other international bodies); indeed it was in celebration of its membership of the UN that the invasion of Abkhazia took place shortly after its admission in the summer of 1992. Georgia, therefore, has many opportunities to spread its anti-Abkhazian propaganda. It does not lose a single one. Take, for example, the letter of Georgia's permanent representative to the UN, Peter Chkheidze, of 15th February 1994: ' Fascist separatists, attempting to infringe upon the territorial integrity of Georgia, instigated an armed conflict which was sustained through substantial foreign support. [...] There is significant evidence that the preparation for an episode of ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia has been under way for many years'. This latter statement is probably true, but, like much else in Georgian propaganda, what they ascribe to their opponents is actually true of themselves (see, for example, Viktor Popkov's material in a document circulated in 1990 to all US senators on Kartvelian preparations for the disturbances in Abkhazia in July 1989, blamed by the Kartvelian propaganda-machine on the Abkhazians). In his address at Chatham House in London in February 1995 Shevardnadze himself compared the cases of Abkhazia and Chechenia as being parallel cases of 'aggressive separatism', which he urged should be put down 'no matter what the cost' wherever it occurs in the world. One can easily read this as a call for a warrant for genocide by the Moscow and Tbilisi authorities against their respective North Caucasian minorities - a warrant that the world has seemingly granted unequivocally to the former apparatchik-partners Yeltsin and Shevardnadze. Abkhazia and Chechenia should indeed be compared, but not in the terms of Shevardnadze's twisted logic - we see here blatant aggressive territorial integrationism on the part of worryingly defective leaders, whose careers and thinking were shaped by post-Stalinist communism. It should be condemned without reservation, but, far from being condemned, it has been encouraged.
As a final example of black Georgian propaganda we can cite the case of Svetlana Chervonnaya, a specialist from Moscow on Tatar affairs, who, for reasons best known to herself, chose to write a pro-Georgian, anti-Abkhazian book entitled, in the English version, 'Conflict in the Caucasus'. Let's pick out just one comment: on page 196 the author denies that the threat by the then-commander of the Kartvelian forces in Abkhazia, Gia Qarqarashvili, to wipe out all 97,000 Abkhazians was ever made, saying: "The outright exaggeration of Qarqarashvili's statement [...] is easily revealed if this text [from Nart, 2nd Sept 1992] is compared with what he actually said on TV.' Not only does anyone who has seen the TV-statement know that the threat was indeed made, but the Georgian newspaper '7 Days' printed it in Georgian translation of the Russian original in issue 31 (4-10th Sept 1992), and so the nature of Chervonnaya's deceit is plain for all to see, but how many of those receiving the no doubt free copy of this English version on their 'fact-finding' missions to Tbilisi will have this pointed out to them or take the trouble to check for themselves all the other 'facts' assembled here? As an excellent indication of the standard of scholarship in Georgia, it should be noted that Madame Chervonnaya was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Tbilisi University in April 1996...
The Georgian invasion of Abkhazia and the subsequent occupation of half of its territory for 14 months, attended by all the usual horrors of ethnic conflict, passed totally without criticism in the West. As stated in the July 1994 UNPO report (its second on the Abkhazian-Georgian affair): 'There have been a series of enquiry teams from the UN and CSCE. They appear to have paid insufficient attention to the Abkhazian case' (see the text in Central Asian Survey 14.1, 1995, 127-154). We have also seen how charges of ethnic cleansing by the Abkhazians against the Kartvelians have been ritualistically made ever since the war ended with defeat for the aggressor, coupled with abuse of the Abkhazians and their leaders. Take, for example, the statement by a so-called American expert, Dr. Charles Fairbanks, to a briefing of the CSCE in Washington, October 1993: 'Now we have the first case of ethnic cleansing in which a clear minority has cleansed the majority...It is my suspicion that the new republic of Abkhazia is going to be basically a criminal state'. One suggestion made by Fairbanks, that has not only been proposed in diplomatic and military quarters elsewhere but has actually been in part realised, was that Georgia's army should be given some professional training in the belief (of Fairbanks) that this 'will greatly reduce the level of human rights violation' - as a member of Fairbanks' audience pertinently observed: 'I think both the Germans and the Japanese were well ordered and had very good armies, and I think they committed a lot of atrocities'... My own comment to those on this side of the Atlantic who proposed offering training to Georgia was that this would only make them more effective repressors of minorities than they were before. The US Chief of Staff, who has now given some military training to Georgia, is John Shalikashvili, himself a 2nd generation American of Georgian parentage. As a further example, in a 55-page report from March 1995 by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki we read: 'Outlaw tactics by the Abkhaz, by contrast, particularly the violence following the fall of Sukhumi, proved singularly effective in driving out remaining Georgians, the strategic goal of the Abkhaz side'.
As an example of the lengths to which leading figures in Western politics will go to defend Shevardnadze's aggression, consider the case of Lord Geoffrey Howe. Howe's term of office as Margaret Thatcher's Foreign Secretary coincided with Shevardnadze's period as Soviet Foreign Minister, and so they came to know one another just as the USSR was heading for collapse: indeed, this cataclysmic event seems largely to have been mythologised, especially in Germany, as resulting directly from the cherubic smiles of Georgia's most prominent scion since Stalin.
When Shevardnadze finally made his first visit to London as Georgian Head of State in February 1995, Howe chaired the paper presented by Shevardnadze at Chatham House, mentioned earlier, and ended by heaping lavish praise on his Georgian guest for the quality of the talk. I was present in the auditorium and paid especially close attention to the comments about Abkhazia, noting inter alia that Pres. Ardzinba and the late Chechen leader, Pres. Dudaev, were unceremoniously dismissed as 'fascists'. However, it was the reference to separatism and Shevardnadze's urging of the need to extinguish it, which prompted me to write to Howe to ask if he actually agreed with his apparently close friend in this specific respect. The reply I received contained the following statement: 'My own judgement is that Shevardnadze and I would be equally reluctant to accept the view (which you attribute to him) that "separatism should be put down wherever it occurs, no matter what the cost"' (3rd April 1995). Let us, then, consider Shevardnadze's actual words as subsequently published here in the weekly journal The New Statesman, which shewed itself an unquestioning supporter of the Georgian cause in a number of issues from 1995: '[...] we will finally find the resolve to do what we have until now failed to do - to call separatism separatism, genocide genocide. We must stop this epidemic of disintegration whose consequences could eclipse all our current national horrors. We must resolve to take all prompt and necessary measures, regardless of cost and the criticisms levelled by those out for short-term gain' (26th May 1995). In other words, whilst in my letter to Howe I may not have given the precise wording of the original, I encapsulated exactly its sense. Howe, on the other hand, basically felt it his duty to protect his friend from himself by denying that he held the views that he clearly does hold. After pointing this out in my next letter, I received on 24th May a letter from Howe's personal assistant, saying: '[Lord Howe...] has concluded that their is little purpose in continuing this correspondence'. So much for informed debate...
Apart from total failure to condemn the initial Georgian invasion and resulting suffering among the non-Kartvelian residents of Abkhazia, no account has been paid to the constant flow of threats to use force in Abkhazia (in direct contravention of Clause 3 of the 4th April 1994 agreement) by both Shevardnadze and Tamaz Nadareishvili, leader of the exiled pro-Georgian faction in the pre-war Abkhazian Parliament and Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia since that exile, during the period of UN-sponsored peace-talks: after Russo-Georgian talks in January 1994, Shevardnadze threatened new bloodshed on 14th February; when the peace-keepers were first introduced, Shevardnadze promised the imminent return of the Abkhazian 'government in exile' with the help of these CIS troops; in August 1994 Nadareishvili branded Ardzinba a 'state criminal' and objected to Amb. Brunner meeting him; in February 1995 Shevardnadze justified his use of force at Chatham House, as we have seen; on 21st March 1995 Interfax reported Nadareishvili as threatening to act like Russia (sc. in Chechenia) in defence of territorial integrity and that the Georgian procurator would issue an arrest-warrant for Ardzinba; after Chernomyrdin's visit to Tbilisi on 15th September 1995 Shevardnadze boasted that Russia would soon act decisively in defence of Georgia's territorial integrity. Whenever such threats are raised with the responsible minister at the British Foreign Office, some mitigating circumstance is always found, such as in a letter of 2nd November 1995 where Sir Nicholas Bonsor chose to stress that Shevardnadze had only mentioned the possible use of force if peaceful negotiations led nowhere - in any case, there was a feeling that this could also be excused as electoral rhetoric (in advance of the November 1995 elections, as a result of which Shevardnadze at last became president of Georgia), though one cannot help but recall that the introduction of nationalist fervour into Georgian politics by the informal leaders like Gamsakhurdia in the late Soviet years had been responsible for arousing minority-opposition to Georgian independence in the very first place.
The role of The Friends of Georgia (FOG) is difficult to pin down because, as explained in a letter from the then-minister at the FCO, Douglas Hogg, of 18th October 1994, FOG has no funding, no terms of reference and issues no reports. Working closely with the UN Secretariat they are, thus, seen to be a law entirely unto themselves. However, the first point about them having no budget would seem to be belied by an official document of UNOMIG from 1994, over-stamped "CODE RESTRICTED", where there is specific reference to a particular course of action being followed if the 'Friends...are willing to foot the bill'.
If FOG has access to funds, presumably they come from tax-payers in the countries concerned, who have a right to know that their money is being used in secret ways to buttress an aggressive regime.
The State Department's annual report on Georgia for 1994 included the following remarks: 'Abkhazian authorities called for ethnically cleansing Abkhazia of all Georgians by September 27 and were credibly reported to have tortured, raped, killed, expelled, and imprisoned hundreds of Georgians and other non-Abkhaz. [...] Over 1,000 Georgians are still reported missing [...]. Some are thought to have been executed, and rumors persist that the Abkhaz are holding others in secret forced labor camps within Abkhazia. [...] However, in Abkhazia and the cease-fire zone around Gali, Abkhaz committed egregious human rights abuses against the remaining Georgians despite the presence of Russian peacekeepers. [...] Confirmed evidence of human rights violations is difficult to obtain because of the lack of access to the region and the fear of reprisal among the victims. Abkhazian separatists reportedly executed as many as 800 Georgians and other non-Abkhaz who remained in the Gali region of Abkhazia. From January through April, the following executions reportedly took place: 32 in Ganatleba; 40 in Gudara; 11 in Muxuri; 14 in Muxurchi; 9 in Tsarchushi; 55 in Okumi; 16 in Pirveli Gali; and 17 in Nabakevi. The Abkhaz police reportedly shot some victims. They also allegedly tortured some victims before burning them to death. Rape, which often took place in front of the victims' family, was so common that there were no attempts to keep statistics. Many of those executed allegedly were the elderly and women. Abkhazian police officers on November 15 seized an elderly ethnic Mingrelian man in Kokhoria, attached wires to the man's legs, and doused him with diesel fuel. They then attached the wires to a battery and repeatedly shocked the man. The man's relatives found him alive but unconscious.'
Notice how often in these passages we meet words like 'allegedly' and 'reportedly'. Indeed, it is stated in one sentence that confirmation of atrocities is difficult because of lack of access to the region. This is quite simply absurd. There has been no problem for Western officials to visit Abkhazia, crossing from Russia over the Psou since the very start of the war. It was a deliberate policy on the part of the US Government that no official representative of theirs should actually enter Abkhazia for fear of this being interpreted as some sort of recognition of Abkhazia's de facto independence. Only in April 1996 did a group of diplomats journey from the US embassy in Tbilisi for a fact-finding mission to Abkhazia. One surreal upshot of this was the case reported to me in the summer of 1995 of an American citizen who visited Abkhazia and then entered Georgia from Turkey. The US diplomats plied him with questions about the 'lawlessness' on the streets of Sukhum, asking how he managed to survive there. He answered that he felt as secure by both day and night in Abkhazia as anywhere else he had travelled, suffering armed robbery, ironically enough, only when he arrived in the centre of Tbilisi... How is one properly to understand a situation until one sees it at first hand on the ground and talks to all parties to a dispute? Of course, if one does not wish to gain these insights, essential to the formulation of appropriate and fair policy, it is hardly surprising if resulting decisions are deficient. But then the question has to be posed: to the extent that this deficiency is wilful, how far do those responsible for it share the guilt for the tragedies that have unfolded (are unfolding) as a consequence in Abkhazia, Chechenia, etc...?
Because of the mistaken Western belief that the ethnic cleansing of Kartvelians from Abkhazia had been a policy-goal from the start, there is a tendency to accept Georgian charges that all incidents of terrorism (mainly but not exclusively) in the Gal province are the fault of Abkhazians. If one takes the more accurate view that instability in Abkhazia has always been the very last thing that the pre-war 17% Abkhazian population of Abkhazia wanted and that instability there favours only the authorities in Tbilisi, allowing them to to discredit the peace-keeping and UNOMIG forces as ineffective and to make the spurious claim in international fora that they, the Georgian authorities, must thus regain control 'to reestablish order', events are more easily interpreted in an entirely different light. In March and April of 1995 large-scale policing activities were undertaken in Gal by the Abkhazians after 27 incidents of violence had caused 18 Abkhazian deaths and 26 wounded (plus 17 civilian deaths and 6 wounded, as well as 2 Russian deaths and 1 wounded). The Georgian charges were the usual hysterical ones of yet more ethnic cleansing and genocide. Interestingly the Abkhazian Interior Minister, G. Agrba, was able to declare that this operation had been cleared with the CIS commander, Gen. Yakushev, and with the Georgian Deputy Interior Minister, D. Gulua. Indeed, Yakushev put out a statement on 20th March to the effect that the information being broadcast by the Georgian media was 'a figment of the imagination'. The second operation followed an attack on the reburial of Robert Anchabadze (an Abkhazian, despite his surname, and known to the present author) who had been unceremoniously taken from his Ochamchira home during the war and shot. At the reburial there were 3 fatalities and several wounded. As the UN Secretary General's report (S/1995/342 May) states: 'UNOMIG has received evidence that the ambush on the funeral procession mentioned above was committed by elements operating from the east bank of the Inguri river, with the participation of an idividual who claimed to be in possession of a Georgian police identification card'...
Over the December/January period 1995-96 a further 10 murders were committed, as it transpired, by a band led by the Mingrelian Abesalom Arkvania. Included in the band were two Mingrelian brothers from the Abkhazian village of Reka and who were called Abshilava. They and other members of the band could speak Abkhaz and did so among themselves when carrying out their attacks to give the impression that the perpetrators were actually Abkhazians. They were all heavily armed. One hostage they took, Valeri Alania, managed to escape and reported to a group of peace-keepers he met his captors' boast that they had killed a Mr. Kvaratskhelia together with 8 members of the Sanaia family in Shesheleti on 5th January - the peace-keepers took no action...
The Deputy Premier of Abkhazia, the distinguished academic, Prof. Yuri Voronov, was assassinated in his Sukhum flat in September 1995.
The situation can be summed up by quoting from Boutros Ghali's report of January 1996 (S/1996/5):
'Emergency relief and humanitarian aid currently remain the principal focus of United Nations assistance and other donors' support to Georgia....The World Bank assists Georgia in restoring macroeconomic stability, improving living standards, strengthening public institutions in the financial sector and enhancing economic management. The International Monetary fund is proving technical assistance covering fiscal areas (tax and customs, treasury operations and fiscal management) and monetary fields (central banking) in support of the recently introduced national currency, the lari.'
To this one can add the Treaty of Partnership and Cooperation signed between the EU and Georgia in Luxembourg on 22nd April 1996.
Not one word about Abkhazia in all of this, and, of course, no assistance whatsoever has been sent to the Abkhazian authorities despite the fact that their province was the one deliberately targetted, ravaged and ruined by the Shevardnadze regime - a certain amount of humanitarian relief, particularly after the heavy floods in the late spring of 1995, received from Russia is the significant exception. Add to this the blockade instituted by Russia from the end of the war and subsequently tightened by the closure of the port of Sukhum (cutting the lifeline to Trebizond). At the same time the attitude of Western ministries and the UN is that responsibility for returning and then safeguarding tens of thousands of refugees to an area whose infrastructure has been shattered rests solely on the Abkhazian authorities - the non-refugee residents of Abkhazia evidently count for nought. No relief whatsoever for Abkhazia in terms of rebuilding, mine-clearance, medical (including psychological) aid, restocking looted cultural and educational facilities, etc... has even been considered, let alone offered. As Dodge Billingsley stated in an earlier quote, the (successive) Georgian authorities are responsible in the main for the misery that has befallen Georgia since the collapse of the USSR. Georgia should certainly not be left to sink, but it cannot be just to channel all aid solely to the central authority in a fragmented republic when that central authority has deliberately caused an utter catastrophe (and indeed periodically threatens to repeat the exercise) in an area it claims as its own but over which, thanks to its own political incompetence that manifestly continues to enjoy approval in the West, it has lost de facto control. If humanitarian aid means what it says, it should be sent wherever it is needed - that the West denies its resources to those who did all they could to avoid resorting to arms but who were left with no option other than to defend themselve! s against the miscalculations of their opponents' destructive leadership and who suffer the terrible consequences while at the same time doing all in its power to buttress those who caused this suffering is indefensible.
The source of the parallel disasters in Abkhazia and Chechenia goes back to the savagely flawed decision by the 'so-called' (to borrow an apt qualification from a Medicins Sans Frontieres activist in Chechenia) international community at the time of the disintegration of the USSR to recognise only the 15 constituent union-republics within their then-boundaries as independent states, thereby underwriting whatever actions those republican leaders should chose to take in defence of the equally dubious principle of territorial integrity. Shevardnadze may have had the qualities of ambition and deviousness that enabled him to be a typical regional Party Boss in the time of the Brezhnevite stagnation, qualities which earned for him the Georgian nickname of "Tetri Melia" (or White Fox) and general loathing amongst his fellow-Georgians for his pro-Moscow fawning, but his willingness to gamble on uniting a divided Kartvelian community (pro- versus anti-Gamsakhurdiaites) by embarking on his ill-considered war in Abkhazia reveals his true colours and basic shortcomings as a decision-maker rather than as the genial executant of the decisions of others. Just like his predecessor, Gamsakhurdia, he is prepared to sacrifice any minority on the altar of Georgian nationalism in the hope that this may secure his ever shaky position as head of state, as his continuing belligerent rhetoric makes manifest. Yeltsin is a vindictive boor with the macho-mentality of a typical Russian peasant. Just as the Abkhazians have been painted as 'muslim fanatics', 'communist agitators' against Georgian interests, and 'fascists' with the aim of undermining their cause in the eyes of gullible foreign observers, so the Chechens have been branded as a nation of 'brigands, criminals, and terrorists' in a campaign to give a semblance of justification to Yeltsin's onslaught, which in truth is an extreme expression of traditional Russian anti-Caucasian racism. Because the international community could not be bothered to take a mature and serious approach to the admittedly horrendous problems that the collapse of the USSR was always likely to throw up in terms of division and control of territory, it has not merely buttoned a collective lip over the clear abuse of state-power seen in both Abkhazia and Chechenia but has stood logic and what everyone thought were its fundamental principles of justice and fair-play on their head by both speaking and acting as if the aggressors were the victims. William Perry, US Secretary for Defence, has publicly endorsed Yeltsin's use of force (January 1996), and more recently President Clinton reached even greater heights of ludicrousness when in Moscow he compared the Chechen war to the American Civil War! Aggressive 'separatism' has been condemned on numerous occasions at the UN in reference to Abkhazia. And yet neither the Abkhazians nor the Chechens took up arms against anybody - what they did do, as would we all, was to defend themselves when attacked. Not only, then, have the aggressors not been verbally censured, they have been materially rewarded. IMF loans to Russia have more or less equalled the cost of the (still ongoing) genocide in Chechenia, and, most monstrously of all, Russia has been cynically admitted to the Council of Europe, the one institution that was established precisely to uphold the very human rights which the Kremlin is daily flouting in the Northern Caucasus, a region it only acquired by force of imperial arms in the 1860s. Georgia has also been the recipient of IMF and EU beneficence, with its Treaty of Partnership and Cooperation of 22nd April 1996. Either the West and its institutions have principles and observe standards or they do not.
The Abkhazians have been prepared since 1989 for a confederal relationship with neighbouring Georgia. It was Shevardnadze's bloodlust which led to a hugely destructive war, which he deservedly lost. Despite their tremendous achievements in expelling the invader and now holding onto their territory for almost 3 years, the Abkhazians have never declared independence (to which many might argue they are fully entitled) but are still prepared to enter a confederation as equal partners with Georgia (as envisaged in the agreement of 4th April 1994).
Is it not reasonable to expect that, having caused so much suffering, Shevardnadze should settle for what he could have achieved without any loss of life at all had he accepted what was on the negotiating-table in July 1992? If he cannot see it himself, does not the international community have a duty to put pressure on him to recognise reality?
Defeat in war surely obliges the aggressor to make some sort of compromise, unless, of course, the achievement of Western democracy at the close of the 20th century is merely to buttress bullies who justify their actions by calling themselves 'democrats', claiming to have abandoned their old faith of 'communist atheism' and to have been reborn as champions of their new deity, 'The Market Economy'? After an almost century-long war in the North Caucasus in the 19th century and after 70 years of communism, which saw the entire Chechen race transported to Central Asia for 13 years (1944-57) and the wiping of their territory from maps of that period, do not ALL Caucasians have a right to try and achieve peace and prosperity in their protecting mountains for themselves, their languages and their cultures free from abuse of their history and threats to their very physical survival by neighbouring Slavs or chauvinistically inclined fellow-Caucasians?
When asked what the British Government's view was of the fact that Abkhazia throughout the 1920s was a union-republic (albeit with treaty-ties to Georgia), the minister of the day, D. Hogg, stated that HMG were not interested in the 'maneuvrings' [sic] of the early Bolsheviks. By choosing to recognise only the 15 union-republics within their 1991 borders, the West celebrated its 'victory' in the Cold War by enshrining the (now international) boundaries which in essence were the creation of one Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhughashvili, aka Stalin, still the most prominent Georgian in history - some victory! 'Territorial integrity for ever and god help the minorities!' depressingly seems to be the best rallying-cry the West's collective wisdom can devise as panacea for the world's ethnic ills - what a noble vision for the third millennium...
1810 Abkhazia (quite separately from any region belonging to Georgia) comes under the protection of Tsarist Russia, administering its own affairs until 1864
1864 Tsarist Russia finally crushes North Caucasian resistance, and the majority of the Abkhazians (along with related Circassians and ALL the Ubykhs) go into exile in Ottoman lands, leaving the NW Caucasus decimated of its native population
1866 Further expulsions of Abkhazians to Turkey occur after trouble connected with proposed land-reform in Abkhazia
1878 Following the Russo-Turkish war Abkhazians declared 'guilty nation' for supporting Turkey - restrictions on residence inside Abkhazia and further departures for Turkey
1886 Population of Abkhazia: Abkhazians 58,961, Mingrelians 3,474, Greeks 2,056 Armenians 1,337, Russians 972, Estonians 637, Georgians 515, Others 1,460
1918 Soviet commune existed for 40 days in Abkhazia until Georgian Mensheviks forcibly annexed it (see C.E. Bechhofer "In Denikin's Russia and the Caucasus", London 1921, for contemporary Georgian nationalism)
1921 4th March Soviet power re-established. Abkhazian Soviet Republic recognised by Georgia's revolutionary committee on 21st May. Special 'contract of alliance' signed between Abkhazia and Georgia on 16th December
1922 13th December Abkhazia and Georgia together enter the Transcaucasian Federation
1925 Promulgation of the Abkhazian Constitution, sanctioning its republican status with treaty-ties to Georgia
1931 Stalin reduces the status of Abkhazia to that of an autonomous republic WITHIN Georgia in February
1937 Start of Beria's anti-Abkhazian drive, involving forced immigration ofthousands of non-Abkhazians (especially Mingrelians), placing of the local administration in Kartvelian hands, changing the Abkhaz alphabet to a Georgian base, closure in 1944-45 of Abkhazian schools, replacing them with Georgian schools, banning the Abkhaz language; post-war plan to deport the entire Abkhazian nation, using Pavle Ingoroqva's "theory" of their supposed arrival in Abkhazia only in the 17th century as "justification".
1953 Deaths of Stalin and Beria mean reversal of the anti-Abkhazian drive; new script based on Cyrillic is devised, Abkhazian schools reopen, and administration put back in Abkhazian hands
1978 130 Abkhazian intellectuals write to Brezhnev to request permission for Abkhazia to secede from Georgia and join Russia because of ongoing Georgian pressure on Abkhazian rights. In compensation, the Abkhazian State University is opened (with Georgian, Russian and Abkhazian sectors) to cater for the needs of higher education in Western Georgia The 130 letter-writers lost their jobs
1989 As a result of the agitation of Kartvelian nationalists (Gamsakhurdia, Kostava, Chanturia), ethnic clashes takes place in Abkhazia over attempts to open an illegal branch of Tbilisi University in Abkhazia's capital, Sukhum, aimed at undermining the official university established in 1978
1990 As in other autonomous republics throughout the USSR, the Abkhazian Supreme Soviet declares sovereignty over its territory
1991 An absolute majority of the entire eligible electorate of Abkhazia vote in March to remain within Gorbachev's proposed restructured USSR rather than run the risk of joining a chauvinistically inclined Georgia in its bid for independence
1992 Following the abolition in Tbilisi of all Soviet legislation affecting Georgia and the reinstatement of Georgia's 1921 pre-Bolshevik Constitution, Abkhazia reinstates its 1925 Constitution as a temporary measure since no formal status was assigned to Abkhazia in the 1921 Georgian Constitution, whereas the 1925 Abkhazian Constitution allowed for a federative relationship between the two equal republics of Abkhazia and Georgia
1992 Shevardnadze, head of the State Council that had come to power in Tbilisi as a result of the illegal coup which ousted Pres. Gamsakhurdia in January 1992, launches the invasion of Abkhazia on 14 August, as negotiations on the nature of future federal ties between Abkhazia and Georgia were in progress - his excuse was that ministers kidnapped by Gamsakhurdia supporters were being held in Abkhazia, whereas they were actually in Mingrelia. Defence Minister, Kitovani, admitted a few days later that the real reason was to bring down the Abkhazian administration of Vladislav Ardzinba
1993 Allied troops of Abkhazians, other non-Kartvelian residents of Abkhazia, and North Caucasian volunteers expel Shevardnadze and his fighters, liberating Abkhazia on 30th September
August 14 - The army of the State Council of Georgia entered the territory of Abkhazia. They moved through Gal, Ochamchira, Gulripsh and occupied the eastern corner of Sukhum.
August 18 - The Georgian invaders took control of Sukhum. They removed the State flag which stood atop Abkhazia's Government House. In the Ochamchira region, which was in the hand(s) of the enemy, partisan bands opposed him most actively. In the city of Grozny the parliament of the Congress of the mountain-peoples of the Caucasus adopted a resolution for the despatch to Abkhazia of groups of volunteer fighters.
August 19 - The Georgian invaders took control of the city of Gagra.
August 25 - The commander of the Georgian army, G. Qarqarashvili, issued the Abkhazians with an ultimatum for them to halt their unsuccessful war within 24 hours. 'Even if 100,000 out of the total number of Georgians perish, we shall wipe out the entire population of you Abkhazians, which is 97,000,' he said.
September 3 - In Moscow B. Yeltsin, E. Shevardnadze, V. Ardzinba had a meeting. They signed the summary document: there it is noted that the war should be halted from 12 o\clock on 5th September, the military forces facing one another will everywhere be pulled back, the Georgian fighters should choose some other place for relocation, the legally elected authorities of Abkhazia should be allowed to resume their work.
September 5 - When, having halted crossfire, they began mutual reconciliation, at 12.10 the Georgian artillery broke the peace and shelled the Abkhazians' strongholds in the village of Eshera. Right there at 22.30 the Georgian fighters made attacks.
September 9 - In the negotiations between the Abkhazians and the Georgians which took place in Sukhum they noted that crossfire should be halted from the 10th of the month, but the Georgian fighters took no notice of it... Even after that nothing came either of what they said to each other in order that crossfire be halted on the 15th and 17th of the month: the Georgian side continued to transgress its rules, just as it had habitually transgressed them.
October 1-6 - The operation was undertaken in Gagra and its environs to expel the enemy. On the 1st of the month at 17.00 hours the Abkhazian fighters went over to the attack; they took control of the village of Kolxida (Psaxara). After fierce battles that lasted some time our troops liberated Gagra. The Georgian airforce started to drop bombs on the town; there were many from the peaceable population who perished. At the meeting that took place in Sukhum E. Shevardnadze declared: 'Gagra always belonged to us and it must stay belonging to us - we shall soon get it back'. Abkhazian fighters, having liberated the hamlet of Leselidze (Gechripsh) from the enemy, set up the Abkhazian flag on the Abkhaz-Russian border. The military divisions of the State Council that had withdrawn crossed the Psou and fled headlong to the Russian side. They surendered their arms to the Russian border-guards.
October 23 - As a consequence of the deliberate action of the Georgian special services in Sukhum the state historical archive of Abkhazia and the archive of the Institute of Abkhazian language, history and literature were burned down.
December 14 - The Georgians brought down a Russian MI-8 helicopter in which were women and children from Tqwarchal - in all a group in excess of 60 persons - in the village of Lata. All aboard it, both big and small, perished.
Second Year of the War
July 27 - In Sochi the agreement for the ending of the war was signed.
August 9 - V. Ardzinba in the statement he sent to B. Yeltsin and Boutros Ghali drew their attention to how the Georgian side was treating with contempt the Sochi Agreement: they unceasingly shelled the Abkhazian military divisions and transgressed the timetable for the removal of the Georgian military forces from Abkhazia.
August 22 - According to the statement by the joint commision for exercising control, the Abkhazian side carried out the measures in accordance with the timetable for the pulling back of military forces facing one another, but the Georgian side did not fulfil its obligation.
August 24 - B. Yeltsin and V. Ardzinba met in Moscow. The Russian president was made to understand how the Georgian side treated with disdain the Sochi Agreement.
September 16-24 The final assault of the Abkhazian fighters' war. On 16th September they began attacks on the Eastern front. On 17th of the month Abkhazian fighters took control from top to bottom of the river Gumsta. On 20th of the month the Abkhazian fighters ordered the Georgians to lay down their weapons and to leave, departing by a safe corridor, but the Georgians did not answer. On 21-26th of the month crossfire continued on the main streets of Sukhum: on the Ochamchira front our warriors went successfully onto the attack.
"Declaration on measures for a political settlement of the Georgian/Abkhaz conflict"
1. The third round of negotiations on a comprehensive settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict took place from 22 to 25 February 1994 in Geneva, from 7 to 9 March 1994 in New York and from 29 to 31 March in Moscow under the aegis of the United Nations with the facilitation of the Russian Federation and with the participation of representatives of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and the United Nations High Commissioner fro Refugees (UNHCR).
2. The negotiations were held in accordance with Security Council resolutions 849 (1993) of 9 July 1993, 854 (1993) of 6 August 1993, 858 (1993) of 24 August 1993, 876 (1993) of 19 October 1993, 881 (1993) of 4 November 1993, 892 (1993) of 22 December 1993, 896 (1994) of 31 January 1994, 901 (1994) of 4 March 1994 and 906 (1994) of 25 March 1994.
3. By signing this declaration, the parties hereby commit themselves to a strict formal cease-fire from this date and also reaffirm their commitment to the non-use of force or threat of the use of force against each other as expressed in the Communique of 13 January 1994.
4. The parties have agreed to and signed a quadripartite agreement, a copy of which is attached to the present Declaration, on the repatriation of refugees/displaced persons. The agreement provides for the return of refugees/displaced person in accordance with existing international practice, including the practice of UNHCR.
A special commission on refugees/displaced persons, which shall include representatives of the parties, UNHCR, the Russian Federation, and CSCE in an observer capacity, shall begin its work in Sochi in mid April 1994. The implementation of the agreement will begin upon the deployment of a peace-keeping force.
5. The parties reaffirm their request for the early deployment of a peace-keeping operation and for the participation of a Russian military contingent in the United Nations peace-keeping force, as stated in the Memorandum of Understanding of 1 December 1993 and the Communique of 13 January 1994. The plan for carrying out the peace-keeping operation will be agreed upon with the parties to the conflict.
The realization of the peace-keeping operation should also promote the safe return of refugees/displaced persons.
The parties again appeal to the United Nations Security Council to expand the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).
6. Abkhazia shall have its own Constitution and legislation and appropriate state symbols, such as anthem, emblem and flag.
7. The parties held discussions on distribution of powers on the understanding that any agreement on this issue is part of a comprehensive settlement and will only be reached once a final solution to the conflict has been found.
At this stage, the parties have reached mutual understanding regarding powers for joint action in the following fields:
a) Foreign policy and forging economic ties;
b) Border guard arrangements;
d) Energy, transport and communication;
e) Ecology and elimination of the consequences of natural disasters;
f) Ensuring human and civic rights and freedoms and the rights of national minorities.
8. The parties agree to continue energetic efforts to achieve a comprehensive settlement. The parties will set up an appropriate committee, which will work on a standing basis, taking into account the decisions of the Security Council under the chairmanship of the United Nations, with participation of representatives of the CSCE and the Russian Federation and with the involvement of international experts. This body will meet alternatively in Moscow and Geneva. Its first meeting will be held in Geneva on 19 April 1994. A phased action programme will be worked out and proposals on the reestablishment of state- and legal relations will be elaborated.
9. The parties decided to take additional measures in connection with the search for missing persons and the reburial of the dead.
10. The parties, based on the fact that there is no statute of limitations applicable to war crimes, agreed to intensify efforts to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious criminal offences as defined by international and national law and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Inevitable punishment shall also be inflicted on persons who try or will try to undermine the peace process in Abkhaz by resorting to arms.
For the Georgian side: A. Kavsadze;
For the Abkhaz side: S. Dzhindzholia;
From the United Nations: E. Brunner;
From the Russian Federation: B. Pastukhov;
From the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe: A. Manno.
Moscow, 4 April 1994
The Abkhaz and Georgian sides, hereinafter referred to as the Parties, the Russian Federation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,
Recalling Security Council resolutions 849 (1993) of 9 July 1993, 854 (1993) of 6 August 1993, 858 (1993) of 24 August 1993, 876 (1993) of 19 October 1993, 881 (1993) of 4 November 1993, 892 (1993) of 22 December 1993, 896 (1994) of 31 January 1994, 901 (1994) of 4 March 1994 and 906 (1994) of 25 March 1994,
Recognising that the right of all citizens to live in and to return to their country of origin is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
Noting conclusions 18 (XXXI) and 40 (XXXVI) of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which constitutes internationally agreed principles governing the repatriation of refugees,
Acting in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Parties on 1 December 1993 and especially paragraph 4, under which Parties expressed their willingness to create conditions for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of displaced persons to their permanent places of residence in all regions of Abkhazia,
Recalling that resolution 428 (V) of 14 December 1950, by which the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ascribes to the High Commissioner the function of providing international protection to refugees and of seeking permanent resolutions for the problems of refugees, inter alia, by promoting and facilitating their voluntary repatriation,
Given the responsibility entrusted to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to act, under the Secretary-General's authority, as the international lead agency for the repatriation of displaced persons to Abkhazia,
Noting the desire of the Parties to cooperate with each other to achieve full observance of the principles and safeguards governing voluntary repatriation,
Considering the need, therefore, to establish a framework to define modalities of such cooperation for implementation of the repatriation,
Noting that the Parties agree that a repatriation operation to Abkhazia will imply, prior to its implementation, that the security and living conditions in the areas of return are guaranteed. HAVE AGREED ON THE FOLLOWING PROVISIONS:
1. The Parties agree to cooperate and to interact in planning and conducting the activities aimed to safeguard and guarantee the safe, secure and dignified return of people who have fled from areas of the conflict zone to the areas of their previous permanent residence.
2. For the purpose of the present agreement, the Parties will guarantee the safety of refugees and displaced persons in the course of the voluntary repatriation and rehabilitation operations to be organized. 3. In implementing this voluntary repatriation programme, the Parties undertake to respect the following principles:
(a) Displaced persons/refugees have the right to return voluntarily to their places of origin or residence irrespective of their ethnic, social or political affiliation under conditions of complete safety, freedom and dignity;
(b) The voluntary character of the repatriation shall be ascertained and respected through appropriate arrangements;
(c) Displaced persons/refugees shall have the right to return peacefully without risk of arrest, detention, imprisonment or legal criminal proceedings.
Such immunity shall not apply to persons where there are serious evidences that they have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity as defined in international instruments and international practice as well as serious non-political crimes committed in the context of the conflict. Such immunity shall also not apply to persons who have previously taken part in the hostilities and are currently serving in armed formations, preparing to fight in Abkhazia.
Persons falling into these categories should be informed through appropriate channels of the possible consequences they may face upon return;
(d) The Parties shall ensure that returnees, upon return, will enjoy freedom of movement and establishment including the right to return to the areas where they lived prior to leaving the conflict zone or to the area of their choice;
(e) The Parties shall ensure that refugees and displaced persons, upon return, will get their expired documents (propiska, passport) extended and validated for their previous place of residence or the elected place of return;
(f) The Parties shall ensure that repatriants, upon return, will be protected from harassment, including unauthorized charges or fees and threat to life or property;
(g) Returnees shall, upon return, get back movable and immovable properties they left behind and should be helped to do so, or to receive whenever possible an appropriate compensation for their lost properties if return of property appears not feasible.
The Commission mentioned in paragraph 5 below will establish a mechanism for such claims. Such compensation should be worked out in the framework of the reconstruction/rehabilitation programmes to be established with a financial assistance through the United Nations Voluntary Fund;
(h) Displaced persons/refugees who choose not to return to Abkhazia shall continue to be assisted and protected until acceptable alternative solutions are found for such cases;
(i) In accordance with the fundamental principle of preserving family unity, where it is not possible for families to repatriate as units, a mechanism shall be established for their reunification in Abkhazia. Measures shall also be taken for the identification and extra care/assistance for unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable persons during the repatriation process;
(j) The Parties agree that refugees and displaced persons will be guaranteed unimpeded access to all available information on the sitruation in the areas where repatriation will take place. Such an information should be provided in the framework of a campaign to be launched by the Commission as mentioned in paragraph 9 (b) below.
4. For the purpose of the implementation of voluntary return of displaced persons and refugees to Abkhazia, a quadripartite Commission is hereby established.
5. The principle tasks of the Commission shall be to formulate, discuss and approve plans to implement programmes for the safe, orderly and voluntary repatriation of the refugees and displaced persons to Abkhazia from Georgia, the Russian Federation and within Abkhazia and for their successful reintegration. Such plans should include registration, transport, basic material assistance for a period of up to six months and rehabilitation assistance.
In order to create the conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons, the Commission will establish a working group of experts to undertake an assessment of the level of damage to the economic and social infrastructure in Abkhazia, the availability of housing and the extent of damage to houses in the areas of return as well as the projected needs in rehabilitation/reconstruction, with financial implications. This survey should be undertaken region by region according to the plan of return to be worked out and accepted by the Parties, bearing in mind that the Parties have agreed to start the repatriation operation with the Gal[i] region.
6. The Commission shall be composed of four members, one being designated by each of the Parties and two representing the Russian Federation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
In addition, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) will designate a representative to attend the Commission's meetings in an observer capacity. If circumstances do not allow the designated CSCE representative to attend such meetings, the Commission will keep the CSCE mission in Georgia informed on a regular basis on the progress of the Commission's work.
7. Any member of the Commission may, when attending any meeting of the Commission, be accompanied by such advisers as the Party designating that member may deem necessary. Where a member of the Commission is unable to attend any meeting of the Commission, the Party concerned may designate a substitute.
8. The Commission shall meet as often as required, but no less frequently than once every month. Meetings of the Commission may be convened at the request of any of the members and shall be held on the territory of the Russian Federation, except as the members of the Commission may otherwise agree. The Parties agree to guarantee the personal security of the members of the Commission and personnel involved in the activities agreed.
The first meeting of the Commission shall be scheduled as soon as possible and no later than one week after the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution on a mechanism ensuring the security conditions in the areas of return.
9. During its first meeting, the Commission will set out the modalities of the assessment mentioned in paragraph 5 above and will establish a plan concerning:
(a) The areas where repatriation will be primarily conducted according to the level of guaranteed security and preparedness;
(b) The implementation of an information campaign among the displaced person/refugee population to encourage voluntary return;
(c) The registration process of persons expressing their willingness to return;
(d) The activities needed to safeguard the safety or returnees based on the principles set out in paragraph 3 (a) to (j) above;
(e) The needs for financial, transport and basic material assistance to displaced persons/refugees as well as projected needs for rehabilitation/reconstruction of the areas of return as mentioned in paragraph 5 above.
10. The Parties agree that representatives of refugees and displaced persons shall be provided with facilities to visit the areas of return and to see for themselves arrangements made for their return.
11. In the event of disagreement within the Commission regarding the application and interpretation of this Agreement, where such disagreement cannot amicably be settled among the members of the Commission, the Commission shall refer such disagreements to the Parties and to the Russian Federation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
THE PARTIES, THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION AND THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES FURTHER AGREE AS FOLLOWS:
(a) UNHCR shall have direct and unhindered access to all displaced persons/refugees from Abkhazia in order to undertake activities essential to the discharge of its mandate and operational monitoring responsibilities;
(b) Travel shall be facilitated between and within all areas where refugees and displaced persons are located and areas of return for the personnel of the United Nations and other relevant international and non-governmental agencies cooperating with the United Nations in repatriation, reintegration and rehabilitation programmes. It shall include the free use of airspace and authorized airstrips and airports for relief flights and the exemption from taxes and duties of all goods imported for use in the voluntary repatriation programmes of displaced persons/refugees from Abkhazia and for the provision of relief integration and rehabilitation assistance to the Abkhazian region by the United Nations and cooperating agencies, as well as the expeditious clearance and handling of such goods;
(c) The Russian Federation will guarantee unimpeded transit of humanitarian supplies through its territory for the purposes of the present Agreement;
(d) UNHCR shall establish local offices, as deemed appropriate, at locations to be approved by the Parties concerned, to facilitate voluntary repatriation, reintegration and rehabilitation;
(e) The security of the staff and property of the United Nations and the cooperating agencies shall be guaranteed;
(f) The allocation and continued use by the Parties, the United Nations and the cooperating agencies of particularly designated radio frequencies for radio communications between their offices, vehicles, and staff, in areas where refugees and displaced persons are located and in areas of return, shall be provided.
This agreement shall enter into force with immediate effect and shall remain in force for the period required for the effective voluntary return of the displaced persons/refugees.
In witness whereof, the authorized representatives of the Abkhaz and Georgian sides, the Russian Federation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, have signed the present agreement.
Done at Moscow, this fourth day of April 1994 in four originals, three in the Russian language, and one in the English language, the four texts being equally authentic but the English text being authoritative for interpretation purposes.
For the Abkhaz side: S. Dzhindzholia
For the Georgian side: A. Kavsadze
For the Russian Federation: B. Pastukhov
For the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: J. Amunategul
[N.B. how in (sect)5 Abkhazia and Georgia are clearly referred to as separate territorial entities - GH]
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Hewitt, B.G. 1993. 'Abkhazia: a problem of identity and ownership' in Central Asian Survey 12.3, 67-323. Also in John Wright et al. (eds.) 'Transcaucasian Boundaries', 190-225, 1996: UCL Press.
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