THE DYNAMICS AND CHALLENGES OF ETHNIC CLEANSING: THE GEORGIA-ABKHAZIA CASE
By Catherine Dale,
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the apparently ethnically-based conflict that raged in Abkhazia, a former Autonomous Republic of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, displaced hundreds of thousands of people. While negotiators have sought a political solution without success, the displaced have grappled individually with the daily realities of living "temporarily", for over four years.
There is no doubt that internal displacement complicates the search for a lasting solution in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. This essay will address the question of how this happens and explore the nature of the displacement itself. The highly confused Georgian-Abkhaz war displaced people in several different ways, and its aftermath confronts them with different sets of challenges. The central sections of the paper examine the dynamics by which forced migration and prolonged displacement work to create mobilized populations. We will look at in what sense "ethnic cleansing" was the reason for migration, and in what ways it continues to play a role, as well as at how the material and psychological characteristics of the displaced population evolve in the context of prolonged displacement. Finally, we will consider what can be learnt from the challenges presented by the specific forms of wartime ethnic violence and the daily realities of postwar experience in the Georgian-Abkhaz case.
The Abkhaz Autonomous Republic is named for the Abkhaz people, but the prewar population of Abkhazia was quite mixed. According to the 1989 Soviet census, ethnic Abkhaz were 17.8 per cent of the total population of 525,000 people, while Georgians were 45.7 per cent, Armenians 14.6 per cent, and Russians 14.3 per cent.1 The picture is more complicated however, since these demographic proportions varied throughout the period of Soviet rule, as the Georgian and Russian populations increased proportionally at the expense of the Abkhaz.2 Nevertheless, throughout the twentieth century the population has been multi-ethnic.
Throughout the period of Soviet power, this multi-ethnic population was the target of vacillating Soviet nationalities policies that assigned access to power and resources in accordance with official nationality.3 After enjoying in the 1920s the status of Union republic, attached by treaty to the Transcaucasian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, Abkhazia was joined to Georgia in 1931.4 Beginning in the 1930s, Soviet Georgianization policies closed Abkhaz language schools, changed place names, and guaranteed Georgians key official positions.5 Following the Second World War, Lavrentii Beria orchestrated resettlement of Georgians into Abkhazia to work in agriculture and the expanding industry, changing the ethnic balance of the population.6 But in 1978, in response to protests, Soviet authorities instituted "Abkhazization" affirmative action policies that reinstated Abkhaz language instruction and assigned official positions to people of Abkhaz nationality.7 These policies, with the privileges they conferred or rescinded, were applied to each citizen according to his or her official nationality, a fixed designation inscribed into the passport of every citizen over 16 years of age. Thus, changing Soviet policies over time concretized the idea of nationality for all residents of Abkhazia as an issue associated with competition for advantage.
In addition to official policies, patterns of daily life also worked to shape the ethnic consciousness of the prewar population. Almost all cities and regions were formally multinational. Residents still remaining in Tkvarcheli, for example, proclaim with pride that over fifty nationalities lived in that city of 22,000 people.8 Sukhum’s role as the designated economic and political centre for all of Abkhazia guaranteed integration at the republican level. Enterprises and state farms needed support from Sukhum in order to function, and individuals made trips to Sukhum since it was by far the best place to find many goods and services. At the household level, mixed marriages, particularly Georgian-Abkhaz, were common, and in a culture that emphasized strong ties with extended family members, for many this meant frequent inter-ethnic interaction in their own homes.
Nevertheless, at the level of village life, there was a strong tendency toward nationally compact populations. In some cases this applied to whole villages. In Ochamchire district, for example, the villages Labra and Atara Armianskaia were primarily Armenian-populated, Mokva was primarily Russian, and Kochara was primarily Georgian.9 In other cases, for example the Georgian population of Dranda, members of one nationality lived compactly within a larger village or town.10 Furthermore, agricultural and economic organization especially in the countryside tended to coincide with village boundaries. Thus to the extent that nationalities lived compactly, they also tended to be organized economically by nationality. The 500 prewar households of the Armenian town of Shaumianovka, for example, constituted the work force for a tea and tobacco state farm.11 And the neighbouring villages Tskenis-Tskali, with a largely Abkhaz population, and mostly Georgian Kochara, had shared a collective farm. But in late Soviet days they separated, forming two more or less mono-ethnic agricultural enterprises.12
Thus, Soviet authority institutionalized both macro integration through Sukhum’s economic position, and micro differentiation through employment and residence patterns, creating a patchwork patterned prewar population. Personal level interaction modified this, but the zero sum game of the cultural politics of official nationalities policies worked to reify national difference.
Against this backdrop, the conflict began as a war of laws during the Soviet collapse, capped in July 1992 by a declaration of sovereignty by a partial Abkhaz Supreme Soviet, in turn quickly annulled by the Georgian Government.13 Some weeks later Georgian troops were ordered into Abkhazia, purportedly to secure transportation and communication lines. Whatever the intentions of the Georgian forces, on 14 August in Ochamchire district south of Sukhum, Georgian and Abkhaz troops exchanged fire. The same day, Georgian troops entered Sukhum, and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardyznba declared full mobilization. As Georgian troops occupied Sukhum, the Abkhaz Government fled north to Gudauta, its base for the rest of the war, and the Gumista river just north of Sukhum became the major front line. Just over one year later, Abkhaz forces took back Sukhum and pushed Georgian forces back across the Inguri river and out of Abkhazia, an effective Abkhaz victory.
Though the war had an identifiable front line and produced an eventual victor, the fighting was far from orderly. The very first days witnessed not a planned assault but rather random widespread violence in the city of Sukhum and to the south.14 In addition to the Gumista front line, the war was also fought in patches in Ochamchire, whose villages had high prewar concentrations of Abkhaz. Lines of battle formed between villages of predominantly Abkhaz or Armenian, and Georgian population. To the east, ethnic Swans defended the Kodori river valley against the Abkhaz, while Abkhaz and many others were effectively blockaded in the mountain city of Tkvarcheli.
The patchwork population and the scattered conduct of the fighting combined to produce a war that was effectively highly localized and highly personal.15 The story of one informant, a woman from Reka, is a representative illustration.16 Reka, a village of mixed but primarily Abkhaz population in Ochamchire district, is located a few kilometres up the road from the village Okhurei, which had a largely Swan and Mingrelian population. Throughout Soviet times, the two villages shared one citrus fruit collective farm, and most residents of the two villages worked there. Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a great deal of contact and intermarriage between the two villages. This informant’s father is Abkhaz, and her mother Mingrelian, so in keeping with accepted patrilinealism she considers herself Abkhaz. But she also considers herself to be from Okhurei, where her mother’s family lived. Most members of her mother’s family fought on the Georgian side during the war along the front line that ran between the villages. Those relatives are all now displaced and living in Tbilisi, while she stays in her husband’s home in Reka, with portraits on the wall of her husband’s Abkhaz brothers who were killed in the war. For this informant and many others, the war was not a political battle for sovereignty, but a highly personal, bloody contest among neighbours and family members.
To date, the conflict remains politically unsolved, despite intensified mediation efforts throughout the summer of 1997 by the UN, the Friends of Georgia, and the Russian Federation.17 The two key substantive issues at stake are the political status of Abkhazia with respect to Georgia, and the mechanism for repatriation of the displaced Georgians.18 In addition to the substance of these issues, and perhaps more critically, participants in negotiations also differ concerning who ought to mediate the talks and guarantee the eventual solution. The question is whether any formal, elite level agreement can ameliorate the havoc wreaked by localized warfare and prolonged displacement.
3. THE CONTOURS OF DISPLACEMENT
The conflict moved several different populations, in diverse ways. In most cases, the general contours of migration are far less contested than the numbers of people involved, and claims concerning the magnitude of displacement have become effective political weapons.
Certainly the largest group affected by the war are ethnic Georgians, the vast majority of whom have left Abkhazia and have settled in other parts of Georgia.19 The Georgian Ministry for Refugees claimed in March 1997 that there were 268,072 displaced persons from Abkhazia in Georgia.20 The Abkhaz argue in turn that there were 239,900 Georgians in Abkhazia in 1989, according to the Soviet census. They claim that some never left Abkhazia, many others have repatriated already, and still others fled to Russia not Georgia. There are thus at most 140-150,000 displaced people still waiting to be repatriated in Georgia.21 Since a number of Georgians did indeed stay behind, it is difficult to see how the Georgian Government can substantiate its figures. However, without passing judgement on this issue, it is possible to describe the contours of Georgian migration. From cities, the vast majority of the Georgian population has gone. In towns that had quite small Georgian populations, like Verkhniaia Eshera above Sukhum, and Labra below it, literally all the Georgians have left.22 In other places, when residents note that Georgians have remained, it often transpires that these "Georgians" are children of mixed marriages who self-identify as Abkhaz or some other nationality.23
However, a number of Georgians never left Abkhazia, even during the fighting. Members of mixed marriages stayed, particularly if the husband was Abkhaz. Many older people stayed, particularly if they had no close relatives to help them flee or to take them into their homes in a safer place.24 Neighbours, in Nizhnaia Eshera, Tkvarcheli, Ochamchire and Kutol among other places, emphasize that these Georgians can stay with impunity precisely because they did not fight on the Georgian side. In other cases, Georgians who were long-term residents of a village considered it home and quite naturally not only stayed during the war, but also helped the Abkhaz as they were able. One older Mingrelian couple in Nizhniaia Eshera, a town on the Abkhaz side of the Gumista front line, stayed during the war, and gave the Abkhaz soldiers shelter and food. He drank his homemade wine with Abkhaz soldiers through the war and now sometimes those soldiers help the elderly couple by bringing them materials they cannot get on their own.25 In another instance, one of very few remaining young Georgian women in Tkvarcheli tells how she took care of Abkhaz soldiers during the war. These people refer to Abkhazia as "our republic".26
Those who stayed are certainly not representative of the Georgian population as a whole. The conditions under which they stayed show one way in which Georgians and Abkhaz have continued to live together. But the ominous implication is that without the full loyalty they demonstrated during the war these Georgians would not be welcome.
3.2 Russians, Armenians, Greeks
Caught in the middle of the madness were members of other official nationalities. In the earliest days of the war, Greece arranged an orderly and thorough evacuation for Abkhazia’s Greek population of about 15,000 people. Many of these long-term residents of Abkhazia have found it difficult to adjust and some have attempted to return home.
Abkhazia’s Russian and Armenian populations, each about 75,000 strong, were not temporary visitors who could simply return "home" when the fighting began. Most Armenians could trace their Abkhaz roots to the beginning of the century, and many came as a direct result of persecution in 1915. By the start of the war, Armenians in Abkhazia were Soviet cultural constructs, speaking Russian and even Turkish, living in compact Armenian villages but in a multinational society, with few or no ties to Soviet Armenia. When the war began, Armenians found themselves directly in the line of fire, but "returning" to Armenia was a nonsensical option. Instead, the most natural option for many, especially women and children, was to flee to friends or distant relatives in Russia until the end of the war. In a frequent pattern, many young people stayed on in Russia, studying or earning money to send remittances back to Abkhazia.27
Abkhaz Russians, despite cultural affinity with the Russian Federation, were also longtime residents. Like the Armenians, many Russians who had the necessary personal ties left their homes for Russia for the duration of the war, and many, particularly young people, have stayed on in Russia to work or study.28 In this way, the war scattered members of some nationalities and in some cases removed them altogether.
Unlike Georgians, Russians and Armenians, most Abkhaz did not leave the territory of Abkhazia. But Abkhaz experienced substantial internal displacement both during and after the war.29 As sources on all sides report, in Sukhum the first days of the war were accompanied by looting and physical violence against the local population.30 While Abkhaz authorities retreated to Gudauta, Abkhaz who were not engaged in fighting left Sukhum for Gagra or Gudauta to the north for the duration of the war. Similarly, Abkhaz residents of villages to the south found themselves in the middle of confused criss-crossing front lines. Some also fled north, while others sought safety to the east in Tkvarcheli. But as the war progressed, Georgians effected a blockade against that mountainous city, and local residents as well as the newly displaced sought in turn to flee from Tkvarcheli. Indeed, it was the downing by Georgian forces in December 1992 of a Russian Mi-8 helicopter evacuating women and children from that city that raised the level of general malevolence in the war and catalyzed more concerted Russian military intervention on the Abkhaz side.
After the war ended, many Abkhaz returned home, but many others entered a phase of more permanent dislocation, due to the destruction of both living space and economic infrastructure. Some Georgian authorities claim that all of post-war Abkhazia is simply depopulated. This is true in some places, for example in industrial Tkvarcheli, whose prewar population of 22,000 has been reduced to about 8,000 due to the complete collapse of industry and communication and transportation networks.31 But in other cases the claims are exaggerated, for example Georgian Presidential Adviser Irakli Machavariani’s statement that the present population of Ochamchire district is only about 3,000 people, when more than twice that number live in Ochamchire city alone.32
Instead, postwar Abkhaz migration is complicated and multidirectional. Where homes in villages have been destroyed, Abkhaz have migrated either into the cities, or into former Georgian houses and flats in other villages. Even in villages with limited destruction, many youths have left their family homes to seek an income of some kind in Abkhaz cities or even in Russia, from where they send back remittances. Meanwhile, many other families have left economically devastated urban areas with no access to food-producing land, for the countryside. Thus many city dwellers have rapidly "ruralized". This pattern stands in sharp contrast, for example, to the displaced Azeris in Azerbaijan from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding Armenian-occupied regions of Azerbaijan, two-thirds of whom were rural before displacement and two-thirds of whom now live in urban areas. On the other hand the pattern is similar to the choice faced by many Armenian refugees fleeing Azerbaijan. Given the devastation brought about by the earthquake in 1988 and the Soviet collapse, Armenia did not have the resources to resettle all of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in urban settings. Many faced a choice between accepting a new rural life and migrating further to some other country.
The key characteristic of most postwar Abkhaz migration is its partial and unfinished nature. Most of the pragmatic solutions Abkhaz have found in order to survive in the postwar setting involve subsistence agriculture, not sustainable incomes, and temporarily occupied housing, not reconstruction.
4. THE REASONS FOR DISPLACEMENT
Given the general contours of displacement during and after the war, we will now focus on seeking explanations for these patterns of migration. In particular we will consider to what extent people were displaced for "ethnic" reasons, and whether it is appropriate to use the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe the results.
One approach to this question would be to seek to determine whether there existed on either side at the highest levels a clearly formulated intention to eradicate an ethnic group. But such an intention might have existed without manifesting itself in any way during the war, while at the same time, even without a clear policy, wartime practices might be ethnically directed. In fact, the ways that people individually experienced the war, and their subjective understandings of what happened, far more directly determine future behaviour and thus the chances for a lasting settlement on the ground, than the existence or not of some official policy formulation. Therefore, the approach of this essay is to base the analysis on personal accounts of wartime experience by Georgian IDPs and current residents of Abkhazia. While over time personal understandings of what happened may be reworked and revised through ongoing conversations with others, these new collective understandings play a critical role in the search for a lasting settlement.
Many accounts suggest that Abkhaz migration during the war was prompted by the threat of personal violence against the civilian Abkhaz population for reasons of ethnicity.33 In Sukhum, certainly much thievery was perpetrated for its own sake, for economic gain. But residents relate that would-be perpetrators often first asked the nationality of the intended victim. Further, many accounts suggest that the best defence for Abkhaz was to seek shelter with Georgian friends. Georgian friends at first could turn away thieves by saying the Abkhaz in their flat were relatives, but several months into the war even this ploy ceased to work.34
Among those who fled from their homes in Sukhum, many knew immediately, through friends and acquaintances, that Georgians had moved into their flats. A young woman now living in Adziubja relates that she previously lived in her own flat in Sukhum, but it was taken over during the war by Georgians, who apparently stole everything when they left, since nothing of any value remains.35 While in fact it is not necessarily the Georgian occupants who later looted the flat, this story pattern in which Georgians are blamed, is quite widespread.
Among those who lived in the countryside, many understand that Georgians intentionally burned down Abkhaz homes during the war. An Abkhaz man in Adziubja relates that Georgians intentionally destroyed 32 of 35 Abkhaz homes in upper Adziubja, and also the local Abkhaz language school.36 And a Mingrelian woman in the market in Ochamchire tells how Georgians burned down Abkhaz homes in her own village and others nearby, in Ochamchire district.37
Theft and property destruction were not the only apparent threats. Both Natella Akaba’s parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, and Otar Kakalia’s former NGO, Askarial, have publicized information about many cases of physical threat, torture, and murder directed against ethnic Abkhaz civilians.38 All of these practices, to they extent they occurred, certainly constitute ethnically directed violence, even it if it was not centralized and coordinated, and the belief that such violence took place is widespread among Abkhaz. Much Abkhaz migration during the war can be attributed to fear of ethnic violence, and at least some postwar migration is attributable to intentional destruction of Abkhaz homes.
In addition, much of the Abkhaz leadership argues that anti-Abkhaz ethnic violence was intentional and planned. In evidence many point to the thorough destruction of the Abkhaz State Archives in the first days of the war, and the Abkhaz State Security Service produces what it claims is a Georgian military map left behind during the war, indicating plans for the complete annihilation of Abkhaz villages in Ochamchire district.39 This official Abkhaz rhetoric of ethnic violence may serve to frame popular beliefs, but it is not the only source. Instead, local level experiences during the war also work directly to generate widespread popular understanding of wartime violence.
In order to assess whether Georgian migration out of Abkhazia was ethnically driven it is necessary to consider two key parts to the claim of ethnic cleansing: that people were driven out by the threat of physical violence, and that Georgian homes and property were destroyed during and after the war to make return less likely.
Almost all displaced Georgians state clearly that they left because their lives were in danger precisely because they were Georgian. As evidence they recite stories of atrocities committed by Abkhaz forces against civilians during the war. Some of the stories are highly personal. For example a displaced Georgian in the market in Zugdidi, who is from Gal district, tells how Abkhaz forces killed her husband, and then killed her parents for good measure "just because they were Georgian".40 Another woman now living in Zugdidi tells how Abkhaz forces came to their home in Pitsunda and gave them a choice: either take an Abkhaz surname and fight on the Abkhaz side, or leave your home now.41 An older Georgian returnee to Gal district tells how after the war he witnessed Abkhaz approach a Georgian peasant neighbour and ask his surname. Hearing it was Mingrelian they proceeded to burn him.41 The role a victim’s surname plays in these stories gives the violence a distinctly ethnic character.
These personal experiences are very often augmented by stories of things that happened to other Georgians, stories of almost unspeakable horror. In a pattern that mirrors Liisa Malkki’s findings from her work on Hutu refugees in Tanzania,42 certain particularly vivid stories are told by displaced people who did not know one another in Abkhazia. In a former tourist camp in Kutaisi, a large gathering of displaced people tell of the "common practice" called the "Italian necktie", in which the tongue is cut out of the throat and tied around the neck. A woman tells of a man being forced to rape his teenage daughter, and of Abkhaz soldiers having sex with dead bodies. A man tells how in Gudauta, Abkhaz killed small children and then cut off their heads to play football with them.43 These themes are repeated in many separate accounts.
Other residents who have stayed in Abkhazia substantiate the basic claim that Georgians left in fear. Russians in Nizhnaia Eshera, for example, note that in their five-story building, in which the neighbours were all acquainted, all the Georgians are gone because Abkhaz came during the war and told them to leave.44 In Shaumianovka, Armenians note they had good relations with their former Georgian neighbours. The Georgians lived along the road up from Dranda, the only way out of Shaumianovka, and they let their Armenian neighbours pass through freely during the war. But those Georgians left because they were afraid, even if only one of their distant relatives had fought during the war.45
The question then arises of what should be concluded about the reasons for Georgian flight. In order to substantiate that Georgian mass migration was forced by ethnic violence, do we need to document that all displaced people were personally threatened at gunpoint, forced to hear of the horrors that would soon be practiced on their bodies, and given a choice whether to stay or not? Or, is it sufficient to ascertain that some unquestionably ethnically directed atrocities did take place, that people had reasonable opportunities to hear the tellings and retellings of these events, and that they fled in fear on this basis?
Concerning the second element of Georgian forced migration, many or most displaced Georgians say that their homes have been destroyed, or are now occupied by others. This knowledge comes through friends or even distant acquaintances, whom they have asked to check on the fate of their homes. In the market in Zugdidi, five displaced people say their houses in Gal district were burned after the war had ended.46 Armenians still living in Abkhazia note that Georgian homes in Dranda were intentionally attacked, and Abkhaz say the same thing about Georgian homes in Tamysh.47 Even Abkhaz authorities in Ochamchire city note that in the first days after the Abkhaz took back Sukhum and then returned to Ochamchire, it was very difficult to control looting of the homes of people who had fled.48 Looting may be an exercise primarily for economic gain, but when people of a given official nationality are disproportionately selected as victims, the crimes take on an ethnic character.
Georgian authorities at all levels, like Abkhaz officials, tend to draw together the various accounts of violence and label it "ethnic cleansing".50 One head of administration from Gal district, in a conversation in Zugdidi, recited a list of murders and lootings directed against Georgians in Gal district since the war, and asked, "Is this not genocide?" The Vice Mayor of Zugdidi agrees, noting that 5,000 Georgian houses were burned intentionally by the Abkhaz.51 The Kutaisi representative of the Abkhaz Council of Ministers in exile, echoing the words of Tamaz Nadareishvili and Zurab Erkvania, states that what happened after the war in Abkhazia was "ethnic cleansing and genocide". And he adds the personal account of his brother, who after returning to his village Otobaia in lower Gal district was attacked by the Abkhaz police and left paralyzed as a result.52
Even if it is accepted that application of the label "ethnic cleansing" to the violence enacted upon either the Abkhaz or the Georgians would require demonstrating the existence of a concerted policy on the part of the leadership, what happened in practice may be much more important than what may or may not have been intended by some political entrepreneurs. The de facto conduct of this highly local war was superlatively ethnic in character. The best evidence is less the absolute horror of some observers’ accounts than the fact that ethnicity is the primary trait of each key player in each of the accounts. Whatever role ethnicity per se may have played in producing the conflict, it has become the primary category with which people on the ground narrate and comprehend the war’s violence. In practical terms, much of the Abkhaz population, and most of the Georgian population, have been displaced; property throughout Abkhazia has been destroyed, narrowing significantly the options for reconstruction and return in the near future; and among all former residents of Abkhazia the belief prevails that the best term for characterizing what happened to them is "ethnic cleansing".
5. THE EFFECTS OF DISPLACEMENT
Flight itself, whatever terrors may have prompted it, is not the only important part of forced migration. Displacement is not only a process but a condition, in this case an ongoing one, and we must now consider what impact it has on the thousands of Georgians affected and what new patterns it creates.
5.1 Patterns of Settlement
As a result of the war most Georgians have left Abkhazia for other parts of Georgia. By remaining within the borders of the Georgian state, they are considered internally displaced persons (IDPs), a category typically problematic for international organizations more used to operating within the system of sovereign states recognized by the UN. But conversely, by staying within Georgia they remain visible, easy to identify and target as aid recipients.
As we have already indicated the IDP situation is analogous in Azerbaijan, where hundreds of thousands of IDPs from Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian-occupied regions of Azerbaijan around it have almost all relocated within Azerbaijan. In contrast, hundreds of Armenians fled Azerbaijan in the last years of Soviet rule, but rather than settle in Armenia most moved on, or never came to Armenia in the first place. Since those Armenians have dispersed around the world, they are not visible and identifiable as a single refugee population or problem that demands attention.
The displaced in Georgia are compactly settled in several senses. Not only have they almost all stayed in Georgia, there are particularly large IDP populations in Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Zugdidi. In addition, within the districts where they have settled, they tend to live in clearly bounded spaces in close proximity to one another. This is particularly true for the 40-50 per cent of the IDP population living in collective centres, rather than in the private flats of friends or relatives.53 Collective centres include empty administrative buildings, schools, kindergartens, hotels, and tourist camps, among other buildings. In Zugdidi, just across the border from Abkhazia and therefore the easiest safe place to reach, the proportion in such centres is higher, with about two-thirds of the displaced settled in collective centres.54
Flight from Abkhazia was chaotic, and whole villages seldom made the journey and settled together. Instead, the IDP residents of most collective centres come from various districts of Abkhazia and were not acquainted before the war. Nevertheless, some patterns are clear. Zugdidi has a disproportionately large IDP population from the adjacent Gal district. And Kutaisi has a high concentration from Ochamchire district, primarily because transportation between the two places was made available during the war, and because the word went out among IDPs that Kutaisi, while farther away, had a lot of living space available.
Thus the patterns of settlement of IDPs throughout Georgia work to create a relatively bounded and identifiable population.
5.2 Patterns of Mobility
There are two exceptions to this pattern of compactness and stability. The first is the population of displaced ethnic Swans. Before the war, Swans lived in Abkhazia both in the mountains in the upper Kodori river valley, and in scattered usually compact populations in villages and in Sukhum. During the war virtually all Swans from the lowlands fled up to the Kodori valley, which Swans held throughout the war, and most continued on through a mountain pass into the rest of Georgia. Many of those Swan families from Abkhazia who stayed in the Kodori valley now spend part of their time in other parts of Georgia, since Kodori is effectively cut off from its former primary economic outlet in Sukhum, and since de facto isolation makes living conditions in the winter extraordinarily difficult.55 Thus many Swans are effectively doubly displaced.
The second exception is the substantial return of Georgians to date to the Gal district in south Abkhazia, a definite and reverse population shift since the end of the war. Though all agree that some movement has taken place, the numbers involved have become a political issue. Abkhaz officials tend to stress the overwhelming magnitude of the return. Abkhaz Speaker of Parliament Sokrat Jinjolia and Head of the Presidential Commission for Refugees and Missing Persons Otar Kakalia argue that about 60,000 Georgians, from a prewar population of about 75,000, have returned and permanently resettled in Gal.56 This claim is essentially a political move, suggesting that the Abkhaz have been tolerant in permitting a return. Georgians on the other hand play down the magnitude of return. Presidential Adviser Irakli Machavariani argues that about 35,000 Georgians have returned, and that only the elderly remain continuously in Gal while others cross the Inguri river from Zugdidi on a regular basis.57 And Georgian regional authorities rate the return to Gal at only 25-30 per cent of the prewar population.58 This too is a political move, intending to suggest that the injustice of displacement, for which the Abkhaz are responsible, continues, and that the problem is still so serious that only the Georgian Government can address it effectively.
Rather than joining the political debate concerning the number of Georgians repatriated, it would be more useful to consider the question of the nature of the "return". A first indication is the sharp difference in repatriation rate between lower Gal, just across the Inguri river from Zugdidi, and upper Gal, which is far less accessible.59 People have returned to, and only to, places from which they could flee quickly should fighting begin again. Secondly, as the 31 July 1997 expiration date of the Russian peacekeepers’ mandate approached, bringing with it fears of renewed violence, IDPs poured back across the Inguri into Zugdidi and the surrounding area. Thirdly, many Gal residents who have returned note that their children remain behind in Zugdidi, "where it is safe". Also, as a young Georgian man on a brief visit home to his family in Gal noted, young men cannot stay for very long in Gal because they fear that they will be forcibly drafted by the Abkhaz army.60 And finally, representatives of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia note that the Gal militia is untrained and undersupplied, and some of its members plunder villages in search of sustenance.61 There is no effective authority in Gal district but rather a total lack of contact between Georgian village heads of administration and the Abkhaz officials in Gal city; no monopoly on the legitimate use of violence but rather undisciplined, marauding Abkhaz militia members. The "return" to Gal is thus partial and highly contingent, and nominally repatriated Georgians live in a constant state of fear and readiness to decamp at the first sign of trouble. This condition resembles less a real return than an additional layer of displacement.
5.3 Patterns of Organization
For displaced Georgians partially resident in Kodori valley or Gal district, displacement is an ongoing condition of physical dislocation. But for the rest of the Georgian IDP population as well, displacement is not a contentless pause in the normal course of events, but rather years of daily life that create new patterns and perspectives. For the Georgian IDP population, three new sets of relationships have emerged: interaction between IDPs and local populations; interaction among IDPs themselves; and ties between IDPs and Georgian political structures. Together, the practices involved in these three sets of relationships work to construct a distinct Georgian IDP population.
Firstly, IDPs in many ways are separate from local populations. This is especially true for those who live in compact bounded spaces such as former tourist camps, sanatoria, or hotels. Furthermore, unemployment tends to be higher among IDPs than among locals, and poverty in some cases prevents school attendance when families cannot afford sufficient clothing and shoes for their children. When collective centres are located in or near cities, the IDP population becomes distinctly visible. The most vivid example is the towering Iveriia hotel in the centre of Tbilisi, now home to hundreds of IDPs who stand in small groups in the square below, and whose laundry adorns the balconies on all floors. The hotel stood strikingly in the immediate backdrop during the 26 May 1997 unveiling in the square below of a dramatic new statue of Georgian historical hero David the Builder. IDPs are also visible economically, as many have set up impromptu fruit and vegetable markets throughout Tbilisi. The widespread perception among the local population is that they undersell market prices, and that many of their products are of substandard quality. Thus members of both local and displaced populations share the idea of fundamental IDP separateness.
Secondly, while most IDPs living now in any given collective centre did not know one another before the war, an array of daily practices during displacement have worked to create self-referential populations. In some cases, the need for housing itself has catalyzed organization. In Zugdidi for example, 16 previously unacquainted IDP families were living in a government administrative building, but local officials who needed to work in that space evicted them. The IDPs organized and staged a protest, which drew the attention of the authorities and humanitarian organizations, which in turn financed and constructed shelters nearby for the families.62
Even without such drama, daily practices draw IDPs together. Daily life is simply very difficult. Few IDPs have found work, and the wholly insufficient government IDP pension is only 8.5 lari, less than 7 dollars, per month. Those who do work are often engaged in small-scale trade, for example selling cheap Russian cigarettes in the market in Zugdidi, whose profits are meagre and undependable.63 Very few IDPs are dying of hunger, but almost all struggle to find enough food to feed and clothe their families, and they face the psychological strain of not knowing how or when things will improve.
In most collective centres, resources are limited, so residents meet daily at the central water pump in former camps, or in the only kitchen on the floor in hotels. Further, IDPs in settings not designed for permanent residence have organized and assigned daily tasks to make life more manageable. In a former tourist camp near Kutaisi for example, IDPs have their own schedule for garbage collection and clean-up of common areas.64 In many cases, separate schools have been established for IDP children, complete with IDP teachers, for example the First Secondary School in Zugdidi, with 400 children, and the Sixth Secondary School in Kutaisi. This arrangement works to limit contact between displaced and local children, to keep them separate. What is more, in some cases this is done intentionally. As the Kutaisi representative of the Abkhaz Council of Ministers in exile states, "We cannot allow the younger generation to blend in. We have to prepare them to return to Abkhazia. Otherwise, it would be a national tragedy."65
Locked into constant interaction with one another, IDPs tell and retell one another stories of their wartime experiences. One result is the move from individual experiences of violence in which they, the victims, happened to be Georgian, to a sea of stories of ethnic violence in which all the victims are Georgian and all the perpetrators Abkhaz. Here, prolonged displacement works to create a compelling and widely shared narrative of ethnic cleansing.
Another result is the clarification of a shared Mingrelian identity.66 Most of the displaced are in fact Mingrelian, with ancestors originally from Samegrelo in western Georgia. Mingrelians as an official nationality category were deleted from the Soviet census after 1926, but nevertheless they speak their own language or dialect. Furthermore, the first post-Soviet Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was Mingrelian, and in the civil war that accompanied his ouster by the junta that later included Eduard Shevardnadze, Mingrelians tended to support Gamsakhurdia. Many Mingrelians remain highly skeptical of Shevardnadze’s rule, and the difficult conditions of displacement and the Georgian Government’s failure to resolve the conflict and effect a return, make Shevardnadze an easy target and catalyze the notion of Mingrelian separateness.67 In both narratives, of ethnic violence and Mingrelian identity, the identity of those responsible is closely tied rhetorically with the deprivations of the concrete conditions of displacement. The challenges and mortifications of daily life during prolonged displacement are thus constant reminders of the experience of forced displacement and the Abkhaz responsible for it and the IDPs’ own shared and renewed Mingrelian ethnic identity.
Thirdly, new ties join the fragments of the IDP population to an official political structure. The Abkhaz Government in Exile removed to Tbilisi at the end of the war and has continued to function. Chair of the Supreme Council of Abkhazia in Exile Tamaz Nadareishvili provides a list of the varied activities and functions of this structure: planes between Tbilisi and Moscow, boats on the Black Sea, two state and five private institutes with 12,000 tuition-paying students, theatres, cultural events and a children’s symphony orchestra, TV and radio services, thirteen journals and newspapers, three factories in Kutaisi and Tbilisi, small enterprises throughout Georgia, thirteen schools, seven hospitals, tax inspection, customs, and all former ministries.68
Local IDPs are connected to this structure through a functioning hierarchy. As IDPs in Zugdidi, Anaklia, and Kutaisi state, in each collective centre IDPs elect their own representatives.69 These representatives are often new to political life, and are experiencing the devastations of displacement without benefit of particular privilege. The representatives travel regularly to major urban centres to meet with one another, with local authorities with responsibility for IDP issues, and with representatives of both the Georgian Ministry for Refugees and the Abkhaz Government in Exile structure. In Kutaisi for example these weekly meetings take place on Mondays at 4pm. Furthermore, in separate accounts local IDPs elected in collective centres easily name the officials to whom they take questions and problems. In the isolated Kodori valley, local Swans note that the Chair of the Georgian Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, Zurab Erkvania, comes frequently to Kodori by helicopter, and the local police force, consisting in part of Swan IDPs from Abkhazia, was trained and organized in Tbilisi before being sent back to serve in Kodori.70 In Zugdidi, in addition to weekly meetings of IDP leaders from around Zugdidi, every Monday at noon the Georgian heads of administration from almost all the villages in Gal district gather in Zugdidi and meet with both local authorities and representatives of the Government in Exile structure.
Organizationally, Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Zugdidi have become focal points for molding politically organized IDP populations linked to the Government in Exile. These relations are furthered by the roles these cities play as new economic centres for the displaced. Swans from Kodori, who formerly relied on resources in Sukhum, now utilize the Government in Exile structure and transportation to carry out business in Kutaisi or Zugdidi.71 Both IDPs in Zugdidi and those who have gone back to Gal district trade almost exclusively in the markets in Zugdidi.72 These political and economic patterns further solidify the boundaries of the IDPs as a group, and the linkages with Georgian authorities work to politicize and geographically reorient the population.
Thus, not just the physical moment of dislocation four years ago, but also the daily social, economic and political practices of the displaced work to structure a bounded, visible and mobilized population, for whom temporariness is a permanent condition.
In the absence of a political resolution, the majority of displaced Georgians have not returned home, and those who have gone back to Gal region live in constant fear. It is now necessary to look at the concrete issues that make return problematic and to consider whether the spontaneous but precarious return to Gal that has already taken place can serve as a model for return to other parts of Abkhazia, or whether Gal is indeed a completely separate issue.
6.1 Gal as Example?
Return to Gal district is de facto a fundamentally separate issue, since unlike the rest of Abkhazia, the prewar population was to 94 per cent Georgian,73 and since Gal’s physical juxtaposition with Zugdidi district makes temporary and contingent return an option. By 1997, political elites recognized the specificity of Gal, and "return to Gal" became a separate issue in elite political discourse. Conflictologists have furthered this tendency by unpacking the problem of return into its constituent geographical parts. Indeed, with its virtually mono-ethnic population, Gal district neatly avoids the most difficult issue of return: how can former combatants live together again as neighbours?
But almost all compact IDP populations include representatives from various parts of Abkhazia, and those from places outside Gal district also believe fully that they have a right to return. In fact, most IDPs seem to consider that all of the displaced have experienced similar hardships, and that all should be repatriated. The sharp distinction between Gal residents and others that appears in high level political rhetoric is markedly absent from their conversation. The risk is that the issue of returning home, a fundamental human right, in negotiations may become confused with what is convenient or expedient.
6.2 Physical Obstacles
Several concrete difficulties face IDPs who would choose to repatriate. Firstly, fighting on the ground and aerial attacks during the war demolished both housing and public buildings such as schools and administrative buildings. In addition, infrastructure including roads and communication lines was damaged or destroyed. Furthermore, in the four postwar years of economic isolation financial resources have been wholly insufficient to maintain the structures left in place after the fighting. Abkhaz authorities emphasize these points, stressing their financial inability to accommodate a mass repatriation. But Georgian IDPs throughout Georgia argue that the only important issue is repatriation, "let us go back and we will take care of everything". Physical structures can indeed be rebuilt, particularly by communities willing to organize and help one another. The experiences of organized collective life during displacement might well make this easier.
Secondly, a number of places in Abkhazia are still mined. The Mayor of Sukhum argues for example that Georgians mined the land around Sukhum when they held the city, and both Georgians and Abkhaz laid mines in Ochamchire district. Furthermore, the story continues, many mines along the Gumista river just north of Sukhum have washed away from their original places, so that no one knows where they are; and the fighting in Ochamchire was so confused that perhaps no reliable source remains concerning where all the mines are located. Therefore, a rapid mass return would certainly risk casualties.74 In fact, most roads are now free from mines, as are homes, buildings and land that people have inhabited during the past four years. Destroyed buildings and abandoned fields, however, are quite likely still to be mined. The risk here is real, but for over a year Abkhaz and Georgian officials have participated in negotiations with a demining organization, Halo Trust, and demining is a plausible option.
Thirdly, and by far most problematically, many former Georgian houses and flats have been occupied by others. In the last confused days of the war as Georgians fled, it was a common practice for Abkhaz occupying a Georgian home in or near Sukhum to spray paint "occupied" on the front gate, so that others would not try also to move into the house or plunder it. Some of these Abkhaz migrated because their own homes had been destroyed, while others found life in their former homes economically untenable. In a building near a grain processing factory in Nizhnaia Eshera, longtime Abkhaz residents note that most of the prewar residents were Georgians, who all left after the war. Now, almost all of the flats have been occupied by Abkhaz families whose homes on the north side of the Gumista river, directly along the front lines, were destroyed during the war.75 Along the main street in Dranda, a new arrival says that most of the former Georgian homes in Dranda have been occupied by Abkhaz, particularly those fleeing economic devastation in Tkvarcheli.76
Abkhaz voice a wide array of attitudes toward the de facto occupation. Many express deep regret at the action, though after their homes and all their possessions were destroyed, they felt they had no other choice if they wanted to keep their families alive. Others note aggressively that "of course" they took the homes, because they were available. In this vein, when asked about a potential Georgian return, one woman noted, "yes, but since we have occupied their flats they would have nowhere to live".77
In principle, none of these three issues should present an insurmountable problem. Infrastructure can be rebuilt, land can be demined, and sufficient housing can be found or built. But a number of individual cases of house or flat occupation promise to require caution, and it is not clear who will be capable of adjudicating these issues wisely.
6.3 Security Guarantees
By far the most problematic aspect of repatriation is the question of "security". Political elites on both sides, IDPs, and local residents of Abkhazia all agree that a guarantee of security is essential, but there is far less agreement concerning who ought to provide that security; for whom security is necessary, that is to say, who is in danger; and what exceptions there might be to a universal guarantee of security.
As an extension of the rhetoric concerning who holds legitimate political authority in Abkhazia, Georgian and Abkhaz elites each consider that they are capable of providing security unilaterally. Erkvania states for example, that the Abkhaz Government in Exile can guarantee the physical security of all returnees, and that no outside help would be needed.78 The Deputy Minister for Refugees in Zugdidi notes that the logistics of returning the refugees are not a problem, since all the necessary information is contained in their database. The crucial issue is security, and the only guarantee is Georgian authority, Georgian administration, and a Georgian army.79 The Georgian heads of administration from Gal district agree they could keep order if given the chance.80
Abkhaz officials argue instead that they should provide the needed security guarantee for all. Abkhaz Speaker of Parliament Sokrat Jinjolia notes first that in fact no one is harming the Georgians who have returned to Gal district, and he adds that if Abkhaz were allowed to take weapons into the Security Zone they could keep order without problem.81
Not only do Georgian and Abkhaz officials disagree irreconcilably about who ought to provide security, both would restrict the category of those entitled to security in the first place. In Tbilisi, Nadareishvili states clearly that it is not possible to live together again with "bandits, those responsible for ethnic cleansing and genocide" and in fact any who killed Georgians. This includes everyone in government, and also anyone who fought against Georgian territorial integrity.82
The problem appears in a different and more troubling form at the grassroots level. The horror stories recalled both by current residents of Abkhazia, and by IDPs in Georgia, make it seem wholly impossible that these people could ever again live together. As one Swan IDP in Kodori valley relates, during the war Abkhaz killed his 95-year-old mother by taking off first her arms, then her legs. "We will go back," he says, "but there is no way we will live peacefully with the Abkhaz"83
In Sukhum, Jinjolia wonders in turn how Abkhaz will react when they see the return to Sukhum of Georgians who killed their relatives during the war, and moreover, when they see those Georgians receive humanitarian assistance from international organizations to rebuild their homes and their lives.85
In towns and villages the idea of a filter has a further component. Numerous Abkhaz and Georgian informants state clearly that they know precisely what each of their former friends and neighbours did during the war. Abkhaz say it is this dynamic that guarantees the security of those Georgians who have stayed in Abkhazia. Their Abkhaz neighbours know they and their relatives did not fight, and that in many cases they even supported the Abkhaz side. But this intimate knowledge has a more insidious dimension, since sins and crimes have also been duly recorded. As one Georgian IDP from Pitsunda notes: "We know exactly who among our neighbours did what, so it will be easy to judge."99
For those on either side who are perceived to be free of guilt, this intimate knowledge is a strong guarantee of security. Indeed, most people on both sides of the conflict seem to view "security" in terms of such highly localized control. But even on its own terms this approach is not foolproof. One’s security rests in the hands of one’s close neighbours, but what if they disagree? And how are village residents in another district, or city dwellers, to know one’s wartime record? More importantly, is this the sort of "justice" most likely to facilitate a lasting settlement? Does it properly protect human rights?
The question of security is thus both yet another elite political weapon, and a very personal, localized issue. In the elite political game, the security question is almost farcical since Georgian and Abkhaz perspectives are completely irreconcilable. At the village level, the question of security is perceived through a filter of personal wartime experiences of violence. Here there is some limited common ground, for those non-controversial citizens who managed to offend no one throughout the war, but the presence of all others is perceived as antithetical to, and irreconcilable with, the idea of "security". Clearly, in order for Georgians and Abkhaz to live together again in a mixed society, security guarantees will have to come at least in part from someone other than the two former combatants. But even this leaves the strong possibility of widespread but locally-prompted vigilante justice on both sides, quite possibly a result intrinsic to highly localized warfare in general.
A just and lasting return of the IDPs depends in part on the political resolution of the conflict. The question then is not only how close the parties are to an agreement after four years of negotiations, but also to what extent a political agreement can provide a lasting solution.
In June 1997, in the midst of Russian-mediated talks in Moscow, Machavariani argued that negotiations were at a standstill, that no new ideas were being put forward and that there was no evident progress.99
Quite recently, however, the negotiation climate has changed considerably, due in part to the stepped-up attentions of the international community, particularly of the Friends of Georgia. In conversations in June both Abkhaz Foreign Minister Shamba and Speaker of Parliament Jinjolia advocated not only a "common" (obshchee) state, but also a "single" or "united" (edinoe) one, precisely the terminology that Georgian officials have long used99
The problem is that a solution on paper that assigns some political status to Abkhazia and describes the process by which IDPs will repatriate, is many times removed from the daily lives of the people involved. It cannot immediately eradicate memories of ethnic violence. Nor can it do away with patterns of economic life or administrative allegiance that have crystallized during years of displacement.
8. INTERNATIONAL INTERVENTION
In the case of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, international organizations face the immediate humanitarian concerns of displacement, and the human rights issue of repatriation of the displaced. But in addition to these relatively clear-cut issues, organizations face two more complicated challenges: firstly, the evolving non-neutral character of displacement; and secondly, the role their own interventions play in shaping the political context.
8.1 The Challenge of Displacement
Analysis of the Georgian case shows that prolonged displacement works to create a "permanently temporary population" of IDPs. A bounded group is shaped through daily practices that create a social and economic community, organizational structures that politicize IDP groups by linking them to a larger political framework, and constant retellings of wartime experience in the context of the hardships of displacement, which work to make concrete daily realities vivid reminders of experienced violence.
What practical consequences does such population-construction have, and what significance does this have for international organizations? The gradual coalescence of a self-conscious IDP population on the ground may have no direct bearing on whether or not an accord is signed. But political rule requires consent and a guarantee of security for all, both of which depend on citizens’ ability to live together. Displacement works to make an integrated society seem both impossible and undesirable. Thus, the chances of achieving a stable, viable, and lasting postwar order decrease dramatically as mobilized populations are constructed.
When international organizations enter the picture, they face a bitter dilemma between the desire to return the displaced immediately, which may be problematic politically or may produce violence at the local level, and the desire to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to IDPs while they are still displaced. The critical lesson from the Georgian case is that displacement itself is not neutral. It is not merely uncomfortable and undesirable, it also works actively to construct new realities, which in turn constrain the options for lasting, if not formal juridical, solutions. In this context, any humanitarian assistance that works to bound communities, by providing housing, for example, or schools for IDPs, or income generation projects that do not reach outside the IDP population, also contribute toward isolating a population and providing a closed forum in which individual wartime accounts easily merge to form shared narratives of ethnic violence.
Should organizations simply refuse to intervene? Or alternatively, should they insist on immediate repatriation whatever its consequences? Neither of these options is desirable. Constructive steps in the interim might include income generation projects that are both transferable after repatriation, and explicitly include members of the local population as partners or buyers; psychological rehabilitation, especially for children for whom war and its consequences have been the only reality, to reframe and provide an outlet for experienced and remembered violence; in short, measures that work in both the material and ideational realms to create open-ended, not bounded, possibilities. The primary lesson of this first challenge is thus that displacement in itself is not neutral, that the decision to implement stopgap measures while waiting for repatriation is also a proactive decision to allow and even facilitate the construction of a new, mobilized population.
8.2 The Challenge of Intervention
The interventions of international organizations become part of the causal chain not only at the local level, among IDPs, but also at the elite political level. In the Georgian case, in which IDP repatriation has been a central issue for political resolution since the beginning, the work of international organizations is read, interpreted and used by political elites on both sides, whatever the organizations’ stated intentions.
The Georgian Ministry for Refugees states that it has documented every IDP case in Georgia, and the results, which include the name of every IDP with place of origin and place of current residence, can be found in its huge database. Organizations have at times drawn on this information to plan projects. Unfortunately, however, Georgian authorities have tended to exaggerate the extent of the displacement problem, in order to emphasize both the magnitude of the Abkhaz officials’ ongoing violation of the human rights of the displaced, and the need in light of the enormity of the problem for concerted and possibly forceful Georgian intervention. When international organizations draw on these sources, Georgian officials cast this as affirmation that the figures are correct, and further, that the corresponding political claims made on the basis of these numbers are justified. Furthermore, Georgian officials argue, the failure of international organizations to date to repatriate the displaced is not a reflection of moderation in the face of political difficulties, but rather a deliberate unwillingness to recognize a clear case of ethnic cleansing. Thus, non-action by international organizations is not neutral, but subject to free interpretation.
Abkhaz officials on the other hand, have long claimed that international organizations, particularly UNHCR, have as their sole purpose to return all of the displaced to Abkhazia, with no concern for the social, economic or political consequences. Human rights activist Natella Akaba notes, "everyone knows the UN has a specific agenda", and Foreign Minister Shamba warns that UNHCR has the "wrong approach", because allowing a mass return would "bring about another war".99
The on-going Regional Conference on migration processes in the CIS, a joint dialogue among international organizations, governments and NGOs begun in May 1996, has stressed the de-coupling of humanitarian and political issues and the need to assert that humanitarian concerns are issues in their own right. The goal is to depoliticize humanitarian intervention. The problem in the Georgian case is not simply the failure of authorities on both sides to understand, but rather their wilful manipulation of international intervention to serve political ends.
It is not easy for international organizations to avoid becoming rhetorical pawns in the political contest, but at the same time to incorporate into concrete programs and statements of intention a real concern for the scars people have from ethnic violence, scars that are made more permanent by the daily practices of postwar life on both sides of the front lines. Even when such a concern is demonstrated, it is uncertain whether it is conceivable that Georgian and Abkhaz authorities would take notice. Several steps might help address this second challenge. Transparency should not only be practised, but propagated in talks with officials and in contact with the media. Frequent contact with local populations can help clarify what organizations are trying to do, especially since information travels quickly through local channels.
The most stubborn challenge, however, remains: how to acknowledge that brutal ethnically-directed violence took place, while claiming the right to address practical humanitarian concerns rather than pass ultimate judgement.
What lessons does the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict teach? Firstly, prolonged displacement itself is not neutral. Daily practices over time have worked to create a "permanently temporary", bounded, self-conscious IDP population. Secondly, wartime violence may be "ethnic" in different ways. In this case, many specific violent acts during the war were directed at victims of a certain official nationality. But after the war, and perhaps more importantly, popular understandings of violence have been both made more concrete through association with daily hardships, and generalized through shared retellings. The result is a widespread and materially grounded popular understanding among Georgian IDPs that what happened to them during the war was ethnic cleansing. The implications for a return are not encouraging, since it is clear an agreement on paper cannot provide an immediate solution. But local level research that explores how self-conscious displaced populations are constructed, and how ethnicity and violence become incorporated into identity, may indicate what governments, international organizations, and local citizens need to do to find real, lasting solutions.
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Zhorzholiani, Giorgi, Solomon Lekishvili, Levan Toidze, et al.. Historic, Political, and Legal Aspects of the Conflict in Abkhazia. Tbilisi: Metsniereba, 1995.
1. USSR, Gosudarstvennyi komitet SSSR po statistike, Informatsionno-izdatelskii tsentr, Natsionalnyi sostav naseleniia SSSR po dannym vsesoiuznoi perepisi naseleniia [National composition of the population of the USSR according to the data of the all-Union census of 1989] (Moscow, 1991)
2. See L.I. Tanniia, "Demograficheskaia situatsiia v Respublike Abkhaziia [The demographic situation in the Republic of Abkhazia]", Perspektivy [Sukhum], Vol. 2 (1997), pp. 4-11 and Tamaz Nadareishvili, Genocide in Abkhazia (Tbilisi: Samshoblo, 1997). For background from an earlier period see Temur Achugba (ed.). Etnicheskaia "Revoliutsiia" v Abkhazii po sledam gruzinskoi periodiki XIX veka [Ethnic "Revolution" in Abkhazia according to the evidence in nineteenth century Georgian publications] (Sukhum: Alashara, 1995)
3. See Ronald Grigor Suny, The Making of the Georgian Nation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988) and Robert Parsons, "Georgians" in Graham Smith (ed.), The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union (London: Longman, 1990)
4. Abkhazia. Konstitutsiia Sotsialisticheskoi Sovetskoi Respubliki Abkhazii 1925 [Constitution of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia] (Sukhum, 1992)
5. See Giorgi Zhorzholiani, Solomon Lekishvili, Levan Toidze, et al., Historic, Political, and Legal Aspects of the Conflict in Abkhazia (Tbilisi: Metsniereba, 1995) and Vakhtang Khagba, "O statuse Abkhazii I neobkhodimosti ego priznaniia" [On the status of Abkhazia and the necessity of recognizing this status], Perspektivy [Sukhum], Vol. 1 (1996), pp. 7-12
6. B.E. Sagariia, T.A. Achugba, V.M. Pachuliia (eds.), Abkhaziia: Dokumenty svidetel'stvuiut 1937-1953, sbornik materialov [Documents testify, 1937-1953, collected materials] (Sukhum: Alashara, 1992)
7. Georgi M. Derlugian, "The Tale of Two Resorts: Abkhazia and Ajaria Before and Since the Soviet Collapse" (Unpublished working paper, Project on Global Security and Ethnic Conflict, Center for German and European Studies and the Institute of International Studies, University of California at Berkeley, March 1995)
8. Personal interviews with local residents, Tkvarcheli, 13 July 1997
9. Personal interview with Deputy Head of Administration for Economics and Finance of Ochamchire District, 14 July 1997
10. Personal interview with local residents, Dranda and Shaumianovka, 15 July 1997
11. Personal interview with local residents, Shaumianovka, 15 July 1997
12. Personal interview with Head of Administration of Tskenis-Tskali, 22 July 1997
13. Elizabeth Fuller, "Abkhazia on the Brink of Civil War?", RFE/RL Research Report, Vol. 1, No. 35 (4 September 1992)
14. Personal interviews with local residents, Ochamchire district, 15 and 21-23 July 1997. See also Human Rights Watch Arms Project, Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia's Role in the Conflict (New York: Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, March 1995)
15. Gennadii Gaguliia (ed.), Abkhaziia 1992-1993 gody: Khronika otechestvennoi voiny [Abkhazia 1992-1993: chronicle of the civil war] (Moscow: Maks Company, 1995)
16. Personal interview with local resident, Reka, 23 July 1997
17. For background information see Catherine Dale, "The Case of Abkhazia (Georgia)" in Lena Jonson and Clive Archer (eds.), Peacekeeping and the Role of Russia in Eurasia (Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1995); Catherine Dale, "Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Dynamics of the Conflicts" in Pavel Baev and Ole Berthelsen (eds.), Conflicts in the Caucasus (Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, 1996); S. Neil MacFarlane, Larry Minear and Stephen D. Shenfield, Armed Conflict in Georgia: A Case Study in Humanitarian Action and Peacekeeping (Occasional Paper, No. 21) (Providence RI: The Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies, Brown University, 1996)
18. See Abkhazia, Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia (Apsny) (Sukhum, 1996)
19. This section was informed by interviews with Marina Murvanidze and Paata Zakareishvili. Marina Murvanidze, President of the International Fund "Multiple Assistance for Georgia". Personal interview, Tbilisi, 18 June 1997; Paata Zakareishvili, Chief of Staff, Georgian Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities. Personal interviews, Tbilisi, 18 and 21 June 1997
20. Valeri Vashakidze, Minister of Refugees of Georgia. Personal interview, Tbilisi, 16 June 1997
21. L.I. Tanniia, A.Iu. Argun and A.G. Tanniia, "Problema vozvrashcheniia gruzinskikh bezhentsev v Abkhaziiu: konfliktogennyi aspekt [The problem of the return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia: sources of conflict]", Perspektivy [Sukhum], Vol. 1 (1996), pp.20-37
22. Personal interviews with local residents, Verkhniaia Eshera, 12 July 1997, and Labra, 15 July 1997
23. Personal interview with local residents, Tkvarcheli, 13 July 1997
24. Personal interview with local residents, Nizhnaia Eshera, 11 July 1997
26. Personal interview with local residents, Tkvarcheli, 13 July 1997
27. Personal interview with local residents, Nizhnaia Eshera, 11 July 1997, and Shaumianovka, 15 July 1997
28. Personal interview with local residents, Nizhnaia Eshera, 11 July 1997
29. Arda Inal-ipa, Center for Humanitarian Programs. Personal interview, Sukhum, 25 June 1997; Batal Kobakhia, Center for Humanitarian Programs. Personal interview, Sukhum, 11 July 1997. See also Gaguliia (ed.)
30. Personal interview with local residents, Sukhum, 10, 14, 15, 28 and 29 July 1997
31. Interview with Deputy Head of Administration of Tkvarcheli city, 13 July 1997
32. Irakli Machavariani, Georgian Presidential Adviser for Ethnic Minorities. Personal interview, Tbilisi, 17 June 1997
33. See P.V. Florenskii (ed.), Belaia kniga Abkhazii 1992-1993: Dokumenty, materialy, svidetel'stva [White Book of Abkhazia 1992-1993: Documents, materials, testimonies] (Moscow: Committee on Human Rights and International Relations of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Abkhazia, 1993)
34. Personal interviews with local residents, Sukhum, 10, 28, 29 July 1997
35. Personal interview with local residents, Adziubja, 15 July 1997
37. Personal interview with local resident, Ochamchire, 14 July 1997
38. Natella Akaba, "Facts and Materials about Atrocities and Human Rights Violations Committed by Georgian Forces Against the Population of Abkhazia", [Sukhum, 1993?]. (Unpublished document; copy in present author's possession); Otar Kakalia (ed.), "Arbitrary Executions without Proceedings" (Sukhum, September 1993); Otar Kakalia (ed.), "Spisok propavshikh bez vesti voennosluzhashikh I lits grazhdanskogo naseleniia respubliki Abkhaziia v period gruzino-abkhazskoi voiny [List of civilian and military missing persons from the Republic of Abkhazia during the Georgian-Abkhaz war]" (Sukhum, n.d.). Both the Kakalia titles are unpublished documents, compiled while he was head of Asarkial.
39. T.A. Vladislav Ardyznba, President of Abkhazia. Personal interviews, Sukhum, 25 June and 28 July 1997. Otar Kakalia, Head of the Presidential Committee of the Republic of Abkhazia for Refugees and Missing Persons. Personal interviews, 25 June and during July 1997. Tamba, Head of Abkhaz State Security Services. Personal interview, 29 July 1997
40. Personal interviews with IDPs, Zugdidi, 5 July 1997
42. Personal interview with local resident, Gal district, 6 July 1997
43. Liisa Malkki, Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995)
44. Personal interviews with IDPs, Kutaisi, 8 July 1997
45. Personal interviews with local residents, Nizhnaia Eshera, 11 July 1997
46. Personal interviews with local residents, Shaumianovka, 15 July 1997
47. Personal interviews with IDPs, Zugdidi, 5 July 1997
48. Personal interviews with local residents, Shaumianovka, 15 July 1997, and Tamysh, 21 July 1997
49. Interview with Deputy Head of Administration for Economics and Finance of Ochamchire district, 14 July 1997
50. Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Report – SOV, 7 April 1994, quoting Svobodnaia Gruziia. "Statement by the Republic of Georgia State Committee for the Investigation into and Publication of Materials Regarding the Policy of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing Conducted against the Georgian Population in Abkhazia and the Presentation of Such Materials to the International Tribunal on 15 February 1994", 24 March 1994
51. Personal interview with the Deputy Mayor of Zugdidi, Shonia, and heads of Administration of Gal district, Zugdidi, 7 July 1997
52. Davit Pruidze, Georgian Deputy Minister for Refugees. Personal interview, Kutaisi, 8 July 1997
53. Norwegian Refugee Council, Survey on Internally Displaced People in Georgia: Report and Recommendations (Tbilisi, April 1995)
54. Iurii Bechvaia, Georgian Deputy Minister for Refugees. Personal interview, Zugdidi, 7 July 1997
55. Personal interviews with IDPs, Ajara, Chkhalta and Gentsvishi, 17 and 18 July 1997
56. Sokrat Jinjolia, Speaker of Abkhaz Parliament, Personal interview, Sukhum, 26 June 1997. Otar Kakalia, Head of the Presidential Committee of the Republic of Abkhazia for Refugees and Missing Persons. Personal interviews, Sukhum, 25 June and during July 1997
57. Irakli Machavariani, Presidential Adviser for Ethnic Minorities. Personal interview, Tbilisi, 17 June 1997
58. Iurii Bechvaia, Georgian Deputy Minister for Refugees. Personal interview, Zugdidi, 7 July 1997. Davit Pruidze, Georgian Deputy Minister for Refugees. Personal interview, Kutaisi, 8 July 1997
59. Personal interview with heads of Administration of Gal district, Zugdidi, 7 July 1997
60. Personal interviews with local residents, Gal district, 6 July 1997
61. Lt. Col. Alzem, UN Observer Mission in Georgia. Personal interview, Tbilisi, 17 June 1997
62. Personal interviews with IDPs, Zugdidi, 5 July 1997
64. Personal interviews with IDPs, Kutaisi, 8 July 1997
65. Davit Pruidze, Georgian Deputy Minister for Refugees. Personal interview, Kutaisi, 8 July 1997
66. See Ronald Wixman, The Peoples of the USSR: An Ethnographic Handbook (Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1984)
67. Personal interviews with IDPs and local residents, Zugdidi, 4, 5 and 7 July 1997
68. Tamaz Nadareishvili, Chair of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia. Personal interview, Tbilisi, 16 June 1997
69. Personal interviews with IDPs in Zugdidi and Anaklia, 5 July 1997, and Kutaisi, 8 July 1997
70. Personal interviews with local residents, Ajara and Chkhalta, 17 July 1997
71. Personal interviews with IDPs and local residents, Ajara, Chkhalta and Gentsvishi, 17 and 18 July 1997
72. Personal interviews with IDPs, Zugdidi, 5 and 7 July 1997, and with local residents, Gal district, 6 July 1997
73. USSR, Gosudarstvennyi komitet SSSR po statistike, Informatsionno-izdatelskii tsentr, Natsionalnyi sostav naseleniia SSSR po dannym vsesoiuznoi perepisi naseleniia 1989 (Moscow, 1991)
74. Garik Ayba, Head of Administration for the City of Sukhum. Personal interview, Sukhum, 10 July 1997
75. Personal interview with local residents, Nizhnaia Eshera, 11 July 1997
76. Personal interview with local residents, Dranda, 15 July 1997
77. Personal interview with local residents, Nizhnaia Eshera, 11 July 1997
78. Zurab Erkvania, Chair of the Georgian Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia. Personal interview, Tbilisi, 19 June 1997
79. Iurii Bechvaia, Georgian Deputy Minister for Refugees. Personal interview, Zugdidi, 7 July 1997
80. Interview with heads of administration of Gal district, Zugdidi, 7 July 1997
81. But Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba is more skeptical that this would work. Noting that any Georgians returning to Gal district will naturally feel uncomfortable, he asks, "Can we really establish a personal guard around each person?"
83. Machavariani states that the current Abkhaz authorities in Gal are particularly guilty of bloody violence against the local population, and therefore they have no chance to survive once the conflict is settled.
85. In Sukhum, President Ardyznba states that repatriation of civilians is fine, but anyone who fought in the war would be excluded. Clearly, authorities are not prepared to offer general amnesty. But once we allow that some people but not others should be permitted to live in postwar Abkhazia, what standard should be used to make this decision? And who should be the judge?
87. In fact, while virtually all Georgian IDPs say they want to return, and without delay, many Abkhaz claim confidently that after everything that has happened, most Georgians will not even want to return, since they know they will be in danger. Most Abkhaz, however, echo the elites’ idea of a filter, applying it to the popular level, stating that Georgians may return as long as neither they, nor any of their relatives, fought against Abkhazia during the war.
89. And Georgian IDPs stress that Abkhaz perpetrators of violence must be judged and punished.
91. And Armenians in Nizhnaia Eshera say with assurance: "We all know what everybody else did during the war. If Georgians fought, they will be afraid to return."
92. This description is accurate for most of the last four years. While the terminology and some of the content of the definitions of Abkhazia’s proposed status, put forward by Georgian and Abkhaz officials, changed over time, the ideas remained mutually exclusive. Abkhazia moved from demanding independence to advocating a "federative union", a common entity with one representative at the UN, in which nevertheless Abkhazia and Georgia would have strictly equal status and horizontal links. Georgia eventually offered Abkhazia "the widest possible autonomy" under Georgian jurisdiction, in effect anything except horizontal connections and parity. But these proposals are by definition irreconcilable, and particularly since the content of the arrangements was not sufficiently specified, no agreement was reached.
94. Furthermore, talks and plans put forward in summer 1997 addressed issues more concretely than have proposals in the past. Most importantly, specific mechanisms for repatriation are on the table, and both sides approach de facto repatriation in Gal with pragmatism, if also with trepidation.
95. UNHCR’s stated purpose is to provide assistance for IDPs who have repatriated spontaneously to Gal district. Abkhaz officials read this as an intention to repatriate without regard for the consequences. Further, they inflame the accusation by stressing that UNHCR’s repatriation would surely include former military opponents, those guilty of atrocities, and that therefore, by rhetorical extension, UNHCR is very nearly guilty of ignoring a clear-cut case of ethnically directed violence and instigating renewed warfare.