The proposal of Abkhaz side on the comprehensive
Settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict
“Key to the future”
The aim of this plan is a final political, comprehensive settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and the development of cardinally new, good-neighbourly relations between once-hostile states. The processes of economic integration in the Black Sea region and prospects for more intensive economic and regional cooperation within the framework of the “European Union’s broad neighbourhood strategy” [as published] could become the guarantors of the bilateral affirmation by the sides of their commitment towards the fundamental principles of good-neighbourly relations.
The basis of the plan consists of measures for restoring trust, which is why the demonstration of good will by both sides will be the key to a future stable peace.
The strengthening of trust will be achieved only by ending military rhetoric and by augmenting peace initiatives, which must move from theory to implementation.
Taking into account the specific nature of Georgian-Abkhaz relations, which largely stems from the Stalin era, there is a need to first and foremost renounce the ambitions and stereotypes of that period. The political acts that were carried out by Georgia in the Communist period were of a discriminatory nature, artificially underestimated the ethnic Abkhaz population [figure], changed Abkhaz toponymy and hydronymy and transformed Abkhaz statehood. These facts, which cannot be denied, prove that the policy was purposefully aimed at the assimilation of the Abkhaz ethnic group.
During the rule of the Georgian Mensheviks (1918-1921), a military dictatorship was established in Abkhazia, which is confirmed by many sources stored in various archives worldwide. In 1925, Shalva Eliava, a Georgian political leader, admitted: “Throughout the entire period of rule of Menshevik government in Georgia there were systematic violations of the rights of the Abkhaz people and attempts by the ‘democratic’ Georgian government to turn Abkhazia into an object of exploitation, rule it directly, dispose of the republic’s entire assets - land, forests, and valuable real estate – for the purposes of the policy of settling there themselves.”
The Georgian leadership’s purposeful, consistent policy of assimilating ethnic Abkhaz was to result in them losing their ethnic identity altogether.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party also denounced the policy which the Georgian leadership implemented towards the ethnic Abkhaz at its August 1956 plenary session.
The preliminary investigative materials form the Republic of Abkhazia Prosecutor’s Office on mass killings, genocide, and other grave crimes committed during the occupation of Abkhazia by the Georgian authorities and their armed formations in 1992 – 1993 also confirm that the policy of the Georgian leadership was aimed at creating a mono-ethnic state.
Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze said at the 11th plenary session of the Gerogian Communist Party Central Committee on 27 June 1978: “it has to be said straight out that, in the past, during the period which we all know, a policy was being implemented towards the Abkhaz people that may effectively be described as chauvinist. Let us call things by their names. That policy, in its very essence, came into conflict with the interests of both the Georgian and Abkhaz people.”
It follows from that statement that, clearly, the capability for internal self-revision and admission of one’s own mistakes has always existed in Georgia. This gives hope that, one day, Georgia will be ready to admit its guilt for the genocide that was under way for decades and for unleashing the bloody war of 1992-1993, because it is only after an objective reassessment of the developments that have taken place that a productive, long-lasting peaceful coexistence between the two states will become possible.
It has to be noted that the key factor in Abkhazia’s right to independence is not only the universal right of nations to self-determination, but also a number of concomitant events and internal state documents and agreements that in their entirety form the legal basis for Abkhazia’s independence from Georgia.
Despite this, the armed conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia was preceded by a number of events which, if they had been addressed properly, would have made it possible to avoid the armed conflict. In particular, the Declaration of the Abkhaz Soviet Socialist Republic, which was passed on 25 August 1990 at the 10th session of the Supreme Soviet of the Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of 11th convocation, was Abkhazia’s proposal for starting a civilized dialogue between Georgia and Abkhazia on future session. It must be underscored that, by that time, the Supreme Soviet included both [ethnic] Abkhaz and [ethnic] Georgians.
On 3 April 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union passed the law “On the Regulation of the Question of and Rules for the Secession of the Union Republics from the Soviet Union.” Under that law, if union republics seceded from the Soviet Union, the autonomous republics were granted the right to decide on their own whether to remain in the Soviet Union and determine their own legal status. Later on, on 17 March 1991, the all-union referendum was conducted on preserving the Soviet Union. Abkhazia took part in that referendum, and the majority of the population voted for preserving the Soviet Union. The results of the referendum held in Abkhazia were officially approved by the USSR Central Commission on the Referendum. It is important to note that Georgia, which expressed its desire to build an independent state, did not take part in that referendum and conducted a referendum in Georgia on 31 March  on the restoration of the independence of the Georgian state in which, likewise, Abkhazia did not take part. From that moment, two states emerged on the territory of the former Georgian SSR that were not connected with each other: Georgia, which declared its independence and secession from the USSR, and Abkhazia, which remained a constituent part of the Soviet Union.
State legal relations between Abkhazia and Georgia that were created and regulated under Soviet law were also severed according to Soviet law.
Unfortunately, in the transitional period a basis for dealing with conflict situations democratically had not yet taken shape in Georgia, so Georgia started the war against the Abkhaz people on 14 August 1992.
We will once again draw the attention of the international community to the need to recognize the results of the 1999 referendum in which 90 percent of the Abkhaz population affirmed their desire to build a democratic state. Despite the fact that the vast majority of ethnic Georgian refugees did not take part in it, the refusal to take into account the opinion of the majority that freely expressed their opinion that they should live in an independent state is a direct violation of the nation’s right to self-determination.
It follows from the aforementioned facts that Abkhazia is ready to hold civilized negotiations on all issues except that of the status of the Republic of Abkhazia, because it is backed by the free expression of the will of the people of the Republic of Abkhazia in the 1999 referendum. International examples show us that resolving similar conflict situations is not at all based on the inviolable principle of the territorial integrity of the state. Moreover, being the indigenous population in their present-day area of settlement, the Abkhaz have all legal and historical grounds for independent development.
BASIS FOR A NEW PHASE OF SETTLEMENT
The level of trust between the sides will increase substantially if Abkhaz society can see that, along with democratic reforms, a reassessment of past mistakes has begun in Georgia and if the new Georgian leadership is ready to apologize to the Abkhaz people for the state policy of assimilation, war, and isolation. This would undoubtedly win great support from the international community and constitute a precedent when dealing with other conflicts. As for Abkhazia, it would perceive such a stop as Georgia’s real readiness to enter a completely new phase of relations. An apology for and reassessment of past mistakes is the foundation for the process of building long-term stable relations.
Renouncing political and economic pressure on Abkhazia, in particular, lifting the economic and information blockade on Abkhazia, should be the first step in the new phase of settling the conflict.
The measures that have been implemented as part of the recent process of rebuilding trust have indeed yielded positive results, but the ratio between the work that was done and its effectiveness, as well as its accompanying prostration [as published; frustration], which is caused by the absence of considerable progress, has clearly demonstrated that rebuilding trust cannot be based solely on declarations.
As time has passed, the unproductive and inhumane nature of the blockade has become obvious. The results of the blockade have first and foremost affected the peaceful population of Abkhazia, for which all those countries that took part in reaching the decision on imposing a blockade on Abkhazia should share responsibility.
Georgia is directly responsible for unleashing the 1992-1993 war and for the damage inflicted on Abkhazia. According to preliminary estimates, the total material damage that Georgia inflicted on Abkhazia could amount to roughly 13bn dollars. And if we take into account the damage which the economic blockade has caused Abkhazia, that figure will increase substantially.
The isolation restricts the Abkhaz public’s participation in global processes of economic integration, which has an effect not only on the economic and social prosperity of the Abkhaz people, but also on all of its neighbours. The blockade deprives the Abkhaz people of a substantial part of their income, which might otherwise be spent on implementing more important and more comprehensive social and humanitarian programmes. The Abkhaz people’s right to development free economic activities is being indirectly violated. Taking advantage of the information blockade against Abkhazia, Georgia facilitated the adoption of the resolution at the OSCE summit in Lisbon in which the Abkhaz side was accused of ethnic cleansing. At a time when the Abkhaz themselves were being killed en masse by Georgia, the resolution was of a purely political and partisan nature and did not correspond to the truth because it was passed without any verification of the facts. Moreover, the UN mission in its 1994 report on the situation in Abkhazia and the joint UN-OSCE mission in its 2000 report on the monitoring of the situation did not reach such a conclusion.
SECOND PHASE – SECURITY
“Practical steps to strengthen trust-building measures”
At the current stage in Georgian-Abkhaz relations, when the Abkhaz side has justified concerns about Georgia’s increasing militarization, it is particularly important to underscore the need for developing reliable measures to create guarantees for the non-resumption of combat operations. There is an urgent need to react to and reach decisions on these types of steps because militarization creates a desire for a new war among the Georgian authorities and among a certain bellicose segment of Georgian society. This attitude is being increasingly instilled into the Georgian public consciousness, resulting in growing distrust and alienation among the Abkhaz public.
Notice has to be taken of the counterproductive nature of Georgia’s actions aimed at expelling Russia from the process of the peaceful settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts. In reality, this foreign political course is a demonstration of Georgia’s desire to internationalize the peacekeeping forces in the conflict zones and thereby reduce the level of the peacekeeping operations to fit it into the framework of the GUAM [Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova] 2005 Chisinau declaration “For Democracy, Stability, and Development”, which is a political, not peacekeeping, resource [sentence as published]. If this does happen, Abkhazia is not convinced that Georgia will refrain from using force in the settlement of the conflict. This is why the Georgian side should first and foremost immediately and unconditionally end violence against Abkhaz citizens in Gali District and create all the necessary conditions in the zone of its responsibility to make the existence of groups of terrorist saboteurs impossible.
The international community should ensure that the situation in Georgia’s Zugdidi District is fully monitored to confirm that Georgia has renounced the tactics of sabotage and terrorism, which will make it possible to put an end to violence, terrorism and incitement.
The Abkhaz and Georgian sides should make unambiguous statements on their mutual aspiration to cooperate in combating crime in the coastal zone.
The United Nations should help provide technical equipment and promote cooperation between Abkhaz and Georgian law-enforcement agencies to combat organized crime.
There is a need for us to take the process of the peaceful settlement of the conflict to an absolutely new and productive phase. The reference point marking the start of that phase should be the first direct meeting between the Abkhaz and Georgian leaders at which the sides will openly state their commitment to a solely peaceful settlement of the conflict and sign, on condition that international guarantees are provided, an agreement in which they will reject the threat of using force or any other methods of political and economic pressure.
It is especially important to underscore that the desire of both sides to ensure peace at sea, on land, and in the air should also be stated in the peace agreement to be signed by both leaders.
All the countries that are involved in the region’s economic activities, namely, Abkhazia, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Turkey, South Ossetia, Nagornyy-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, and the EU – which is a facilitator of economic processes in the Black Sea and Caucasus regions – should become parties to a broad agreement on future economic cooperation.
The development of European models of economic cooperation will facilitate the strengthening and growth of mutually advantageous, partner-like and mutually interdependent ties, which will eventually form a solid base for lasting and stable peace. The international community, in particular, the UN Security Council, should become an independent arbiter and help implement the international security guarantees between Georgia and Abkhazia and carry out measures to prevent the resumption of the conflict. The conditions and responsibility for keeping the peace between the sides should be clearly formulated in UN documents and act as a mechanism that will prevent the sides from [entering into] armed confrontation.
The next important step on the road to rapprochement should be holding preliminary consultations between the presidents of the two countries on conditions for the future peaceful coexistence of the two states. In this case, Georgia should initiate the recognition Abkhazia’s independence. Taking such a step is undoubtedly very difficult for Georgia, but that is the obstacle on the road towards the peaceful coexistence of Abkhazia and Georgia which must be overcome.
It is obvious that, once this step is taken, the sides’ positions on regional cooperation will converge tangibly, which will have a direct effect on the level of security in the region, stability and economic prosperity, and will also bring stability to our neighbours.
Return of refugees
Abkhazia has expressed its readiness to follow the long-term plan [UNHCR Country Operations Plan] which was suggested by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Office [UNHCR]. In connection with this, the process of verification [of the identity] of Georgian refugees, which is under way within the framework of UNHCR activities, should get greater support from all the participants in the peace process as soon as an independent assessment of the situation makes it possible to form a real picture of the humanitarian action to be carried out.
The Abkhaz side is ready to fully promote and strengthen the process of the return of refugees to Abkhazia’s Gali District because it was the initiator of this in March 1999.
The process of the return of the refugees requires a more attentive and measured approach. The international participants in the regulation process too should share the negative aspects of this action [sentence as published].
Abkhazia reasserts its readiness to carry out trust-building measures set out in the 2003 Sochi agreement on the return of the refugees, the restoration of the railway and the rehabilitation of the Ingury hydroelectric power station. This work is already under way. In the context of broad regional cooperation, Abkhazia and Georgia should develop more modern and civilized methods within the framework of cooperation under the “EU neighbourhood strategy.”
For the transport and energy infrastructure development projects to function effectively there is a need to end the politicization of many purely economic issues. In connection with the project to restore the railway, Georgia, as a state that participates in the broad neighbourhood initiative, should clearly determine the extent of responsibility for actions which are limiting economic integration in the region.
Given the great importance of the issue of strategic partnership in the energy sector and in the struggle against external threats, the stability of the entire Caucasus region is a foundation that could become the main factor in reconciliation.
There can be no doubt that ignoring Abkhazia’s role as an integral element in cooperation between the EU, Georgia and the Russian Federation, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan, is what causes stagnation and the lack of progress in the settlement of the conflict.
Recognition of Abkhazia would resolve specific problems of security and stability in the entire region and would form a foundation for social, economic, and cultural cooperation between the states.
For more that 13 year now, Abkhazia has been independently developing a democratic political system, a market economy, a legal framework, an independent court system, a civil society and human rights according to international standards. Modern-day Abkhazia is a state with strong development indicators.
Abkhazia is capable of shouldering responsibility and playing the role of a full-fledged connecting link between all countries. The absence of political recognition for Abkhazia hinders stability and the development of a beneficial climate between North and South Caucasus, as well as the deepening of peaceful bilateral ties.
Abkhazia is a factor in the stabilization of the region, a link in the process of restoring communications in the Caucasus, which is not only in Abkhazia’s interests, but also in the interests of Georgia, Russia and the EU. Resolving conflict situations, using European models, and developing Trans-Caucasus communications is certainly in the interests of all the sides.
If Georgia overcomes this barrier and recognizes Abkhazia’s independence, then cooperation in four common areas – the economy, the energy sector, security and science and culture – could become the key to the future of the two states’ coexistence. The development of relations with Georgia would become effective and serve the mutually beneficial interests of Georgia and Abkhazia. This would set an example for every country that has embarked on the road towards democracy and the peaceful settlement of conflicts.
Unfortunately, in discussing its own role in Black Sea regional economic cooperation, Georgia is misleading its European neighbours by making economic forecasts that involve Abkhazia and South Ossetia. By making short-and medium-term forecasts that do not take into account the existing realities, Georgia is creating unacceptable conditions for the strengthening of trust-building measures and for the entire negotiating process and is laying the foundation for an erroneous strategy in all regional long-term relations.
Negotiating process and participants
The UN Security Council could also facilitate talks at a more or less unbiased level. Taking into account the fact that Abkhazia is a party to the conflict and a direct participant in the negotiating process, the Abkhaz side once again asks the United Nations, the Russian Federation as the facilitating side, and the UN Secretary General’s Group of Friends on Georgia to discuss the issue of the presence of an Abkhaz representative at the scheduled sessions of the UN Security Council so that members of the Security Council will have the opportunity to listen to one of the parties to the conflict and receive more objective information on current developments.