Abkhazia - Problems and the Paths to their Resolution

By Konstantin Ozgan

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia, 1998

From the realm of legend:


Almighty God, having created the world and human-kind, deemed it necessary to apportion to each nation its own corner of the earth. Every living creature has its own weakness, and God too was no exception. In dividing up the earth, God fell in love with one spot and determined to keep it for himself. On the day of distribution of the plots the Abkhazian messenger arrived late. When God was informed that an Abkhazian had come for his portion of earth, he shrugged his shoulders and said: "Too late, it's all been distributed!". But God was interested in what could have been more important for the Abkhazian than this to cause him to be late. The Abkhazian replied that he had had guests and couldn't leave them. God too is most hospitable and invited the Abkhazian into his presence, saying to him: "To love and receive guests is a noble and holy thing. Hospitable people are noble people. I fell in love with this place here and decided to keep it for myself, but I bestow it on you Abkhazians. Live on it in health and preserve it". This land on which the Abkhazians have lived since the creation of the world is called Apsny, which when translated means 'Land of the Abkhazians [Mortals]' .


It is rare to meet anyone acquainted with Abkhazia who is unfamiliar with this ancient legend. On one occasion one of the leaders of Georgia was relating this interesting fable, naturally ascribing it all to his own country. A Turkish general who happened to be present remarked: "The legend you are relating does not concern beautiful Georgia but belongs to the Abkhazians. Don't rob them of this as well!".


From the realm of history:


The territory that today bears the name of Abkhazia (Apsny in Abkhaz) stretches along the western Black Sea littoral of the Caucasus. At the time of the Georgian invasion the population of Abkhazia stood at 550,000. Together with the Abkhazians there lived on this land Russians, Armenians, Kartvelians (comprising Mingrelians, Svans, Georgians and Laz), Ukrainians, Turks, Greeks, Germans, Estonians, Bulgarians, and even black people. Multilingualism was a permanent feature of Abkhazia, but its inhabitants always considered this land to be Abkhazian and the Abkhazians to be its autochthonous denizens, and in past times of crisis for the Abkhazians they all amicably united to defend it.


'Venerable yet forever youthful Abkhazia' is what travellers, sailors, writers, and historians who visited here in the past used to call it. This charming phrase then came to be adopted in modern times.


From the most ancient of times, beginning with the Greek and Roman historians, the territory of Abkhazia was settled by the Abkhazian tribes of Apsilians, Abazgians, Sanigs and Missimians. Their unification in the 8th century formed a unified Abkhazian Princedom, which a little later in the century was transformed into the powerful Abkhazian Kingdom.


Through the centuries Abkhazia and Georgia, Abkhazians and Kartvelians, who are quite unrelated peoples, occupied neighbouring territories, and each of them had their own state. Abkhazian statehood lasted for twelve centuries. There were periods in the histories of Abkhazia and Georgia when both peoples lived in a single state, but even then Abkhazia was not in a position of dependency vis-a-vis Georgia. On the contrary, Abkhazian kings united within the confines of their state (the Abkhazian Kingdom) a significant part of western and central Transcaucasia, crowned by the creation of a new state 'The Kingdom of the Abkhazians and the Kartvelians'. In the 13th century, after the disintegration of this kingdom, the Abkhazian princedom together with, and on the same level as, other political groupings in the Caucasus was a distinct entity in world-history for 600 years. In the middle of the 16th century Abkhazia found itself at the mercy of the Ottoman Empire, but even then Abkhazia did not lose its independence. The country was ruled by rulers of Abkhazian origin, who conducted independent policies. It was as just such an independent princedom that Abkhazia in 1810 entered the constituency of the Russian Empire, still retaining its autonomy until 1864.


Following the collapse of the Russian Empire, Abkhazia became a constituent-part of the Independent Mountain Republic of the Caucasus, in which were united peoples closely related to the Abkhazians -- Abazinians, Shapsughs, Kabardians, Chechens, Adyghes, etc... However, in 1918-1921 Abkhazia fell under the occupation of the military forces of the Georgian Democratic (Menshevik) Republic. Under the command of Gen. Mazniashvili (Mazniev), the military swept through Abkhazia with fire and sword. The Abkhazian People's Council, the highest organ of power, was liquidated, and a Georgian nationalist dictatorship was established in the country.


With the victory of Soviet power in Abkhazia in March 1921, this anti-democratic Georgian regime was swept away, the occupiers were driven out, and an independent Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia was proclaimed. In 1922 Abkhazia on the same level as, and together with, Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, and Georgia also put its signature to the historical document that created the USSR.


Could Stalin, though, let an Independent Abkhazia appear alongside Georgia on the map of the Caucasus and deprive his homeland of such a heavenly quarter?! To start with, on 16 December 1921 Stalin compelled Abkhazia to conclude a federative-union treaty with Georgia. But this was a mere tactic in a long-term game. In 1931 he turned the union-republic of Abkhazia with treaty-ties to Georgia into a mere autonomy, inflicting upon it a crushing blow, for its legal status as an 'autonomous republic' forced Abkhazia to become part of the structure of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. It is said in the Caucasus that, had it not been for the long reign of Stalin, Abkhazia would today have been an independent republic. As it is, this period saw the start of the latest tragic page in the history of Abkhazia. If the first act of the tragedy was the annulment of the country's independence, this was followed by the murder of the national leader of Abkhazia, Nestor Lakoba. This in turn was followed by mass-repressions. During 1936-37 the national intelligentsia of Abkhazia and its leading personnel were annihilated to a man. Out of 2,186 repressed individuals 794 persons were shot. All, from Lakoba down, were later rehabilitated, but the bloody deed was done. The repressions were succeeded by the closure of Abkhazian schools, the shift of the Abkhazian alphabet to a Georgian base, the renaming of local toponyms from Abkhazian into Georgian forms -- in a word, there began a large-scale colonisation of the country with the aim of finally assimilating it. The realisation of this was entrusted to cadres of Kartvelian nationality at all levels of society. The deaths of Stalin and his Mingrelian lieutenant, Lavrenti Beria, in 1953 saw an end to the most blatant forms of anti-Abkhazianism. But, despite the reversal of the previous measures (such as the re-opening of Abkhazian schools, the creation of a new Cyrillic-based alphabet, and a certain over-representation of Abkhazian nationals in some, basically sinecure political posts in the autonomous republic), Abkhazia's economic standing remained poor in comparison with the rest of Georgia, and a general contempt in Georgia proper for every Abkhazian concern continued to reveal itself, with the result that periodic demonstrations called for the removal of Tbilisi's control over Abkhazia's affairs. Matters came to a head during the last years of perestroika. Responding to Gorbachev's request that national grievances be aired, the unofficial leaders in Tbilisi went all out for Georgian independence, tragically miscalculating that playing the nationalist card would pay dividends in their struggle -- the Abkhazians were naturally one of the prime targets of the hysteria whipped up by all-pervasive and mendacious propaganda. Across the entire Georgian media an ideological preparation, a conditioning of the population got underway. The history, culture and language of the Abkhazian nation began to be treated in a totally new way. Historians, philologists, linguists and simple journalists, including people without even the most elementary idea of Abkhazia's history, utilised all the means of mass-information to raise questions about the history, national affiliation, indigenous status, and distinctiveness of the Abkhazian nation. Some scholars with solid degrees to their names went so far as to suggest: "The Abkhazians are not those people who today live in Abkhazia and claim aboriginal status in this land -- the true Abkhazians are the Kartvelians who live there. Those who speak in the Apswa tongue have not long come down from the mountains and taken over our Georgian lands". As was only to be expected, ordinary folk took up the refrain of these pseudo-scholarly, false ideas. Zviad Gamsakhurdia himself, leader of the Georgian nationalist movement, specially came to Abkhazia to participate in one such meeting designed to brainwash the population of Abkhazia; he was accompanied by the chief ideologue of the movement, his fellow-Mingrelian Merab Kostava. As a result of all this, Abkhazia's Kartvelian population took advantage of its numerical superiority to heat up the situation. In places of work, in scholarly and artistic establishments non-Kartvelians began to be expelled. Where this did not succeed, groups of exclusively Kartvelian nationality began to be formed. The State University, the Writers' Union, sporting teams, and work-collectives split along these lines. The leadership of the nationalist movement encouraged and supported such subversive activity among the Kartvelian nationalists of Abkhazia, whilst the official Communist leadership in Tbilisi gave silent approval. Destructive forces were unleashed -- one even saw youngsters on the streets carrying banners saying 'Abkhazians go home!'.


In such an atmosphere of intolerance and tension, the Abkhazian people together with representatives of the other nationalities (Kartvelians included) who considered Abkhazia their homeland gathered for a general meeting on the historic and hallowed square in the village of Lykhny, called Lykhnashta. This took place on 18 March 1989 and was attended by the whole of Abkhazia's leadership. The resulting Declaration unanimously called for the urgent need to reassess the status of Abkhazia and demanded of the Union's central government protection for the people and land from the misfortune that was threatening. It appears that this innocent action, which was supported by the signatures of all the deputies of Abkhazian nationality to Parliament, being the right of a people to express its own will, was used by the Georgian government against Abkhazia -- charged with nationalism, all the leaders of Abkhazia were relieved of their duties.


The flames of ethnic hatred continued to be fanned through the spring of 1989 by Georgia's unofficial opposition. The excuse for anti-Abkhazian agitation was the attempt by the Georgian sector of the Abkhazian State University to break away and establish in Sukhum (Aqw'a) a branch of Tbilisi State University. Judged illegal by the central authorities in Moscow (who alone had the right to sanction higher educational establishments throughout the Union), this 'branch' was due to hold entrance-exams on 16 July. The previous night fighting broke out in both Sukhum and Ochamchira. There is evidence that this was carefully planned by certain Kartvelian leaders (see Popkov 1997), and, although a number of deaths occurred in both centres of conflict, full-scale hostilities were averted by the timely arrival of Soviet Interior Ministry troops -- no such protection for Abkhazia's minorities was forthcoming when war broke out on 14 August 1992 in a now independent Georgia...


On 5 August 1990 the Parliament of Abkhazia passed the Declaration 'On the State Sovereignty of Abkhazia'. The Georgian Parliament accused Abkhazia of illegality in passing such a Declaration, condemned the act and abrogated it. Georgia itself was striving for freedom and independence, but it denied to others this same right with all the might at its disposal.


During the years 1990-92 the Georgian Parliament unilaterally ratified a series of documents according to which the structures of Georgia created over the period from 25 February 1921 (i.e. the Soviet period) were deemed illegal. All state-legal acts passed by these structures of power were declared to possess no juridical force. Then Georgia went back to the Constitution of the Georgian Democratic Republic of 1921, in which no Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic is stipulated as a subject of state-legal relations; no documents linked any Abkhazian ASSR with the formation of the new GDR state. The replacement of Georgia's 1978 Constitution by that of 1921 took place in February 1992 following the bloody coup that had ousted the legally elected president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. From January to March power in Georgia was in the hands of the Military Council, which then transformed itself into the State Council (March-October). An inadmissible legal vacuum had developed in the mutual relations between Abkhazia and Georgia. To avoid the threatened liquidation of Abkhazia's republican status, Abkhazia on 23 July 1992 abrogated its own 1978 Constitution and returned to the one of 1925, in which it co-exists with Georgia on the basis of treaty-relations.


In the early '90s the system of state-power changed entirely in Georgia. During Gamsakhurdia's time, supposedly for the battle against the Soviet Union but in fact for one against 'small peoples', armed formations were set up, composed in large measure from ultra-patriot/fanatics and criminals. Upon coming to power in 1992, Shevardnadze turned these formations into his own bulwark of support and employed them for ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia (winter-summer 1992) and the suppression of political opposition. After the expulsion of Gamsakhurdia, political terror and the chaos of criminality held sway over the greater part of the territory of Georgia (excluding Abkhazia and Ajaria). Official propaganda in Tbilisi grossly overstated the level of disagreement in the ruling structures and within the State Council itself. This subsequently gave Shevardnadze the possibility (helped by the backing of the West) to declare that his field-commanders bore the guilt for the wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.


Tension between the Kartvelian and Abkhazian populations living in the republic continued to mount. With the backing of Tbilisi, military formations made up of Kartvelians started to be formed inside Abkhazia. Some activists among the Kartvelian community of Abkhazia with the covert approval of Tbilisi began agitating for the annulment of Abkhazia's autonomy. The Supreme Council of Abkhazia in its appeal to Georgia's State Council on 12 August 1992 underlined its desire to preserve links with Georgia and its firm commitment to the establishment of these on the basis of new and civilised foundations conforming to international norms and with equal rights for both parties. Georgia's State Council looked upon Abkhazia's return to its 1925 Constitution and this appeal as an attempt to leave the composition of Georgia, and this accusation was made by its wide-ranging propaganda-machine. Within two days a column of upto 100 tanks, strengthened by the airforce and an infantry-contingent of cut-throats armed with automatic weapons, invaded Abkhazia, sweeping away and destroying everything in their path.


Intending to occupy Abkhazia, the Georgian government conjectured that a complete victory and total suppression of the independence of the Abkhazians were impossible, as they took into account (i) the high level of national self-awareness among the Abkhazian nation, (ii) the anti-Georgian sentiment amongst the Russian, Armenian, Greek and Turkish populations of Abkhazia, and (iii) the awfully low level of fighting-ability of the Kartvelian armed formations. It was furthermore well-known in Tbilisi what sympathies for Abkhazia existed in the North Caucasus, in southern Russia and amongst our diaspora-communities in Turkey and Syria. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the minimum programme incorporated the following goals: dispersal of the Abkhazian Parliament, destruction of the local legal organs of power and creation of the conditions for the expulsion from Abkhazia of the greater part of the non-Kartvelian population. In the case of victory, the expulsion of the Russian-speaking and the major part (or all) of the Abkhazian population would have guaranteed the Kartvelians ethnic superiority in Abkhazia. But even should the occupation fail, ethnic cleansing and the expulsion of part of the population would render impossible the resurrection of an independent Abkhazian state in conformity with existing international norms, which is to say by means of a referendum. Knowing that the majority of the population of Abkhazia could declare for withdrawal from Georgia, Tbilisi made up its mind to prevent forever the possibility of holding such a referendum (which has in fact now been achieved).


The course and results of the war:


The invasion of Abkhazia took place a mere four days after Georgia's admittance to the United Nations. By way of an excuse for this military action, wholly inaccurate information was spread about an unstable situation within Abkhazia involving explosions on the railway-line (which links Georgia to Russia), the robbing of passengers, the taking of hostages, etc... With the advantage of surprise and superiority of weaponry, the Georgian military seized a large portion of the terrritory of the republic during the first few days of the war, which was to last for 13 months. Across the whole zone of occupation and in certain strategic regions where a non-Kartvelian population predominated the State Council's military forces deployed a policy of mass-genocide from the very first days of the invasion. On the Abkhazian side alone 5,000 people (from a pre-war population of less than 100,000) lost their lives, to say nothing of those wounded, tortured, maimed, raped, robbed or who lost their homes to wanton shelling and arson. Cultural monuments, educational establishments (such as the Research Institute), hospitals and holy places were deliberately torched and razed to the ground; surrounded by armed men to prevent any possible saving of the archival materials, the Abkhazian State Historical Archive was gutted. More than once the leader of Georgia, Shevardnadze, stated that the military had entered not another country but its own -- normal people do not burst into their own home with tanks; they do not slaughter kinfolk in their quarters; they do not violate their own houses and pillage their own flats. Smug with his initial success, Georgian Defence Minister of the day, Tengiz Kitovani, declared: "If I hadn't decided to let the members of the National Guard plunder and ravage the inhabitants of Sukhum, there would have been no stopping them!".


Georgian armed forces conducted bombardments and artillery-shelling of residential areas with non-Kartvelian occupants; punishment-squads were entrusted with effecting the annihilation of peaceful citizens. Numerous cases of special savagery directed against prisoners-of-war, hostages and even just the peaceful population are documented; additionally there were large-scale massacres, resort to torture, and the use of chemical weapons -- in a word, the occupying forces exceeded all previous examples of the transgression of the basic rules of warfare . By this means the government of Georgia strove if not to wipe out the Abkhazians, at least to ignite ethnic hostility within Abkhazia and to draw the local Kartvelian populace into military activity. Essentially they succeeded in this. A significant proportion of the Kartvelians resident in Abkhazia participated in the war against the Abkhazians; some of them took part even in effecting genocide. As a result, ethnic hatred within the republic rose alarmingly. After the forces of the Abkhazian resistance backed by the local Russian-speaking population and by volunteers from the North Caucasus, southern Russia and the Near East drove out the Georgian military from western (October 1992) and eastern (September 1993) Abkhazia, a large part of the Kartvelian population followed the fleeing army into exile -- there was no policy of ethnic cleansing deliberately to expel these people, as Georgian propaganda and lazy reporting by journalists unfamiliar with the area and its peoples have maintained.


The process of peaceful settlement:


After the end of the war the process of peaceful settlement began despite revanchist slogans and aspirations propagandised officially in Tbilisi to parallel the peace-talks. Between the Georgian and Abkhazian sides, under the auspices of the UN, and with the facilitation of the Russian Federation, there have been signed: the 'Memorandum of Understanding' securing a ceasefire (Geneva, December 1993), the 'Communique on the Second Round of Talks' (Geneva, January 1994), etc... A key-document in the course of settling the dispute was signed in Moscow in the presence of the then UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Foreign and Deputy Foreign Ministers of Russia, Andrei Kozyrev and Boris Pastukhov, and a number of Western ambassadors, namely the 'Declaration on Measures for a Political Settlement of the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict' of 4 April 1994. In conformity with this Declaration, the Sides rejected the use of force or threats against one another and promised to settle the conflict exclusively by peaceful means; provision was made for the introduction of peace-keeping forces, a presence of UN military observers, and the gradual return of refugees. On the basis of this document was worked out the 'Agreement for a Ceasefire and Separation of Forces' of 14 May 1994. In June-July 1994, with the approval of the UN, CIS [Commonwealth of Indpendent States] peace-keeping forces consisting of Russian units were introduced into the security-zone, entry into which was forbidden to the opposing forces.


Since the summer of 1994 to the present time the Declaration of 4 April and the Agreement of 14 May have on the whole been observed by both sides. However, revanchist plans of the Georgian government have hindered the fulfilment of all the provisions of these documents. Georgia has consistently attempted to make use of Russian military forces for a forced return to Abkhazia of the Kartvelian refugees -- such attempts took place in September 1994, and in July and September 1995. It is precisely this end which is served by the infiltration into the Gal District of Abkhazia, which borders Georgia, of Georgian subversive groups to destabilise the situation there. Tbilisi intended thereby to create the semblance of instability across the whole of Abkhazia and to secure the agreement of the international community for an extension of the control-zone of the peace-keeping forces to the whole of Abkhazia. Georgia managed to secure the establishment of a land- (from December 1994) and sea- (from October 1995) blockade of Abkhazia by the forces of Russia's border-troops, which is a transgression of clause 3 of the Declaration of 4 April and a departure from the principle of the non-use of compulsion or political pressure . The blockade was officially sanctioned at the summit-meeting of the CIS heads of state in Moscow in January 1996. One of the consequences has been the inability of Abkhazian representatives to travel abroad in order to counter continuing Georgian propaganda by presenting an accurate account of the Abkhazian case at international fora, such as the Aarhus conference, out of which arose the present volume, for my predecessor, Leonid Lakerbai, was invited but was prevented from leaving Russia to attend. However, in the electronic age the free flow of information cannot be so easily impeded, and various sites for Abkhazia are now available on the Internet .


The position of the Sides and the question of the refugees:


During the course of the attempt to settle the conflict peacefully contradictions, unresolved even at the present moment, have existed between the Sides.


1. Restitution of mutual state-legal relations


The break in mutual state-legal relations between Abkhazia and Georgia caused by Georgia's abolition in 1990-92 of the acts and treaties regulating relations between them found its reflection in the fundamental document known as the Declaration of 4 April 1994. The Georgian Side in the talks with Abkhazia has offered and offers still essentially one and the same scheme for mutual relations, namely the status of an autonomous republic within the composition of a single and indivisible Georgia. The variations on this theme do not suit the Abkhazian Side, which knows full well what autonomy within Georgia means -- we have experienced it and are not prepared to undergo it again. The 1,200-year history of Abkhazian statehood and Abkhazia's forced inclusion within Georgia by Stalin in 1931 give Abkhazia a perfect right to regard itself as a subject of international law. Ours is the just argument about the right of a nation to free self-determination, which is considered at the UN to be a decisive guarantee of the observation of human rights, but it is opposed by the principle of the unacceptability of the transgression of the territorial integrity of a state. In this case it begins to look to us as though interested 'organisations' and certain states wish this latter principle to apply in full measure only in connection with Abkhazia as a mark of gratitude to Shevardnadze for the part he is perceived to have played in the dissolution of the USSR and for other services he is thought to have rendered the West. As for (i) the departure from the USSR of the three Baltic republics and of Georgia itself prior to its formal dissolution, (ii) the splitting up of the USSR and the formation of new independent states on the world's political map, (iii) the unification of two Germanies into a single state, (iv) the division of Czechoslovakia into two independent states and (v) the break up of Yugoslavia, did all these happen without infringing the principle of territorial integrity prior to the fixing of territories and frontiers?! Let me repeat, Abkhazia was never an indivisible part of Georgia, as Georgians never tire of claiming, and never entered into its composition -- until the fateful year of 1931, the tragic fruits of which Abkhazia is picking to the present day. The Abkhazian Side has offered Georgia a number of variations on the theme of inter-state relations: federative union, or a federative state built on the foundation of equal subjecthood for the sides and equal rights for the peoples. However, these proposals are rejected by the Georgian Side.


One could also adduce numerous examples which testify to the fact that the actions of the Georgian Side are in any case directed not towards a constructive resolution of the problems between us, nor to any mutual coming together, but to the absolute contrary. Whilst the government and diplomats of both sides sit around the negotiating table seeking ways out of the situation that has developed, Kartvelian bandit-formations commit systematic terrorist acts on the territory of Abkhazia: sabotage, murder of military personnel, abduction of peaceful citizens, explosions, arson and destruction of objects of economic importance. No such acts are committed by Abkhazians on Georgian territory, and, if one considers the nature of the weaponry available to these terrorists, there can be no doubt that they are supported by the government of the state from whose land they infiltrate Abkhazia. Since the end of the war over 100 terrorist acts have been committed in Abkhazia, and at the present time ten citizens of Abkhazia abducted from its territory are languishing in Georgian gaols. As recently as 8 December 1996 a vehicle belonging to the Abkhazian Defence Ministry was fired upon; three servicemen were killed and two seriously wounded. Only Tbilisi could have organised the despicable murder of Prof. Yuri Voronov, member of Parliament and Deputy Premier of Abkhazia, in his flat on 11 September 1995. The Georgian Side has publicly declared that it was not involved in this crime, but, when those suspected of guilt were casually granted asylum in Tbilisi, they were welcomed like long-awaited guests. Every demand of the Abkhazian Side that they be extradited is dismissed with silence by Tbilisi.


Rather than concentrate on settling our pressing problems, Kartvelian politicians are engaged in demanding of the International Court and various international bodies such as the European Parliament that they institute proceedings against the Abkhazian leadership for (they allege) starting the war, committing war-crimes, etc... It is, of course, the political leaders of Georgia who should be brought to book for instigating the war in Abkhazia along with their field-commanders such as Gia Qarqarashvili, who threatened to wipe the entire Abkhazian nation off the face of the earth. That, and that alone, would be a real victory for truth and justice!


Liquidation of the Abkhazian race failed, as did another adventure designed in Tbilisi. Official circles in Abkhazia have at their disposal a map drawn up in Tbilisi on which Abkhazia is divided into two parts: a Georgian sector running from the R. Ingur to the R. Gumista (just to the north of Sukhum) which was to be settled exclusively by Kartvelians, and a second sector from the Gumista upto the border with the Russian Federation at the R. Psou which was destined to hold the remaining non-Kartvelian population. This map, which reeks of Tbilisi's exaggerated notions about the structure of a new Abkhazia, did not fall into our hands haphazardly from some mysterious source -- it came from the UN! And even today in Tbilisi there are those who nurture such an insane notion about the ethnic division of the Republic of Abkhazia. Such circumstances plainly provide no suitable climate for the trust needed if a just, equitable and viable settlement to our problems is going to be reached. The international community has sadly exhibited no awareness of the duplicity with which Abkhazia has been faced in its dealings with the authorities in Tbilisi over the decades and thus completely fails to appreciate why we Abkhazians and Abkhazia's other non-Kartvelian minorities with our unenviable experience in dealing with our neighbours do not share the West's captivation with the superficial bonhommie they discovered in Tbilisi as recently as 1992.


2. The question of the refugees


The Abkhazian Side recognises the necessity of the return of refugees to Abkhazia, which was expressed in the signing by the Abkhazian Side of the 'Quadripartite Agreement on the Refugees' of 4 April 1994, which, while regulating the return of refugees to the republic, also makes clear that by no means every refugee who so wishes has the right to return to live in the republic. The moral right to return to cosmopolitian Abkhazia is denied to anyone involved in wartime shooting, killing, rape, arson, or the taking up of arms against the Abkhazian people. Not every Kartvelian abandoned Abkhazia, and those determined to continue the fight will not be allowed to return here. The Georgian Side expresses (or feigns) anxiety exclusively for the return of Kartvelian refugees and insists on their mass-transfer into Abkhazia, which, as explained, is not in accord with the Agreement of 4 April 1994. Nor is there even a basic agreement on the number of Kartvelian refugees involved: the Georgian Side has been striving to convince the international community that over 300,000 should be repatriated when at no time did more that 240,000 Kartvelians reside in Abkhazia. The fact that the Georgian position is again blindly supported by the international community, as may be seen in various remarks on the problem of Abkhazia made by the UN Security Council, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, clearly reveals the naivety on the part of the said international community in accepting at face-value the truth of the Kartvelian figures (constantly increased in public statements since the 200,000 spoken of at the end of the war) and its total lack of understanding of both the internal difficulties facing Abkhazia in its state of post-war desolation, aggravated by the ongoing blockade, and the renewed dangers of physical extermination that such an uncontrolled return of Kartvelians would mean for the Abkhazian and other minority communities, especially in the conditions of mutual ethnic hatred resulting from the war, as this article has tried to demonstrate. The total number of Kartvelians currently living in Abkhazia is as high as 100,000, which includes upto 60,000 refugees who have already returned.


Not without justification is the suspicion growing that the Georgian Side is not really interested in a positive outcome to the refugee-problem. The reaction of the Georgian Side to our proposal to begin joint-registration of returnees gives us substantive grounds to make this statement. Since our initiative has found no support, we have started our own registration-programme. Georgia manifestly understands that it will be deprived of many privileges (sc. in terms of international aid) if it accepts the fact that refugees are returning -- after all, this is the weightiest argument it has been able to deploy at all levels in its manipulation and exploitation of Western sympathies.


Concluding remarks:


Despite the conditions of political pressure imposed upon us from all quarters and despite economic deprivation, the Abkhazian people together with the whole population of the country is optimistically following the course of the negotiations, believing in our future as firmly fixed in article 1 of our Constitution, ratified on 24 November 1994: THE REPUBLIC OF ABKHAZIA (APSNY) SHALL BE A SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC STATE BASED ON LAW HISTORICALLY ESTABLISHED BY THE RIGHT OF A NATION TO FREE SELF-DETERMINATION. The optimism and belief of the nation in its future was underlined by the elections to the Parliament of Abkhazia, held on 23 November 1996, which received approval and high praise from the international observers (who included US ex-senator John Nimrod and chairman of the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group, Lord Eric Avebury). Brutal deprivations cannot crush a nation's moral spirit -- they rather strengthen its belief in the correctness of its sacred struggle for freedom and independence.


The Abkhazian side is seriously committed to a constructive extension of the talks. We are convinced of the successful settlement of the conflict through only political means conditional upon the observance of both the interests of the negotiating sides and the principles of equal rights and equal subjecthood, and given the will of the sides to preserve the results already achieved in the course of lengthy negotiations, taking into account the universally recognised right of nations to self-determination.


Georgia, like any other country, has the undeniable right to independent existence. But equally undeniable is the fact that Georgia does not have the right to deprive Abkhazia of the self-same right to independence.