Abkhazian Conflict: Nine Questions and answers0


It has come to my attention that the web-page below:

http://www.conflicts.rem33.com/images/abkhazia/abkh_quest_answ.htm

contains the sort of unacceptable anti-Abkhazian propaganda that has become all too typical of Georgian (or pro-Georgian) sources over the last couple of decades. The person behind the page(s), Andreas Andersen, presents his readers with 9 questions on the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, to which he offers his own answers. I recapitulate below those questions and answers (with slight correction to the author’s English) and append my own responses, from which exercise I hope objective readers will draw their own conclusions.

George Hewitt (Professor of Caucasian Languages, SOAS, London University)


Abkhazian Conflict: Nine Questions and answers

1. Is Abkhazia an inalienable part of Georgia or is it a separate country that was artificially put under Georgian jurisdiction?

Andreas Andersen’s assertion:

Abkhazia is an inalienable part of Georgia both historically and culturally. In the past it has been either one of Georgia’s provinces when Georgia was a unified state, or one of the Georgian states during the periods of fragmentation.

Response:

Abkhazia is not an inalienable part of Georgia. In the 10th century the ruler of the Georgian provinces Shavsheti and K'lardzheti (both today lying inside Turkey) as well as the neighbouring regions of Samtskhe and Dzhavakheti, King Gurgen, had married Gurandukht', sister to Abkhazia's childless King Theodosius III (known as The Blind). Note that two centuries earlier Leon II of Abkhazia, taking advantage of Byzantium’s waning power, had extended his domains to encompass the whole of today’s Western Georgia and created for himself the title 'King of the Abkhazians'; this Kingdom of Abkhazia lasted for some two centuries (from c.780 to 978), and during this period the term 'Abkhazia' (in whatever language relevant historical documents were written) referred to all the territory belonging to the Abkhazian king, and indeed from late in the 8th century the kingdom's capital was transferred from Anakopia (today’s New Athos in Abkhazia) to Kutaisi, now Georgia's second city, lying in the west Georgian province of Imereti. In 975 the son of Gurgen and Gurandukht’, Bagrat' (the IInd of Abkhazia, but the IIIrd of Georgia), inherited the central Georgian region of Kartli, and in 978 ‘Abkhazia’ too (in the enlarged sense of the term just explained) fell into his hands from his maternal uncle. In 1001 he was left the Georgian province of T'ao (also now in Turkey), and his father's death in 1008 gave him control over other western provinces. Bagrat' III thus became the first king of the united Kingdom of Abkhazia and Georgia, a union recognised by the early chroniclers, who would refer to the rulers as ‘sovereign of the Abkhazians, Georgians, etc...’. This united kingdom came finally to encompass the modern capital of Tbilisi (earlier Tiflis) only in 1122, after King David IV (known as The Builder) defeated the Seljuk Turks in 1121 and the following year expelled the Arabs from their caliphate in Tbilisi. Thus, it was the Abkhazians who clearly played a significant role in laying the foundations of modern Georgia's statehood. Bagrat' lies buried in the church he founded at Bedia (in southern Abkhazia); the church has a depiction of him as founder (ktitor), whilst his mother's image in stone-relief can be seen at the church of K'umurdo in the Armenian-populated Georgian province of Dzhavakheti. From the 13th to the 15th centuries the Genoese had trading posts along the Black Sea coast, including Abkhazia. Up until the appearance of the Mongols in the mid 13th century, the terms for 'Abkhazia' in the relevant written sources acquire an even wider territorial sense than the already enlarged sense employed during the period of the Abkhazian Kingdom, becoming synonymous during the period of this united kingdom for the native Georgian term for 'Georgia', namely /sakartvelo/.

Central power in the united kingdom of Abkhazia and Georgia collapsed with the arrival of the Mongols c.1245. Their depredations caused the country to split into two kingdoms, which in their turn fragmented into smaller political units, constituting sovereign princedoms; one of these was Abkhazia (in the strict sense of the term in which it is used today) under the princely Chachba family. There followed centuries of rivalry for supremacy and control of coastal territory between the Chachbas of Abkhazia and the princes of the Dadiani family in neighbouring Mingrelia — recall that the Mingrelian language is a sister to Georgian, neither being at all related to Abkhaz.

From the early 16th century Ottoman Turkey began to influence developments in the area. The Catholic Italian missionary, Archangelo Lamberti, who lived in Mingrelia between 1635 and 1653, placed Abkhazia's border with Mingrelia at the R. K'odor, some way to the south-east of Abkhazia’s modern capital Sukhum, but in the 1680s the Chachbas managed to set the border along the R. Ingur, and there it has remained, forming today's uneasy frontier with the neighbouring state of Georgia.

Russia began to turn an expansionist eye towards the Caucasus from the late 18th century. King Erek'le of the central and eastern Georgian provinces (not the whole of Georgia, be it noted) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with Catherine the Great's Russia in 1784, but the freedom-loving north Caucasian tribes stood in the way of Russia's consolidation in the area. In 1810 Abkhazia came under Russian 'protection', though local rulers continued to administer their own affairs until Russia took full control following the final defeat of the north Caucasian opposition, when the alliance of N.W. Caucasian tribes surrendered on 21 May 1864 at Krasnaja Poljana, inland from the modern resort of Sochi, though historically the place fell within territory that belonged to the Ubykhs, cousins of the Abkhazians and Circassians (in the N.W. Caucasus). A process of denuding the Caucasus of its North West Caucasian-speaking peoples began in the wake of the 1864 defeat and was completed after the Turko-Russian war of 1877-8, as all the Ubykhs and most of the Circassians and Abkhazians chose to leave to resettle in various parts of the Ottoman Empire (predominantly today’s Turkey).

The international community knows little (and cares even less) about the N.W. Caucasian diaspora, which has had such serious consequences for the demography of the whole area. Leading Georgians (such as Iak’ob Gogebashvili) appreciated the opportunity that the Abkhazian migration afforded for colonisation and began arguing that the people most suited to be settled in Abkhazia were their neighbours, the Mingrelians, and it was thus only from the end of the 19th century that speakers of Kartvelian languages (mostly Mingrelians) began to establish a permanent presence in the territory.

The period of Transcaucasian independence (1918-21) was an unhappy one for Abkhazia, suffering oppression from the Georgian Menshevik government in Tbilisi, of which the Englishman Carl Eric Bechhofer (pseudonym for Roberts) wrote:

'The Free and Independent Social-Democratic State of Georgia" will always remain in my memory as a classic example of an imperialist "small nation". Both in territory-snatching outside and bureaucratic tyranny inside, its chauvinism was beyond all bounds' (In Denikin's Russia and the Caucasus, 1919-1920, p.14)

For this reason Abkhazia, unlike Georgia, welcomed the appearance in 1921 of the Red Army. Soviet power was (re-)established in Abkhazia on 4th March 1921, and the Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic was recognised by Georgia's revolutionary committee on 21st May. On 16th December a special 'contract of alliance' was signed between Abkhazia and Georgia. On 13th December 1922 Abkhazia (along with Georgia) entered the Transcaucasian Federation. In February 1931 Abkhazia lost its status of a treaty-republic associated with Georgia to become a mere autonomous republic within Georgia by order of the man who had by then amassed in his own hands all power in the Kremlin, the Georgian Iosep Dzhughashvili, a.k.a. Josef Stalin. Abkhazia remained one of Georgia's two ASSRs (the other being Ach'ara) until the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, when, like many other former Soviet regions it asserted its ‘sovereignty’, though, contrary to what one reads in most (typically ill-informed) sources, it did not declare independence until 1999.

Does this read like the history of an ‘inalienable’ part of of Georgia?



2. Can Georgians be considered as part of Abkhazia’s indigenous population or are they recent colonists in Abkhazia?


Andreas Andersen’s assertion:

From the earliest days of Georgian and Abkhazian history, Georgians and their ancestors were one of the several indigenous groups of Abkhazia. Intermarriage between members of various indigenous communities was quite common as well, so the majority of Abkhazian residents have mixed ethnic background.

Response:

Sadly, the ancient Greeks, who first wrote about the Transcaucasus and its denizens, were not interested in the languages of non-Greeks, interpreting their speech as just a series of bar-bar-bar-sounds, which gave Greek the word /barbaros/ ‘non-Greek, savage’, which in turn gave English the term ‘barbarian’. And so, there is scope for argument as to the ethnicity of this or that ancient tribe mentioned by the classical authors. However, though the frontier between Abkhazian territory and that occupied by their neighbours (and their immediate Kartvelian neighbours are Mingrelians and Svans, not Georgians properly so-called) is likely to have been somewhat fluid, moving further to the north(-west) at times of Mingrelian domination but moving to the south(-east) when Abkhazians had superiority, there is really no historical evidence to support any large-scale non-Abkhazian (specifically Kartvelian) presence in Abkhazia until the native population moved out in the 1860s-1870s, as explained above.

Of course, various Kartvelian authors (and their sympathisers) have tried desperately to present a different picture. One such is Prof. Tamaz Gamq’relidze, director of the Oriental Institute in Tbilisi, member of both the Georgian and Russian Academies of Sciences, and corresponding member of both the British and American Academies. He published in 1991 the Georgian version of an article entitled On the History of the Tribal Names of Ancient Colchis (On the historical-etymological relation of the ethnonyms 'Apxaz-/Abazg-' and 'Abaza/Apswa'). The Georgian original was the full version of the article, and it appeared in the Georgian journal macne 'Reporter' (Historical Series 2, 1991, 7-16). A shortened version was published in one of the Georgian newspapers, where it was stated that the full article should be made available in both Russia and abroad. A Russian translation duly appeared in the internationally respected Moscow journal Voprosy Jazykoznanija 'Questions of Linguistics', whose editor at the time was none other than Tamaz Gamq’relidze (=TG); I subsequently translated the full Georgian version into English in order to help expose the tendentious nature of the argumentation — this was published, with my commentary, as "The Valid and Non-valid Application of Etymology to History", firstly in: SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics, 2 (1991-92, 5-24), and then as "The Valid and Non-valid Application of Philology to History" in Revue des Etudes Géorgiennes et Caucasiennes 6-7, 1993, 247-264. During the course of the article the country of the Missimians is mentioned as forming part of Abazgia from the VIth century. Although TG does not pursue the ethnic identity of the Missimian tribe, it has been suggested elsewhere by Kartvelian (Simon Q’aukhchishvili 1936, for example) scholars that they too were Kartvelians. This latter association was taken up in the early 1990s by Marik’a Lortkipanidze, and, since this debate demonstrates how important philological data can be to historical argumentation, I shall make some comments on the interpretation of the relevant text.

On page 9 (sc. in the Georgian text) of Lortkipanidze's brochure 'The Abkhazians and Abkhazia' (Tbilisi 1990), of which TG's article is a sort of philological equivalent, she quotes approvingly the views of certain Kartvelian scholars to the effect that the Missimians were of Kartvelian stock. In the Russian original of his scathing review of this work (newspaper 'Abxazija', 16 July 1991, p.3) the Russian archæologist/historian, Yuri Voronov, assassinated in 1995, stated: 'To claim that culturally and historically the Missimians were Kartvelians is an affront to the memory of Agathias.' In her reply to this criticism (newspaper 'Svobodnaja Gruzija' 9 Aug 1991, p.3) Lortkipanidze states: 'Although Agathias underlines the relatedness of the Apsilians and Missimians, he also stresses that their languages as well as their customs were different.' And in an adapted version of his original review, written to take account of Lortkipanidze's response, Voronov re-emphasised that Agathias in the Vth century testified to the 'cultural and linguistic closeness of the Apsilians and Missimians.' How can this divergence of interpretation be explained?

Agathias' text was published in volume III of his charming series georgik’a, which contains Greek writers' reports on Georgia, by Q’aukhchishvili in 1936. All texts in this 8-volume series are given a parallel translation into Georgian. The relevant passage occurs on page 86. If we translate the Georgian into English, we might obtain: 'Sot’erike went down into the country of the so-called Missimians, who are subjects, like the Apsilians, of the king of the Colchians, but they speak in a different language and also pursue different laws.' Now this English version (and indeed Q’aukhchishvili's Georgian rendition) are rather ambiguous as to which two of the three peoples mentioned are being contrasted in terms of their languages and customs — is it the Missimians and the Apsilians (as Lortkipanidze argues), or is it the Missimians and the Colchians (as Voronov interprets the sentence)? Neither the Georgian nor the English can resolve the matter, but, of course, we can refer (and in all conscience must do so) to the Greek original. In the Greek there is no ambiguity of any sort for the simple reason that the language possesses a pair of clitics (men...de) whose job is to accompany and thereby indicate each component of a contrasting pair. The relative clause here has the Missimians as its head; within the clause appear our clitics, the former following the noun-complement (= 'subjects’), the latter coming after the noun for 'language'. The interpretation is clear — the Missimians, while they are subjects of the Colchians differ from them in language and customs. The phrase 'like the Apsilians' is an appendage to the first qualifying remark about the Missimians and is to be understood as stating that both the Missimians and the Apsilians were subjects of the Colchians. Taking the passage on page 86 together with the statement on page 162 that the Apsilians were a 'common (i.e. related) and neighbouring people' to the Missimians, we see that Voronov is perfectly correct in stressing the cultural and linguistic genetic relatedness of the Apsilians and the Missimians. This latter ethnonym in Greek must derive from the Abkhazian surname Marshan, the princely holders of which traditionally lived around Ts’ebelda (Tibelos of Agathias' Greek text), which lies in the territory of the Missimians, as the Abkhazian historian Zurab Anchabadze proposed in 1959 and has nothing to do with the Svans' self-designation myshwan, on the basis of which suggestion Q’aukhchishvili hypothesised that the Missimians, like the Apsars, were a Kartvelian tribe occupying areas of present-day Abkhazia! The term 'Apsars' (or in its Georgian form apsarebi) is clearly an attempt by a Georgian chronicler to render into Georgian the Abkhazian's self-designation 'Apswaa', and nothing more, as Q’aukhchishvili must have known all too well in his heart of hearts. The chronicler in question is explaining how the great queen Tamar (1184-1213) selected the name Lasha as nickname for her son Giorgi (the IVth of Georgia), noting that the word 'is translated in the language of the Apsars as "enlightener of the world"' — in Abkhaz /a.laSHa/ (where -SH- is the retroflex fricative) means 'bright, clear'.

Any attempt to counter this argument by referring, for instance, to such works as Prof. David Braund's 'Georgia in Antiquity' (1994), which speaks on p.310 of 'the cultural and linguistic gulf between the Misimiani and Apsilii', will fail, because Braund, as he admitted to me in a personal letter of 19 Jan 1996, did not go back to Agathias' Greek text but relied on the sort of ambiguous (and thus deficient) English translation illustrated above...

The conclusion to be drawn from the above is that historians have a duty to consult wherever possible original texts before framing statements that might well have no historical validity, AND that linguists have a duty to reflect as accurately and in as much detail as possible facts about the languages on which they work, so that their imprecise statements do not form the basis for the mistakes of others.

The definitive article on the demography of Abkhazia from the last quarter of the 19th century through to modern times is that by Daniel Mueller in the book I edited for Curzon Press in 1999 ‘The Abkhazians: a handbook’ (pp. 218-239).




3. What was the ethnic makeup of Abkhazia before the war of 1992-93?

Andreas Andersen’s table:

Ethnic groupamount%
APSUA94 76717.7
GEORGIANS244 87245.7
RUSSIANS76 41314.3
ARMENIANS78 04114.6
OTHERS (GREEKS,UKRAINIANS, JEWS, ESTONIANS, GERMANS, ETC…)40 9687.7
TOTAL535 061100
Sourcе: Брук, С.И., Население Мира: Этнодемографический Справочник,
Москва («Наука»), 1986


Response:

Slightly variable figures deriving from the last Soviet census (1989) appear in different sources. The percentages I usually cite are: Abkhazians 17.8%, ‘Georgians’ 45.7%, Armenians 14.6%, Russians 14.2%, etc... And so, I do not propose to quibble over the actual numbers offered in the table above. However, a couple of comments on ethnonyms are in order.

The overwhelming majority of Kartvelians resident in Abkhazia prior to the war were Mingrelians. They arrived in Abkhazia mostly as a result of the Stalin-Beria policy from the late 1930s of transplanting them into the republic to alter the local demography. A number of Svans moved into the highland-regions of the Upper K’odor valley, when these areas were vacated by the native population in the 1860s-1870s, where they still live. I have never viewed Mingrelians and Svans as Georgians, and it was only from c.1930 that they became so categorised officially. I have, therefore, always regarded it as illegitimate simplistically to style the Kartvelian population of Abkhazia as ‘Georgian’, and I never do so.

As for the use of the term ‘Apsua’ to refer to the Abkhazians, under most circumstances it might be thought eminently reasonable to base an ethnonym on the relevant people’s self-designation. However, Georgian usage of ‘apsuebi’ in reference to the Abkhazians (in Georgian ‘apxazebi’) is a calculated term of abuse, since it arises from the entirely groundless arguments going back to a notorious pseudo-scientific theory of the self-taught literature-specialist P’avle Ingoroq’va, first propound in the late 1940s in supposed justification of the Abkhazians’ anticipated expulsion from Abkhazia by Stalin and his Mingrelian lieutenant Lavrent’i Beria. Ingoroq’va argued that the people known to the world today as the Abkhazians arrived in Abkhazia from the N.W. Caucasus only in the 17th century, replacing the Kartvelian ‘apxazebi’ then resident there and, as the new dominant tribe, adopting the self-designation of the Kartvelian tribe they had subjugated! This preposterous rewriting of history is based in part on another mistranslation of an original source; this time the source is the 17th-century (half-Abkhazian!) Turkish traveller Evliya Chelebi, whose text at one point speaks of Abkhazians ‘also speaking Mingrelian’ – Ingoroq’va misled his readers by aserting that, according to Chelebi, the Abkhazians in the 1640s spoke (only) Mingrelian!

The ancient Greeks’ ‘abazgoi’ ‘Abazgians’ and the Romans’ ‘gens absilae’ (= the Georgian chronicles’ ‘aps(h)ilebi’) ‘(race of) Aps(h)ilians’ are, as every neutral commentator agrees, to be indentified with the Abkhaz-Abaza people of today – prior to the coming of the Mongols the ancestors of today’s Abaza(s), who now live in the N.W. Caucasus, lived on Abkhazian soil (as even the 11-volume Soviet Georgian Encyclopaedia acknowledges).

Thus, in English only the term ‘Abkhazians’ should be used to refer to the Abkhazians.

Once Kartvelians became established in Abkhazia, inter-marriage between them and the Abkhazians did, naturally, take place, and many such marriages broke up as a consequence of the aggressive nationalism that broke out in Georgia in the late 1980s and which threatened not only the Abkhazians but a number of other minorities living in what was still Soviet Georgia.



4. Have the Apsua ever been discriminated by the Georgians?

Andreas Andersen’s assertion:

There is no or little information about this with respect to distant history, except the fact that all Abkhazian rulers were of mixed Apsua-Georgian background. During the 20th century, the Apsua enjoyed various privileges in terms of representation, employment, etc.

Response:

Though the Chachba ruling-family in Abkhazia was known to Georgians by the surname Sharvashidze (or Shervashidze) and to Mingrelians by the surname Sharoshia, I know of no direct evidence to support the claim that ALL Abkhazian rulers were of mixed race.

The claim that in the latter 20th century the Abkhazians ‘enjoyed various privileges in terms of representation, employment, etc.’ has to be seen against the background of what happened in Abkhazia earlier in the century. We have already alluded to the actions taken there by the Georgian Menshevik government after the Russian Revolution and before the arrival in Transcaucasia of the Red Army in 1921. In 1936 the popular Bolshevik leader of Abkhazia, Nest’or Lak’oba, was poisoned in Tbilisi by Beria. His wife, son, and elderly mother were then tortured and liquidated, a fate that then awaited most of Abkhazia’s intelligentsia during The Great Terror. In addition, as we have seen, large numbers of non-Abkhazians were resettled into Abkhazia from neighbouring areas of Georgia to alter the demography. When most of the USSR’s newly established literary languages saw their scripts shifted to a Cyrillic base between 1936 and 1938, the Abkhaz script (along with that for the Ossetic language in S. Ossetia) had a Georgian orthography imposed on it. And then in the school-year 1945-6 all Abkhaz language-schools were closed and unceremoniously replaced by Georgian language-schools, with a consequent repression of publishing and broadcasting in Abkhazia. The planned removal of the entire Abkhazian nation to Central Asia and Siberia was revoked at the last minute in the late 1940s, as Stalin and Beria decided that enough had been done to mingrelianise (georgianise?) the Abkhazians within a generation or two. It was only with the deaths of Stalin and Beria in 1953 that all these measures were revoked, resulting in the compensatory ‘privileges’ of over-representation mentioned by Andersen, who conveniently chooses not to inform his readers why this state of affairs came about.



5. Who was behind the Abkhazian separatist movement from the very beginning?

Andreas Andersen’s assertion:

Russian and, to some extent, Turkish imperialists were behind the Abkhazian separatist movement from the very beginning.

Response:

Anyone able and willing to read what Georgian nationalist leaders (such as the late Merab K’ost’ava, the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the late Gia Ch’ant’uria, and Irak’li Ts’ereteli) were writing about their various minorities from late 1988 through to the first clashes in Abkhazia (and in the Azerbaijani populated areas of Marneuli and Dmanisi in S. Georgia) in July 1989 could see at once that one did not need to look outside Soviet Georgia to understand why the minorities living there, such as the Abkhazians, the S. Ossetians, and the Azerbaijanis (to name but three who were to suffer violence at Georgian hands), felt so nervous and chose to establish National Forums (such as Aydgylara ‘Unity’ in Abkhazia, or Adamon Nykhas in S. Ossetia) to defend their own interests, should aggressive talk lead to physical aggression, as indeed it did in both S. Ossetia (under Gamsakhurdia) and Abkhazia (in July 1989 and then under Shevardnadze’s full-scale war from 14th August 1992 to 30th Sept 1993)).



6. Was the war of 1992-93 an ethnic conflict between the Apsua and Georgians or was it Russian aggression using Apsuan aspirations as a formal excuse?

Andreas Andersen’s assertion:

It was definitely Russian aggression using Apsuan aspirations as a formal pretext. Russia adopted the divide et impera method widely used by the Nazis in the countries occupied during World War II.

Response:

Just as the conflict’s gestation was in the heady days of Georgian nationalist fervour that gripped the republic from the late 1980s, as Georgians began to think that independence from Moscow might be within their grasp, so the war started when Shevardnadze, faced with a desperate civil war concentrated in the home-district (Mingrelia) of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-communist president who had been ousted in January 1992 by a junta which then invited Shevardnadze home in March to head their unconstitutional government, between his own and Gamsakhurdia’s supporters, gambled that starting a war with a ‘common enemy’ (viz. the Abkhazians) would win Gamsakhurdia’s backers over to his (‘national’) side – the gamble, taken a matter of days after Georgia was granted membership of the UN, even though Shevardnadze had not by then achieved any kind of democratic legitimacy, failed miserably. Shevardnadze’s rag-bag of an army quickly occupied most of southern Abkhazia, including the capital, Sukhum. The Abkhazians tried to retake the city a number of times, and, after one such attempt Russia’s Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, offered to place Russian peace-keepers along the front line, which was the R. Gumista just to the north of Sukhum. Had both sides accepted this proposal, Abkhazia would have been effectively partitioned and would probably have remained so (like Cyprus) to the present day. The Abkhazian leadership had no choice but to accept, but it was Shevardnadze’s foolhardiness that again led him to miscalculate, and he rejected the offer. The result was that the Abkhazians saw their chance and retook their capital, initiating a flight of Kartvelians, who chose to flee before the advancing Abkhazian forces and their North Caucasian allies (consisting of Circassian and Chechen volunteers plus some Abkhazians from the Turkish diaspora-community) reached their settlements, as stated in the UNPO (= Unrecognised Nations and Peoples Organisation, of which both the Georgians and the Abkhazians were then members) report published in Central Asian Survey 14.1, pp.127-54. 1995.



7. Did any of the parties involved in the war of 1992-93 perform ethnic cleansing?

Andreas Andersen’s assertion:

The only party that performed ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia were Apsuan separatists and their foreign benefactors.

Response:

Whilst most of the pre-war Kartvelian population fled across the Abkhazian-Georgian border along the R. Ingur at the conclusion of the war on 30th Sept 1993, this was an instance of SELF-cleansing, as they mostly fled before the Abkhazian forces reached their villages. Back in 1989 at the time of the first Georgian-Abkhazian clashes it had been the intention of the nationalists to restrict the Abkhazians to the town of Gudauta and its surrounding villages (this being the only district of Abkhazia which in 1989 still had an ethnic Abkhazian majority) – Gamsakhurdia made no secret of this intention. Had Shevardnadze had his way in the war he so recklessly began, his goal would probably have been the same, thereby largely cleansing the rest of Abkhazia of its autochthonous population.



8. What is the current status of Abkhazia?

Andreas Andersen’s assertion:

As of today, Abkhazia is formally a part of Georgia. However, most of her territory is under the effective control of a pro-Russian ethnocratic Apsuan puppet regime and Russian “peacekeepers”, who cannot be real peacekeepers simply because they represent one of the parties to the conflict.

Response:

Abkhazia is ‘de facto’ independent, though unrecognised by the international community. The conditions of life are not easy, many people finding it difficult to secure employment. However, every year the situation seems to improve, with new business-ventures and building-work, though the region which bore the brunt of the fighting, namely the S.E. province of Ochamchira remains deprived. For many years after the war, acts of terrorism, inspired and financially supported by the authorities in Tbilisi, were mounted by such terrorist-groups as the Forest Legion and the White Brethren across the Ingur from Mingrelia, where training-camps existed near the capital, Zugdidi. These assaults have lessened over recent years, but in 2006 the Saak’ashvili regime in Tbilisi infringed the 1994 peace-accords and introduced troops into the Upper K’odor Valley, the only part of Abkhazia over which the Abkhazians failed to reestablish their control in 1993. Saak’ashvili’s pretext was that this was a policing operation to counter drug- and arms-trafficking, though this excuse fooled nobody. Those troops are still in place, and as recently as late September 2007, a raid was mounted against an Abkhazian training-camp near the mining town of T’q’varchal in which one Russian trainer had his throat cut and another was shot in the face at point-blank range. The Saak’ashvili regime continues to enjoy huge backing from the USA, Great Britain and other Western countries...

Georgians would have Ukrainians replace the CIS (essentially Russian) peace-keepers along the R. Ingur frontier; during the war, however, the Ukraine supported Georgia.



9. What are the demands of the parties involved in the Abkhazian conflict? What kind of compromise are they ready for?

Andreas Andersen’s assertion:

Abkhazian Georgians and the majority of other non-Apsua residents of Abkhazia would like it to be part of Georgia. They do not mind having autonomous status. The Georgian government in Tbilisi is willing to give Abkhazia extended autonomy and to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. In their turn, pro-Moscow Apsua separatists have repeatedly stated that they are not willing for any compromise and insist on “independence within Russia”.

Response:

In the build-up to the fighting in July 1989 a large multi-ethnic meeting was held on 18th March in the northern Abkhazian village of Lykhny. The resulting declaration, representing the shared view of the thousands of participants of all local nationalities, supported the case of the Abkhazians against that of the Georgian nationalists. In the subsequent referendum carried out by Gorbachev on the future of the USSR, a referendum in which Georgia proper did not participate, the absolute majority of the electorate inside Abkhazia voted in favour of preserving the Union (i.e in favour of NOT acceding to the secession of Georgia), which indicated a desire NOT to be under the control of Tbilisi. It was as an autonomous republic that Abkhazia existed within Georgia (and the USSR) from 1931 to 1991. We have surveyed the sufferings of the Abkhazians during these years, and so it is hardly surprising that they refuse, having lost 4% of their population in the 1992-3 war, to return to the self-same situation which allowed that suffering to take place. Put simply, the Abkhazians and the other non-Kartvelian residents of Abkhazia do not trust the Georgians and their government in Tbilisi.

The break in the peace-process that occurred in 2006 was as a result of the illegal introduction of troops to the Upper K’odor Valley by President Misha Saak’ashvili. If he removes that illegal presence, puts his signature to a declaration never again to resort to violence in Abkhazia, and finally explains what happened to the Mingrelian electoral commissioner Davit Sigua, who was kidnapped in Abkhazia’s southernmost Gal District earlier in 2007 and who has not been heard of since, President Sergei Bagapsh of Abkhazia, as he personally assured me in a private meeting in Sukhum in early September, is prepared to meet Saak’ashvili at any time to discuss resumption of peace-talks. The ball is squarely in Saak’ashvili’s court...

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