ALLS Independent Media Monitoring Team
Facts can be discussed in an objective and meaningful way. Then there are the ‘facts’ disseminated by Georgian lobbyists, which are neither meaningful nor (by definition) objective. Sadly, the contents of Tamar Vashakidze’s article, which was recently published in the Vanuatu Independent, fall into the latter category.
Vashakidze places quotation-marks around the phrase ‘national self-determination, raising a question thereby about the legitimacy of the use of this term with reference to the Abkhazians. But for us Abkkhazians our self-determination is a crucial counterpoint to the colonialism and imperialism practised against us over the decades by Georgia, and understanding this is crucial to reaching a peace-settlement.
We Abkhazians have our own self-designation in our native tongue; this is ‘Apswa’ (plural ‘Aspwaa’). When Georgians and their foreign supporters refer to us in this way, it is not to honour our ethnonym but to cast aspersions on our historical entitlement to our native territory. The reason for this is the gross distortion of history (propounded in Georgia since the 1880s but mostly associated with a notorious publication from the time of Stalin’s and Beria’s repression of the Abkhazians by the Georgian literary specialist Pavle Ingoroqva) is to insinuate that the ‘true’ Abkhazians of history were a Georgian-speaking tribe, whilst the nation to which we are proud to belong came relatively late to the territory of Abkhazia, dominating and taking over the name of the territory’s ‘true’ autochthons. The determined revival of the ‘Ingoroqvan Hypothesis’ in the late 1980s was a factor that led inevitably to the Georgian-Abkhazian war of 1992-3.
That war broke out when the Georgian authorities of the day, which, by the way, totally lacked any democratic mandate but which was led by the West’s darling Eduard Shevardnadze, invaded Abkhazia and occupied most of the towns and villages, including the capital our Sukhum, on 14 August 1992. During the first months of the conflict, when the West preferred to look the other way, it was the non-‘Georgian’ [ non-Kartvelian] civilians who were attacked and had to flee as they were beaten, robbed and killed, their houses and apartments looted.
The Commander-in-chief of Georgian troops in Abkhazia, General Giorgi Karkarashvili, issued the following chilling threat in a formal televised address to the Abkhazian and Georgian people in Sukhum on 24 August: “No prisoners of war will be taken...If 100,000 Georgians lose their lives, then [on the Abkhazian side] all 97,000 will be killed...The Abkhazian nation will be left without descendants.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzvtaZIMy98
Regretfully, when discussing the problem of Kartvelian refugees, no-one bothers to remember the above-mentioned facts and that the Kartvelian population of Abkhazia mostly greeted Shevardnadze’s tanks and soldiers with joy.
Specific attacks were directed against Abkhazian political, cultural, intellectual and community leaders. In addition to the disappearance or killing of Abkhazians, removal or destruction of the principal materials and buildings of important historical and cultural importance to Abkhazians took place in what appears to have been an organised attempt to destroy the very cultural and national identity of the Abkhazians.
The Report of the Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 780 (1992), 27 May 1994 (S/1994/674), English page33, Paragraph 129 states with regard to ethnic cleansing that it is:
"the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous. Those practices constitute crimes against humanity and can be assimilated to specific war crimes. Furthermore, such acts could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention"...
Medical authorities in Gudauta (northern Abkhazia) reported that virtually all men who had passed through the Gudauta hospital, after having been held prisoner by Georgian authorities, appeared to have been severely tortured. Many had sustained multiple broken bones and burns from cigarettes or other objects on various parts of their bodies. Some had their ears partially or completely torn off. See UNPO's Abkhazia Report, November 1992, b. Human Rights and Cultural Destruction at http//www.unpo.org/downloads/AbkGeo1992Report.pdf
Tamar Vashakidze, Head of Advocacy and Communications in Georgia, stated in the article that the Apswaa are a small ethnic group which formed less than 20% of Abkhazia’s pre-war population and which carried out severe ethnic cleansing, wiping out or deporting some 75% of the ‘Georgian’ [recte Kartvelian] population of Abkhazia. For whom is this kind of brainwashing intended? Is it credible that 20% Abkhazians could pose such a threat to 75% Kartvelians? The demographic threat in Abkhazia came rather from the artificial increase of the territory’s Kartvelian population, largely as a result of population-transfers during the Stalin-Beria period, in order to swamp us Abkhazians in our homeland.
The readers of the Vanuatu Independent should know that Abkhazia’s status was downgraded to that of a mere ‘autonomous republic’ in 1931 within Stalin’s home-republic, the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. In those days all problems were solved by central diktat, in which the former republics of the USSR dragged out their existence in an atmosphere of total fear and in which violations of human rights were the norm. The geographical borders of the Soviet socialist republics were redrawn, and, in the case of Abkhazia, this was done in favour of Georgia. Although for most of the Soviet period Abkhazia had the status of an autonomous republic, it has NEVER been a Georgian region and no one is supposed to incorporate it into the Russian Federation.
The Russian Federation, followed by Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru have recognised Abkhazia as an independent state; the same applies in the case of South Ossetia. Any country is free to do the same (or not), but their decision should be based on proper appreciation of the facts and not on self-serving propaganda emanating from Tbilisi, the capital of the aggressor state.
Gia Karkarashvili [General - Army Commander of the State Council of Georgia]: "In the first place, the Ossetian war [1991-92] in Tskhinvali had just ended. The Georgia National Guard suffered heavy losses. We were exhausted. That’s why I thought it was reckless to go into Abkhazia. But I was told that the 13th-14th August was a good time to launch a military operation because the Russian Parliament was in recess. Unfortunately, we entered Abkhazia in a very disorganized way. We didn’t even have a specific goal and we started looting villages along the way. As a result, in the space of a month we managed to make enemies of the entire local population, especially the Armenians." [11.52 sec.] "Absence of Will"
[4:34 sec.] Reporter: Mr. Shevardnadze, could you we have prevented the war in Abkhazia?
Eduard Shevardnadze: "Of course we could. However, we need to remember the times we were living in back then and what was going on in Georgia at the time. But [Tengiz] Kitovani, the defence minister, should never have sent troops to Sukhumi. That was our biggest mistake."