Semen Pegov / Ekho Kavkaza
SUKHUM - An Abkhaz government mission has returned from the Syrian Arab Republic. The delegation included State Committee for Repatriation Chairman Zurab Adleiba, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Turkish and the Middle East Department head Inar Gitsba, and the chairman of the Federation of Abkhaz cultural centers in Turkey, Firidun Akusba. The mission visited the Syrian capital, Damascus, where it spent two days talking with representatives of the Abkhaz Diaspora. In addition, a number of consultations were held on the socio-political situation in Syria. The Abkhaz Ministry of Foreign Affairs convened a press conference to report on the results of the mission.
Before journalists started asking questions, State Committee for Repatriation Chairman Zurab Adleiba provided an overview of how the trip went. Specifically, he said that during the two days they spent in Syria, the delegation was able to talk with more than two hundred compatriots. This made it possible to arrive at a more accurate estimate of the number of Abkhaz living in Syria. We would remind you that the main difficulty in reaching such an estimate is that there are no separate Abkhaz organizations in Syria, only a cultural center for all people from the Caucasus. So, according to Adleiba, the number of Abkhazians in Syria is somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people.
"When the crisis in Syria is resolved, we'll raise the question of creating either an Abkhaz community or an Abkhaz cultural center, but the most important thing is that the name of our motherland, our state should be part of the official name of the association of our countrymen in Syria," Zurab Adleiba said.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Turkey and Middle East Department head Inar Gitsba told reporters that the immediate mass repatriation to Abkhazia of compatriots from Syria is not currently under discussion. All the same, six Abkhaz families have already expressed their desire to return to their historic homeland, but they made clear that their decision was not connected with the political crisis in Syria. Inar Gitsba also noted that when talking with representatives of the diaspora, members of the delegation did not hear eye witness reports or stories about the massacres in Syria. He said many media outlets exaggerate the situation in that country.
"Yes, there are certain difficulties, but we did not hear of any mass killings or persecution. However, we did not have the opportunity to visit the troubled areas, because the objective of our visit was just to gather information on the status of the Abkhaz and Circassian diaspora in the Syrian Arab Republic," Inar Gitsba said.
The diplomat also stressed that the Foreign Ministry does not have any information about whether any Abkhaz or Circassians have been killed during the crisis. "From the information we were given, we learned that representatives of the Abkhaz and Circassian diaspora are not actively participating in the confrontation in Syria," Gitsba said.
It is known that a sizable number of representatives of the Abkhaz diaspora in Syria occupy fairly high government positions. For example, there are at least 17 Syrian army generals of Abkhaz origin. They, of course, support the regime of the current head of the Republic Bashar al-Assad. According to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia Vyacheslav Chirikba, there has been contact with some of them, although not at an official level.
"People who occupy senior positions are still part of our diaspora, [they are] our compatriots, our brothers. So it is natural that we have unofficial contacts. There have been contacts even with people who currently occupy [official] positions, but these were not contacts at an official level, but on the level of the diaspora and its needs," Chirikba said.
In the event of a serious deterioration in the political situation in Syria or the beginning of hostilities there, the Abkhaz diplomats have secured the support of the Russian embassy in Damascus. The delegation was received by Russian ambassador Azamat Kulmakhametov.
"The main topic of discussion was the concrete aspects of cooperation between the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Syria, in particular the possibility for potential repatriants to obtain a double-entry Russian transit visa. The Ambassador expressed readiness to cooperate and assist with all current and future issues," delegation member Gitsba said.
At the end of the press conference, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Chirikba noted that the government mission to Syria shows that the Foreign Ministry intends to work more closely in future with representatives of the Abkhaz diaspora around the world.
This article was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.