'Discussion' about Abkhazia without Abkhazians, by Vitali Sharia

Ekho Kavkaza -- Yesterday afternoon I saw the publication of one of the Georgian Internet-editions "Abkhazia is Georgia" - the experts held a meeting in the format of an International Scholarly Conference. There was no time to read the text at that moment, and even more so to watch and listen to a video-report about the said conference for four and a half hours, and by the evening two Facebook friends sent this publication in a personal message. One of them - with the postscript "Especially affected by the penultimate paragraph."

The text says that on 11 April 11 2021, at the initiative of the Caucasian International Centre for the Study of Geo-history and Geo-politics, whose president Guram Markhulia was the host of the event, together with the Sukhumi State University, an International Conference “Abkhazia is Georgia” was held online. This conference, "unique in terms of its objectives and the composition of its participants," as the authors of the text write, was attended by Musa Gasimli, director of the Institute of Caucasian Studies of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, and Namik Aliev, head of the department of the Academy of Public Administration under the President of Azerbaijan; Azerbaijani political scientist Araz Gurbanov; First Class State Counsellor, Doctor of Political Sciences Tatiana Poloskova and Doctor of Historical Sciences, Oleg Kuznetsov (Russian Federation); political scientist Avraham Shmulevich (Israel); Professor Sulev Valdma (Estonia), Doctors of Historical Sciences, Professor of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv: Oleg Kupchik, Oleg Mashevski, Taran Makar (Ukraine); ex-Ombudsman of Moldova Aurelia Grugoriu. Georgia was represented at the conference by the chairman of the Tbilisi-based Supreme Council of Abkhazia (it is called "legitimate" in Georgia), Doctor of Historical Sciences Jemal Gamakharia, Rector of the Tbilisi-based Sukhumi State University Zurab Khonelidze, professor of this university Zurab Papaskiri and many others.

Then I quote (while preserving the peculiarities of spelling): “The participants of the conference, against the background of recent events in Azerbaijan and the restoration of control over a large part of the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh occupied by Armenia, highlighted the Abkhazian problem in detail. All speakers unambiguously agreed that Abkhazia has historically always been a part of a single Georgian political-state and the ethno-cultural world, and any encroachment on the territorial integrity of Georgia, as well as the other sovereign states of Ukraine and Moldova is a gross violation of international law. The ‘leading and guiding role’ of the Russian Federation in inciting and supporting aggressive separatism in the post-Soviet space was emphasised. It was noted that the encouragement and even more overt military support for the protection of the ‘state sovereignty’ of Abkhazia, ‘South Ossetia’, as well as other unrecognised entities (Transniestria, DPR, LPR), have harmed Russia itself and caused enormous damage to its international authority. In this regard, of special note is the position of the Russian participants in the conference, who characterised as opportunistic and fundamentally flawed the Kremlin's decision to recognise the ‘independence’ of Abkhazia and the so-called ‘South Ossetia’ in August 2008; the audience greeted with enthusiasm their raising of the question about the immediate withdrawal of the ill-fated (for Russia itself) ‘recognition’ of the ‘independence’ of the rebellious enclaves of Georgia.”

I don’t know what relation the word ‘enclave’ (part of the territory of a state completely surrounded by the territory of another state) has with Abkhazia and South Ossetia; is this really the idea of the named doctors of sciences?

A resident of Abkhazia, Russian by nationality, who forwarded the publication to me on Facebook, being ‘especially affected by the penultimate paragraph’, meant the enthusiastic words about the position of the Russian participants in the conference, but I was ‘affected’ by the next, last paragraph of the text: “The conference participants agreed to continue the discussion on topical questions relating to this issue”.

What kind of ‘discussion’ is this, when, by the very composition of its participants, it becomes very clear to the most superficially informed of observers that it will be a ‘one-sided game’? This idea was reflected in the very first online-commentary to the publication: “Supporters of Georgia have gathered — what else could be expected? Of course, everyone agreed on one thing; there were no opponents!"

Naturally, the question comes to mind: why did the organisers of the conference not invite Abkhazian historians to participate in it - as they are directly related to the subject under discussion? Indeed, the press once raged with their polemics with their Georgian colleagues on this and similar subjects.

However, according to sober reasoning, this question seems naive: even if something like that was wanted and could have been organised, almost all the arguments that would have been voiced during the meeting are known in advance. For they have already been voiced thousands of times over more than three decades, after Gorbachev's perestroika ‘opened the floodgates’ to openness.

You can also look into the more distant past. In 1907, a brochure ‘Abkhazia is not Georgia’ was published. And just thirty years earlier, in September-November 1877, in the article ‘By whom should Abkhazia be settled?’, published in Russian in a few issues of the newspaper ‘Tiflis bulletin’, the famous Georgian writer Iakob Gogebashvili wrote: "We have suggested that it is most convenient, fairer and better to allow the Mingrelians, Abkhazia's closest neighbours, to colonise this country, abandoned, as it has been, by the majority of its inhabitants", and, lo and behold, it is now necessary to dispute the fact that Abkhazia is supposedly Georgia ... It is noteworthy that in the mid-90s of the last century, one of the first publications issued by the newly established International Association of the Abkhazo-Abazinian (Abaza) people was a reprint in Sukhum Home of the printing of this brochure.

+ Vladimir Pozner, Alena Tania and tolerance, by Vitaly Sharia
+ Zviad Gamsakhurdia: “Abkhaz Nation Doesn’t Exist!”
+ Revelations of forgotten voices
+ Abkhazia is Abkhazia, by Stanislav Lakoba
+ Better a bitter truth than a sweet lie, by David Dasania

More recently, last month, a surge of interest in these chants – ‘Abkhazia is Georgia’ and ‘Abkhazia is not Georgia’ — caused a scandal when a young Abkhazian woman living in Sukhum posted a video on social networks in which she yells the first of them. Judging by some of the first comments on this in the Georgian Internet-community, there was created a hope of putting this girl, as they say, on a pedestal, to make her a heroine of the struggle ‘against the Russian occupation’ and ‘for the return of Abkhazia to the bosom of mother Georgia’. But this hope soon faded when it became obvious that Alena Tania's act absolutely did not reflect her ‘beliefs’, but was caused solely by a desire to ‘hype’ and an inability to predict the consequences of what was done.

In general, among the Abkhazians, especially after the real attempt to assimilate them in the middle of the last century, when they were declared a ‘Georgian tribe’, despite all the difference in languages, the slogan ‘Georgia is Abkhazia’ aroused nothing but bewilderment and indignation. I remember how in the second half of the summer of 1989 the famous Abkhazian poet Taif Adzhba, who was then working in the newspaper "Soviet Abkhazia", brought me a small text under the heading ‘An apple tree is not a pear’, in which he protested against attempts upon Abkhazian identity. Believe me, in the hot social and political atmosphere in Abkhazia after the Georgian-Abkhazian clashes on July 15-16 of that year, it was an act of considerable courage to publish even such a seemingly harmless text under your real name.

This note of his was soon published in a selection of readers' letters (the then-editor of the newspaper was going to publish such selections, in which, ‘for the sake of balance’, 1-2 letters ‘from the Abkhazian point of view’ would be followed by 1-2 - from the Georgian point of view ... The tragic fate of Taif Adzhba is known to everyone in Abkhazia: a few weeks after the troops of the State Council of Georgia entered Sukhum in August 1992, a group of Georgian guards came to his apartment in the New District and took him away for an unknown fate…; basically, a poet, he was, in general, far from political battles ... And only quite recently has an assumption come into my mind: could they have come for him on a tip from some reader of ‘Soviet Abkhazia’ who harboured a grudge against him after that little note? This, of course, we shall never know, but it cannot be ruled out with one hundred percent certainty.

After the scandal of Alena Tania, the Georgian-Abkhazian skirmish on social networks escalated. Somehow one Georgian female user, during the polemic, in the absence of, apparently, more detailed arguments, wrote: "Abkhazia is Georgia, period." An Abkhazian woman objected: "Abkhazia is not Georgia, but Abkhazia." And again: "Abkhazia is Georgia!" ... Someone decided to joke at her expense: "And you write this here 10 million times,  but do you suppose that suddenly something will change as a result?" In short, it would be funny, were it not so pathetic.

Well, what if we raise the level of discussion to a more serious one? Over the past decades, I repeat, all the main arguments in the Georgian-Abkhazian polemics have been studied like moves in chess-games - the Catalan opening, the Caro-Kann Defence, the Queen's Gambit ... I will formulate just a few.

When the Georgian side declared: "What right do you, Abkhazians, have to demand secession from Georgia, if according to the 1989 census, there were two and a half times fewer of you than Georgians living in Abkhazia?", from the Abkhaz side there usually came the response: “That’s exactly our point! If, according to the 1886 census, years after the disaster of the ‘makhadzhirstvo’ [= Great Exile], Abkhazians in Abkhazia still formed 59 percent of the population, while Georgians, including Mingrelians, were only four percent, and then this figure grew and grew throughout the century, and so our fear is that Georgia will inevitably continue this process ”.

In response to the remark of the Abkhazians that no-one would think to assert: “Poland and Finland are Russia” - on the basis of the fact that they were part of the Russian Empire for more than a century, one hears: “But this is completely different! After all, are not Chuvashia, Mordovia and Kalmykia Russia?" Response: "There are many multi-ethnic states in the world, and if the Chuvash, Mordovians and Kalmyks do not see the point in secession and consider they are Russia, then so it is."

If Abkhazian historians cite Iakob Gogebashvili, who called for the settlement of Abkhazia with Mingrelians, then Georgians recall other historical periods, for example, when the eastern part of Abkhazia was subordinated to the Mingrelian principality, or when Queen Tamara was ruling...

Abkhazians, on the other hand, remember the ninth century, when the Abkhazian kings subjugated Georgian lands. And so, if one is to try to get to the very ‘roots’, to the question of who "were the first to set foot with bare feet on this fertile land by the sea"? Although I myself do not consider this issue so important in respect of settling the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, nevertheless ... A couple of months ago, one Abkhazian Internet-user posted an interesting selection of quotes from the works of famous Georgian historians. Here are three:

“... Numerous Abkhazo-Adyghean tribes in ancient times lived not only 0n their present territories, but occupied the whole of Colchis, part of Asia Minor and other places ... Even in the V-III millennium B.C. on the territory of Western Transcaucasia there were Abkhazo-Adyghean tribes ... " (O.M Dzhaparidze. ‘On the ethnic history of Georgian tribes according to archaeological data’, Tbilisi, 1976, pp. 265-291.)

 “... Georgians and their relatives had long left Asia Minor for resettlement to the north, to Transcaucasia, where Georgian tribes settled. According to archaeological data, before the appearance of Georgians in Transcaucasia, the country was inhabited by various tribes (Abkhazo-Adygheans and Nakh-Daghestanis) ... ”. (I.A. Dzhavakhishvili. Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, volume XIX. Moscow, 1930, p. 558.)

"... on the territory of Western Georgia the Kartvelian tribes were preceded by the Abkhazo-Adyghean tribes .... the migrating Zan (Megrelian and Chan-Laz) tribes settled on the territory where Abkhazo-Adyghean speech existed ...". (A.S. Chikobava. Works, volume II. Tbilisi. 1958, p. 263.).

I had read before that Arnold Chikobava, studying the toponymy of the regions of Western Georgia, came to the conclusion that Abkhazo-Adyghean vocabulary was reflected in it — this is given in the selection, with links. And this is what I thought about: these outstanding scholars were engaged in research, and it did not occur to them somehow to correct their conclusions. But if they lived now, when history is being politicised and is being set at the base of an ethnic struggle, would they dare to publish it? And if they did, would they not become targets for raw eggs?

This article was published by Ekho Kavkaza on April 13, 2021, and is translated from Russian.

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