East and West: between Hammer and Anvil, by Stanislav Lakoba
Professor in Archaeology, Ethnology and History at the Abkhazian State University. From 2005 to 2009 and again from 2011 to 2013 he served as Secretary of the Security Council.
More than 30 years after the publication of the article “East and West: between the hammer and the anvil” (newspaper Republic of Abkhazia 29 February 1992, No. 33; editor V.Z. Chamagua), much has changed in the world.
In those very disturbing times, being a deputy of the newly elected parliament – viz. the Supreme Council of Abkhazia (headed by V.G. Ardzinba) – and feeling the breath of approaching war with Georgia (provoked by the collapse of the USSR), I had the idea of highlighting the new state of Abkhazia and Georgia against the backdrop of rapid global changes. It was a naive hope to warn, to influence people and society, and to save them from the impending catastrophe.
The article was the first attempt in Abkhazia to consider its difficult situation in the context of geopolitics. I remember that many then perceived the proposed world-alignment as a fantasy and did not believe in its reality. One of the deputies once said: “It's funny, do you imagine our little Abkhazia is becoming part of world-politics?..”. About a year and a half passed, and already after the war with Georgia, in the autumn of 1993, the same person grumbled: "You turned out to be right."
The article appeared at a time when the National Guard of Georgia, headed by G. Karkarashvili (the future Minister of Defence of Georgia), entered the territory of Abkhazia for the first time (February 1992) under the pretext of fighting the “Zviadists” (supporters of the President of Georgia Zviad Gamsakhurdia who had been deposed on 5 January 1992). However, unexpectedly for Tbilisi and the Military Council of Georgia (consisting of Dzhaba Ioseliani, Tengiz Kitovani, and Tengiz Sigua), the Abkhazian and Georgian deputies in the Abkhazian parliament jointly demanded that the guardsmen immediately leave the territory of Abkhazia, which they did. Unfortunately, there was no such unity in the parliament on the eve of the outbreak of war on 14 August 1992...
Of course, not everything in my article came true, but much continues to be relevant for today's international politics. In this regard, literally in the form of abstracts, I will cite some excerpts from that publication, because at that time many people (not only in Abkhazia and Georgia) did not yet realise that the USSR had collapsed and that tectonic shifts had taken place in the world-order. The paradoxical nature of our situation lay in the very name of the country, which continued to be called a Soviet Socialist Autonomous Republic (although the USSR no longer existed after December 1991) until its renaming and the adoption of a new constitution, coat of arms and flag on 23 July 1992.
I will focus only on the most striking excerpts and provisions from the article:
- In order better to understand the political processes taking place in Georgia and Abkhazia, it is necessary to go beyond these countries and realise that you are a part of the rapid global upheavals. Only then will it become clear to us that both we and you are only hostages of a cruel geopolitical game. The main director of this world-spectacle is the United States, which is opposed by China and Islamic fundamentalists led by Iran.
- Turkey's claims to the Crimea, which Russia and the Ukraine, being on the verge of a collision, cannot divide in any way, could not be more clearly manifested.
- The strengthening of, let's say, Iranian influence in Nagorno-Karabakh will hinder Turkey's access to Azerbaijan, and most importantly, to Central Asia.
- Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan in the affairs of Nagorno-Karabakh.
- [On the visit of Secretary of State James Baker to Baku, despite the violation of human rights]: Only the extreme interest of the United States in the Caspian ‘key’ forced its administration to deviate from the general rule, because the Azerbaijani ‘key’ can open the doors to Central Asia.
- Fearing fundamentalist tendencies... which may develop into a wave, the US is trying to reorientate Azerbaijan and the Central Asian Turkic peoples towards Turkey and free these "independent" republics from the influence of primarily Iranian policy.
- [About the Kurdish issue in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran]: The Kurdish issue, as one knows, is one of the most painful for these countries and can lead to disintegration. These may be examples of a chain-reaction of global political changes on the map of the East.
- If Iran and Turkey (in alliance with the United States) do not deal with spheres of influence in Central Asia in the near future, then China will come forward with claims to this richest space.
- In all likelihood, the US administration is not interested now in the final collapse of the Russian Federation, it is only interested in a weakened Russia.
- Only the Russian army can serve as a guarantor of "united and indivisible" Georgia. A small empire can only exist under the double-headed eagle wing.
- The "Chechen Syndrome" made allies of Russia and the Provisional Government of Georgia.
- The Abkhazians looked upon the "democratic" opposition’s coming to power in Tbilisi with a certain hope and wished to see in the new Georgian leadership a positive force set on a course towards a peaceful settlement of political problems in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
However, at the very end of the article, it was said about the possible military intervention of Georgia under the pretext of fighting the “Zviadists” in Abkhazia, with the alleged aim of “restoring the normal rhythm on the railway” for then, they argue, “the West will understand” the validity of this action.
And that is how it all happened. Less than six months later, on 14 August 1992, the war began. The State Council of Georgia invaded Abkhazia under the pretext of guarding the railway. The possible scenario of the outbreak of hostilities, expressed in the article, became reality.
On the eve of the war, a series of my publications came out. Many then called to mind the small note "Hour X" (newspaper XXI century, July 1992), written on 22 June 1992. It ended with the phrase "We'll live until August...". The editor of this youth newspaper, a well-known lawyer and participant in the war, Tamaz Ketsba, then asked: “How did you know that there would be a war in August ?!”
These articles and notes were repeatedly published, commented on in various publications (See the article by Yuri Anchabadze in the newspaper Abkhazskij Vestnik; in the journal Civil Society., No. 12. pp. 12-13, Sukhum, 2001; Pages of the Georgian-Abkhazian information-war, Vol.2, pp. 432-439, compiled by T. A. Achugba, D. T. Achugba. Sukhum, 2015.; V. Z. Chamagua Essays on the History of Abkhazian Journalism: Epoch, Events, Personalities. (Second Half of the 19th-Beginning of the 21st Centuries), pp. 445-446, Sukhum, 2021. See also the site apsnyteka.org and others).
Such then, perhaps, is a brief history of those publications and significant events. I can hardly even believe that thirty years have passed…
31 July 2022, Sukhum
East and West: between Hammer and Anvil
This article has been published in Russian on 29 February 1992.
Much of what I once had a chance to write about in subjective notes (Republic of Abkhazia, 5 October 1991) has become a reality today. In order better to understand the political processes taking place in Georgia and Abkhazia, it is necessary to go beyond these countries and realise that one is a part of rapid global upheavals. Only then will it become clear to us that both we and you are only hostages of a cruel geopolitical game.
The republics that were formed out of the ruins of the Soviet state, including the Russian Federation, are assigned only a secondary, and sometimes even a tertiary, role in this game. The main director of this world-spectacle is the United States, which is opposed by China and Islamic fundamentalists, led by Iran. Shi’ite Iran is essentially a theocratic state, while Turkey has long established a secular form of government, and Sunni Islam is separated from state-structures. It is necessary to note the following fundamental differences of an ideological nature. After Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, Iran led the pan-Islamic religious and political movement for the unification of Muslims around the world into a single Muslim polity. Turkey, on the other hand, stands for pan-Turkism and has now come close to the practical solution of this strategic doctrine, which preaches the unification under its rule of all Turkic-speaking peoples, who live mainly within the former USSR. The great Turkic state, according to the plans of the pan-Turkists, should be located over vast expanses from Turkey in the west to Siberia in the east and unite the following peoples and languages: Turkish, Chuvash, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Salar, Tatar, Karachaj-Balkar, Bashkir, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Karakalpak, Kumyk, Nogai, Karaite, Uzbek, Uighur, Yakut, Dolgan, Altai, Khakass, Tuva and others. As for the Iranian-speaking group, its area of distribution is significantly inferior to the Turks and covers the following languages: Tajik, Kurdish, Farsi, Pashto, Ossetian, Tat, Talysh and others.
In addition, Turkey's claims to the Crimea, which Russia and the Ukraine, being on the verge of a collision, cannot divide in any way, could not be more clearly manifested. Meanwhile, several million Turks declared themselves Crimean Tatars and expressed a desire to return to their homeland. A detachment of warships from Turkey recently visited Sevastopol on a friendship-visit.
In actively pursuing its interests in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia, the United States actively uses, first of all, Turkey and Russia, and tries to counter pan-Islamism with pan-Turkism. This position is quite clearly manifested in relation to Azerbaijan, because of which there is a clear rivalry between Ankara and Tehran. The latter has already de facto annexed the Nakhichevan Republic. The Azerbaijani-Iranian border is also becoming more and more conditional. Apparently, in the near future, a small part of the territory of Azerbaijan on the shore of the Caspian Sea (Massali, Lankaran, Astar and Lerik regions), inhabited by Talysh, a small Iranian-speaking people, will go to Iran in the near future.
The energetic actions of the Iranians worry the United States and its ally Turkey, which hastened to recognise the independence of Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan and establish contacts with Mutalibov. At the same time, Iran is not averse to establishing relations with Mutalibov, but on a completely different basis – not recognising the independence of this Caucasian republic. The leadership of Iran considers it an integral part of itself (Northern Azerbaijan), along with South Azerbaijan (as part of Iran), which cannot but cause concern for the President of Azerbaijan.
A different position is taken by the spiritual leader of the Muslims of Transcaucasia and Azerbaijan, Sheikh-ul-Islam Pashazade (resident in Baku), who is closely associated with Islamic fundamentalists. Thus, Azerbaijan recently joined the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and at a meeting in Dakar, as reported in the press, the Baku delegation was included in the Iranian one and expressed its solidarity with the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. It is also known that Iranian helicopters and militants took part in the battles in Nagorno-Karabakh (Megapolis-Express No. 51 p. 13 1992), and Iranian Foreign Minister Velayati addressed the students of Baku University and called on them to "unite under a single green banner". Repeatedly, Minister Velayati proposed to Azerbaijan and Armenia to act as a mediator in the settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In Nagorno-Karabakh, it was not only the interests of the Muslim and Christian worlds, East and West, that clashed. Here, first of all, Iran and Turkey, pan-Islamists and pan-Turkists, clashed, because the strengthening in Karabakh of, say, Iranian influence will hinder Turkey's access to Azerbaijan, and most importantly, to Central Asia.
Armenia, apparently, is more satisfied with the Iranian position than the Turkish one, but the fact is that behind Ankara is the US administration, which has just opened its embassy in Erevan. Armenia simply cannot ignore such an important circumstance… On the other hand, Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan in the affairs of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The complexity of the situation, the pressure of fundamentalists and the fear of being swallowed up by Iran, as happened with South Azerbaijan, forced Mutalibov temporarily to join the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States].
The ambiguous situation in Baku and the extremely important military-strategic position of this republic led to the US administration abruptly changing its tone and going for rapprochement with Azerbaijan, so as not to throw its desperate leadership into the arms of Tehran. This is evidenced primarily by the recent visit to Baku by Secretary of State J. Baker, which nevertheless took place despite the suppression of national minorities and the violation of human rights in this republic. Only the extreme interest of the United States in the Caspian “key” forced its administration to deviate from the general rule, because the Azerbaijani “key” can open the doors to Central Asia.
In order to stake out their presence (and therefore influence) in a number of former Soviet republics, the Americans, unlike Russia, hastily open their embassies. Thus, there is a rapid narrowing of Russian geopolitical interests in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia.
Fearing the strengthening of fundamentalist tendencies, which may grow into a wave, the US is trying to re-orientate Azerbaijan and the Central Asian Turkic peoples towards Turkey and free these "independent" republics from the influence primarily of Iranian policy. Pakistan is also active in the position of fundamentalism, recently proposing the creation of a confederation of 42 Islamic states with the participation of the former Soviet Central Asian republics. As one can see, a new redistribution of the world is taking place under the conditions of a limited world war.
A significant confrontation between Iran and Turkey and their plans in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia in the near future may lead these two countries to a military clash. In connection with the escalation of tensions, the United States urgently transferred $12 billion to its ally in Ankara. In the event of a war between these countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and others will be involved in the conflict, which will certainly once again raise the many millions of Kurds (who live in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran) to fight for the creation of their own state of Kurdistan. The Kurdish issue, as we know, is one of the most painful for these countries and can lead to their collapse. These may be examples of a chain reaction of global political changes on the map of the East.
If Iran and Turkey, in alliance with the United States, do not deal with spheres of influence in Central Asia in the near future, then China will come forward with claims to this richest of spaces. The Caucasus will play an important role in the new alignment of forces. The commander-in-chief of the CIS forces, Shaposhnikov, having apparently lost Azerbaijan, finally decided to stake on Christian Armenia and Georgia. Russia's position on Nagorno-Karabakh has also become more definite.
As a result of the military coup in Georgia and the coming to power of the Provisional Government, there was a sharp turn and rapprochement between the Georgian authorities and the army of the "non-existent state." The first duty was to cancel the decision of the Georgian Armed Forces on the occupational nature of the Russian army located on the territory of the republic. This, perhaps, was the main issue on which both sides immediately found a common language. As a sign of gratitude, the CIS army handed over part of its weapons to Georgia to strengthen the position of the new leadership, and to intimidate and suppress various national minorities.
Suffice it to recall here the recent transfer of three infantry fighting vehicles (light tanks) to Sukhum by the CIS air assault battalion for the needs of the National Guard of Georgia, about which Marshal Shaposhnikov knew nothing. The equipment was handed over by order of the command of the ZakVO (Transcaucasian Military District).
Standing behind the scenes of these events is prominent Soviet diplomat [sc. the Georgian Eduard Shevardnadze – Trans.] who, just like two hundred years ago, again chose the northern master, having firmly learnt the old truth. Only the Russian army can serve as a guarantor of "united and indivisible" Georgia. A ‘small empire’ can exist only under the eagle wing of two-headed Russia.
Russia is quite satisfied with this situation, that is, "independent" Georgia still remains in the orbit of its military and geopolitical interests. Moreover, the strengthening of Russian positions in Georgia blocks movement in the North Caucasus, and primarily in Chechenia, isolating it from direct external contacts. All this is being done with the only hope of slowing down the further disintegration of the Russian Federation and cooling ardours in Tatarstan, Bashkiria, and so on.
In all likelihood, the US administration is not interested now in the final collapse of Russia – it is only interested in a weakened Russia. At the same time, the Russian Federation is a nuclear state, and the Americans cannot but reckon with its interests, just as they cannot but reckon with the interests of Turkey. However, the US apparently supports pan-Turkist plans only in the Azerbaijani-Central Asian direction. As for Armenia, Georgia and the North Caucasus, here they are interested in strengthening the common Christian zone of influence, the guarantor of which can only be Russia. But if "democratic" Russia does not cope with the processes, and national patriots come to power in it in the near future (remember the "Russian Legion" introduced into South Ossetia, which did not obey the Russian government and consisted of militants of patriotic parties and movements – tomorrow such legions maybe hundreds), then the US will probably play the Turkish card here.
Strange as it may seem, President Gamsakhurdia's policy objectively led to an "independent" Georgia within the composition of Turkey or Iran and strengthened pro-Turkish influence in the North Caucasus. One fine day, the ZakVO troops would leave not only Tbilisi, Kutaisi, but would also leave the Georgian-Turkish border, depriving it of protection. One can imagine what would follow these actions. Suffice it to recall the years 1917-1921. Where would Adzharia [in Georgian Ach’ara – Trans.] have ended up, which, by the way, under the agreement of 16 March 1921 between Turkey and the RSFSR, would have ended up with Russia, and not Georgia? What would happen to the areas densely populated by Azerbaijanis near Tbilisi, and what kind of ultimatum would be presented in connection with the Meskhetians?
The West solved this problem in a different way. Through Russia and Shevardnadze, with the sole purpose of preventing an excessive increase of the influence of its ally Turkey in Armenia, Georgia, on the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus.
The "Chechen Syndrome" made allies of Russia and the Provisional Government of Georgia, which jointly, as in the 19th century, began to suppress the liberation-movements in the North Caucasus and Abkhazia. We are once again caught between a rock and a hard place. Their plans for the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, the foundations of which were laid in Sukhum, are especially disturbing. The confederation, in turn, is presented to the West as an Islamic union of the highlanders, which has access to the Black Sea through Abkhazia.
In order to lock the key on Abkhazia, the new leadership of Georgia is trying to strengthen its presence here with the direct support of the CIS military machine. Just the other day, the Provisional Government of Georgia enlisted all-round economic assistance from Russia on preferential terms from the CIS, using the provided assistance as a means of economic and political pressure on the Republic of Abkhazia – on Abkhazia, which Russia has been pushing away from itself since 1989, and on the people, who since 1810 have found themselves under its "protection".
As is well-known, the Abkhazians looked upon the "democratic" opposition’s coming to power in Tbilisi with a certain hope and wished to see in the new Georgian leadership a positive force set on a course towards a peaceful settlement of political problems in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
However, the direction of recent events is beginning to convince us otherwise. Governments in Georgia come and go, but their course towards the Abkhazians and other peoples remains invariably imperial and traditionally harsh. The Georgian leadership prefers to speak with these peoples through force. This is also evidenced by the entry into the territory of Abkhazia of elements of the National Guard of Georgia under the pretext of fighting Gamsakhurdia's supporters. The organisers of, and participants in, rallies and strikes on the railroad and at Sukhum airport were persons of Georgian nationality who constantly stirred up political passions in the capital of Abkhazia and played the role of a "Trojan horse" for the introduction of Georgian military force into our republic. And only at the request of the Supreme Council of Abkhazia was the National Guard of Georgia withdrawn from our territory.
At present, it can be assumed that the Georgian government, in collusion with some supporters of President Gamsakhurdia, is inspiring various actions on the railways in Abkhazia, preventing the delivery of bread and food in order to cause a social explosion among the multinational population and use destabilisation as a pretext for repeated armed intervention, dissolution of the Supreme Council of Abkhazia (the legally elected leadership which they find objectionable), and the introduction of a state of emergency here by the forces of Georgia, as happened in October 1918 during the dissolution of the Abkhazian People's Council. Tbilisi still needs only an Abkhazian government that is obedient.
As for the economic boycott and the suffocation of our republic with famine, it frankly echoes Stalin's methods in the autumn of 1921, when the leader did his best to strangle independent Abkhazia financially and economically. It is sad that the new Georgian democrats chose this simple but dubious path and did not follow one of federative and confederate ties with Abkhazia. To what such a policy could lead, were it applied today, is not difficult to imagine ...
At the same time, the new government of Georgia, I think, is not indifferent to the light in which it can appear before the whole world, especially since the one who is primarily responsible for today's events in Georgia and Abkhazia is the comrade who will shorlty be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the resolution adopted in 1972 by the Central Committee of the CPSU on the Tbilisi City Party Committee...
The Abkhazian people boycotted the election of President Gamsakhurdia and did not rally to his defence. But, apparently, it is very beneficial for the new authorities to locate the stronghold of the Zviadists precisely in Abkhazia and, under the pretext of fighting them with the alleged aim of restoring the normal rhythm on the railway (for in that case the West will understand such "noble" motives), to carry out in Abkhazia its own business infringing the political rights of our republic and its multinational people. But, paraphrasing a well-known saying, I want to remind you: Don’t hammer, and you’ll remain unhammered!
 In Andrej Sakharov’s famous description of Soviet Georgia – Trans.
 Eduard Shevardnadze became First Secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia on 29 September 1972 – Trans.