What Obama Should Learn From the Past?

The Heritage Foundation asks this question on its blog-page dated June 4th: Where is Obama on Georgia? In answer to the question, unsurprisingly, we see an example of the now familiar unlimited credit given to Georgia. Responding to this answer from the Heritage Foundation, AW [Abkhaz World] considers the question and responds by providing a question and answer of its own, namely: What should Obama learn from the past?

With the help of German troops, Georgian forces occupied and subsequently annexed Abkhazia. Punishment-squads dealt harshly with those who did not support Tbilisi's position.

Uprisings occurred amongst the Ossetians of South Ossetia in 1919 and 1920, both being bloodily suppressed; the action of 1920 reportedly caused 5,000 deaths and the flight to Russia of 20,000 Ossetians.

An English traveller to Menshevik Georgia, Carl Eric Bechhofer, summarised his general impressions of Indpendent Georgia (1917-21) thus: '"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', 1921, p.14).

1957, 1964, 1967, 1978

Mass-protests occur in Abkhazia against the region's subordination to Georgia, effected by Georgia's most (in)famous son, Joseph Stalin (Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili), in 1931.

After the explosion of nationalism amongst the Georgians, accompanied by such slogans as 'Georgia for the Georgians!', which threatened the minorities resident within Soviet Georgia's borders, fatal clashes took place in the Azerbaijani-populated regions of Dmanisi and Marneuli and in Abkhazia in July. Russian Nobel Peace-Prize Winner and human rights’ activist Andrej Sakharov described Georgia as like a ‘mini-empire’ because of its treatment of ethnic minorities.

Zviad Gamsakhurdia, leading opposition-figure, demagogue, and later 1st post-Soviet president of Georgia, started the 2-year war against the Ossetians of S. Ossetia. Major fighting ended with the ceasefire in June 1992, since when Georgian writ has not run in the region.

Eduard Shevardnadze, invited home to Georgia to head the junta (State Council) which had overthrown Gamsakhurdia in January but, until October, without any democratic mandate, sent troops into Abkhazia on 14 August, beginning a 13-month war that was to cost the lives of 4% of the Abkhazian population (let alone thousands of deaths on the Georgian side). The war ended with the rout of the Georgian fighters and the 'de facto' independence of Abkhazia.

Georgia again attacks Abkhazia's south-eastern province of Gal but is once more rebuffed.

Having ousted Shevardnadze from the Georgian presidency in 2003, President Mikheil Saak’ashvili, illegally sent troops (under the guise of law-enforcement officers) into the one part of Abkhazia that was not brought under Abkhazian control in 1993, the Upper K’odor Valley. The so-called 'Abkhazian Government-in-exile' was then installed there, and large amounts of weaponry (American, Israeli, Ukrainian) were stashed in the Valley (for what purpose?); a 'NATO Information Centre' [sic] was also opened there, even though Georgia was/is not a NATO member.

Saak’ashvili launches an assault on the S. Ossetian capital Tskhinval late on 7 August, giving rise to a massive Russian response. It had been mooted that Tbilisi had planned action military against Abkhazia in May, and, when Georgian troops abandoned the K’odor Valley before the arrival of Abkhazian ground-forces on 12 August, maps confirming these suspicions were found there by the Abkhazian troops. Just as Russian forces (correctly) neutralised the danger to S. Ossetia presented by the military base in Gori, so Abkhazian and Russian forces (correctly) neutralised the parallel threat to Abkhazia by seizing equipment from the base in Senak’i in Mingrelia; the boats which could have attacked the Abkhazian coast were also unceremoniously sunk in the Mingrelian port of Poti. On 26 August Abkhazia and S. Ossetia were recognised by Russia in a move to help pre-empt further military aggression by Tbilisi.

Are the lessons not clear from this brief review of recent history? Repeated aggression by Georgia towards the South Ossetians and Abkhazians during the country's brief period of Menshevik independence and again since Moscow's restraining hand started to relax (in 1989) and was then removed altogether (1991) indicate that Tbilisi has lost any moral claim it might ever have possessed to dominate these regions and peoples. In terms of the usual array of economic indicators, Georgia over recent years comes top in only one: increase in military spending. It was utter folly on the part of the Bush administration (and other Western supporters of this fancifully styled 'beacon of democracy') to supply military equipment to Georgia. President Obama (with or without the support of Congress) must not make the same mistake. The more sober minds in the NATO leadership should also be questioning the wisdom of ever having entertained the idea of offering membership to Georgia (especially in light of the Georgian military performance in August 2008). What Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Abkhazia, S. Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabagh really need is not Western armaments but disarmament so that they can concentrate on building a prosperous future for themselves based on mutual respect amongst themselves and for all the ethnic groups whose ancestral homes lie in this troubled territory.

Special thanks to Prof. George Hewitt for his contribution.





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