Colonel Robert Hamilton on Abkhazia (again): A Reply (again) from George Hewitt
Some 10 years ago I had an exchange of views with one Robert Hamilton of the US Army regarding what he wrote at the time about the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. See, for example: http://abkhazworld.com/aw/conflict/720-reply-to-hamiltons-reply-from-george-hewitt and http://circassianworld.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/some-thoughts-arising-from-lt-col.html. He has now returned to this issue in two pieces that appeared on consecutive days (viz. 18/19 December 2017); see: www.fpri.org/article/2017/12/post-soviet-wars-part-i/ and www.fpri.org/article/2017/12/post-soviet-wars-part-ii/. However, Hamilton does not limit himself to just the one post-Soviet conflict, but it is the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict to which I shall limit myself in this riposte, highlighting especially the author’s comparison of the Georgia-Abkhazia and Georgia-Ajaria cases.
Hamilton is interested in explaining the origins of certain post-Soviet conflicts and refers to one possible cause proposed by some scholars, namely the Soviet creation of eponymous autonomous entites, illustrating this view by citing: ‘Svante Cornell argues that the extension of autonomy to certain groups in the Soviet Republic of Georgia made those groups more likely to rebel once the Soviet state collapsed.’ Hamilton, however, recognises that, whilst ‘this argument may help explain the cases of the wars in Georgia’, it cannot be the sole determining factor, as he rightly points out that conflicts arose in only a small number of the many autonomies established across the USSR. He might have added that Cornell (like others who make the same argument with specific reference to Georgia) is only articulating the belief that is widespread among the Georgians, namely that the Kremlin early on created autonomies within Georgia to act as ‘time-bombs’ to be primed to explode, should it ever prove necessary, in order to frustrate any moves by the republican centre to seek independence from Moscow. But Hamilton believes that a comparative study of the two Soviet Georgian territories named above can be more revealing. His thesis is summed up as: ‘While Soviet policies served to strengthen the pre-existing identity division between Abkhazians and Georgians, those same policies erased the identity division between Ajarians and Georgians.’ In Abkhazia ‘Soviet ethno-federal policies led to institutionalized identity divisions’, and thus: ‘Where institutionalized identity divisions existed, the sudden political transition of the Soviet collapse caused mobilization around these identity divisions and escalation of conflict between identity groups’ (the highlighting is in the original). Hamilton’s general approach is described thus: ‘For purposes of brevity and comparability, [the second] paper will compare the construction and institutionalization of identities in Abkhazia and Ajaria during the Soviet period.’
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