The intractable problem of the Abkhazians: 'Guests' on their own territory
Index on Censorship, 19.1, Jan 1990, pp. 23-25.
The melting pot the Soviet leaders aspired to create has been described as a salad bowl. Four writers offer differing views on events in Georgia and Uzbekistan.
Anyone who kept abreast of news from the USSR in 1989 must be aware of the desire for national sovereignty among the Kartvelian peoples of Georgia (i.e. Georgians, Mingrelians and Svans, usually referred to, along with the Laz in Turkey, as Georgians).
Immediate sympathies probably lie with a nation of four million who regard themselves as unjustly subjugated by the Tsars (1801-1918) or the Red Army (post-1921). The situation is more complex. The Kartvelians constitute 68.8% of Georgia's population (1979 census). Andrei Sakharov recently described Georgia as one of the USSR's minor empires (Ogonek, 31 July 1989). Thus, it is hardly surprising to see Georgia riddled with the inter-ethnic conflicts which are appearing all over the Union.
Kartvelian opposition to the Communist regime is fragmented among a number of 'informal' groups. Apart from the National Front (headed by Professor Nodar Natadze), they are led by former dissidents: the Helsinki Group (Zviad Gamsakhurdia); Society of Holy Ilia the Just (SHU, formed by the late Merab Kostava); Rustaveli Society (Akaki Bakradze); National Democratic Party (NDP, Gia Chanturia). All these groups are united in their hostility to the Abkhazians. After the 9 April killings in Tbilisi, it is impossible to find a single rational voice anywhere in the Georgian media prepared to question anti-Abkhazian propaganda.
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