Abkhazia, which was made a part of the Soviet republic of Georgia in 1921, unilaterally declared independence in August 1992 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Georgia chose not to recognize its independence however, and the two sides went to war. In turn, thousands died on both sides and some 250,000 Georgians living in Abkhazia fled. A shaky cease-fire was signed in 1994, but the conflict is still not over (Deutsche Presse-Agentur: 10/2/99).
Since 1994 conflict has no doubt continued, with countless talks convened among world leaders, including the intervention of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to discuss advances in, or obstacles to the peace process. Heads of state, ministers of state, deputy foreign ministers, representatives from interior ministries, presidents, vice presidents, secretary generals, and prime ministers have all met to discuss points on the settlement over all of these years, and mechanisms on how to protect Georgian refugees who would want to return to Abkhazia.
The United States as well as the European Union have both allocated large funds to the separatist province in an effort to mend the economic wounds in that region, for Georgia has been suffering repercussions from the successive crises and difficulties in Russia (BBC: 12/24/97). Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze has appreciated such efforts, however along the course of these years, the support in the international community hasn't been as strong as he would have liked. Just recently in September of 1999, Shevardnadze criticized the world community for ignoring the plight of 300,000 people displaced by the conflict in Georgia's Abkhazia separatist region. Shevardnadze added that the conflict has continued because the U.N. Security Counsel had not made any 'objective assessment' of the situation and 'no significant progress' has been made despite the 21 U.N. resolutions and the many rounds of negotiations.
In his first appearance before the U.N. General Assembly since 1992, Shevardnadze said that the displaced Georgians were traumatized by the civil war while the international media seemed to be more concerned with the conflict in the Balkans. On that subject, Shevardnadze added that he supported the NATO air strikes in Kosovo as a stand against ethnic cleansing, hinting that he would not object to a similar military campaign launched against the separatist forces in Abkhazia (Deutsche Presse-Agentur: 9/20/99).
Ethnic minorities make up one third of the Georgian population. Ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijanis in Georgia number in 400,000 each. Some 200,000 residents of Georgia are ethnic Russians. Other ethnic groups include 40,000 Ukrainians, 40,000 Kurds, and 20,000 Jews (BBC: 4/3/99). So much potential for conflict and there is. Fighting between Abkhazia and the central government has driven hundreds of thousands of people out of the separatist province. Recently, 101 military observers, as well as Russian peacekeepers in the area to help the peace process are monitoring a cease-fire agreement between the two sides. In fact, in early 1999 Georgia admitted that the presence of Russian troops in the republic is the only stabilizing factor in the region, but they still demonstrated their disdainful attitude towards Russian servicemen in every way possible.
Despite the fact that many would demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia, if that were fulfilled it may very well worsen the situation in the republic, and the Georgians are aware of this. The question for this essay was to find something that the citizens of a republic can identify with nationally. Well, I think that the struggle to regain a safe society and have the freedom to return to their homes in peace is something they can all relate to.
Kaiser, Robert G.. Why Gorbachev Happened. Simon and Schuster Co., 1991: New York.
Kolsto, Pal. Nation Building and Ethnic Integration in Post-Soviet Societies. Westview Press, 1999: Boulder, Colorado.
Deutsche Press-Agentur: "Ukraine offers to mediate in Georgia's Abkhazia", 10/2/99
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): "President Shevardnadze pleased with U.S. Support to restore Abkhaz economy", 12/24/97
Deutsche Presse-Agentur: "Shevardnadze blasts world body for ignoring displaced Georgians", 9/20/99
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): "Georgian presidential advisor blames Russia For provoking ethnic conflicts", 4/3/99
Despite the Sochi cease-fire agreement of July 27, 1993 the Abkhazian side launched an offensive against Sukhumi on September 16, 1993. The separatist forces were assisted by mercenaries from the Russian Federation, Turkey. Syria and Jordan. The Sochi agreement called for the withdrawal of heavy artillery, tanks and armored machinery from the conflict zone. The practically disarmed Georgian troops fought, outnumbered, for twelve days. The separatists took over Sukhumi on September 27. The separatist forces obtained military dominance in the region, except for Kodori gorge, and proceeded on a policy of "ethnic cleansing" aimed at exterminating the Georgian population. The terror carried out by the separatist troops and mercenaries prompted four fifths of its inhabitants to flee. More than 250,000 people have been exiled from their birth place simply because of Georgian origin. More than 6000 civilians were killed, more than 10,000 people wounded, women were raped and cities were burned down and looted. Before the military conflict the world did not take seriously the situation of Georgians in Abkhazia.
The government of the Russian federation blames the Abkhazian authorities for the conflict in the region. On December 06, 1994 during the OSCE Budapest Summit, several heads of state expressed their concern for the "ethnic cleansing", slaughtering of innocent people, and massive expulsion of ethnic Georgians.
Rarely has such open ethnic cleansing been carried out as in the Gall district. Before September 1993 96,000 people (97% Georgians) resided in Gall. After the fall of Sukhumi separatist forces invaded Gall faced with little resistance. The dramatic outcome of the invasion was the deaths of 1500 people, the burning alive of 183 people, the complete or partial destruction of 12 villages, 6000 residential houses, 40 high schools according to the UN. Only about 6 thousand people remained in the area. A meeting of the UN Security Council decided that peace or even any agreement could not be achieved without the deployment of peace-keeping forces to the region. The UN failed to carry out decisive operations and the deployment of troops were left to the CIS. Russian troops have been deployed in the conflict zone since 1993, but with no success until now. The military troops until recently served the purpose of merely border guards. The terror continued. After the deployment of peace keeping troops in the conflict zone, people who had left began to return. These people however continued to be targeted by the separatist forces. The brutality of the attacks are shocking and the degree of violation of huaman rights astounding. Citizens' houses were being invaded, burned and looted, people were being massacred and robbed, and raped despite the presence of troops.
Displaced people have not been able to return to their homeland, peace keeping forces and UN observers have not had any real influence in the administration and militia. The Abkhazian side has fixed elections which will only delay a resolution, or even make reaching one impossible. They will impede the peace mission and will probably legalize the ethnic cleansing policy.