A Diary of Bilateral Meetings

By Manana Gurgulia


Abkhaz and Georgians do not view bilateral meetings the same way. Meetings in which representatives from various NGOs participate do not always go smoothly. Not every meeting has tangible results or leads to concrete actions and projects. Obviously, discussing humanitarian programs, projects, and problems at a round table is better than fighting with one another. Participants of seminars, round table discussions and meetings can have opposing viewpoints and political sympathies. For Abkhaz, these meetings are a way to be heard, to declare our interests and misgivings.

June 8-10, 1996, Moscow

The British non-governmental organization, International Alert, convened the meeting. In February 1996, at a conference on managing conflicts in the former Soviet Union, participants proposed this second meeting. Roman Dbar (Ecological Society "Apsabara") and Manana Gurgulia (The Foundation for Citizens’ Initiative and the Future of Humankind) attended the initial meeting.

Representatives of Abkhaz and Georgian NGOs attended the meeting in Moscow.

Participants from Abkhazia were:

* Daur Bargangia – member of Parliament

* Manana Gurgulia – Deputy Director, information agency, "Abkhazpress"

* Tamaz Ketsba – Co-chairman, Foundation for Citizens’ Initiative and the Future of Humankind

* Abesalom Lepsaia – staff, Foundation for Citizens’ Initiative and the Future of Humankind

* Giorgi Otyrba – Deputy Director, Abkhazian Association for Support of the UN

Representing Georgian NGOs were:

* Paata Zakareishvili – Director of Staff for the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights

* Marina Pagava – doctor

* Vakhtang Khaladze – Director, International Center for Conflict Resolution, Conflicts and Negotiations

* Soso Tsiskarivshvili – Director, Center for Social Connections

* Tamara Chikovani – Correspondent, Georgian radio station "Freedom"

Due to difficulties crossing the Abkhazian-Russian border, Roman Dbar was unable to attend.

The facilitators from International Alert were General Secretary Kumar Rupesing and the Coordinator for the former Soviet Union, Anna Matveeva.

We agreed at the beginning not to discuss politics, although it was impossible to avoid it entirely during the course of our work. The discussions lasted two days. We talked about problems due to the economic and informational blockade of Abkhazia, popular stereotypes, and ways of overcoming the psychological after-effects of war. The great difficulties we had at the Russian border on our way to Moscow made our conversation about travel problems quite vivid. Participants agreed that prohibiting freedom of movement violates a fundamental human right.

Giorgi Otyrba and Abesalom Lepsaia suggested a joint project to examine academic research, conferences and publications about models of government structures and relationships after war. To build greater trust, we discussed projects in environmental protection, journalist training, information exchanges, archive restoration, independent communication, overcoming stereotypes and the psychological after-effects of war. All projects would be new and treat each side equally. Although we agreed to speak carefully to the press about the meeting’s work and results, a series of publications and interviews appeared in the Georgian press with inadequate and biased appraisals of the meeting.

25 January to 1 February, 1997, Shtadtshleining, Austria – An Abkhazian-Georgian dialogue/seminar with NGOs and research institutions.

The organizers of this meeting were the Berghofskiy Research Center for Constructive Conflict Resolution (Berlin), the Austrian research center "Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution" (Shtadtshleining, Austria), and the United Nations Volunteers in Georgia organized this meeting.

The participants from Abkhazia were:

* Giorgi Otyrba – Political scientist; Deputy Director, Abkhazian Association for Assistance to the UN.

* Vakhtang Khagba – Director, Abkhazian Association for Assistance to the UN.

* Leila Tania – researcher and staff, Foundation for Citizens’ Initiatives and the Future of Humankind

* Tamaz Ketsba – Co-chairman, Foundation for Citizens’ Initiatives and the Future of Humankind

* Anna Keropian – Administrative assistant to the President

* Yury Toriia – Vice-President, Abkhazian Association for Assistance to the UN

* Batal Kobakhia – Executive Director, Centre for Humanitarian Programmes

* Akhra Bzhania – Director, Computer Center (Sukhum)

* Manana Gurgulia – Deputy Director, Information Agency "Abkhazpress"

* Roman Dbar – Director, Ecological Inspection Agency; Vice-president, Ecological Society "Apsabara"

* Liana Kvarchelia – Coordinator, Centre for Humanitarian Programmes

The participants from Georgia were:

* Paata Zakareishvili – Director of Staff for the Committee on Human Rights of the Georgian Parliament

* Ghia Anchabadze – historian, staff member of the Academy of Sciences of Georgia

* Vakhtang Khmaladze – Director, League for Protection of the Constitution

* Mikheil Mirziashvili – Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development

* Julia Kharashvili – International Executive Committee, Helsinki Citizens Assembly

* Marina Murvanidze – Director, Multiple-Assistance to Georgia

* Niko Chavchavadze – Director, Institute of Philosophy, Academy of Sciences, Georgia

* Giorgi Gogsadze – Director, Center for the Development of Democracy and Conflict Resolution

* Alexander Russetsky – Psychologist, Helsinki Citizens Assembly

* Manana Darzhania – Journalist

* Soso Tsiskarishvili – Director, TASIS Bureau, Tbilisi

The seminar’s goal was to be a place of information exchange, for participants to discuss several regional problems, determined in advance. The main topics of discussion were:

* The building of democratic institutions in multinational societies undergoing transition

* International standards in human and minority rights

* Government-building and division of power among citizens

* Positive examples of resolving ethno-political conflicts

The conference also touched on issues of political status, humanitarian needs, the position of refugees and displaced peoples, increasing trust, and NGO roles in society. Such dialogue, with the participation of international experts and political scientists, was interesting and useful for us all. Lecturers were: Professor Egbert Yan (Mangeimsk University, Germany), Professor Bill Boyring (Essex University, Great Britian), Ditrich Shperling (Parliament member, Republic of Germany), and Dr. Mark Hofman (London School of Economics and Politics).

Seminar participants agreed it is important to solve the conflict peacefully and to maintain contacts.

8-10 May, 1997, Warsaw

The OSCE Mission in Georgia and the OSCE Bureau on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights organized the first meeting of Abkhazian, Georgian and Ossetian journalists. Participants exchanged information on the mass media and its financial and legal status. They also discussed journalism ethics and the media’s role in escalating and resolving conflicts. Participants concluded that such meetings are useful and should be held regularly. They agreed that issues discussed should be expanded to include written journalism, radio, television, and information agencies. Participants made the following suggestions:

* Establish an exchange of information and materials between information agencies and newspaper editors

* Exchange television/radio productions

* Form contacts between professional journalism agencies

* Conduct the next meeting of Abkhazian, Georgian and Ossetian journalists before October, 1997

* Hold a conference for South Caucasian journalists on "The Media’s Role in Conflict Resolution in the Caucasus"

The following participated in the conference:

* Manana Gurgulia – Information agency "Abkhazpress"

* Guram Amkuab – Abkhazian television

* Vitalii Chamagua – "Respublika Abkhazii" (newspaper)

* Vitalii Sharia – "Ekho Abkhazii" (newspaper)

* Natela Akaba – Center for the Support of Democracy and Human Rights in Abkhazia

* Stanislav Lakoba – independent journalist

* Liuba Eliashvili – Georgian Television-Radio Corporation, the program "Moambe"

* Vasilii Maglaberidze – "Iuzhnaia Osetiia" (newspaper)

* Eka Khoperiia – "Kapetali" (newspaper)

* Yuri Gol’dman – "Sakinform," a Georgian information agency

* Vazha Inasaridze – Federation of Georgian Journalists

* Marina Yanovkaia – "Iuzhnaiia Osetia" (newspaper)

* Batradzd Kharebov –South Ossetian information agency "Res"

* Marina Razorenova – expert

* Petr Ivashkevich – OSCE Mission in Georgia

* Paulina Merino – OCSE Bureau for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Warsaw

1-4 July 1997, Yerevan

From 1-4 July, British NGO International Alert organized a Georgian-Abkhaz seminar in Yerevan on popularly-held stereotypes. Psychologists, journalists and NGO representatives from Georgia and Abkhazia participated in the seminar, including:

* Natella Akaba – Center for the Support of Democracy and Human Rights, Sukhum

* Izida Chania – Information Agency "Abkhazpress," Sukhum

* Mikael Nersesian – Student, Abkhaz State University, Sukhum

* Giorgi Khutishvili – International Center for Conflict and Negotiations

* Giorgi Nizharadze – International Center for Conflict and Negotiations

* Naira Gelashvili – Writer; Director, "The Caucasian House," Tbilisi

* Klem MacCarthy – Independent consultant on conflicts and social development

* Anna Matveeva – International Alert, Great Britian

Participants discussed stereotypes, with no concrete results.

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