Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict

Editors: Paula Garb

Arda Inal-Ipa

Paata Zakareishvili

This publication was made possible by a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Copyright © 2001 University of California, Irvine

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Irvine, California 92697-5100

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This is the fifth volume in a series of publications resulting from dialogues on various aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. The project is sponsored by the University of California, Irvine, with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The authors of this volume's articles are academics, journalists and members of nongovernmental organizations on both sides of the conflict. More than fifty people have participated so far in the eight meetings (or ten - if we count those from a previous project) and numerous parallel meetings. The goal of the project is to promote constructive dialogue among increasingly wider circles of people in the local communities in hopes of contributing to the peace process. We believe that a lasting peace is possible when all sectors of the public are engaged in conversation about the history and causes of the conflict and about mutually acceptable solutions. Therefore these citizen peacebuiding efforts complement the official peace process. The articles in this volume were presented at a conference held in Adler, August 26-28, 2000. They focus on cultural continuity in the context of statebuilding. The conversations after each presentation were frank and constructive. Their transcripts were edited to avoid repetition and enhance clarity. (After all, the spoken language differs from the written style appropriate for publication.) The editors made no substantive changes to participants' remarks. The most recent meetings held in Tbilisi, December 8-10, involved diverse sectors of the Georgian public and covered a wide range of topics: perceptions about the roots of the conflict, evaluation of the current situation, economic sanctions against Abkhazia, the issue of responsibility for past events, models of possible relations between the two sides, and prospects for citizen peacebuilding. The resulting publication is currently in press. We will continue the dialogue process and the series of publications. We welcome your feedback on this and other volumes as we plan future activities. The editors and project coordinators can be reached at the following email addresses: ,, . The Russian publications are available on the internet at http:// We are grateful to the staffs of the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development and the Centre for Humanitarian Programmes for their major contributions to the editing and publishing of this volume.

Arda Inal-ipa, The Centre for Humanitarian Programmes Paata Zakareishvili, The Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development Paula Garb, University of California, Irvine, The Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies


Natella Akaba. Interethnic Relations in Transition to Democracy (pp.) Interethnic relations are among the most important in forming any multiethnic state. According to the vast majority of the Abkhaz, in order to avoid the tragic fate of the Ubykhs, it is necessary to have special protection of the Abkhaz language and the existence of the Abkhaz ethnic group. In this context the issue of relations between the Abkhaz ethnic group and other ethnic communities in Abkhazia is fundamentally important. Despite the significance of this problem to the political future of Abkhazia, the issue is not of central interest to the state and the public. It is possible that this unwillingness to discuss the issue is largely because the political status of the Republic of Abkhazia in the eyes of the world community is still unresolved. The fear is justified that Abkhazia's enemies will gain additional levers of pressure against the republic whose situation is already complex enough. This limits all controversy, including about interethnic relations. Interethnic relations can suffer in the transition to democracy, which almost always is attended by a whole host of new problems. Therefore it is necessary to use special mechanisms to ensure that all ethnic groups feel included. It is encouraging that the continuing tradition of multiethnicity and cultural and religious diversity, characteristic of Abkhazia throughout the 20th century, can help avoid extreme manifestations of nationalism.

George Anchabadze. The Georgian-Abkhaz State: Historical Traditions and Prospects (pp.) Until the public is able to overcome its enemy image that resulted from the conflict, it is unlikely that Georgians will find common ground with the Abhaz in discussing the future status of Abkhazia within one state. This does not mean that our two people can never live in peace together. The author recalls that Abkhaz coexisted peacefully with Georgians in the Abkhaz kingdom that developed in the late 8th century. In the early part of the next century the Abkhaz kings of the Leonide dynasty actively fought with other feudal states for hegemony in the region, thus becoming the first unifiers of the Georgian lands. Abkhaz lived in peace with Georgians in the same kingdom after 978, too, when young Bagrat, from the Georgian dynasty of the Bagrations. came to the Abkhaz throne. After he brought under his rule almost all of Georgia, written sources for three centuries (11th- 13th centuries) used the words "Abkhazia" and "Abkhaz" to describe not only Abkhazia proper and the Abkhaz ethnic group, but also all of Western Georgia, including Abkhazia proper, and all its residents, as well as all of Georgia and its population. (Within Georgia proper, however, the dominant terms were "Sakartvelo" and "kartveli.") During this period the Georgian kings ruled Georgia as the successors of King Bagrat of Abkhazia. A chronicler describing the affairs of the Bagration state in the 1220s wrote: "Their ancient state, Abkhazia, was peaceful." The author points out that King George who ruled Georgia from 12 13-1223 was given a second, Abkhaz name, Lasha. It is erroneous that the medieval Abkhaz noblemen were ethnic Georgians, or at any rate, adhered to only Georgian cultural norms. In the 17th-i 9th centuries, Abkhaz nobility wrote in the Georgian language but did not abandon their Abkhaz culture, and there is no reason to believe otherwise in the period before the 17th century.

Lasha Bakradze. Abkhazia in 1918 in Documents of the German Foreign Ministry (pp.) It is time to stop arguing about who came to Abkhazia first, the Abkhaz or Georgians. (Many Georgian historians and ethnologists maintain that the Abkhaz came to Abkhazia in the 16th century or even later, in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Abkhaz believe that it were the Russian czar and Lavrenty Beria who populated that territory with Megrels, people of the Georgian race.) These disputes can only impede settlement of the conflict. Perhaps Abkhaz and Georgian academics working together could develop an objective picture of their joint history. Right up until its surrender in 1918, Germany was active in South Caucasian politics, and therefore has interesting archival material on Georgian-Abkhaz relations in 1917-1918, for instance, about the Abkhaz-Georgian treaty signed on June 11, 1918. The author publishes the text of the treaty which is a subject of much controversy between Abkhaz and Georgians. Separatist movements in the Caucasus were a reaction to the November 1917 revolution in Russia. As early as October (or November in the new calendar) 1917, the Abkhaz declared their desire to enter the newly created Southeast Flliance of Cossacks, Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus and Free Peoples of the Steppelands. This alliance could not provide the Abkhaz with any tangible support and so the Abkhaz National Council had to change its orientation: on February 8, 1918, it signed an agreement with its Georgian counterpart. The second Peasant Congress of the Sukhum Okrug (March 1918) was held in the spirit of this treaty. On the other hand, S. Basaria, in his articles and appeals, strongly criticized Georgia's policy toward Abkhazia, arguing that Abkhazia was part of the North Caucasus. At the Batumi conference held not long before Georgia declared its independence, the Abkhaz delegation became divided. Some delegates led by Basaria signed the call for an alliance of mountain peoples. Others, including V. Shervashidze and G. Zukhba, did not. Even in those difficult times the Abkhaz were split on the issue of an alliance with the mountain peoples.

Marina Bartsits. The Culture of Peace in Abkhaz Traditions (pp.) Caucasus culture, including Abkhaz culture, is militaristic. The question arises, how can such cultures, in which all the people are armed and uphold militaristic ideals, avoid destroying themselves and others on this relatively small territory? The strict adherence to etiquette is the other side of this coin. It may seem paradoxical, but a militaristic culture also contains mechanisms to decrease aggression and ensure order. That is why it is important to closely examine the Caucasian culture of peace and nonviolence. Abkhaz culture has strong traditions of negotiation. There are special cultural norms that function to sustain peace. In traditional society there were prescribed ways to reduce aggression;

o The culture of nonviolent resolution of conflict situations: the institition of mediation (today these are called Reconciliation Commissions and Councils of Elders), negotiations, and reconciliation procedures.

o The institution of hospitality and the institution of kinship that is not based on blood relations.

o Education from early childhood in the norms of etiquette (verbal and behavioral), diplomacy, control over emotions, and skills to prevent provocation of physical or psychological violence.

o Training boys to be strong, clever, capable of defending their honor, the honor of their sisters and kinship group. After all, weakness provokes violence.

o The inadmissibility of violence against women, children and elders.

o Training girls not to be conflictual, to be patient and diplomatic. After all women are considered to be sources of conflict. Girls are also taught to stand up for themselves and to use weapons.

o Local and temporary limitation of conflict.

o Rules of behavior in times of conflict and war.

Cultural models limit aggressive behavior. The culture of peace is clearly visible in the models of relations between men and women, adults and children, elders and the young.

o This may be a controversial opinion, but the Caucasus is neither the West or the East. The Caucasus is the Caucasus. In building a state and a law-governed system we should draw on our normative culture and value system. The term "mentality" should not be considered a bad word or atavistic. It exists and should not be ignored.

o We must know and use the potential of our own culture. We must teach the younger generation the culture of peace and nonviolence, the culture of tolerance, including religious tolerance which is tradition al and has always been characteristic throughout the Caucasus.

o Peace is labor and process. If we do not work for peace we will lose even the little that we can still remember and still possess.

o Today we must work to dc-escalate and build peace in which all forms of violence are absent, including the threat of violence. All of us, from children to the politicians need to learn to defend ourselves and our interests without resorting to aggression.

Oleg Damenia. The Abkhaz-Georgian Conflict: Problems and Prospects for Settlement (pp.) In Georgia the concept that Abkhazia as part of Georgia contains basic contradications and cannot be proven. There is only the appearance of evidence. There is no adequate explanation for even the existence of Abkhazia.

2. It is only possible to understand the phenomenon of Abkhazia if it is seen as a sovereign subject of cultural and historical life. This means that it is a community of people who have developed a distinct social world and ethnic and cultural identity. Due to its ability to sustain itself it has created a distinct sociocultural system, its own values, and reproduces them while interacting with other ethnocultural formations similar themselves, developing attitudes of"We" and "They." Only in this way is it possible to understand and explain the social sources and meaning of Abkhaz ethnocultural formation, to understand Abkhazia's national interests (its national project) which it has defended throughout its political history. The essence of these interests is ultimately the preservation and reproduction of its national identity.

3. The concept of Abkhazia as a subject of cultural and historical life assumes that the people have developed certain social skills and survival mechanisms. One important survival mechanisms is self defense. This includes protection of the natural environment (vital resources) of a given social (ethnic) community against external assaults. Vital resources are the cause of war and conflicts between social, ethnic and other communities whose spaces (resources) are adjacent to one another. A common border between different ethnic groups and other forms of social communities is a zone of contact between them which can be mutually beneficial and promote the cultural and historical progress of each group. This zone can also be, and often is, a source of interethnic conflicts and wars that are ultimately fought over these same resources. In this case each side has a different goal. One side is protecting itself and its historically inherited vital resources, and the other side is trying to acquire these resources. The amount of resources that neighbors possess impacts the nature and dynamics of the relationship. The Abkhaz-Georgian war was not an exception to this rule.

4. We can find a nonviolent solution if we understand Abkhazia's cultural and historical status as a self-identifying and self-organizing collective social subject, and understand the source of the conflict as a form of struggle for vital resources. The best solution is for each side to preserve its conditions for survival and free self-reproduction. Settlement is a cultural and historical process that has a certain trend of development (the formation ofajoint model of sociocultural organization, values, and technology of survival) which brings about a convergence of the national interests of the conflicting parties and their mutual benefit in terms of adequate resources for each side. Determination of a common direction is possible only in the context of the processes of civilized interaction occurring worldwide and especially in the Caucasus. It is also necessary to take into account the future social and political structure of the whole Caucasus in the transitional period. This means that nonviolent settlement of the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict is possible.

Marina Elbakidze. Using a Psychological Model to Describe the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict (pp.) According to E. Bern's model, the psyche contains three "beings" - Parent, Child and Adult. So far the Child dominates in relations between the Abkhaz and Georgians. Neither side wants to admit fault. This would be Adult behavior. (She admits that there has been some progress toward adult-like behavior on both sides in recent years though, both in political circles as well as in the nongovernmental sector: some concrete programs and suggestions for new state structures have been put forth.) What we see is an attempt at collective self-identification. Emotional selfassessment usually plays a major role in self-identification as a person or as an ethnic group. In this respect Abkhaz and Georgians are similar in their insistence

on the uniqueness of their cultures. The author warns, however, the audience against going too far with the idea of uniqueness and blindly following traditions in this changing world. Every person and every ethnic group is unique and at the same time shares something in common with all of humankind. Every person and every ethnic group has equal right to exist and to enjoy independence. When interpreting our history and values, it is important to mind the time factor.

Arslan Guazhba. Citizen Diplomacy and the Culture of Oratory in the Caucasus (pp.) The ancient traditions of Abkhaz toasting provide rich insights into attitudes toward supernatural powers, the universe, the land and the peoples who populate the earth. Abkhaz traditions and customs reflect belief in the equality of all ethnic groups. Respect for all peoples naturally leads to respect of the individual, regardless of social status, religion or nationality. This is the essence of ultimate democracy. Traditional Abkhaz culture strives to educate the ideal individual. Respect for ethnic groups, ability to empathize with the problems of others and eloquence {special schools in the Caucasus taught the art of oratory and diplomacy) helped develop talented mediators capable of resolving the most complicated disputes and preventing military conflicts. The spiritual culture of the Abkhaz included esoteric knowledge, including knowledge of secret languages, such as the language of hunters, birds, snakes, women, and gestures. There were also superb women orators. Unfortuneately most of this knowledge has been forgotten, although there are still some people who know secret languages. There were pure and pious people in the Caucasus. One such person was Kunta-Khadji from Chechnya, whose teachings of nonviolence preceded Mahatma Ghandhi. Kunta-Khadji taught peace between people. His teachings involved nonviolent resistance to evil. The Abkhaz have a special relationship with the land. They believe that God gave it to them and no one has the right to take it away. In the 19th century Georgy Chachba wrote the following: ". . .if the laws are inadequate and are not in the interests of man, the laws not the man must be changed. Nature strives for symmetry and human society strives for equality. Until there is social and ethnic equality there will be no peace."

George Gvakharia. Film and TV as "Alien Ethnic Space" (pp.) The author describes his experience as the host of a Georgian TV show whose goal is to help overcome stereotypes, aggressive attitudes to whatever is different or alien. The program is called "Psikho" and is on the most popular channel in Georgia. The films shown on the programs provoke live discussions on important social issues, including the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. When the subject discussed was the conflict, all those who called in said that the introduction of troops in Abkhazia had been either a mistake or a crime. This coincides with the results of Marina Elbakidze's focus group discussions. The programs are based on the principles of the "humanistic psychology" of Carl Rogers and the principle of empathy. The audience is given the opportunity to see the world from the perspective of another culture, to forget about their own passions and biases. This helps to overcome stereotypes and promote democratic and pacifist values. In one of the first programs the UNESCO motto was quoted: War begins in the mind: we kill others in our minds, then we get weapons to kill them physically. The author argues that an ethnocentric society cannot cope with crises and conflicts. The author proposes that the project participants organize a TV program -a TV bridge - by satellite so that audiences can watch and discuss issues together.

Zurab Japua. Traditional Forms of Reconciliation in Abkhaz Narrative Folklore (pp.) Citizen diplomacy is a frequent theme in Abkhaz narrative tradition, in both ancient and more recent folklore. It can be found in three genres-the heroic-archaic Nart epos, heroic-historical tales and oral stories. The theme of traditional reconciliation is throughout heroic-archaic and heroic-historical narratives, which are the leading genres of Abkhaz folklore. The theme of heroism is the dominant idea in almost all Abkhaz oral tradition. This is because of the constant struggle of the Abkhaz against various enemies throughout their entire history. A people that survived such a profoundly heroic history had to develop a militaristic etiquette and their own peacebuilding mechanisms. Studies of the traditional institution of reconciliation provide insights into the mentality of the people without which it would be impossible to come to agreement and resolve tensions, especially in the face of war. Therefore traditional forms of reconciliation can be an extremely important context for the political dialogue of the conflicting parties since understanding the past is necessary to preserve and sustain contemporary society.

Marina Pagava. The Displaced (pp.) In the first few months after the internally displaced people (IDPs) arrived from Abkhazia they did not feel alienated in their new environment. The sympathy shown them compensated for the inefficient aid that they received. Today the

IDPs feel quite alienated. Why is aid to these people so inefficient? Why do they feel alienated from the rest of the society? The answers to these questions require serious analysis. Meanwhile it is possible to point out the most obvious reasons. One factor is poor information. They do not know their rights or what aid they are eligible to receive. Another reason of their frustration is the lack of any prospects. The government has not been able to develop a consistent action program that could be a guideline for local nongovernmental organizations and international organizations. There are no answers to the questions, "What lies ahead?" and "What shall we do?" As a result, they feel social outcasts.

Dalila Pilia. Development of a New Abkhaz State (pp.)

1. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and Georgia's subsequent independent status as a state it has pursued a policy to become a unitary state. Abkhazia's proposal for a Georgian federation resulted in the Georgian-Abkhaz war.

2. The concept of developing a modern Abkhaz state began with the adoption of the Declaration of Abkhazia's State Sovereignty and the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia in 1994. The constitution asserts the following principles: Abkhazia is a sovereign state; Abkhazia is a democratic, law-governed state; the president of Abkhazia is the head of state and has full power.

3. Positive transformations are occurring in the development of the new Abkhaz state. Abkhazia, however, faces substantive obstacles from Russia which has declared a comprehensive blockade, and from Georgia which has launched a political campaign around the world in order to prevent recognition of the Republic of Abkhazia.

4. Development of the new Abkhaz state is a painful and contradictory process. Civil rights standards are weak and are not guaranteed. A large percentage of the population does not believe it is possible to create a law-governed state. Another section of the population believes that it is not so difficult to ensure the rule of law since formal legal institutions are functioning. Most officials have declared their adherence to law governed norms and believe that it is possible to build a law-governed state through legislation, decrees and directives. The gap between these positions is the main obstacle to creating a new Abkhaz state.

5. As in many other post-socialist states, a weak civil society and the absence of strong political parties have resulted in excessive presidential power. Another factor was the Georgian-Abkhaz war.

6. As the Abkhaz state develops the parliament should become a "school of democracy" with regard to the executive branch of government. It should find democratic solutions to problems and oppose authoritarian rule. Despite the difficulties in developing the institution of parliamentarianism, collective reason in resolving critical issues is part of the mentality of the Abkhaz people.

Tamara Shakryl. The Problem of Clarity of Language in Official and Unofficial Diplomacy in the Process of Settling the Conflict (pp.)

1. One obstacle to settling the conflict is the absence of clear definitions of a number of basic terms used in both official and unofficial diplomacy. The confusion that arises from this leads to lack of understanding between the negotiators since each side interprets the terms in distinctly different ways.

2. One such term is "territorial integrity." Political, encyclopedic and legal dictionaries do not contain this term, even though the concept is fundamental to a number of basic issues in the negotiations.

3. Another related term, "ethnic minorities," is not defined in any dictionary or manual.

4. This enables some diplomats and participants in the talks to manipulate these very important terms, defining them as they like. Another such term is "indigenous population," the source of numerous debates.

5. As N. I. Kondakov has written, "when people begin to discuss any issue they should begin, said Aristotle, by first agreeing on the terms they use so that they understand them in the same way during the process of the discussion." (Dictionary of Logic, Moscow, 1971, p. 527.)

6. Unfortunately, all these contradictions appear not to be accidental in the language of these crucial pacts of international law, such as the laws of human rights and group rights. This is intended to benefit the powerful. This is why double standards are so common. (See L. V. Kvarchelia. The International Politics of Double Standards that Encourage Human Rights Violations. A paper presented on June 22, 1999, at a conference on "Abkhazia: Two Centuries of Undeclared War," sponsored by the Abkhaz National Commission on Human Rights.)

7. These statements above may not seem important at first sight, but they are significant factors that require resolution both for the sake of objective analysis of the situation and for the sake of mutual understanding in the dialogue.

8. Language is not only a means of communication, but also thinking. As Academician P.V. Kopnin noted, "modern scientific theory [including political science-T.S.] is language, that is, the means used to express thoughts." (P.V. Kopnin, The Nature of Thoughts and Forms of Expression in Language-Thought and Language, Moscow, 1957, p. 199.)

9. The above shows that if terms are not clearly defined language does not fulfill its function and mutual understanding is not possible.

10. Academics stress the importance of clarity in the elements of the language of science, including clarity of terminology.

Irakli Surguladze. The Role of Traditions in Settling the GeorgianAbkhaz Conflict (pp.) As recently as at the beginning of the 20th century Abkhaz and Georgian mentalities were patriarchal and relations between the two peoples were based on ancient norms of law and economics. Since Abkhaz and Georgians share similar traditions, behavior patterns and economic-cultural realities, they should base their discussions not on a scientific approach, but on all-Caucasus traditions. This is because the masses are not yet able to think scientifically, and also because science is categorical, while traditions are tolerant. Science, contrary to tradition, is "incapable of standing between political truth and falsehoods without losing its dignity and function." The conflict between Abkhaz and Georgians is a conflict between the cultural differences of people from the mountains and the plains. Usually mountain people who move to the valleys ultimately find common ground with locals. In the case of the Abkhaz conflict outside forces pit the Abkhaz against the Georgians with the help of assassins and careerists who should not be identified with their ethnic group. Many of them who imposed their will on the rest of us have already disappeared into a shroud of shame. Soon those who are still cloaked in the darkness of history will also disappear from the scene.

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