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 seventh 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.

This was the first time that we invited an outside expert to participate in our conference: we asked Prof. Lederach, the internationally known author of books on peace-building, to comment on our project goals and activities and to make presentations on developing peace-building strategies and analyzing conflicts. The transcript of his presentations and the lively discussion is published in this volume.


Natella Akaba
The Stability Pact for the Caucasus as a Model of Caucasian Integration (pp. 20-32)

The idea of a Stability Pact for the Caucasus was first discussed at the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November 1999, but it is not really a new idea. Even while the regions of the Caucasus were in different empires and the people were involved in bloody internecine conflicts, a sense of cultural unity prevailed. There have been many attempts to unite the Caucasus but only unification from the top down has been successful.

After the collapse of the USSR the idea of Caucasian integration was raised once again. The proposed Stability Pact for the Caucasus, as the authors point out, is more a multilateral initiative than a precise plan.

An analysis of the proposals in the pact on the status of Abkhazia does not reveal anything new in the approach to the settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, which is essentially to preserve the old hierarchical relationship between Georgia and Abkhazia (as well as between Azerbaijan/Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia/South Ossetia). In light of this inequality the three unrecognized states naturally are not inclined to accept this idea of the pact. If one of the goals is to preserve the weak (or failed) states of the former Soviet Union, it is not enough motivation for Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia to endorse the Stability Pact for the Caucasus.

The idea of a Caucasus community is appealing, but the relationship between the different members of the community must be based on equality and justice. It is necessary for the three de-facto independent countries to be active members of the discussion on the future of the South Caucasus.

David Berdzenishvili
Tbilisi�Sukhumi: Before and After the Interim Period (pp. 141-148)

Confrontation between Georgian and Abkhaz nationalist movements reached its summit on March 17, 1991 when the Georgians boycotted the all-union referendum and the Abkhaz voted for the preservation and renewal of the Soviet Union. By that time the radicals in the Georgian nationalist movement prevailed, and the more moderate forces inclined toward dialogue with Abkhaz organizations (�We can still find a way to the hearts of the Abkhaz!� declared V. Vekua at a rally of Georgian activists in Sukhumi, December 1988) had become much weaker. The moderates had not developed serious political organizations in Tbilisi or Sukhumi. The result was that the leaders who came to power in Tbilisi essentially denied the Abkhaz their right to self-identification.

In early 1992, after Gamsakhurdia was ousted and before Shevardnadze returned to Georgia, Republicans (members of the official Consultative Council) and Gia Anchabadze went to Sukhumi to renew dialogue. Unfortunately, another approach prevailed in the Georgian government and war broke out. (There were probably forces in Abkhazia who also had an interest in this confrontation.) In late July of 1995 an agreement seemed to have been reached, but it was not signed. Since then the situation has essentially not changed.

These are possible scenarios for the future: (1) The worst version of the Cyprus model (the status quo); (2) Georgia and Abkhazia recognize that Russia is in charge; (3) Georgia is not yet a normal democratic country but begins to look like one (something like Serbia today) and manages to reach an agreement with Abkhazia to create a common state; (4) The current situation in Cyprus � Georgia and Abkhazia are doing well enough, have some relations with each other in a common space (without specifying status); (5) (This is more wishful thinking than a possibility.) Democracy and prosperity prevail, Georgia and Abkhazia have close relations and it doesn�t matter whether they are in the same state or have some other forms of coexistence (perhaps something like Benelux).

Zurab Chiaberashvili
Doomed to Live Together: Not Enough Democracy to Settle the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict (pp. 221-232)

On both sides of the Kodori the population is reconciled to the fact that their governments are not doing anything to improve living standards. In Abkhazia the people are in solidarity with their government against a common enemy, but there is no such consolidation in Georgian society.

These are the factors that impede settlement of the conflict:
1.  The governments are concerned with other more important problems. The Sukhumi government is still in a state of war fever, and the Tbilisi government is concerned only with the personal welfare of its own circle.
2.  The Abkhaz are accustomed to looking to Russia, not Georgia to solve their problems. For instance, this year the staff of the Institute of Forensics will intern in Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don. Has anyone in Georgia who supports pro-Western orientation thought about how this orientation can be reconciled with the pro-Russian orientation of the Abkhaz if we want to live together in the same state?
3.  Many Georgians also still hope for help from Russia which has no interest at all in resolving the conflict. The head of Georgia�s �war party�, Tamaz Nadareishvili, and the former head of the Georgian State security service, Irakly Batiashvili, M. P., are pushing Georgia toward Russia (no less than the Abkhaz). In order to get back Abkhazia they are willing to even agree to preserve Russian military bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki. According to Batiashvili, under those conditions Russia would gladly return Abkhazia to Georgia. For Russia it is much more important to maintain these two bases on the border with Turkey (member of NATO) than the bases in Abkhazia (in Gudauta) and in the outskirts of Tbilisi (Vaziani).
4.  The uncompromising stance of the Abkhaz government. An example of this was evident at the recent Abkhaz-Georgian seminar on �State and Legal Aspects of the Settlement of Conflicts� where the Abkhaz participants insisted that the starting point of negotiations should be the legal collision that developed when the USSR collapsed. The Georgians argued that the legal divide between Georgia and Abkhazia occurred as a result of the Abkhaz-Georgian war, not the collapse of the Soviet Union. While the seminar was underway, Astamur Tania, aid to the Abkhaz president, was quoted in Prime News as saying that under no circumstances would the Abkhaz negotiate on the basis of that premise.
5.  The influential �war parties� in both Tbilisi and Sukhumi. No progress in the negotiations is possible as long as the former head of the Abkhaz Ministry of Internal Affairs, who lives in Tbilisi, can state that the partisan war in Abkhazia is perfectly normal.

The return of refugees would renew contact between Georgians and Abkhaz and this would help to improve the political climate both in Tbilisi and Sukhumi.

Arda Inal-Ipa
Understanding the Interests of the Parties (pp. 86-96)

It is necessary for the Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue to begin analyzing national interests. A shift in the strategy of settlement from a discussion of positions to an attempt to analyze and understand the interests and fears of the parties will help identify mutually acceptable formulas for peaceful coexistence. This could stimulate the official negotiation process. It is also important to analyze interests because, along with conflicting interests, the parties may also have compatible interests that neither side can deny or exclude. It is also possible that a thorough analysis could help reveal common interests. It is hoped that a clear understanding of compatible or even common interests will help the sides articulate constructive positions.

Such a dialogue, however, is complicated not only because it is hard to understand the interests of the other side. It is also rather difficult to understand and articulate one�s own interests. It is not only necessary to examine Georgian and Abkhaz interests, but also those of the external parties involved. This is not an easy task. For instance, unlike the Western powers whose actions in the Caucasus are rather consistent and are articulated clearly, Russia has contradictory economic and political interests and its policies are not consistent. Russia often declares one set of interests, but its policies are based on others. This is equally true of Russia�s policies with regard to both the Abkhaz and Georgian parties.

It is hard to talk about interests when the policy of the state is not consistent, the hierarchy of interests are not clear, and there is not a balance between domestic and foreign interests. Therefore it is not enough to urge the parties to negotiate based on interests. All the parties have to work on understanding their own interests, developing criteria and justification for their national interests.

Abkhazia�s main national interests are stability and the preservation of Abkhaz identity and culture. Therefore its policy should be to ensure the republic�s stable development in these complex geopolitical conditions. The internal aspect of its national interest is to integrate its multiethnic society, and develop civic and political democratic institutions that guarantee the rights of all citizens. The external aspect is to ensure peaceful settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and Abkhazia�s subsequent integration in the world community.

Obviously both Abkhazia and Georgia have a common interest in settling the conflict and creating a synthesis of political and social guarantees that will ensure peace and security. Also compatible are the interests of developing democratic institutions and civil society. Only these measures can create the conditions in Abkhazia and Georgia for guaranteeing human rights, which is necessary to make progress on issues that today seem unresolvable. One such problem is that of the refugees, which is also an interest of both parties.

Thus, if Abkhaz and Georgians study and understand each other�s interests and fears it may be possible to reconcile their differences. An analysis of the interests of both parties will help determine compatible and common interests that are adequate to reach interim solutions.

Emzar Jgerenaya, Zaza Shatirishvili
Georgia�Abkhazia: Identity Issues (pp. 61-75)

Abkhaz identity exists and it does not matter when it developed. People in Georgia do not want to understand this. We are not sure that this is understood in Abkhazia. The point is that ethnic identity does not depend on historical argumentation, that is on proving who created ethnic monuments earlier. This historical approach compels Georgians to maintain that �contemporary Abkhaz� migrated to Abkhazia in the 16th-17th centuries (which means that contemporary Abkhaz are not the original Abkhaz) and compels Abkhaz to seek evidence that they have lived in the area since prehistoric times.

Paradoxically, historical argumentation turns Abkhaz and Georgians against each other and at the same time connects them together because it forces them to think about these issues with the same mentality. Georgians and Abkhaz equally trust historical argumentation. The only difference is that to Georgians Abkhazia is a historical province of Georgia and to Abkhaz it has been a separate entity that time and again throughout its history has been the victim of Georgian imperial ambitions.

The Abkhaz academic, Oleg Damenia, believes that in order to find what Georgia and Abkhazia have in common it is necessary to look within the Caucasus context. What is Caucasus identity to the �average contemporary Georgian?� Roughly speaking, Caucasus identity to a Georgian is a sense of being connected to a particular landscape, a certain kind of national character (pride, militance, respect for elders, etc.), and characteristic physical features, that is, a trivial set of superficial characteristics that no one can deny.

According to Oleg Damenia, Abkhaz culture takes Caucasus identity very seriously, and does not think it is at all trivial. Unlike contemporary Georgians, the Abkhaz believe this identity has profound and global significance.

It is impossible to find a common identity that has profound and global significance to both the Abkhaz and Georgians. All that binds Abkhaz and Georgians is what divides them � territory.

Tiniko Khidasheli
The Stability Pact for the Caucasus (pp. 7-14)

The authors of the pact argue justifiably that one of the main conditions of political stability in the region is economic stability, that is, economic development. It is unlikely, however, that the European Union will provide the necessary economic assistance, especially since the Caucasus countries will not be admitted to the Union in the near future.

As the authors of the pact point out, in order to preserve their states the countries of the Caucasus will have to develop according to the principles established by the democratic world community: �We are not Russia or the United States to be accepted by others just as we are.� These principles are well known and were not invented by the Stability Pact for the Caucasus. They are: guaranteeing human rights, minority rights, creating conditions for the peaceful coexistence of different communities, democratic and pluralistic governments, the transparency of state institutions, maximum rights of local self-government with minimum interference from the central government and clear division of jurisdictions, and an asymmetric administrative structure. The value of the pact is that these theoretical and practical principles are presented in a single document and are adapted as much as possible to our realities.
It is amusing to read in the pact the abundant statements by presidents and foreign ministers of the Caucasus countries confirming their adherence to the principles of peace and democracy. It is as if the pact�s authors really believe the statements.

The weakest part of the document is about the most painful subject � administrative-territorial structure. The authors do not make any distinctions between Abkhazia, Ajaria, Tskhinvali and Javakheti. All these areas with such different circumstances require different approaches.

The idea of Caucasus integration may seem appealing, but our countries are unlikely to abandon their desire for full independence, something that they have fought so hard for all these years. This is another painful subject.

Abesalom Lepsaya
Are Interim Models of Settlement Feasible? (pp. 158-173)

1. Anyone who tries to develop models must think about their feasibility. Developing models is not particularly difficult. Competent experts and experienced politicians are capable of generating various proposals for settlement and coexistence. The inevitable question in the case of Abkhazia is whether any proposal can be implemented or even whether it is possible to create this capability. It is necessary to plan the framework for a settlement, not only the points of the agreement. It is especially hard in light of the chaos and instability that prevails in the region to create the conditions in which it makes sense to develop models. It is necessary to have a policy promoting the creation of acceptable models, a policy that will be at the heart of relations between Georgia and Abkhazia. Without this, any proposal for settlement and coexistence will be utopian no matter who develops it and even if it meets the interests and needs of both sides.
2. Political leaders, experts and representatives of the public in Georgia and Akhazia must find a mechanism for generating a model for settlement. It is necessary to establish a process for developing an agreement, a process that will gradually lead to the goal.
3. Consociation is the best model for both an interim and a final agreement.
4. Whatever model is adopted it will have to be implemented. This can happen only if there is a state capable of making and implementing a decision.
5. Since political, social, and law enforcement structures on both sides are weak and unreliable it is obvious that some international guarantees will be necessary.
6. A partial proposal could be developed on the basis of settlement proposals and models that have already been put forth as final solutions. An interim model could consist of a combination of the most rational and feasible elements of existing proposals, plus some new proposals that take into account the current realities. An end to economic sanctions and open communication could be core elements.

The editors and project coordinators can be reached at the following e-mail addresses:,, .

Arda Inal-Ipa
The Centre for Humanitarian Programmes

Paata Zakareishvili
The Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development

Paula Garb
The University of California, Irvine, Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies

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