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

Social Science Plaza A 3151

Irvine, California 92697-5100

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This is the eighth 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 transcripts in this volume were from the project conference held in Sochi, Russia, August 20-25, 2001. The goal of the conference was to analyze the interests of the parties in conflict. Georgian and Abkhaz project participants presented seven papers which are published in this volume, along with in-depth discussions.


Nodar Sarjveladze
The Basic Needs and Interests of Abkhaz and Georgian Societies (pp. 7-17)

Sarjveladze outlined a theoretical and conceptual approach to studying basic needs and interests. He stressed that it is necessary to make a distinction between classes and different interest groups when discussing these matters. In order to better understand the processes underway in the societies it is necessary to conduct research that will draw out these details from public opinion about the conflict and the interests of all the parties.

The most important needs relate to physical survival and safety. He pointed out that in both societies people do not feel safe either in physical or social terms. As a psychologist, the author especially stressed emotional needs that are not being met, and indicated that this problem is especially acute among the numerous families in which the wife or husband has had to seek employment far away from home. The author also examines the need for identity, and believes that this issue is most acute among the internally displaced who no longer identify as part of Sukhumi, but still do not see themselves as belonging to Tbilisi. Other needs are for information, being in touch with the environment, participating in community life, engaging in recreation, and enjoying a sense of freedom.

Oleg Damenia
The Basic Interests of the Parties in Conflict as a Foundation for a Nonviolent Settlement (pp. 27-36)

Damenia provided an overview of some of the key interests of Abkhazia and Georgia which have not been adequately analyzed. In order to understand these interests it is necessary to clearly identify the strategic goals of both societies.

The author maintains that the strategic goal of both sides is to maintain and reproduce themselves as a social (ethnic and national) entity, and that essentially they are engaged in a struggle to control resources for this purpose. At the same time their basic interest is to maintain socio-cultural identity. Georgia can maintain this identity without Abkhazia, but as experience showed in the 20th century, Abkhazia cannot count on survival if it is part of Georgia.

The Georgian side does not recognize the national interests of the Abkhaz, maintains Damenia. The Georgians have always considered the Abkhaz to be part of Georgia and believe that it was Russia who suggested to the Abkhaz that they become an independent state. Damenia argues that not only the Abkhaz do not consider themselves part of Georgia, but that the Georgians also do not really consider Abkhazia part of Georgia. Evidence of this claim was Georgia�s policy of increasing the Georgian population of Abkhazia throughout the 20th century and its armed aggression against Abkhazia in the early 1990s.

Georgians must realize that the Abkhaz regard Georgia as a threat to Abkhaz identity and survival. Georgia has not done anything to allay these fears. It offers the Abkhaz nothing more than cultural autonomy, which is not adequate from the Abkhaz perspective.

It is in Georgia�s interests to take into account Abkhazia�s interests. First this would help reestablish normal relations. Second, this would deprive Russia of the opportunity to use Abkhazia against Georgia.

The Abkhaz also do not adequately recognize Georgia�s interests in Abkhazia, which is the need to guarantee its safety that is threatened by Georgian-Russian confrontation over Abkhazia.

Damenia stressed that he prefers to use the term �settlement� of the conflict rather than �transformation,� because it best conveys the essence of the process. However he is not against using the latter term and has done so in past articles (See his article in Volume 5 of this series).

Zurab Chiaberashvili
Abkhazia and Georgia: Statehood and individual Rights (pp. 45-54)

In shaping their states, Georgians and Abkhaz need to choose whether they will give priority to the interests of the individual or the interests of the collective and state. The Abkhaz will probably have to put the interests of the state first. For Georgia the main goal is to build a democratic state that is concerned about the individual citizen. If this kind of state is attractive to the Abkhaz it might resolve the territorial problem.

The Georgian state should be concerned about the internally displaced, including those who have already returned to Abkhaz. It should be concerned about these people as individuals, not as a faceless group. At the same time both Georgians and Abkhaz should see to it that the return of the internally displaced not only does not impede the establishment of the Abkhaz state, but actually helps this process.

Chiaberashvili does not want the reader to regard this view as Georgian neo-imperialism. He reminds the reader that he has warned against imperialistic leanings among Georgian democrats. He feels that the main challenge of the Georgian public today is to get used to the idea that they have lost Abkhazia forever.

The author does not agree with his Georgian colleagues who propose the unitary Belgian multiethnic state as a model for the future coexistence of Abkhaz and Georgians. Instead he advocates a federation in which the subjects enjoy broad rights.

The Abkhaz often tell the Georgians that an exclusively pro-Western orientation is unrealistic because it does not take into account Russia�s interests. Responding to this the author reminds the Abkhaz that an exclusively pro-Russian orientation is also unrealistic. If Abkhazia remains in Russia�s sphere of influence it will be hard to develop any understanding with Georgia whose state institutions and value system will differ too greatly from that of Abkhazia.

Chiaberashvili makes the following proposals:
1. It is necessary to have Abkhaz representation in all major international projects, such as TRACEA and oil pipeline initiatives.
2. It would be useful for Abkhazia to join the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. It has not done so because it fears this would lower its status � regions can participate in the Congress only as integral parts of the states that have jurisdiction over them. (Autonomous Ajaria and non-autonomous Imeretia participate from Georgia.) As participants in this organization, the Abkhaz would have a platform to speak to the international community and would gain experience working in international organizations.

Natella Akaba
From a Conflict of Interests to Cooperation (pp. 90-102)

The primary and common interest of Abkhazia, Georgia and Russia is safety.
The only guarantee of Abkhazia�s safety is Russia. The experience of the Georgian-Abkaz war of 1992-93 and the persistent terrorist activity of Georgian groups in Gal and Gulripsh, with tendencies to spread into the Ochamchir and Tkuarchal districts, shows the Abkhaz that the only way to guarantee the Abkhaz and Russian-speaking population stability and safety is the presence of the Russian military in the region.

The Abkhaz realize that such dependence on Russia is a high price to pay, but as long as Western diplomats take an obvious pro-Georgian stance Abkhazia has no alternative. This is true especially since it cannot count on Western investments. Abkhazia cannot rely on NATO either. Pubic statements made by Georgian politicians about the expediency of using NATO force in Abkhazia, similar to that used in Bosnia and Kosovo, have not helped to increase pro-Western sentiments among the Abkhaz.

The most important Georgian interests today are political stability and economic improvement (especially the struggle against corruption), without which it is impossible to carry out any major international projects. The problem of the internally displaced, which is also a critical issue for Georgia, is related to the problem of political stability.
One of the potential sources of political instability in Georgia is the Pankiisi Gorge which has attracted Chechen refugees. The presence of these refugees has already caused conflict with Moscow. Moscow is also increasingly concerned about Georgia�s integration in European and transatlantic structures.

It is in Georgia�s interests for ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia to feel like equal citizens. This will be possible when Abkhazia has a law-governed state with democratic institutions and a strong civil society. Georgia impedes the normalization of political life in Abkhazia with its sanctions, threats and encouragement of terrorist acts in Abkhazia. This works against Georgia�s own interests.

It is in Abkhazia�s interests for Georgians on its territory to feel like equal citizens. This will deprive Tbilisi of its main argument against Abkhazia�s independence.

Georgy Anchabadze
The Basic Interests of Abkhazia and Georgia: Steps toward Confidence Building (pp. 138-143)

In the foreseeable future it is unlikely that our problems will be solved. But even in the absence of a stable peace, in a period of transition we should do everything possible to ease the difficulties of the people who have become hostages to this conflict, both those who live in the conflict zone and the internally displaced.

So far hydroelectric power is commonly recognized as the area in which both sides share basic interests. The Inguri hydroelectric power plant has not ceased to operate even though it is situated partially on the territory of Abkhazia (in the Gali District) and partially in the adjacent area of Abkhazia in Western Georgia. This is because both Georgia and Abkhazia would suffer greatly without this power, and therefore both sides cooperate to keep the plant functioning.

However, in a transitional period we can find other shared interests of Georgia and Abkhazia. For instance, both sides have an interest in developing bilateral trade and economic relations. Such relations already exist, but they are controlled by mafia structures. It should be possible to legalize these relations in order to help people survive these difficult times. Legalization of economic relations can provide revenues to the state and would to some extent reduce crime and corruption.

Other measures that could help reduce tensions and build trust are the lifting of sanctions on Abkhazia�s border with Russia and permitting the internally displaced to visit the graves of their relatives in Abkhazia at least once a year.

David Berdzenishvili
Opening Abkhazia: a Joint Venture (pp. 175-185)

In Abkhazia state enterprises have not yet been privatized. However, some forms of capitalist relations exist there semi-legally, as they did under Soviet government. It is necessary to legalize these relations and to help legalize relations between Abkhaz and Georgian businesses. This would ensure that large sections of the population in Georgia and Abkhazia would have an economic interest in ties that would end Abkhazia�s isolation.

At the author�s request a group of young Georgian lawyers and economists developed draft legislation on the creation of an Abkhaz-Georgian shipping company. The draft bill proposes the restoration of transportation and communication infrastructures in Abkhazia. (According to the Budget Office of the Georgian Parliament, this whole infrastructure was destroyed by military action and the economic sanctions.) Since this infrastructure is intact in Georgia, it would not take large expenditures to include it in a joint network.

The goal of such a project would be to create a joint Georgian-Abkhaz shipping business in which Abkhazia and Georgia would each have a 50% share. The joint stock company would have a monopoly on shipping goods on Abkhaz territory by rail, air, sea, and truck from and to other countries and in transit to Georgia through Abkhazia.

The company would have to be sponsored by international organizations willing to finance the project. The loans necessary to start up such a company could be paid back within 10-12 years if shipments increase and political and social stability can be maintained.

The authors of this project realize that the commercial risks are high. But they believe that registering such a company would set a precedent for legalizing Abkhaz economic structures in Georgia and in other countries. The Georgian state could begin negotiations with other countries, including Russia, about pursuing joint Georgian-Abkhaz interests on their territories.

It is also necessary to facilitate the exchange of information between Abkhazia and Georgia, using the latest technology, including the Internet and cellular phones. This would also promote economic cooperation.

The author hopes that in establishing their state the Abkhaz will take into account the interests of all ethnic groups residing in Abkhazia, including Georgians.

In discussing the issue of the internally displaced, the author pointed out that in Georgia they still lack basic civil rights. They cannot vote in elections, and in the Georgian parliament their representatives are still the same people who were elected under the government of Zviad Gamsakhurdia. These representatives do not take into account the opinions or needs of the internally displaced.

Abesalom Lepsaya
The Situation Warrants Action (pp. 213-219)

The author presented some ideas for developing an ongoing mechanism for dialogue at the official and unofficial levels. In order to more effectively seek solutions jointly he suggests that participants understand two important points.
1. It is necessary to realize the importance of legitimizing achievements. In Abkhazia and Georgia it seems to be sufficient to the people that they recognize their own achievements. They do not feel the need to seal them officially and create official structures and mechanism. For instance, the Abkhaz are satisfied with having their own armed forces and do not care whether they have official, legitimate status.
2. Some Georgian participants say that the Georgians would look more favorably upon Abkhaz demands if Abkhazia would not be so unequivocally pro-Russian. It is necessary to take a more balanced position.

We have already developed intellectual forums that generate ideas through the conferences sponsored by the University of California and through other meetings, including the Schlaining process. These have been very fruitful efforts. The time has come to establish a mechanism for making and implementing decisions. The Coordinating Council which functions at the government level has not accomplished a lot in this respect.

Lepsaya proposes establishing a permanent conference, perhaps under the auspices of the Coordinating Council, that would be more inclusive and involve representatives of the nongovernmental sector and opposition movements. This is a realistic but complicated task, especially if the confrontation hardens between the authorities and their opposition movements.

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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