15th Conference in the Series

Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict


Organized by

The Heinrich-Boell Foundation, Berlin, Tbilisi

The Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine

Conciliation Resources, London


Istanbul, Turkey, June 18-19, 2008




����������� Flight and displacement are among the most lasting consequences of military conflicts.Apart from the existential hardships for the people directly concerned, they generate long term obstacles to reconciliation and efforts to settle conflicts by political means.

����������� Especially in the case of ethno-political conflicts, such as the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, where direct links are made between the demographics of ethnic groups within a disputed territory and its political status, refugees/IDPs find themselves enduring hostages of political confrontation.Many years after the end of combat operations, the potential return of refugees threatens the new political order of one party, while their integration seems to undermine political claims of the other.Furthermore, organized repatriation of diaspora Abkhaz has become an issue widely discussed and promoted in Abkhazia.


����������� Conflict-related migration does not yield to political principles and concepts.Integration in a new location; spontaneous, non-sanctioned return; emigration to third countries; immigration from third countries�these and many other phenomena form new realities over time that must be acknowledged and heeded in shaping policies toward peaceful conflict settlement. Preconditions for sustainable peace are flexible and creative solutions that balance out the interests of people directly affected by the conflict, and that prevent new confrontation.


����������� This conference provided an opportunity for Georgian and Abkhaz participants to discuss openly and constructively the most sensitive and pressing problems of the conflict, and consult a range of international experts about possible progress toward solutions.It was helpful to examine other European conflict regions and analyze which paths have been forged elsewhere to resolve migration problems caused by conflicts even before final conflict resolution was achieved.


����������� Treating refugee/IDP issues as taboo or instrumentalizing them reinforces fears and illusions on both sides of the Georgian-Abkhaz divide, and holds back progress in the peace process.Therefore, the organizers of this conference wanted to foster open and solution oriented discussions of this sensitive and complex topic.


����������� Of the 36 participants 9 were Georgians, and 7 were Abkhaz.None of these participants has direct political responsibility, but they all have authority in their fields as social scientists, journalists, policy advisors, NGO and IDP representatives.The other participants were from European Union countries, the Western Balkans, Cyprus, and from international organizations.


����������� The conference participants support the principle that it is better to talk with each other than past one another.They all hold the conviction that both sides of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict have earned the right to have their perspectives heard in a respectful manner.Both sides are legitimate and necessary partners in the search for solutions to this conflict.They believe that after everything that has happened in the past few decades in the Georgian-Abkhaz relationship the only worthy alternative is a settlement without war.


����������� This was the fifth conference co-organized by our Georgian and Abkhaz colleagues, the Heinrich-Boell Foundation, and the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California.This year another co-organizer joined the project�Conciliation Resources.The project was started by the University of California, Irvine in 1994, one year after the Abkhaz-Georgian ceasefire.Back in 1994 it seemed that ten years or more would be needed before ordinary Georgians and Abkhaz would sit in the same room, let alone have a frank and constructive dialogue.Fortunately, it only took a few years for that to happen.By the time of this conference the level of trust and depth of the discussions had grown significantly.Bilateral meetings between the Georgian and Abkhaz participants took place before and after the conference.These bilateral meetings promoted an informal exchange of information about current developments on both sides.


����������� All previous 14 conferences have resulted in complete proceedings that are published and distributed throughout the region, and posted online for the regional and international communities.Today a total of 14 volumes are online.The proceedings of these conferences are published in Russian, partially in English, and can be downloaded at are currently working on a full report of this 15th conference.


����������� The dramatic events of August 2008 in South Ossetia, Georgia proper and Abkhazia have triggered a serious confrontation between the West and Russia.The Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-South Ossetian conflicts not so long ago were regarded as fairly obscure.Today the strategic implications of these still unresolved situations are currently playing themselves out.�� The new and dangerous level of conflict and the tens of thousands more refugees/IDPs created in recent fighting have made it all the more critical to continue working with opinion makers representing the various key parties in the conflict and promoting understanding across the conflict.Although the Istanbul conference was held before the resumption of violence in the region, the topics discussed and the perspectives exchanged are directly relevant to addressing the problems created by this new war and the resulting migration.


����������� This version of the report proceeds with an outline of the conference agenda, most of the presentations in three panel sessions made by Abkhaz, Georgian and international participants, and a list of all the participants.Work is underway to finish a complete conference report which will include an executive summary of the conference report, highlights of all the papers presented, summaries of the questions, answers and comments made in the discussions by all participants, and detailed policy recommendations.

Conference Agenda and Presentations


Opening Remarks by Walter Kaufmann, Heinrich Boell Foundation, Berlin, Tbilisi


����������� It is my great pleasure to welcome you all on behalf of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Paula Garb from the University of California, Irvine, Jonathan Cohen and Rachel Clogg, from Conciliation Resources.Welcome again to our colleagues from Abkhazia and Georgia.We have had a day of very intensive discussions where we highlighted the very difficult situation we face now in the Georgian-Abkhaz relationship, as well as inside Georgia and inside Abkhazia.A very heartfelt welcome to our international guests who have made it to this international part of our conference on conflict and migration in the Georgian-Abkhaz case in the European context.


����������� This is the 15th conference in a series which began in 1996 by a person whose name has become the name of the whole project, Paula Garb.She was among the first foreigners to start facilitating Georgian-Abkhaz dialogues after the Georgian-Abkhaz war.The Heinrich Boell Foundation joined her project in 2004.This is now the fifth conference which we are organizing together.We had two conferences in Moscow focusing on the Russian factor in the conflict.


����������� This is the third conference we are conducting in Istanbul.Our first conference in Istanbul was on Black Sea integration as a potential new context for the Abkhaz-Georgian relationship.Last year we discussed the potential impacts of Georgian-NATO accession.This time we chose perhaps the most sensitive and most difficult topic that can be and must be discussed in the Georgian-Abkhaz relationship, the issue of conflict and migration, the question of IDPs or refugees, the question of repatriation to Abkhazia, the question of return and the question of integration.


����������� I am also very pleased that for this very difficult challenge our friends and partners from Conciliation Resources in London joined us to add both their intellectual as well as some of their financial capacities to make this event possible.They too have been facilitating Georgian-Abkhaz dialogues since the early 1990s.We have cooperated together for many years.Nothing that the Heinrich Boell Foundation does would be possible without very close cooperation and coordination with our partners both in Georgia and Abkhazia and on the international level.


����������� As I have said already, this conference takes place in an extremely difficult time and extremely difficult political context.There is nearly no political dialogue at the moment.There are no negotiations on any level, and there are practically no dialogue meetings in comparison with previous years.Three or four years ago we had many more opportunities for discussions, meetings, for exchange of opinions than we have today.Unfortunately, the conferences that Paula Garb and I are organizing together remain for the time being the only opportunity for political exchange on various aspects of the conflict.This gives us a big responsibility to make good use of this opportunity.It is much more than just a gathering, much more than just a conference.We really face the challenge not only to meet and exchange opinions, but to make further dialogue possible, and further meetings possible in a very tense political situation.


����������� So, one challenge for this meeting is the political context.You all are aware of it, so I will not tell you about Georgian-Russian tensions, about the problems from the Kodori Gorge to the Gali region, and everything we face in the current situation, the very difficult domestic situation, the high polarization in Georgia.


����������� The second very difficult aspect of the conference is the topic itself.Conflict and migration as we framed it for the Abkhaz is nearly a taboo subject.It is a question connected with many fears, the question of the potential return of Georgians to central parts of Abkhazia, something absolutely not discussed in Abkhazia because Abkhaz see this as a threat to be marginalized as a tiny minority on their own territory.However, we also face the return of up to 50,000 Georgians, or even more, to Gali, to the southern region of Abkhazia where these people live in a very difficult situation, and are now hostages to the conflict by both sides.We are very happy that we have two representatives from the Gali region here to join our discussions.


����������� If we look at Georgia, the issue of IDPs, refugees, their situation, is also not being discussed in a frank and honest manner.It mainly serves as a political instrument, as a political tool for political speculation and manipulation.The illusion is being kept alive among many IDPs that we are still talking about the prospects of their immediate and full return, which I think doesn�t help a lot to improve their situation.Many thousands of them are still living in unbearable conditions in so-called compact centers in Georgia.The integration of them into Georgian society is still a task that is far from being accomplished.


����������� Why did we decide to face this challenge in these very difficult conditions?And, What do we want to achieve?What can be achieved is an honest and sober assessment of the situation, a reality check about what we face regarding IDPs, and, more importantly, the political positions of each side:How is this problem being treated?What is behind the repatriation project which is also a very important part of the whole context of conflict and migration? We should try to understand the positions on these different issues on both sides.


����������� We have identified three key issues.One is return, one is integration, and one is the linkage between these questions and the whole peace process.Of course all these questions are closely connected.We do not expect that you will separate them very clearly in your presentations, or in your statements.But I think it makes sense to discuss them separately as a way to structure the discussions.


����������� An objective we can reach is to place the Georgian-Abkhaz case into the European context.Everybody understands that each case is unique, situations are very different in Cyprus, Bosnia, and Croatia.But some of the problems are often similar�humanitarian, moral, political problems.It is helpful for Georgians and Abkhaz to see how similar problems are treated, are being solved or not solved in other conflict regions.We have chosen the European context because we think the European experience and framework is still one very big potential which might change the context for the better for resolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.


����������� Everything said here is being taped, transcribed, translated and published.It is our objective to make these meetings as transparent as possible.You all may know that there is considerable mistrust toward this kind of dialogue.Many people in Georgia and Abkhazia do not always understand why we meet, why you meet with each other, and what you can talk about at all with the other side.People ask why this is being organized at all.The only strategy to counter these fears is to make these meetings transparent.The main object of this conference series is to provide material for discussion, for domestic discussion in Abkhazia and Georgia, because the participation of a wider audience is crucial for any improvement in the relationship.So, feel free to say everything you want.All texts will be returned to you before publishing so you will all have the opportunity to go over your presentations or your own comments.I wish us all an intensive and fruitful discussion during the next two days.


����������� Now, I will turn to our first panel.We will begin with our colleagues from Abkhazia and Georgia.The first panel will deal with the question of return, what is the general concept of the question on return in Abkhazia and in Georgia?What are the official political positions and what are the positions or concepts brought forward from civil society from different political groups?This is the first part of the panel.


����������� The second part will compare the question of return in Georgia and Abkhazia with the question of return in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Croatia.We have invited four outstanding panelists.Archil Gegeshidze works at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies and has been actively engaged in a variety of research and publication projects on the Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue.Batal Kobakhia is a Member of Parliament in the Republic of Abkhazia.He is also a central figure of Abkhaz civil society.He was one of the founders of the Centre for Humanitarin Programmes in Sukhumi and is still one of the main counterparts in both civil society and in official politics of Abkhazia.


����������� I am pleased that, thanks to my colleagues in the Boell office in Sarajevo, we could invite Mr. Srdan Dizdarevic.He is the head of the Helsinki Committee of Human Rights in Sarajevo.He spent the whole war in Sarajevo.He has very close personal experiences in the conflict and deals a lot with the issues arising from the return of refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina.Mr. Emil Hersak and Boris Niksic present some perspectives from Zagreb and from Croatia to our discussion.���


  • What are the positions of the Abkhaz regarding the return of refugees/IDPs/Abkhaz repatriates?How are these positions argued?What are the political, humanitarian, and legal aspects?
  • What are the positions of the Georgians regarding the return of refugees/IDPs/Abhaz repatriates?How are these positions argued?What are the political, humanitarian, and legal aspects?
  • Lessons learned from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia:the return of refugees/IDPs.


Archil Gegeshidze, Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, Tbilisi. �Theses� Click here to read his paper in Russian.


Batal Kobakhia, Member of the Abkhaz Parliament. Paper not yet available.


Srdan Dizdarevic, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Sarajevo.�Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons: the Experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina� Click here to read his paper in English.


Emil Hersak and Boris Niksic, Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies, Zagreb.�Some Aspects of War and Migration: the Croatian Case� Click here to read their paper in English.




  • Strategies for the integration of IDPs in Georgia
  • Political debates about integration within Georgia
  • Experiences in Abkhazia with the integration of refugees/IDPs/Abkhaz repatriates
  • Approaches in Cyprus to deal with refugees/IDPs


Julia Kharashvili, IDP Women�s Association, Tbilisi. Click here to read her paper in Russian.


Manana Gurgulia, Media Club, Sukhum/i.�Lessons Learned in Integrating Repatriates in Abkhazia� Click here to read her paper in Russian.


Peter Loizos, Intercollege Cyprus, Faculty for Sociology, Nikosia.Cyprus:IDPs from Conflict to Integration. 1964-2004� Click here to read his paper in English.


Oliver Wolleh, Berghof Cetner for Peace Research, Berlin.Cyprus as a Source� Click here to read his paper in English.



  • A comparison of approaches to the problem in Europe:Bosnia, Cyprus, Kosovo, Croatia
  • How are the approaches in dealing with the return and migration issues and final conflict settlement mutually dependent?Temporal, political, and financial aspects.
  • How can the parties reconcile different understandings about what justice means?


Erin Mooney, UNHCR Bosnia, Sarajevo.�Securing Durable Solutions for Displaced Persons:the Experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina� Click here to read her paper.


Sabine Freizer, International Crisis Group, Brussels, Belgium. Paper not yet available.


Paata Zakareishvili, Georgian Coordinator of Georgian-Abkhaz Dialogues, Tbilisi.Paper not yet available.


Irakli Khintba, political scientist, Sukhum/i.�Options for Resolving the Refugee Issue in the Absence of Linking Settlement of the Conflict with the Full Scale Return of Refugees� Click here to read his paper.


List of Participants