The break up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s brought into focus long simmering ethnic tensions. The Soviet successor state of Georgia, which had been incorporated into the USSR in the 1920s, had declared itself independent from the USSR in April of 1991, and sought to restore its pre-integration national borders and constitution from the 1920s. From 1925-1931, the Abkhaz region of northwestern Georgia had enjoyed a semi-autonomous status within the USSR and the Abkhazians, an ethnic group distinct from Georgians, sought to restore that autonomy and create an Abkhaz national state after the break up of the USSR. Small skirmishes and protests between ethnic Abkhazians and ethnic Georgians had been ongoing in Abkhazia since 1989, and these tensions erupted into full military conflict in the summer of 1992. In June, Abkhaz militants attacked a government building, and in July the Abkhazian regional government, led by Valdislav Ardinzba, declared independence, although the Abkhazian government received no international recognition. In August, Georgian president Shevardnadze dispatched police and national guard units to reestablish control over the region. Ethnic cleansing and humanitarian atrocities occurred on both sides. Tens of thousands of Georgians were expelled or fled from the region, and international human rights organizations have accused the Abkhazian government of committing ethnic cleansing against Georgians in the region. Although most of the violence had ebbed by the late 1990s, the conflict remains unresolved. Abkhazia considers itself an independent republic, a status that is recognized by Russia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Georgia has granted Abkhazia a status of autonomous republic, but the government of this autonomous republic sits in exile in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
A UN peacekeeper distributes candy to Abkhazian boys. The UN has maintained a presence in the region since 1994.
Shevardnadze’s address to the nation (excerpts), 12 August 1992 Top
Source: Reuter, “Shevardnadze vows to crack down on the ‘forces of evil’ in Georgia,” The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario) 12 August 1992. Retrieved from LexisNexis Academic 18 September 2012.
(Reuter) – Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze has cast aside hopes of reconciliation with rebels who kidnapped his interior minister and says it is time to fight the “forces of evil” in Georgia.
Armed men broke into peace talks in the rebel city of Zugdidi and snatched Interior Minister Roman Zventsadze, Shevardnadze’s national security aide and five other officials, as well as the head of the Zugdidi administration.
Bitterly disappointed that a reconciliation plan he had announced Tuesday lay in tatters after the kidnapping, Shevardnadze said in a midnight address to the country:
“Since I returned to Georgia, I have not used this word, but now I will say it for the first time – for us to declare “battle’ against our enemies, against the enemies and betrayers of Georgia. Support us in this! I will work with you and fight to overcome the forces of evil.”
A former Soviet foreign minister, Shevardnadze, who returned to run his native Georgia earlier this year, has made it a priority to re-establish order and moderation in a country riven by nationalist and political passions.
“Do not take it as sentimentality but this seems to me . . . a defeat, my personal defeat, since I deceived myself. I did not assess realistically the forces fighting against Georgia,” said Shevardnadze, once the republic’s Communist boss.
Zugdidi, the fiefdom of ousted former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, has been the centre of opposition to Shevardnadze’s rule since his return to Georgia.
Gamsakhurdia supporters, nicknamed Zviadisti, are still waging a low-level war there. Gamsakhurdia earned their devotion during seven months as president by his policies of fierce nationalism and hostility to Moscow.
Shevardnadze said Georgia’s armed forces, backed by popular opinion, were boiling with rage at the kidnappings and were “ready to walk to Zugdidi if need be to save their minister.
“Everywhere in Georgia we need the rule of law, and in everything. To achieve this we will use troops, and police, and military equipment. I warn everyone, everyone who has not yet banished evil thoughts from his head – think again before it’s too late.”
Gamsakhurdia was ousted and fled Georgia in January after a bloody siege laid by liberals in the capital Tbilisi. He made for the neighboring Chechen republic but later briefly returned to fight for power from his western base and was defeated.
In June, his supporters seized Tbilisi’s television centre and announced Shevardnadze had been deposed. Government forces overwhelmed them within hours.
Shevardnadze said he blamed himself for believing his Tuesday peace initiative could work, after rebels had kidnapped Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Kavsadze in western Georgia in early July. He has still not been freed.
“I was sincere when I offered the people the (reconciliation) manifesto. I saw in it a way out of the crisis the country is in.
“I knew they (the rebels) were full of ill-will and capable of anything, but my understanding was that malice has its limits. Their malice seems to be limitless. That was my mistake.”
He said he offered to resign as head of the ruling State Council but his colleagues refused the offer.
Ardzinba’s appeal to the citizens of Abkhazia, 14 August 1992 Top
Source: Ardinzba, Vladislav. “Appeal: 14 August 1992.”http://ardzinba.com/
Dear citizens of Abkhazia!
I am writing to you at this difficult time. Our armed forces invaded the land of the State Council of Georgia, including the criminal elements who sow death and destruction on our soil. But there was not, and there is no reason for such a barbarous action in the small Abkhazia.
We were living peacefully in our home, not without controversy, not without problems. But trying to solve these problems in a peaceful and civilized way. And there was nothing unusual in the fact that we have proposed to construct that peaceful and civilized way between Abkhazia and Georgia. After all, no one starts a war, when the Russian Federation was created and signed the federal treat, and people have found a mutual understanding.
To our proposals to resolve the these issues of relations in a peaceful, civilized way we were responded to with tanks, planes, guns, murders, robberies. And it just shows the true essence of the current Georgian leadership. Finally, it can no longer hide behind his characteristic hypocrisy. It has removed a terrible mask.
Manual, which is guilty of the blood of Georgians in Tbilisi and other regions of Georgia, megreltsev [?] in Samegrelo, Ossetians in South Ossetia, and now it added the Abkhazians and the entire population of our long-suffering country.
I have to say that the world knows what position placed Abkhazia. The world condemns this barbaric act, evidenced by the moral and financial support provided to us.
Of course it is not easy to talk about, when perhaps, now, in this moment, as I am writing, your home is being robbed, when people are being beaten, and a person’s life is not guaranteed. But, understand that it is very, very difficult for me as well, but I am deeply convinced that we have the appropriate support. From now on any aircraft or helicopter that is shooting at civilians, will be destroyed …
I think that we must survive in this difficult time, and we stand up and defeat those who bring enmity between the people of Georgia and Abkhazia.
Ardinzba’s Telegram to Pravda, 15 August 1992 Top
Source: BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. “Other reports on Abkhazia: Abkhaz leaders send appeal for help to ‘Pravda,’” 17 August 1992. Retrieved from LexisNexis Academic, 18 September 2012.
On the morning of 14th August troops of the State Council of the Republic of Georgia invaded the territory of the sovereign Republic of Abkhazia on the farfetched pretext of purging Abkhazia of Zviadists. A special police regiment of approximately 1,500 men, equipped with heavy military hardware under the command of Kitovani, is advancing across the territory of Abkhazia, sweeping aside all in its path. The Abkhaz National Guard is waging unequal battles against enemy forces which are many times superior. There are casualties. The building of the Abkhaz Republic Supreme Soviet is being fired on from the air. According to our information, the armed forces of the State Council are supported by armored hardware and aircraft of the Transcaucasus Military District. The Supreme Soviet and government of the Republic of Abkhazia appeal to you to actively intervene and to influence the leadership of Georgia with a view to ending military operations on the territory of Abkhazia.
[Signed] V.G. Ardzinba, Chairman of the Abkhaz Republic Supreme Soviet; V.I. Zarandiya, Chairman of the Abkhaz Republic Council of Ministers (‘Pravda’ Moscow, 15 Aug 92)
Ardzinba’s interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 1 September 1992 Top
Source: BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. “Ardzinba on Abkhazia,” 4 September 1992. Retrieved from LexisNexis Academic 18 September 2012.
Yesterday [1st September] , Abkhaz Supreme Soviet Chairman Vladislav Ardzinba gave a telephone interview to ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’. He refuted information coming out of Tbilisi on Monday [31st August] about his alleged television statement on the formation of an Abkhazian-Megrelian state to be ”governed by Ardzinba and Gamsakhurdia”.
[Ardzinba] I learned of this ”statement” from the media. The first thing I can say is this in the last week, with due consideration for the nature of the difficult situation which has taken shape on the territory of Abkhazia, I have not spoken on television, and I have not made any kind of statements on television, and that includes one about creating some kind of Abkhazian-Megrelian state. I consider this to be a forgery whose aim is known only to the author of this falsification.
[Lapidus] It is believed in Abkhazia that the Georgian side is trying by every possible means to implicate you in an alliance with Gamsakhurdia –
[Ardzinba] Yes, I understand, they want to discredit me in the eyes of the whole world along the lines of the ”tell me who your friend is” principle – We will not enter into an alliance with anybody.
[Lapidus] Are you maintaining any kind of link with Zviad Gamsakhurdia at the present time?
[Ardzinba] No, naturally, we have not maintained and are not maintaining any kind of link. In general, much is being done to discredit the Abkhazian leadership at this time, and this is quite clear. Therefore I would ask – and this clearly is extremely important – that the reliability of any report proceeding from the Georgian side, particularly if it is ascribed to the highest official, be verified through the Abkhazian Supreme Soviet press service. It is hard for me to believe thatShevardnadze, for instance, could knowingly say false things, but yesterday (30th August – NG) [date as published] , in a telephone conversation with me, the State Council head declared that he knows nothing about the cease-fire agreement signed on 30th August in Sochi, including by a Georgian official. I immediately talked to him about this agreement, about its main principle proposing an end to the bloodshed. I told him ”If you share this principle, if you agree that all questions should be resolved through political methods and that bloodshed should not be tolerated, then – whether you know about this agreement or not – if you share this principle, give the command to cease fire, to halt the offensive.” But as you know, it was continued yesterday, and it continues today.
I also want to refute recurrent disinformation on the alleged participation of Russian army units in this confrontation.
[Lapidus] But the mass media have repeatedly stressed that Russian troops in Abkhazia are observing neutrality –
[Ardzinba] Of course neutrality is being observed. Admittedly this causes us great distress the peaceful civilian population is being wiped out, human rights are being flouted in the grossest manner, and in addition military facilities are also under fire. The Russian population, which in the early days tried to shelter from the firing on the territory of military units, has now been deprived of this option – the military themselves are hiding in the bomb-proof shelters. The military are observing –
[Lapidus] Do you believe that it would be logical if the Russian troops were to take one side or the other? –
[Ardzinba] No, in no way do I consider this to be logical. I believe that Russia should make some kind of statement, as for all this Russia is a great state, it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and such a state should declare more clearly that force should not be used to resolve contentious questions, and that blood should not be spilled.
[Lapidus] Are you presupposing that such a statement will be issued at the 3rd September meeting?
[Ardzinba] I hope so. In principle, it has already been issued in Boris Nikolayevich’s appeal aimed at Georgian and Abkhazian leaders. This principle is precisely what will be stressed there. It is wrong to strive for one’s political aims through force rather than via international law.
[Lapidus] What, in specific terms, do you expect from the 3rd September meeting?
[Ardzinba] First and foremost, I expect a decision on stopping the bloodshed. I believe that this is a war not between Georgia and Abkhazia – it is not against the Georgian people that we are fighting now, but against the leadership, which is conducting a militarist policy and sending its own armed formations here.
[Lapidus] Mr Ardzinba, do you have any kind of contacts with the Democratic Abkhazia Georgian faction of the Abkhazian parliament now?
[Ardzinba] Members of our parliament maintain specific contacts with them. But I cannot ignore the fact that the parliamentary first deputy chairman (T. Nadareyshvili – NG) actually helped to obtain the introduction of troops onto Abkhaz territory – he is responsible for the bloodshed and for the horrors which have rained down on the people. Furthermore, he is the leader of an unconstitutional body, which was created on Abkhazian territory – in some senses, he is a putschist.
[Lapidus] You mean, there is a total split?
[Ardzinba] I believe that there are still some wholly sober people in this faction who evaluate the existing situation with great anxiety. It is both possible and necessary to work with them in order, with their help, to get out of the impasse.
[Lapidus] Do you believe that Georgian troops will embark upon a mass offensive?
[Ardzinba] To all intents and purposes they are already doing this. Last night (31st August – NG) they broke through the defences, stormed into the village of Eshera, and fired at close range from tanks on the homes of peaceful citizens and, with these same tanks, wiped them from the face of theearth. As a result of opposition, the Georgian troop unit left the village. But the bloodshed did not end. Today, new forces have been introduced there, and all day long shots ring out from the 125mm tank cannon and from the 120mm howitzers, nicknamed ”Jasmine”, which are wiping out what took decades to construct.
Interview with Shevardnadze, 2 September 1992 Top
Source: BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. “Shevardnadze interviewed on unrest in Abkhazia,” 3 September 1992. Retrieved from LexisNexis Academic on 18 September 2012.
(summary redeployment of troops in Abkhazia was forced measure; political settlement of Abkhazian conflict is vital for creation of democratic Georgia; settlement of conflict is possible at 3rd September Moscow meeting and Shevardnadze has specific plan to put forward; considers he has made ”constant concessions” to Abkhazian people; minority must have rights but Georgia would collapse if Abkhazia seceded; referendum will decide form of state system)
[Urigashvili] A week before the start of the armed conflict in Abkhazia you said that if anyone wants to tackle the problems facing Georgia by force, you are not the man for the job. What then changed?
[Shevardnadze] Nothing. I remain committed to that principle. In the late seventies, when mass unrest occurred in Abkhazia, some of the then leaders in Moscow and Tbilisi persistently demanded the use of force. I held out against this in the face of very strong pressure.
For me, the political settlement of any internal conflict such as, say, the Georgian-Osetian one, is a crucial precondition for stabilization and the building of a democratic Georgia. Some of my compatriots reproach me for having introduced into that territory the Russian and North-Osetian sub- units which, together with the Georgian battalion, have ensured the cease-fire. But I have said that I assume complete personal responsibility, for the main thing now is to stop the bloodshed.
[REDEPLOYMENT OF TROOPS WAS A FORCED MEASURE]
Life is so difficult for us that it is sheer folly to create any new complications. And we did not create this confrontation in Abkhazia – we were dragged into it.
The redeployment of troops within our own territory – incidentally, I categorically refuse to accept the term ”introduction of troops,” as if we had invaded a foreign state – was a forced measure. We actually had no alternative.
The railway running across the territory of Abkhazia and western Georgia is the main artery supplying the republic with all its needs. For us, as incidentally for neighbouring Armenia, it is truly a lifeline. But since February this artery has begun to contract catastrophically bridges, railway tracks and overhead contact line pylons have been blown up, trains attacked, robberies committed – this has brought the population of major cities and whole regions to the verge of starvation. Denied its already meagre supplies, the economy came to a halt.
We were living with a noose around our neck, and it was growing tighter and tighter. With an annual republic budget of R25bn, our losses from sabotage came to R12bn.
The second reason was terrorism. The main boltholes and bases for the armed gangs are located on the territory of Abkhazia and the neighbouring rayons of western Georgia. The sabotage raids and attacks on National Guard sub-units have been carried out from there. The plan was clear – to create a situation producing the maximum number of civilian casualties, to create a supercharged atmosphere, and to wreck the process of stabilization and, thereby, the future elections.
We did not wish to involve the army in carrying out police functions. We issued instructions to the police, but little came of it. We asked the leaders of Abkhazia to protect trains and railway facilities. They managed to protect some trains through their own devices, but there came a point where they no longer sufficed. We were forced to introduce a state of emergency on the main lines. We drew up a special plan in which the basic task of protecting them was vested in army sub-units. Our actions were coordinated with the Abkhaz leadership.
[Urigashvili] Ardzinba was kept informed?
[Shevardnadze] I personally spoke with him by telephone. Agreement in principle was obtained. The only thing we did not manage to brief him on was the plan of action. We were overtaken by events – the railway bridge over the Inguri River, connecting Zugdidovskiy rayon with Galskiy rayon, was blown up. There was a real threat that the road bridge would also be destroyed, and that would have meant utter disaster.
A 200-strong forward detachment crossed Galskiy rayon unhindered, but at the Ochamchirskiy rayon boundary it was fired upon by Abkhaz guardsmen. There were fatalities. That is where it all started.
I repeat We had no option. Nor do we today protecting the mainlines, ensuring that transport runs normally, and eliminating the centres of sabotage and terror means saving the country and the people from destruction.
I have proposed and continue to propose to the Abkhaz leadership that we do this together. It is difficult to talk of peace without first eliminating the source of the misfortunes that threaten us both equally.
[CONFLICT CANNOT BE RESOLVED BY FORCE]
[Urigashvili] Is a military victory possible in such an action?
[Shevardnadze] Not a single internal conflict has yet been resolved by force. Whatever terms – ”aggression” or ”invasion” – may be put into circulation, we are not fighting our own people. Abkhazia is part of Georgia, and the Abkhazians, like the Georgians, are its indigenous population. In such ”wars” there can be no victories, only defeats.
[Urigashvili] A meeting on the peaceful settlement of this conflict will be held in Moscow on 3rd September. Do you yourself believe such a settlement is possible?
[Shevardnadze] I do, as I have always done. Something has always been achieved. As it was in Abkhazia itself in the seventies. There has to be a cease-fire and a stop to the bloodshed.
[Urigashvili] How, then, do you regard the statement by Colonel Gii [Georgiy] Karkarashvili, the commander of the Georgian troops in Abkhazia, that he is ready to lay down the lives of 100,000 Georgians to destroy the 97,000 Abkhazians?
[Shevardnadze] Few people are aware of what preceded this. Karkarashvili, escorted by three comrades-in-arms who were friends, had set off for talks on the exchange of POW’s and hostages. He had arranged this beforehand with the Abkhazians, many of whom respect him as a brave and honest man. And then, all of a sudden, there were shots, and two of his friends died in front of his eyes. Unfortunately, when blood is shed people do not choose their words with care, and this ”war of words” provokes new bloodshed.
[Urigashvili] You issued a national reconciliation manifesto. It has not produced tangible results. It is said to have been a miscalculation. And some observers are already claiming that Shevardnadze needed the Abkhaz action to consolidate his own position and win over the Zviadists [supporters of Zviad Gamsakhurdia] .
[Shevardnadze] I refuse to answer such ”accusations” and speculation – they are so absurd. And as far as the Manifesto is concerned, you are mistaken… It has worked, and has done so precisely among the people you call Zviadists. Many of them have seen for themselves that we are not looking for enemies in our own country, and they have believed us.
[Urigashvili] The outburst of hatred and intolerance which led to bloodshed in the wake of the redeployment of troops is incomprehensible and inexplicable to many people from the outside.
[THREAT OF ETHNIC-BASED DICTATORSHIP]
[Shevardnadze] There are many reasons for this, and if they are not explained, it will be difficult to understand why the outburst occurred. It is absurd when everything is presented as if the Georgians went off their heads and indulged in self-destruction.
The Abkhazians are a people belonging to our state. Yes, their rights were seriously infringed in the past – and I have always openly stated that. This happened both under Stalin and later. I have sought to rectify this a little insofar as my powers and the present-day realities allow. Something has been achieved. And whatever might be said about my constant concessions, I did and do consider that I acted correctly. But then another wave arose – that of separatism. This is a dreadful phenomenon. It recognizes no bounds or borders. Separatism is the force of inertia of a permanent fragmentation creating new conflicts.
It is the separatist-minded section of Abkhazian politicians which has exploited the political shortsightedness of the previous regime and managed to ”push through” an electoral law which can only be described as discriminatory. It was that law which planted the bomb which has exploded today.
I appreciate that a minority must be guaranteed its rights. But not in such a way as to guarantee it a majority in parliament and the opportunity to pass laws which ignore the rights and interests of the other section of the population, which, moreover, constitutes the majority. That is a direct line to ethnic-based dictatorship.
The last seven months have seen a constant show of strength and demonstration of ethnic superiority in that parliament and the adoption of laws which ignore the rights of the majority and basic common sense. The operation of the constitution adopted during the time of the now non-existent Transcaucasian Federation has been restored. And even then farsighted Abkhazians predicted that it would split little Abkhazia into parts and be its downfall.
References to the fact that the 1921 constitution, in which Abkazia is not mentioned at all, has been restored in Georgia are invalid. When enacting it the drafters of the decision also named the Abkhazian autonomous formation in the preamble, stipulating that this question would be resolved after the election of parliament.
The constitutional crisis was planned in advance, and it is difficult to believe that its inciters did not know what they were doing.
[FEDERAL SYSTEM NOT THE ANSWER]
[Urigashvili] And yet can you entertain the idea of Abkhazia seceding from Georgia?
[Shevardnadze] I cannot, because drawing and quartering a country like Georgia would drain the lifeblood of the peoples, generations, and families, the present and the past. We have lived together on this land, have put down roots together, intertwined our roots, destinies, habits, traditions, names and songs. Is this root system now to be severed? If so, our common tree will collapse and crush us all beneath it. I know many Abkhazians who think the same way. And I do not know a single Georgian who could accept the idea of separation. While even one of us is alive, such an idea is out of the question.
[Urigashvili] But are federal relations possible in such a case?
[Shevardnadze] I cannot – I am not entitled to anticipate events. This is a matter for the future parliament. The form of state system for Georgia and Abkhazia is to be determined by the people through a referendum. But, to be honest, I do not have very much faith in a federal system in Georgia. It is foolish blindly to copy Russia, a huge country with different specific features and a different history and traditions. Questions connected with guaranteeing the relevant rights and the status of Abkahzia can be resolved without Georgia having a federal system. Everything can be resolved within the framework of a unified state.
[Urigashvili] Incidentally, about Russia; don’t you think that its present position was caused by similar problems in its own autonomous formations?
[Shevardnadze] I consider that Russia is guided by the generally accepted international norms proclaimed by the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter for a New Europe. The democratic leadership of Russia cannot approach the problem of the inviolability of borders and the integrity of territory any other way. Moreover, I consider that it is in Russia’s interests to deal with a unified, integrated and stable Georgia. A fragmented Georgia will never be stable. And nor will there ever be peace and calm in this region of vital importance to Russia. [MOUNTAIN PEOPLE’S CONFEDERATION GUILTY OF TERRORISM]
[Urigashvili] How do you regard the role of the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus in this conflict?
[Shevardnadze] On their merits, the actions of its leadership can only be described as international terrorism reeking of fascism.
The confederation is carrying out aggression and is interfering in our internal affairs from the territory of those republics. Radio transmitters coordinating combat operations in Abkhazia are operating over there. It is from there that gunmen come to murder our citizens and orders are issued to sow terror in our capital. And all Georgians who are citizens of those republics have been declared hostages. It is not superfluous to consider why tiny Abkhazia has been transformed into a such a crucible seething with a critical mass of the utmost reaction. There you have the patronage of not unknown groupings from the former union parliament, Zhirinovskiy with his own party, and the ”confederation”, which is seeking to intimidate Russia with the threat of a breakaway by certain republics and the spectre of a second Caucasian war, plus our own home-grown insurgents, who have suddenly become inflamed with love for a people whom they previously denied the right to exist.
What do they have in common? Nothing except intemperate, overweening extremism. But extremities converge.
[Urigashvili] Is the West’s restrained response to the events in Abkhazia evidence of the stock of trust which you personally enjoy there or is it due to an appreciation of the fact that Georgia’s hand has been forced?
[Shevardnadze] Perhaps it is to a certain extent a matter of trust, however that stock of trust has been granted not because Shevardnadze is here, but because Georgia has chosen the course of building a democratic state. There is also appreciation of the fact that amidst the highly complex process under way here we have confronted extraordinary problems, problems which no other state has yet experienced.
[Urigashvili] What, however, are you taking to Moscow? Do you have a specific peace settlement plan?
[Shevardnadze] I do, but forgive me if I do not reveal it yet. We want to stop this war and we know how to do it. However, our wishes alone are not enough. Everything depends on the degree of readiness on all sides to meet one another half-way. [interview ends]
Your ‘Izvestiya’ corrrespondent has also asked Vladislav Ardzinba, Chairman of the Abkhaz Supreme Soviet, to give an interview to the newspaper. The editorial office confirms its readiness to give him a platform.
Ardzinba’s interview with Moscow News, 6 September 1992 Top
Source: Yemelyanenko, Vladimir. “Vladislav Ardzinba speaks out,” Moscow News, 6 September 1992. Retrieved from LexisNexis Academic, 18 September 2012.
The Supreme Council Chairman of Abkhazia, Vladislav Ardzinba granted an interview to MN’s Vladimir Yemelyanenko.
Vladislav Ardzinba got into the spotlight of public opinion on two occasions during the recent past: when he came to chair the USSR parliament’s Commission on Autonomies, and openly shared Anatoly Lukyanov’s (the USSR parliament’s speaker) vision of the Soviet Union’s future, and later, when the Abkhazian parliament under his leadership opted for a course towards the republic’s full independence from Georgia, triggering Ardzinba’s eviction. MN: I often heard from people who had taken refuge in Sochi: “We aren’t going to support Ardzinba, because he has abandoned us.” Do you admit abandoning your country to the ravages of looters?
V.A.: Had I deserted my people, I would have surrendered to the “victor”. I would have resigned in keeping with the demand of the Georgian State Council. But it was a Phyrric victory for Georgians, bringing to the mind Napoleon’s “victory” near Moscow back in 1812. You should know that the decision of abandoning the Russian capital was also controversial. We have no regular army to oppose the Georgian National Guard. Here, in Gudauta, we are forming a troop of volunteers and still hoping for help from the world community.
MN: Perhaps the intervention of the National Guard was provoked by the radicalism shown by the Abkhazian parliament and yourself, don’t you think?
V.A.: In my opinion, everything which we have done and are doing is quite in line with the changes happening in the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the new independent states have taken over from the patron country its tough unitarism of approach. As a result, one centre broke up into about 15 new centres. Naturally, that didn’t do the “smaller nations” any good. The new centres are using us, the “smaller nations”, as a training ground. Russia alone has solved the autonomies issue, through a federation agreement. Since then, the Georgian-Abkhazian relations have been on a different level altogether because of it. Georgia’s restored 1921 Constitution makes no mention of Abkhazia, as if it is non-existent. In order to survive, we had to restore the 1925 Constitution giving Abkhazia a status of a “Union Republic”. Of course, there is a controversy here, but it can be resolved in a civilized manner through some special agreement.
MN: Do you mean a federation agreement or a confederation agreement? Apart from the South Ossetian and Abkhazian issues, Georgia has some internal unresolved problems: Adjaria, Svanetia, and rebellious Mengrelia are claiming the special state status for themselves. You’ve practically announced a war of legislation on the Georgian State Council, and invited the latter to show radicalism of another nature: the use of military force. As a result you have lost whatever you had.
V.A.: Speaking about the war of legislation, you mean the laws on land and on spa resorts’ property, which were passed by our parliament, but repealed by the Georgian State Council later. But there would have been no such war, had Tbilisi’s power been based on anything other than crude force. Regard this: the State Council doesn’t bother to seek concord with its opponents in Ossetia, Mingrelia, and now Abkhazia. Instead it regards the National Guard — with its tanks, guns, and marauding personnel — as the ultimate argument. In force of its very nature, the Georgian state power is incapable of understanding the apparent: the role of the old Centre, played by the new sovereign states, doesn’t fit in with the new national-territorial pattern. To continue to play that role means to escalate the disintegration up to the level of ethnic conflicts, and to follow the road towards ultimate disaster. There were interstate relations (however truncated) between the Union Republics and Autonomous Republics in the former unitarian USSR. Today we are witnessing efforts to call off these relations. In this endeavour, Georgia is resorting to the military force, which is like putting a prohibition on breathing. Abkhazia has always been building its relations with Georgia on the foundation of agreements. We only wanted to continue those relations and fit them to the changing conditions. The present times are urging decentralization. In our situation, this primarily means promotion of the federal relations. At any rate I will stick to this position in my talks with Boris Yeltsin and Eduard Shevardnadze in Moscow.
MN: Mister Ardzinba, you have appreciably altered your stance lately. In the past you were an ardent supporter of the integral USSR. Now you enjoy a reputation of a separatist in relation to Georgia.
V.A.: Incidentally, you can use the “Comrade” handle addressing me.
Indeed I used to campaign for the continuation of the USSR as a guarantee of non-extermination of the ethnic minorities. Only history can judge as to who is right on that issue. Look at what disintegration has been bringing along! Armenians are slaughtered in Nagorny Karabakh, ethnic Russians are mistreated in Moldova and the Baltics, and Ossets and Abkhazians are being murdered in Georgia. Those are only the most flagrant woes.
True, the USSR parliament speaker, Anatoly Lukyanov, was always available for me, but that was the base of my then work. I perfectly respect the man personally, even though our opinions have differed on a number of issues. Nevertheless, I must give im him due: Lukyanov was favouring greater rights for the USSR’s autonomies. If you call this approach that of a conservatist, I am one. I’m by no means a radical, as you called me. I’m also conservative on the issue of secession: my vision of relations with Georgia is a federation.
MN: You personally requested help from the Confederation of North Caucasian Peoples and presidents of the five North-Caucasian republics. But this is a sure way towards internationalization of the local conflict in which Chechens, Kabardinians, Adyghes and Cossacks are currently involved. Perhaps the war will spill over and engulf the entire Caucasus. Aren’t you afraid of that?
V.A.: I was flabbergasted to learn that the Russian Federation Prosecutor’s Office was going to bring a lawsuit against the Confederation. The history of Russian-Caucasian relations explicitly proves that fraternal people cannot and shouldn’t be separated. Building a border or a cordon sanitaire between them (which would involve several now independent nations) would be suicidal. It is impossible to sever century-old ties between closely-related peoples living in one economic space. Georgia, which has embarked on that road, will eventually stoop to the use of violence. I’m aware of the existence of the centuries-old political as well as family ties between Russia and Georgia. But you can’t just rule out the great Caucasian family of nations which is paramount to their political ambitions. For example, Abkhazians live in Sochi as well as in Gagra (Georgia). Abazinians closely related to Abkhazian also live in Karachai-Circassia. Our fraternal nation of Adyghes live dispersed throughout the whole region. I can’t imagine how this one space for all can be carved up by artificial state borders.
You Russians are a big nation, and cannot understand the feelings of a small nation. The people of the Confederation are afraid, that the current fate of the Abkhazians can hit them as well, if they remain passive. Mind you, those people experienced expulsion on more than one of two occasions in the past. Therefore, the volunteer troop is being joined by Ossets, Balkarians, Armenians, Russians and even Georgians. An analogy with the Spain of 1936 is quite correct here. The volunteer troop is international in the clearest meaning of the word. They oppose an army equipped with modern weaponry” MIG fighter bombers, tanks, and anti-personnel dart ammunition. Therefore it is the short-sighted politicians that are edging the region towards a major war, not the Abkhazians.
MN: Where is the way out?
V.A.: People must be guaranteed a right for self-determination.
MN: But you also point out the benefits of being part of the former Soviet empire. Then you mention the right for self- determination of each individual people, after Lenin. But nothing positive came out of that, as you know, and the peoples suffered deportation.
V.A.: But the people of Abkhazia are not only Abkhazians but also Greeks, Armenians, Russians, Georgians, Jews, and Ukrainians living in Abkhazia. And people of Abkhazia can well determine their future themselves. After all, the Abkhazian statehood is 12 centuries old. We don’t want to leave Georgia. What we want is interstate federative relations. Is that unfeasible? What is criminal in the idea, against which the head of the State Council reputed, for the commitment of democracy is infringing upon human rights of Abkhazians and bringing about the physical extermination of the Abkhazian nation?
MN: This is a question for the Russian government which fears — and not without a reason — that intervention in the Georgian- Abkhazian relations would injure Russia’s relations with its own 20 autonomies and 87 other subjects of the Russian Federation.
V.A.: Russian politicians will have to consider the following circumstance. The Russian language has become for the Caucasians a medium of absorbing the civilizational advances of the world.
To ignore this fact, and to switch over to national languages overnight, would be to the disadvantage of Russia as well. this can cause an explosion in the south. Therefore, this isn’t a question of non- involvement in the internal issues of another country, but a laissez- faire attitude towards the infringement of human rights there. What inspires hope is the reaction of Russia’s public, which mustn’t be confused with the reaction of the government. I believe that the people will urge their government towards a sane solution.
MN: What if they fail to do so? Suppose your family tells you, that they want you near them in Moscow. Would you quiet your work of heading the resistance.
V.A.: Nothing can change my choice. My family is there, and I am here. Resignation from fighting is a treason of the worst kind. Should that happen, we, Abkhazians will simply finish to be a distinct ethnic group.
Interview with Ardzinba’s on the military situation in Abkhazia, 19 October 1994 Top
Source: Ardinzba, Vladislav. “Opportunity to avoid bloodshed in deatil still exists.”http://ardzinba.com/
– Vladislav G., what is today the political and military situation in Abkhazia?
– Speaking of the political situation, it is easy to express in a few words. There is a resolution of 3 September, which was signed by representatives of the Abkhaz, Georgian and Russian sides. Last, I note, has made serious efforts to send two warring parties to the peaceful resolution of the conflict. However, any compromise provides the main conditions that we have set: to withdraw all military forces from the territory of Abkhazia, Georgia. However, Georgia still prefers forceful means.
When they signed the final document they agreed – a decision supported by the President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin – that they would need a month to meet again, to control how to implement the decision of 3 September. It is known, this has not taken place, and, in our opinion, Georgia is stalling for time in order to strengthen its military forces in Abkhazia. According to recent reports, the State Council tightable tanks, large artillery, including four settings “Grad”, already in Zugdidi. That is the behavior of the Georgian side shows that it is not interested in a normal civilized conflict resolution. But at the same time, Georgia appeals to the international organizations, the international community, although we are sure that everything can be settled through negotiations with the warring parties in Russia and the republics of the North Caucasus.
We have twice visited Georgia on the proposal of the delegation of the UN. Last visit left a painful impression. We visited after a trip to Tbilisi, and they looked to us as if for show. Tell them, go to the places where the past and there is a war, get acquainted with the materials of which you will learn what kind of country and state – Abkhazia, will introduce you to everything you need. Almost no reaction …
– What conclusions do you think that the Georgian side came to after its defeat in Gagra operation?
– It made – Abkhazians can not only defend but to attack. In Tbilisi they now refer to us as a military force, more serious than before. And they stubbornly conceal from the people the true losses in men, weapons, military equipment.
Here is a curious document, the diary of a high rank, representing the State Council in Abkhazia, – his name, we now set. So, according to the records, even before the Georgian side Gagra operation in Abkhazia lost 256 dead, more than 900 wounded. As a non-military man, as a scientist, I do not rejoice in these figures – people are people. That is why I proposed to take the enemy out of Gagra killed and wounded in those days. Unbelievable, but they refused! I think because they do not want publicity. Of course, we must remember that in Gagra group were many freed under amnesty criminals. In 1992, of the 20,000 prisoners released 18.5 thousand, including those convicted of armed robbery. But for someone they are criminals, and for the family – sons, brothers, fathers …
– Along both sides are accumulating forces in Gumista. Their collision, apparently, is inevitable. Do you agree with this?
– No. We can not accept it as inevitable. The opportunity to avoid further bloodshed, I think, is still there. I repeat: if the withdrawal of Georgian troops over the border river Inguri takes place. Well, tell me now how to conduct negotiations if every night they fired from the “Grad” coastal village of Esher, our positions, killing people, livestock, and destroying houses. In Gagra after the operation, we have the opportunity to respond, apply artillery strike, say, in their headquarters in Sukhumi. But there are people – Abkhazians, Georgians and Russian.
– It is known that in other countries, including Turkey, Syria, and other countries, there is a large Abkhazian diaspora are showing increasing concern about the situation in the homeland .. Is it possible that part of your Abkhaz armed resistance is made up of foreigners?
– I do not rule that out, because people have come to us with guns from Inguri, but we are not pawns in a foreign game. We are talking about the actual genocide of the Abkhazian people, of our existence as a nation. So far, due the Diaspora, citizens of Abkhazia can give send to the people financial and humanitarian assistance, as well as send medicines.
– And on what terms you agree to battle the North Caucasians, fighters from other regions of Russia, the CIS?
– Is that you on the so-called mercenaries? No monetary remuneration for them there. They fight not for the money and are subject to the Abkhaz military command.
– I’ve heard many of them intend to remain permanently after the war in Abkhazia, to obtain citizenship and housing in this fabulous region … No fee for this part in the victory?
– No, no fee, and the gratitude of our people to those who came to help in time of need. But none of the volunteers – you know – such a precondition is not intended.
– Probably, it is a shelter, abandoned, or some local Georgians who had fled from the hardships and dangers of war, or those of them who had cooperated with the administration of the State Council and the troops on the territory of Abkhazia. Of these citizens in your country I’ve ever heard of Abkhazians polar judgment “of” who is to blame, let returns, it is not our enemy “to” never Georgians in Abkhazia will not live. “What is your view?
– I think the pace, who really is to blame to our people, nothing and no one will prevent return home to Abkhazia. Those individuals who are responsible for particular crimes and misdemeanors will be held responsible before the law.
– The people will understand your position in relation to even innocent, but the Georgians? Some do not, I’m sure. Someone will have to patiently explain that we are not fighting with the Georgian people, and with those criminals who defames him.