In July 2009 a group of former Georgian security servicemen initiated and founded an organization 'the Club of Experts" in Tbilisi. These people were professionally and personally connected to Abkhazia and are witnesses and participants of the tragic events that have been going on there since the nineties of the last century.
We spoke to Gocha Guniava, one of the founders of "the Club of Experts" regarding processes taking place in the occupied territories after a year of the Russian aggression.
Exactly one year has passed since the war between Russia and Georgia. Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region are occupied. What is there to be done in such a difficult situation and what your organization sees as the most important problem facing us today?
Situation is indeed grave. International society recognized Russia as one of the sides of the conflict and as an aggressor. They have occupied a significant part of Georgia. The world is finally convinced that it was Russian-Georgian not ethno conflicts that were taking place in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. Georgia with the help of the International organizations should start a direct dialogue and neutralize Russia’s negative influence on the negotiation process, all the more that Russia has neither juridical nor moral right to do so. As to the problems, they are universally known. They are de-occupation of the occupied territories, starting negotiations with Abkhazians and Ossetians without a mediator, return of the refugees to Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region with the help of all the existing peaceful methods.
There is some information that descendants of the Muhajirs that were forced to exile by the Russian Empire in the XIX century are returning to Abkhazia. Is that true?
An issue of the repatriation of the Muhajirs to Abkhazia was raised almost immediately after the end of the military actions in Abkhazia. Even relevant departments were created in the Parliament and government of the separatists. At first descendants of the Muhajirs were very keen on returning to Abkhazia. In 1994-96 more than a hundred families came to settle in Abkhazia. The majority were poor families from Turkey that were tempted by promises of not only a free accommodation but also of guarantees to start their own business. But a difficult criminogenic situation in Abkhazia at that time was a poor catalyst in the repatriation process. They became victims of attacks, several repatriates were killed and that became a reason for the part of them going back.
Although for that part of the descendants of the Muhajirs who would like to do business Abkhazia is a land of big promises. Abkhazian legislation allows them to become Abkhazian citizens (that itself makes getting Russian citizenship easier for them), to buy property and other assets on advantageous for them conditions and most of all, to use all the above for expanding their business into Russia’s vast territories.
There is also the third category of the Muhajirs whose aim is to spread Islam and they are supported by the Islamic circles and other interested parties.
In the last decade number of the ethnic Abkhazians began to shrink significantly. In order to artificially increase the Abkhazian ethnos a law was passed about the Abkhazian citizenship. The 5th close of this law states that “persons of the Abkhazian nation (Abazs), notwithstanding their place of residence and citizenship” will be considered as citizens of the Abkhazia. The part of the descendents of the Abkhazian Muhajirs expresses a desire to use the abovementioned law about citizenship. They think that if this process gets more active along with the demographic changes full islamization of the region will happen. We should also note that among the Muhajirs sent to exile in XIX century were a lot of ethnic Georgians but they will not be able to take advantage of the above law because it concerns only ethnic Abkhazians. Despite all the separatists’ efforts only around a thousand repatriates have returned to Abkhazia as of today. The repatriation process was further delayed as a result of the Russian occupation. The statements from leaders of the Separatist government and Muslim religious leaders, that intentions of today’s Russia differ from those of the XIX century Russia were not believable enough for descendents of those Muhajirs that over hundred years had been cursing the Russian authorities.
How will Russian authorities react to a large flow of the Muhajirs and will they take any measures to prevent this process?
To interfere somehow in these processes Russia artificially creates conditions for increasing the number of Russian, and at some point Armenian, population. On the 30th of April 2009 D. Medvedev and S. Bagapsh signed an agreement about a joint control of the Abkhazian borders according to which all the naval and ground borders of Abkhazia would be controlled by the Russian border guards only. The same agreement also gives the Russian border guards and their families right to all the benefits allowing to get an accommodation with a perspective of its further privatization that were reserved for local Abkhazian army personnel. And that gives the opportunity for increasing the number of the Russian population in Abkhazia. It is not a secret for anybody anymore that the ultimate intention of Russia is to add the Abkhazian territory to Russia. That was the reason for evicting hundreds of thousands of indigenous Georgians that have a common faith with them. A large flow into Abkhazia of the angry Muhajirs that were exiled to Turkey on the religious grounds can become a problem for Russia. In response to that Russia will encourage increase of the Armenian population that were thrown out of Turkey on the same ethnic and religious grounds and now populate the area of the Muhajirs’ former places of settlement. International society and especially the Armenian people have not forgotten a provocative role that Russia played in the massacre of the Armenian people.
Can concentration of so many different people in such a short time create a new confrontation?
Such danger is real. Ethnicity, religion and property – all can become factors for confrontation. Not to say anything if interested parties will channel processes into that direction. Aspiration of the separatists to bring back as many Muhajirs as possible and Russia’s fears regarding a return of large groups with unidentified intentions from Turkey, a historic rival and an active member of NATO Alliance into Abkhazia will not be able to co-exist. It also will be hard to align interests of the returned Muhajirs and those of the Armenian population living in Abkhazia today and their Moscovite lobby. Mosow’s initiation of the confrontation between these two historically and religiously rival forces cannot be ruled out and that can become a reason for happening of another wave of the Abkhazian Muhajirs.