Georgian-Russian Agreement of May 7th 1920 and the issue of Abkhazia - Part III
27/04/2010 11:14
Simon Kiladze

"Discovery" of Shamba and Neproshin: Allegedly Abkhazia was independent in 1920

One of the first attempts of reviewing the Georgian-Russian agreement of May 7th 1920 a large work by Taras Shamba and Alexander Neproshin titled "Abkhazia – juridical basis of sovereignty and statehood" which was even published as a book in 2003. It is notable that both authors are living and working in Russia and, of course, the book itself is pro-Russian, pro-Abkhazian and anti-Georgian in its essence. These esteemed professors are doing their best to conceal a fact of Abkhazia being a part of Georgia. And for this purpose they are not even averse from presenting well-known facts and events in a very biased and tendential light, interpreting incorrectly and thus carrying out depreciation of the truth.

By using clauses of the agreement of February 9th, 1918 between the National Council of Georgia and representatives of the Abkhazian Peoples' Council as proofs, a tandem of Shamba-Neproshin maintains that Abkhazia had its own sovereign territory and authorities even before the declaration of Georgian independence (i.e. before May 26th 1918) but such assertions are incorrect. We can see in the document that "The National Council of Georgia consents to restoration of united and undivided Abkhazia from the River Enguri to Mzimta" i.e. that at that time sovereign territory of Abkhazia was not registered yet so accordingly neither these allegedly sovereign authorities was covering the entire territory of Abkhazia. In this part of the book Shamba and Neproshin assess very negatively Georgian policy towards Abkhazia. They do not say anything about the fact that later in June 1918 it was the authorities of independent Georgia that united Abkhazia and extended territories of Sukhumi okrug over to the other side of the River Psou almost to the river Mzimta (we are talking about results of the military conflict between Georgia and government forces of south Russia – so-called Denikin's Volunteer Army).

The authors of the book claim that even before the declaration of Georgian independence Abkhazia was united with the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus and had a status of independent country. We should explain that although it is true that Mountaineers declared independence before Georgia on May 11th, 1918 but it is a lie that Abkhazia had the status of the independent state within the Mountainous Republic. No assertion of Shamba and Neproshin is confirmed by documents and it opposes the truth. And, indeed, how would it be possible Abkhazia to independently exist in Mountainous Republic? Was the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus a confederation? At the time juridical foundations of this abstract state entity was absolutely ambiguous. And its declaration does not say anything about state system of mountaineers. Another detail - mountaineer authority mainly covered Dagestan and Chechnya and it did not spread over even neighbouring North Caucasian districts and all the more over Abkhazia. In addition, how can we talk about sovereign Abkhazia being a part of Republic of Mountaineers when at that time Bolsheviks were in charge in Abkhazia and Abkhazian elite was asking Georgia to save them from Communists and help them!?

The tandem of professors brings agreements that were signed between the Abkhazian Peoples' Council (local political administrative authorities) and the Georgian government and declares that with these documents Tbilisi recognized independence of Sukhumi authorities. When in reality the text does not mention Abkhazia as a state at all and neither recognizes its independence and sovereignty. This agreement regulated only powers of central authorities (government) of Georgia and local authorities of one of the regions of the country – Abkhazian Peoples' Council. How could Abkhazia have been independent when local government bodies of Abkhazia were financed by Tbilisi (clause 3 and 5) and when common Georgian state laws were in force in Abkhazia (clauses 6 and 8) and when resolution of foreign policy issues was a prerogative of Georgian central government?

Such separation of powers more resembles a relationship between a centre of united federal centre and its region that was quite usual practice of that period, especially in the process of formation of a new state. Although we should mention that using term "federation" in the Georgian-Abkhazian relations in a classical sense would be too exaggerated.

We should pay attention that at the moment of signing of the agreement Abkhazia is not an independent state and Abkhazian Peoples' Council is not the government of Abkhazia. It only is a certain mixture of political, representative and legislative bodies. While the authors of the book stubbornly, with falsification of facts are trying to artificially create some kind of foundations of abstract sovereignty and independence for Abkhazian separatism.

So, in reality, in June 1918 and even so in 1920 Abkhazia was a part of Georgia and there was no problem with this regard. And we will reaffirm a postulate that central authorities of Georgia de-facto and de-jure firmly controlled territory of Sukhumi okrug. This is confirmed by the document that was approved by Abkhazian Peoples Council of Abkhazia that was elected on March 20th 1919 "Act of autonomy of Abkhazia". It word by word said that "Abkhazia is a part of Georgian Democratic Republic as an autonomous unit". We should mention that this document of the Abkhazian Peoples' Council actually annulled previous agreements with the central authorities that are so cherished by the authors.

As to the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus mentioned by Shamba and Neproshin it seized to exist and its émigré government was sheltered in one of the hotels in Tbilisi.

Based on the above-mentioned false assertions about "independent status" of Abkhazia professors Taras Shamba and Alexander Neproshin declare that the Georgian-Russian agreement of May 7th 1920 is illegitimate and unjust as allegedly this document was registered without consent of sovereign Abkhazia and that Georgia allegedly added Abkhazia to its territory without permission. Here a sense of protest is rising inside Shamba and Neproshin and they are saying with a pain in the heart that representatives of Abkhazia were not even invited to Moscow. "At the time of the signing of the agreement practically a coup took place between two countries (Russia and Georgia - S.K.) towards the third independent and sovereign country (Abkhazia – S.K.) and it represented an anti-legislative act – aggression, occupation, violation of all agreements signed by Georgia with Abkhazia which preceded Abkhazian annexation on Georgia's part" - is said in the book. Then the authors are trying to affirm their positions with principles of the Roman law that was formed in ancient period (violation of rights of the third person by two persons) , and later they are refering to modern law - international law of the second part of the XX century including the Vienna Convention.

Attention should be paid to one important axiom when analyzing opinions of Shamba and Neproshin on this issue. When we are trying to assess historical facts or events of 1918-1920 we should be guided not by juridical norms of the old Roman Empire but by international juridical principles that existed in 1918. We should take into account political situation, real essence of events and resolutions of state law of that time i.e. 1910s.

With this regard we should remember that at that period norms of international law had already existed and they were quite well established. For example, voluminous works of professor of St. Petersburg University and vice-president of Institute of International Law Fyodor (Friedrich) Martens titled "International Law of Civilized Nations" was widely used in the world at that time. Probably, it would have been better for our respected professors to look into this book by Martens and read there how it describes a state, its territorial and administrative system, relations between a centre and regions and how it defines international law and international agreements, their subjects and forms, character etc. It is notable that this work (textbook) was published many times and prior to 1940 was certain etalon in the sphere of international law.

As Fyodor Martens indicates a state can only enter into an international agreement when it is indeed sovereign and independent i.e. it has ability and powers to conduct independent foreign and internal politics. Georgia of that time absolutely satisfied these and other terms of the Russian lawyer and scholar of the international law. It would be enough to say that by May 1920 Georgian independence was officially recognized by countries of Europe, Asia and Latin America and various embassies and diplomatic missions of different countries operated in Tbilisi. As to Abkhazia its so-called independence (in interpretation of Shamba and Neproshin) is not mentioned in any of the international or internal documents. That was because independent Abkhazia never existed. By the way, Fyodor Martens clearly underlined that so-called half-independent countries do not participate in international relations in any way and Abkhazia did not even had the status of "half-independent" state.

Therefore claims of the above-mentioned professors as though Georgia government needed consent from Abkhazia for signing agreement with Russia and determining its border is absolutely incorrect and erroneous. According to the principles of international law that operated in that period and in that era , a centre used to take such decisions without asking permissions from its regions but at the same time taking into account state interest (for those who do not believe we advise to read the book of Fyodor Martens).

Given all the above we reaffirm that form, goals and character of the peace agreement of May 7th, 1920 between Russia and Georgia fully comply with international juridical norms of the time and interests of the parties. As to some terms shown in certain clauses that were considered by opposition parliamentarians of the Constituent Council of Georgia (Parliament) as negative and unacceptable compromise (clause 10 and annexes) this fact does not lessen overall positive character of the agreement.

Unfortunately, false assertions of Taras Shamba and Alexander Neproshin presented in their joint work became a certain action textbook for enemies of Georgia and supporters of Abkhazian separatism.

(To be continued)

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