Big politics in mines of Tkvarcheli
27/05/2010 04:58
Giorgi Tsiklauri

An unprecedented event happened in Abkhazia. The committee on ecology and nature management of the puppet regime suspended operation of company "Tkuarchal-Ugol" which was created on the basis of enterprise" Tamsash "engaged in coal mining in the mountains of Tkvarcheli. Until this there has been no authoritarian closure of businesses in the occupied region. On the contrary, Abkhazians were happy with even the smallest business, drawing from it optimistic hopes for the revival of war-torn region. And then, suddenly, they suspended the company on which more than 90% of the budget of the Tkvarcheli district depends. According to the "Kavkazski Uzel" which refers to the deputy head of local administration, payment of "Tkuarchal-Ugol" in 2009 and first quarter of 2010 totaled 43 million rubles, i.e. nearly half a million dollars. So this is happening for a reason quite ridiculous in the Abkhazian reality.

It all began on May 3rd, when residents of several villages situated along the river Galidzga, blocked the railway line and did not let 13 carriages of coal to Ochamchire. About a hundred people demanded the coal mining company to stop polluting the river and called on the authorities to respond to what is happening. The protesters complained that the water from Galidzga where piles of dump from the mines are dumped is not suitable for swimming and even cattle refuses to drink it. The protesters were backed by residents of Ochamchire. According to Abkhazian journalists, last summer significant number of Russian tourists visited them for the first time and locals, hoping for tourist business, are afraid to frighten them with dirty sea, into which Galidzga falls.

The representatives of puppet regime in one voice are making statements which can be safely applauded by all "green" activists. "Minister of economy" Christina Ozgan, in fact, delivered an ultimatum. According to her, over the past two years it was not possible to completely resolve the issue of treatment plants, but some scheme by which emission of waste coal in the water was minimized to some extent, was still in place. "But other engineering questions concerning development of the coalfield section directly arose - said Ozgan at a meeting with residents of the Ochamchire district - measures taken at the time by "Tamsash" proved ineffective. They are faced with a challenge to resolve this issue as soon as possible".

The company was ordered to provide a project with specific engineering solutions not only for treatment plants, but also for dumps of goaf by the end of May. "If by the end of this year the organization does not resolve all issues related to the environment, we will unilaterally, without judicial proceedings terminates the contract with them" - threatened Ozgan.

Management of "Tkuarchal-Ugol" has to accept this in the hope that they will be able to restore normal operation of the enterprise. "It's been eight years that we are working in Tkvarcheli, and the issue of environmental safety was never out of the agenda, - said director general of the company of Typhoon Ardzinba - We are gradually solving this issue. We purchased Italian equipment worth of 650,000 dollars which as it has been agreed upon 10-year extension of our agreement with the Government in December last year, will be delivered to Abkhazia by the end of May. This will eliminate some of the issues. We are obliged, as stipulated in the contract with the government, to resolve other issues by December this year".

Ardzinba immediately started to talk about an issue that concerned him. "Having been suspended the company is undergoing major losses, 300 people have been sent home without work." According to him, in May the company was to send 25,000 tons of coal, and up to date only 5,000 tons are mined 3000 tons of which were transported to Ochamchire, and the rest is still in the mines. The director general says that it is only possible to send down from the mountains no more than 700-800 tons of coal per day and because the production is stopped, there is no guarantee that "Tkuarchal-Ugol" will meet its supply commitments. "As a result, the budget will suffer and resolution of other problems too seems impossible. Thereby neither problem of treatment of the river will be solved ", - summed up Typhoon Ardzinba, noting that the river still will not become clean at once even if the company stops its works for two years. And, therefore it is pointless to stop it.

Abkhazian "parliamentarians" that are connected with Tkvarcheli are firmly against the closure of "Tkuarchal-Ugol". As are officials of local administration but the latters are clearly no figures whose interests will be taken into account when it comes to serious matters. The only thing left to them is to "put pressure on pity" describing the grim future of the city. Today up to 2 thousand people (out of 15,000 pre-war population) live there and almost all of them depend on the only company that operates in the area. The company immediately employs more than three hundred people while others are their family members or people who are indirectly dependent on coal production. Besides this company, there is nothing there. It is a dead end for any trade, and agriculture is not developed because of the swampy and very rugged terrain. So forecasts of mine workers looks plausible that if coal mining is stopped Tkvarcheli will become completely abandoned.

Another argument of defenders of the production is identity of the head of "Tkuarchal-Ugol". Typhoon Ardzinba is not just another Turkish trader of smuggled coal, but a descendant of Abkhaz muhajirs. He first came to the historic homeland in 1992 at the age of 20 and passed the entire war with an arm in hand and was wounded twice. This is a serious argument for Abkhazian society though it did not prevent determination of Abkhazian authorities. Again, the question arises: why is Sukhumi so eager to close the enterprise which has such importance for the occupied area?

Environmental topic does not look serious, if only because Bagapsh recently sign an agreement with Rosneft on development of hydrocarbons on Abkhazian shelf. Sukhumi and Moscow are not prevented from carrying out these plans by neither real threat of Abkhazia being turned into one big oil spot nor fierce criticism from Abkhazian opposition, headed by Raul Khajimba that is supported by solid part of local community. And these are more serious opponents than a hundred villagers of the Ochamchire district... However, on May 24th Sergey Bagapsh just stopped all the talk on this subject: "I'm not a barbarian who seeks pollution of the environment. I'm no less concerned with environmental issues than others. But we must understand that today, practically all of the Black Sea countries are engaged in oil production in the Black Sea...". Let’s continue the thought: And why should we be left behind? Why should we be concerned with environment when everyone around us is making money and there is a chance for us to get some out of those?

But one question arises here. How is it possible to combine a lack of principle on the issue of environmental threats to the best Abkhazian beaches in Bichvinta and Gagra with such principled attitude on the issue of compliance with environmental norms in Ochamchire which never boasted with being the tourist attraction?

The Club of Experts has already written about its view of the situation in Tkvarcheli. After Ochamchire it is the second center of Turkish presence in Abkhazia. In Turkey there is a traditional, specific interest to Abkhazia which provides direct access to Russia's troubled North Caucasus. Having placed a naval base in Ochamchire, where the Turkish activity was also marked over the years, Moscow got rid of anxiety on this score. And, a turn of Tkvarcheli has come. Last year, a Russian border post appeared there and foundations were laid for emergence of Russian military settlement. Now, Turkish business headed by the enterprising descendant of muhajirs is being driven out. This history is unlikely to increase desire of his brethren in Turkey to follow the example of Typhoon Ardzinba and get to development of ancestral land.

In order to prevent residents of Tkvarcheli and officials and parliamentarians who are closely connected to the mines from getting too angry, they should be offered some compensation. And, possibly, they were already been offered. On May 20th in Moscow an agreement was signed on cooperation between local authorities of Zapadnoe Dagunino of northern administrative district of the capital of Russia and Abkhazian authorities of the Tkvarcheli district. Management of the Zapadnoe Degunino even prepared a proposal for cooperation in order Tkvarcheli authorities to review the draft and make their changes and additions, after which the parties would make joint plan of measures. This courtesy is simply amazing. You would think that these Muscovites serve as petitioners, and it’s not Tkvarcheli authorities that were given opportunity to "milk" the Moscow administration. It was reported that guests want to improve relations with industrial enterprises of the Zapadnoe Degunino (there are more than twenty in the area), as well as with the trade enterprises. It is a big cake – no doubt about it. Presumably, in the minds of interested people in Tkvarcheli lone Turkish businessman hardly stands competition with the business of the capital of Russia - even if he is a descendant of muhajirs and a war veteran.

A version of political order from Moscow perfectly explains at first glance illogical behavior of the puppet regime. In this context it is interesting to note the recent visit of President of Russia in Turkey and the Kremlin's efforts to demonstrate increased activization of cooperation with Ankara and to present Turks almost as its strategic ... if not allies, at least partners. But Dmitry Medvedev was unable to persuade Turkish leadership to join the project of "South Stream". And Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was clearly not inclined to yield the palm of regional leadership to Russians and this, as well as his last visit to Georgia, has shown his approach to strategic issues. Apparently, they in Russia all the same understand subtleties of eastern diplomacy and do not take at face value smiles and handshakes with which Russian representatives are generously awarded in Istanbul and Ankara. Therefore, Russians do not hesitate to squeeze out of Abkhazia whatever small Turkish presence has developed in occupied region for 17 post-war years.

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