A lot of has been written about a heavy criminal situation in Abkhazia. In this regard, the most serious situation was, of course, in the Gali district and it remains to be so to this day. Despite this, we are considering the Gali district, 99 % of population of which prior the conflict and even today are ethnic Georgians, in the context of the entire occupied territory of Abkhazia.
An article "Gangster laissez-fair in Gali" by Varvara Pakhomenko that was published in the Ekho Kavkaza newspaper on October 18th, 2010 and comments to it prompted us to make some remarks.
First and foremost we want to note significance of the fact that others, besides Georgian side expressed interest in the situation in this area of occupied Abkhazia that is almost entirely populated by Georgians. Though coverage of life of ethnic Georgians lacks depth, but we believe that the main thing, after all, is that the process has started.
With this regard, of course, we have no complaints with the author of this article. But if one looks closely one will see that the article subtly, almost imperceptibly implies an idea that Georgian population of the Gali district are virtually breathing freely and they feel tangibly safer since Russian troops have been located there and took over complete control over processes. So the author tries to show the situation in a manner as though presence of Russian troops in the Gali district is positively perceived by local Georgian population and Russians have quite normal relations with them.
On one hand, it is difficult not to agree with the author – who in its right mind would be against force that defends their security. But on the other hand, in the conditions of complete deoccupation and when Georgian constitutional order is completely restored in this region neither Georgian population of Gali nor inhabitants of other ethnicity all over the territory of Abkhazia, and first of all Abkhazians themselves, will have need for any Russian military to protect their security and constitutional rights to live in a civilized country and to be fully-fledged participants of development of the country.
We would also like to remind the author that several objectives are being achieved by deploying Russian militaries in the Gali district and establishing a full control over the situation. The first is strengthening of the occupation of Abkhazia. To achieve this they need to gain trust of local population by playing a role of a guarantor of security and this will be manifested by locals choosing the Russian boot over an Abkhazian. Russians understand very well that restoration of traditional relations between Georgian population and Abkhazians, and that given all that kinship between them, can endanger prospects of their ultimate establishment. And that will ultimately become foundation for peaceful resolution of the conflict. Therefore their aim is to carry out policy of "divide and rule" though which they successfully realized instigation of the armed conflict in Abkhazia. And third and no less important objective is a financial factor. As we know, and the author also notes this, that after the war a fertile soil was created for so-called seasonal terrorism in the Gali district. The main emphasis is on hazelnuts and citruses as the Gali district always was famous for its rich harvest of the highest grade. Having taken advantage of the situation Abkhazian and Georgian criminals, unlike politicians, easily found a common language and once again confirmed that people of their "profession" have no nationality. They are all criminals. Therefore the Gali district which was on one hand forcefully detached from legal space of Georgia and on the other hand, abandoned with this respect by the separatist regime, became a ground for criminals of Abkhazia and Mingrelian region. If criminals from this side of the river Enguri had problems created by so-called Russian peacekeepers Abkhazian criminals, with the help Abkhazian so-called law enforcers and various armed formations and through support of the same peacekeepers were constantly robbing defenceless population of Gali. In addition, they had set so-called duties in the form of money or "payment in kind" significant part of which used to go as "shares" to leaders for the separatist regime. Given this, one of the aims of Russian militaries was to establish control over this "business" as well as over drug and arms trafficking.
In addition to the above, we believe it to be necessary to remark on comments made with regards to Pakhomenko's article. The main emphasis in those comments is made about the process of return of Georgians to the Gali district in 1995. Apparently, return of Georgians to their homes at the time was a display of good-will of Ardzinba who was still the head of the separatist regime of the time and not a result of pressure of the international community and negotiations of the various formats.
As the Gali district – historical Samurzakano - in reality has always been populated by Georgians, it became almost completely abandoned after the war actions of 1992-1993. And the district that was famous for its agriculture and citruses was left without people to work on it. In the conditions of reality of post-war Abkhazia where most of the people were running around with guns in their hands and counted themselves in the privileged class no one wanted to work on the land. At the time when existing situation threatened "undefeatable Abkhazia" with famine, someone among the leaders of the separatist regime of the time remembered that before the war it was the Gali district that provided 70 % of agricultural produce for Abkhazia. And this became a reason that a decision was made and which was later voiced at the international negotiations and was christened as a good-will of Ardzinba, to let Georgians return to the Gali district.
To more clearly demonstrate the above issue we present document that were directly initiated by Russia and signed by representatives of the separatist regime.
Let's start from the fact that a question of return of refugees and internally displaced persons with regards to in the context of full settlement of the conflict was raised in the very first round of the negotiations in Geneva on November 30th 1993. At the talks by a Memorandum of Understanding between the Georgian and Abkhazian sides was adopted, 4th clause of which deals specifically with the return of refugees. In particular, "Parties are committed to urgently address the problem of refugees, displaced persons. They undertake to establish conditions for voluntary, safe and speedy return of refugees to their places of permanent residence in all regions of Abkhazia. All returning refugees will be returned their apartments, houses, land and property that they abandoned".
As we see, just a couple of months after the cessation of hostilities, the separatist regime was ready in a matter of urgency "to not only create conditions " in all areas of Abkhazia for voluntary and safe return of the expelled" but also to return the property that they were forced to abandon.
But at the second round of talks held in Geneva on January 11-13th 1994, the situation in relation to this matter has already changed, and it was decided that voluntary and safe return of refugees to all parts of Abkhazia will be carried out step by step and this was reflected in the relevant communiqué.
According to this document, "the parties agreed on February 10th 1994 to begin the process of gradual return of refugees and displaced persons to Abkhazia, and the first stage is the Gali district." From this moment the process of speculating with the Gali district began. In addition, it is important that the document clearly specified: "The Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure safety of refugees, displaced persons and personnel engaged in this operation. The Abkhazian side bears primary responsibility for the reception and security of refugees and displaced persons, and designated personnel. In addition, the parties appeal to the UN, the Russian Federation to assist them in creating a safe environment conducive to the return of refugees and displaced persons.
The parties expect effective assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in particular in the issue regarding that establishment of a temporary department of UNHCR in the conflict zone in the near future.
In addition, the fifth paragraph of the document strictly states that "... The parties acknowledge that the main task is to achieve a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict and all efforts should be aimed at achieving it ... UN, OSCE and the Russian Federation call on parties to proceed from the need to respect Georgia's territorial integrity ... ". So the interests of the entire multinational population of Abkhazia also included interests of Georgians.
Although, everyone knows how subsequently events have evolved and what changes were made to follow-up documents, of course, to the detriment of the Georgian side.
These changes were achieved by the separatist regime that was frightened by return of refugees, with Russia's support, which by that time fully seizes all levers of the talks. And all agreements, contracts, or UN resolutions were adopted only based on information about the situation in the conflict zone as Russia was considered "impartial" side and only its information considered truthful.
The result of all this was a document Four-side Agreement on Voluntary Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons signed on April 4th, 1994 in Moscow. At first glance there is nothing unacceptable in this document. But if you look at it closely, it becomes clear that it provides possibility for return only in the Gali district, and even then, only for a portion of its population.
In particular, paragraph C of article 3 of the document reads: "Displaced persons / refugees have the right to return peacefully without risk of arrest, detention, imprisonment or prosecution.
Such immunity does not apply to persons in those cases where there are serious indications that:
- They have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, as defined in international documents, or
- They have committed serious criminal offences, or
- They have previously participated in the military fighting, and now (1994-ed) are in the armed forces that are preparing for military actions in Abkhazia.
Persons falling into these categories should be informed through appropriate channels of the possible consequences they may face upon return".
Having got acquainted with the full text of the document it reveals that it says nothing about the measures that are to be taken to ensure safety of returned refugees, from those war and other criminals who were direct participants of ethnic cleansing of Georgians.
This indicates once again that the safe return of refugees to Gali and, moreover, on the whole territory of Abkhazia was not included in the plans of neither Russia nor that of leaders of the separatist regime. Naturally, in such circumstances, the Georgian side was not consenting in any way to recognize completion of the return of refugees to the Gali district, as their safety could not be protected. The separatist regime in general rejected the formation of police force of international format the Gali district in order to crime situation, prevention of permanent robbery of the returned population and many other kinds of crimes that was impossible for Georgian law enforcers to do. Given all this statements of representatives of the separatist regime made by them at meetings of various international formats about the completion of the return of Georgians in the Gali district, that is shamelessly backed by the Kremlin's leaders, aim only at speculation with this matter and have nothing to do with reality.
In addition, return of Georgians in Gali had another meaning for the separatist regime. The population of the Gali district would be a human shield or hostage in case if Georgian authorities attempted to restore constitutional order by force.
The fact that the separatist regime planned to appropriate assets of Georgians of Gali and get rich at their expense, did not take them into account, did not consider them humans, is confirmed by a set of punitive operations that armed formations of separatists have carried out together with Russian peacekeepers. One of such large-scale punitive operations was carried out by armed formations of separatists, with the assistance of Russian peacekeepers in May 1998. As a result, the population of the Gali district it was forced to leave their homes in masses for the second time and go to the other side of the river Enguri. During this operation, several villages were completely destroyed. It should be noted that attitude towards Georgians has not changed till today. After a blatant military aggression carried out against Georgia by Russia in August 2008, the population of the Gali district are considered by leaders of the puppet regime as potentially dangerous and they are not recognized as citizens of "independent Abkhazia". They were not allowed to get so-called Abkhazian passports and take part in the so-called presidential elections.
Based on the above, of course, we welcome Barbara Pakhomenko's courage that she made a topic that is a taboo in "independent Abkhazia" open for public discussion. But at the same time, we would advise her if she would continue to cover this topic then in order to fully understand it she should make use of possibilities of the Club of Experts, get in touch with its members that are objectively covering processes occurring in Abkhazia, including Gali.
As the saying goes one cannot be half pregnant.