Georgians Doomed To 'Legal Oblivion' In Abkhazia As 'Needless' Voters
By Oleg Panfilov
Caucasus Times - 7/7/2014
Prague, 7 July, Caucasus Times. According to reports of the Abaza TV station in [Georgia's breakaway] Abkhazia, ahead of the 24 August early presidential election, the data of 22,787 residents of predominantly ethnic Georgian populated districts [of Gali, Tqvarcheli and Ochamchire] are going to be removed from voter rolls. In June 2014, the acting president of the region and chairman of the local parliament, Valeriy Bganba, instructed the interior ministry to make a list of the residents of Gali, Ochamchire and Tqvarcheli districts of Abkhazia, whose Abkhaz passports the legislative body had decided to regard as "unlawfully issued". As acting deputy interior minister of the Abkhaz separatist government, Aleksey Lomia, put it, the ministry made the list and submitted it to the central electoral commission [CEC]. The list consists of 16,411 residents of Gali District, 5,504 residents of Tqvarcheli district and 872 residents of Ochamchire District.
"Repressions" may start against Georgian residing in breakaway Abkhazia
Another scandal is erupting. It may result in repressions against Georgians living in Abkhazia. There are several scenarios to be enacted: Residents of the three districts will either be deprived of all rights, including the one to vote, or they might be deported to "inland" Georgia, as Georgians themselves think. In any event, following the coup in Abkhazia, which resulted in "president" Aleksandr Ankvab's ouster, the situation is sure to escalate.
Pro-Russian politician Raul Khajimba is a "presidential" contender.
Once again, [ethnic] Georgians became a stumbling block in Abkhazia.
In 1993 [after the 1991-1993 Georgian-Abkhaz armed conflict], several hundred thousand ethnic Georgians fled Abkhazia. At present, together with their offspring - children and grandchildren, who were born outside Abkhazia, they make about 500,000 people. They predominantly live in Georgian "mainland", but many of them found shelter in different countries of the world. According to statistic data, the population of Abkhazia decreased twofold. All refugees were declared outlaws, their properties being either misappropriated or sold. The official ideology of modern Abkhazia rests on the struggle against "Georgian Fascism". As for the 1991-1993 war with Russia's direct participation, it is termed as "patriotic war against Georgia".
Following the August 2008 [Russian-Georgian] war in [Georgia's breakaway] South Ossetia, Russia recognized Abkhazia as an "independent state". Russian tranches make the biggest part of the Abkhaz budget. Russian military bases are deployed on the formation's territory. The perimeter of the administrative border [between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia] is guarded by Russian border guards.
According to the Abkhaz "constitution", Abkhaz and Russian are official languages; residents are allowed to have dual citizenship - "Abkhaz" and Russian.
Georgians in Abkhazia
Nevertheless, the war against Georgia has not ended. The reason is Gali, Tqvarcheli and Ochamchire districts populated by ethnically Georgian Megrelians. Megrelians effectively make the whole population of Gali District, and part of the population in Tqvarcheli and Ochamchire districts. Megrelians are natives of Abkhazia. They speak Megrelain, which, being similar to Georgian, belongs to the Kartvelian language group. Megrelians and the Abkhaz have had long-standing historic ties. There are many mixed marriages. Half of the Abkhaz have Megrelian surnames.
Megrelians identify themselves with Georgians notwithstanding the fact that since Tsarist Russia up to present, Russian politicians have been taking efforts to talk Megrelians into anti-Georgian separatism.
Attempts to split have brought about no results. Just the opposite, Megrelians, who according to official data, make 20 per cent of the Abkhaz population, call themselves Georgian and whenever possible, demonstrate their ethnic belonging. Not long ago, teachers were dismissed form schools in Gali because of their students singing the Georgian anthem.
Throughout this 20-year period [following the 1991-1993 conflict], Georgians of Abkhazia have been facing pressure. After the war, with the assistance of the United Nations, they managed to return to their homes. However, having returned to their home, they have never been left alone. They live separately, effectively never going to Sukhumi.
When it was possible, they crossed the administrative border either legally via checkpoints on the River Inguri [which runs along the administrative border] or did so illegally, going along paths.
Whenever possible, they visited their relatives in Samegrelo [province in west Georgia], buying products and other necessities meanwhile. At present, the perimeter of the administrative border with Abkhazia is fenced off with a metal grid or barbed wire.
Hardly anyone is dealing with inner problems of Georgians of Abkhazia.
They are left to their own devices. International funds helped them construct schools and outpatient clinics. However, they do not meet the needs of the Georgian enclave in Abkhazia. To get educated, young people go to universities in Tbilisi and other cities. They go to same places for medical treatment. For Georgians of Abkhazia, their daily living needs, as well as kindred relationships are linked to "mainland" Georgia. Before the [1991-1993] war, along with Samegrelo, the districts of Gali, Tqvarcheli and Ochamchire made a single territory populated by Georgian Megrelians.
Efforts, which international organizations are taking to regulate the
situation in Abkhazia, are bringing about no results. In 1993, six months on after the combat actions were over in Abkhazia, then Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze was made to agree to the introduction of peacekeeping forces of the [Russian-dominated] CIS countries. In actual fact, the military contingent consisted of military men exceptionally of the Russian Army. This enabled the Kremlin to secure control over the territory, which it had managed to tear off Georgia.
After the five-day [Russian-Georgian] war in August 2008, the Kremlin decided to no longer hide its ambitions and recognized both occupied territories [those of Abkhazia and South Ossetia] as independent states. Once again, peacekeepers turned into regular military men, this time, in the status of the occupation army. After the war, the Geneva talks [for the security in the Caucasus region] were initiated.
So far, they have brought about no results. Georgia, Russia and the United States are official sides [at the talks]. However, almost immediately the Kremlin effectively started to insist that Abkhazia and South Ossetia should become fully legitimate negotiators, which Georgia strongly opposes. Over the whole period of the Geneva talks, on a number of occasions, Russia has made attempts to change the status of Abkhaz government officials. However, even under the incumbent Georgian authorities, who are loyal to the Kremlin, the position of Tbilisi remains unchanged.
Ethnic Georgians facing "legal oblivion" in Abkhazia as "needless"
The passport affair in Abkhazia is not new. Domestic Abkhaz passports, which were printed in Turkey, were distributed in 2005 and international passports were issued in 2010. However, they were not recognized anywhere except for Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Fiji.
It should also be noted that 90 per cent of the residents of Abkhazia also have Russian citizenship. Situation was different for the Georgians of Abkhazia: Having obtained Abkhaz passports, some of them obtained Georgian passports, too. This made it easier for elderly people to receive Georgian pensions and take advantage of medical treatment. Due to Georgian passports, they experience no difficulty travelling abroad or opening a bank account.
Until now, no precise number of Georgians taking advantage of this opportunity is known. In actual fact, what matters is not Georgian passports. For many Abkhaz politicians, ethnicity provokes rejection and fear. Abkhaz "parliament" member Aslan Kobakhia recently said that "those, who think that the distribution of our national passports to citizens of Georgia is the path to developing an independent Abkhaz state, should be held responsible. Gentlemen, if you disapprove of the path of [first Abkhaz president] Vladislav Ardzinba, you should honestly and openly say so".
In other words, a majority of the Georgians of Abkhazia are facing legal oblivion. On what ground are they going to defend their right to live in their own homes and on the land of their ancestors? The situation will become more or less clear if we recall the previous election, in which the Georgians of Abkhazia voted for the ousted Abkhaz president, Aleksandr Ankvab. Of two evils, they chose the least: At that time, compared to Ankvab, current [presidential] contender Raul Khajimba won 19 per cent of votes. At present, he has to "clean" voters of the needless part of voters.
Recent developments in Abkhazia linked to Georgia-EU Association agreement
However, the passport affair is acquiring a new colouring. Most probably, the coup, as well as the passport scandal, was a reaction to Georgia's signing the EU Association Agreement. On 1 June, "the Abkhaz foreign ministry" made a statement saying that the fact that the agreement was signed "spurs Sukhumi into taking additional efforts, cementing and deepening strategic partnership with the Russian Federation". For its part, Georgia offered Abkhazia to make use of the advantages of the Association [Agreement]. However, the Kremlin took up a rough position of non-acceptance, which was followed by Sukhumi.
"Segregation" new form of persecution in post-Soviet area
The situation looks so tragic that the incumbent Georgian authorities effectively give no reaction to current developments. It could be even more absurd, if the clan of Khajimba and [former de facto Abkhaz prime minister Sergey] Shamba, which is dying to come to power, made attempts to get rid of yet another enemy - ethnic Armenians. The editor-in-chief of the Georgia Online website, Irakli Tskitishvili explained: "Depriving thousands of Georgians of the right to vote effectively brings to naught their influence on the election results.
The Abkhaz would gladly deprive the second largest ethnic group of Armenians of their right to vote. However, with them, it would be more complicated: The scheme, according to which ethnic Georgians are deprived of the right to vote, is not going to work against [ethnic] Armenians. Nor will they vote against Moscow's proteges".
In the near future, if what the Abkhaz authorities are planning to do is true, more than 10 per cent of the residents of Abkhazia are going to have a suspended status with no right to vote and uncertainty in the future. For Russia's policy, this is an unimportant happening.
Many residents of Crimea are in about the same situation. Among other forms of persecution of the residents of post-Soviet territories, there emerged a new one - segregation.
[Groong: Translated from Russian]