Friday, 8 February 2013

Comment on Irakli Alasania’s statement

Last week Georgia's Minister of Defence Irakli Alasania spoke at Chatham House about learning from the past, and relations with Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. ( )

In his speech Mr Alasania commented at one point that “Georgia had fought three wars with Russia in past 20 years”.

Obviously, 2008 was one, but the other two??

It is, of course, nothing new for Georgian officials and media to portray their wars (which they themselves were responsible for starting) with the Abkhazians and Ossetians as Russian–Georgian wars — consider the following from  “Rustavi 2”: “On 14 August 1992, Russian troops invaded Georgia`s region of Abkhazia and still continue to occupy the territory.” 

Once, Sergey Shamba, former Foreign Minister of Abkhazia, declared: “Falsification of Abkhazian history is a favourite method of nationalistic Georgian scholars, but it can only occcasion regret when Georgian politicians and spiritual leaders make such statements.”

Georgian governments and officials come to power and move on, but this practice seems never to change.  So let’s return to Alasania’s statement that Georgia has fought three wars with Russia in past 20 years. 

Here are the words of Guram Odisharia,  Georgia’s new Minister for Culture and Monument Protection, spoken in the documentary film “Absence of Will”: 

If I’d thought for one moment that something was about to happen I would have got my family out of there. But it was a complete shock to me when the war started. I was on holiday when it happened. I was swimming in the sea when I saw two helicopter-gunships dropping bombs on the town. I could see black smoke rising around my house. We counted 55 tanks.

Then he continues: “At first the Georgians were better armed. The Russian government gave us a whole tank division. But then they started to arm the Abkhaz too.”

And then there is the question of Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s complicity in the Georgian attack on Abkhazia on 14th August 1992.

Excerpt: "Moreover, there were other indications that Russia (Yeltsin) knew of Shevardnadze's plan and was prepared to look the other way. Commenting on the unruly nature of the Kartvelian forces, Shevardnadze remarked that he was against sending his troops into Sukhum: 'I wanted our military units to go around Sukhumi and move to Gagra... When I spoke to Yeltsin on the next day [after the beginning of hostilities], he told me: "The generals can get out of control and you, as a smart man, should know it."'['The Georgian Chronicle', Monthly Bulletin, January-February 1993, p.7.]

So, Mr. Alasania, how does this fit with your assertion in your Chatham House presentation?

And of course we should not have  forgotten that most of the 1990s, especially when Shevardnadze-protege Andrei Kozyrev served as Boris Yeltsin’s Foreign Minister, Russia’s policy was by no means pro-Abkhazian, a CIS-blockade being imposed along Abkhazia’s River Psou border with Russia.

If Mr Alasania believes that they had fought with Russia, then why did he negotiate with Sergey Shamba in Tbilisi in 2005?

Let's remember what Paata Zakareishvili (currently State Ministry for Reintegration) said:

[36:10 sec.] Paata Zakareishvili: "The negotiations went on all through December and the two sides made progess. I said it was a good month because at the same time an agreement was also reached for a meeting between Saakashvili and Bagapsh, the Abkhaz president. The Abkhaz were talking to the Georgian president’s special envoy Irakli Alasania. The Georgian side accepted the offer and even prepared a draft for the Abkhaz side to consider."

"Alasania managed to gain the trust of Abkhazia and he invited [Sergey] Shamba [Abkhazian Foreign Minister] to Tbilisi. Shamba brought an important new document with him called ‘‘A Key To the Future’’. We didn’t agree with everything in it, but there were many things we welcomed, like contacts with Europe. And for the first time in the history of the conflict, there was no mention of Russia at all. Shamba took the unique step of leaving the UN Office and walking down Shardeni Street in central Tbilisi." [37:09 sec.]

[37:23 sec.] Reporters: "Do you like our culture?

Sergey Shamba: "I’ve known about Georgian culture since I was a student here a long time ago. I have always liked it. I think such an ancient, spiritual culture is the reason this nation has managed to keep hold of its identity."

Paata Zakareishvili: "Saakashvili should have at least come out and said that he welcomed such visits. But instead on that very same day he chose to go with the defence minister to visit the Senaki military base. A military base which was rebuilt to send a message to Abkhazia. It was a direct message from Saakashvili."

[38:04 sec.] Saakashvili visit to Senaki military base

The Georgian side must accept that Abkhazia is the other party to the conflict, and, if they want to resolve it, they should deal with Abkhazia(ns) directly, but, most importantly, they should accept their own responsibility and publicly acknowledge their mistakes.

Metin Sonmez

  • [11.52 sec.] Gia Karkarashvili [General - Army Commander of the State Council of Georgia]: "In the first place, the Ossetian war [1991-92] in Tskhinvali had just ended. The Georgia National Guard suffered heavy losses. We were exhausted. That’s why I thought it was reckless to go into Abkhazia. But I was told that the 13th-14th August was a good time to launch a military operation because the Russian Parliament was in recess. Unfortunately, we entered Abkhazia in a very disorganized way. We didn’t even have a specific goal [REMEMBER the claims about protect the railway] and we started looting villages along the way. As a result, in the space of a month we managed to make enemies of the entire local population, especially the Armenians."

  • Many volunteers from the North Caucasus (Circassians, Chechens, Abazas...) came to Abkhazia to fight against Georgia, but they were Russian citizens, and Georgia have always made capital out of this; indeed they are still trying to show that actually the war in Abkhazia was a Russian-Georgian war (rather than a Georgian-Abkhaz one).

    Dodge Billingsley, explains this situation very well: "Abkhazian units, which included diaspora-Abkhazians from Turkey, Syria, Jordan as well as North Caucasians, were much better prepared to fight together for a common cause. The presence of outside volunteers on the Abkhazian side prompted Georgia and many external observers to conclude Russian complicity in favour of Abkhazia. Many in Georgia and elsewhere feel that the war was really a Russian-Georgian conflict. This is a complicated issue. Technically, all volunteers from the North Caucasus were Russian citizens. The real question, however, centres on motivation and how the volunteers saw themselves. There were many indications that Chechen assistance to Abkhazia was stimulated by independent aspirations related to a pan-Caucasian federation rather than any Russian plot. The best known Chechen to fight against Georgia, Shamil Basaev (now deputy to Chechen's President Maskhadov), stated that 'as long as the small Abkhazian people suffered in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, his units would help them, but in the event of hostilities between Russia and Georgia, the volunteers would fight on the Georgian side'[30]." (Military Aspects of the War. The Battle for Gagra (The Turning-point), by Dodge Billingsley)

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