Georgia in Abkhazian Narrative and the Case of Unsuccessful Secession

Events in recent history had a great influence on Georgian-Abkhaz relations and negatively affected Georgian history as a whole. War-driven Abkhaz society has fallen into the post-traumatic situation, which is due to the loss of enormous human resources and at the same time, as a society they are viewed as permanent victims in both, Georgian and Russian agenda. 

It is noteworthy that after the events that took place in the 1990s, Abkhazians had lived with constant fear and memories of war. Dilapidated infrastructure, poor economy, and destructive political elite have a negative impact on bilateral relations between Georgia and Abkhazia. It is a fact that history plays an important role in shaping politics and public opinion. Abkhaz national identity is constructed on myths about war, which in turn affects socio-economic processes in the region and the same time it is a determining factor for Georgian and Russian foreign policy towards this region. 

In the formation of societal opinion in Abkhazia, crucial role as already mentioned has the symbol of permanent dispute – VICTIM. In historiography Abkhazians mention three main events, where they identify themselves with the victim:

1.​Muhajirs – in the 19th century Russia started to embrace the Circassian people into the region. Abkhaz people believe that this was the first attempt to eject them from their homeland. The situation became more complex because by that time Georgians were allies to Russians. This led to the fact that Georgian are seen as collaborators in historiography; 

2.​Stalinism – in 1937-53 Joseph Stalin tried to assimilate Abkhaz people with Georgians, which of course, is seen negatively as well;  

3.​90s war – in the 1992-93 war broke out between Georgia and Abkhazian separatists. The outcomes of the war practically destroyed the region, led to the loss of human resources and economic disasters; 

However, together with these three main aspects of Abkhazian historiography, we can also outline the fourth factor that is related to the revolution of 1917, when Abkhazian national identity was threatened by the Georgian side.  By that time Russian threat was understood clearly in Abkhazia and Georgian support towards Russia recognized Georgia as an untrusted ally in Abkhazian narrative. But same time, it has to be mentioned that in 1921 Abkhazians supported Georgian entrance in Soviet space, which can be identified as a mean of defense by the regional minority in order to maintain their ethnicity. 

Georgian – Abkhaz politics and Russia as a third player in “two-player” game

Georgia’s positions in the Abkhazian narrative are negative and it greatly hinders the process of the unification. On top of this, in 2008 there was a five-day war against Russia. In spite of its negative consequences, loss of human and economic resources, in the political elite of Abkhazia Georgia is not seen as a constant enemy anymore. Time to time, after the war, Georgians and Abkhaz people started working on human rights issues together and in this, some international organizations played a big role. On the other hand, this issue can easily become the subject of manipulation from Abkhazians, which in itself will have a great impact on the development of relationships. 

Despite all this, still two main factors should be outlined as a subject of manipulation by Abkhaz side: (1) Georgia has a territorial dispute with Abkhazia; (2) Georgia does not sign a fire renewal agreement, which hinders negotiations with them. The reason why this document is not signed yet is that in terms of the agreement it is ceasefire treaty but same time, the independence of Abkhazia must be recognized, which will open opportunity to Russia, to gain control over the whole region anconduct politics with Georgia in terms of manipulation with Abkhaz people. 

Speaking of the territorial dispute, history identified one of the most important aspects that can lead to the unification process. In 1992, due to a number of problems, Russia “formally” recognized Georgia’s territorial integrity. It should be noted, that for fifteen years Russia had been trying to create a political format, where formal recognition would be informal, that would allow official Moscow to maintain control over the regions of Georgia. All Russia tried was to restore territorial integrity. All of this was well thought and worked tactics, as in 1994, Russia sent peacekeeping contingent to the conflict zone at the request of both Georgia and Abkhazia. The history of Abkhazia does not mention, but from the general viewpoint of post-soviet space and historical cases, it is justified that Russia was ready to restore territorial integrity, but not at all costs. 

In fact, in 1996 a framework agreement was signed by Russia, Georgia, and Abkhazia, which aimed at stabilizing the conflict, but the idea was to create a single state in which ordinary functions remain on all sides and all the problems became everybody’s problems.  If we discuss it from a recent perspective, it is easy to understand the Russian foreign policy course at the end of the twentieth century. First of all, this should be a push to restore the Soviet state and secondly, Georgia as a country in the South Caucasus region would become a piece of Russian imperialism. Abkhaz political elite avoids talking about this, because in general the negative face of Georgia will not exist anymore, the case of “permanent enemy” will not exist too, which will cause problems with Russia. Both sides, after the 2008 war, Georgians and Abkhazians agree that this will become a problem, and it is an obstacle in the unification process. 

It is noteworthy that Abkhazians do not represent the majority of the population in the region. In the process of stabilization, Abkhazian relations with Gali population will play a big role, because the population of Gali could have a big impact on political processes. While discussing this conflict in terms of security, this is good for Georgia, because above-mentioned population believes in united Georgia; On the other hand, it becomes subject of constant fear for Abkhaz people, because the majority can control the region in Abkhazian case. The negative fact is that Russia uses this in its own favor, implements anti-western propaganda, promotes its own policies and views, which at the end lets “Big Bear” to take control through manipulation on Abkhaz people. Due to this, the younger generation of Abkhazia thinks of the unification process as unrealistic. In fact, Russian press services have made a lot of effort in forming public opinion, as Russia represents itself as “THE SAVIOR” and Georgia is seen as a hostile state. 

The socio-economic situation in Abkhazia makes it easier. Lack of education and relativity to recent events leads Georgia to these problems. Due to this, historiography evolved differently, since they were under Russian hands.  To conclude this part, it can be said that the conventional, old way of war/conflict was never used by Russia. Official Moscow analyzed future development processes and started implementing the aspects of hybrid war, which constantly give them the opportunity to control the weather in the region.

World’s influence on the conflict and Russian steps to “success” 

The ongoing processes in the world played a big role in the Abkhazian establishment, which has turned the political meter back on the Russian side. A good example that we can recall is the Vilnius Summit of 2014, where Russian pressure on Georgia became stronger. The fact that if the association agreement was signed by Georgia, Russia would try to provocate was clear for the western political elite. During the summit, Russia again has turned its borders and tried to engage Georgia in war, which for official Moscow would have been an opportunity for the quick and aggressive act, so that international organizations could not help Georgia. Inactivity from Georgian side was negatively evaluated in Abkhazian elite. Out of this, we can argue that by this move Russia facilitated the crystallization of anti-western propaganda. This all, by itself, makes clear why Georgians are seen as permanent enemies for Abkhaz people. 

The relationship development between Russia, Georgia and Western partners will be an interesting process in several years. It is noteworthy that according to the 2015 foreign policy document of official Moscow, Abkhazia is recognized as its ally. The soft power and good neighborhood policy for stabilizing the situation in the region is the mask for an imperialist viewpoint that Russia is driven by. 

On the other hand, conflict in Abkhazia time to time became the baseline for Russian opportunities. For example, as some scholars argue, the region is used by the Russian government as a transit route for uncontrolled goods and services. In this case, Georgian side does not have enough access to concrete information, and of course, official Moscow will not reveal information, as they play a role of a “peacekeeper” in the region and from the west, it will be seen negatively.  Russia wants to see Georgia as its obedient country, as if it will have a corridor to the Middle East, Russian policy can influence situation control in the region. By this, official Moscow will have an opportunity to cut western access in the region, which will be both economically and politically positive action. Discussion on this topic in Abkhaz society is very sensitive because the question still remains: who is an enemy and who is the friend? 

Giorgi Rostomashvili

The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Council.

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