Restless Neighbors: A Georgian-Abkhaz Dialogue
July 17, 2008
Georgia's dispute with its breakaway region of Abkhazia is often seen as part of Tbilisi's larger dispute with Moscow. But it is the relations between Georgians and Abkhaz where the tensions are often most raw. Andrei Shary of RFE/RL's Russian Service recently hosted a roundtable discussion bringing together Georgian parliamentarian Petre Mamradze in Tbilisi and Natella Akaba, chairwoman of the Association of Abkhaz Women, in Sukhumi.
RFE/RL: Natella, good evening. Can you tell us when you were last in Tbilisi? Is it possible for you to travel there if you want to?
Natella Akaba: I was there six years ago, maybe five. In principle, of course I can go to Tbilisi; I just don't have any reason to do so.
RFE/RL: You don't miss Tbilisi?
Akaba: No, not really.
RFE/RL: Petre Mamradze, a similar question for you. When was the last time you were in Sukhumi?
Petre Mamradze: It was a long time ago, in the summer of 1993, not long before the fall of Sukhumi. After that, for work-related reasons, I didn't have a reason to go. I was the head of a Georgian office, which ruled out such a trip.
RFE/RL: And is it possible now to travel from Tbilisi to Sukhumi?
Mamradze: It is possible if you want to. You need to make arrangements with certain peacekeeping forces. There are people who have close relatives in Sukhumi, even parents. One of my friends recently went to Sukhumi to bury her mother, who was someone who was very respected. People followed the funeral procession to the end. These people were her neighbors.
RFE/RL: Her mother was Georgian?
Mamradze: The mother was Georgian and my friend was Georgian. And she never had any problems. Other than being treated with respect and love, nothing ever happened to her in Sukhumi. She stayed there until the end.
RFE/RL: Natella, how would you explain the latest outburst of tensions between Georgia and Abkhazia? Couldn't these problems be solved at the negotiating table?
Akaba: It seems to me that Saakashvili has a plan to unfreeze this conflict, and he is unfreezing it.
RFE/RL: Petre, is that Saakashvili's plan?
Mamradze: Saakashvili has a plan, and he has publicly spoken about it before the whole world. That plan is for a completely peaceful resolution of the conflict. Abkhazia has been offered specific privileges, the post of vice president and a supreme council of Georgia. They have also been offered the broadest rights to autonomy that exist in the world. Beyond this, in the first stages, Abkhazia would have its own customs service, its own army, its own policy, etc. This plan has the complete support of our best friends and partners in the West.
RFE/RL: Natella, are people in Sukhumi aware that such a plan exists?
Akaba: Of course we are. It was bitter to learn about it, since it is nearly the same plan that we proposed to Georgia in 1992, before the war. I was a deputy in Abkhaz parliament. The strangest thing was that on August 14, 1992 we were supposed to discuss our proposals on relations with Georgia. They were supposed to be built on the basis of a federation. Everything that Mr. Mamradze said is exactly what we proposed. Unfortunately, on August 14, the tanks entered Sukhumi.
RFE/RL: What happened -- the bloodshed, the suffering, the refugees -- wasn't good for either the Georgians or the Abkhaz. What prevents Sukhumi from talking about that plan now?
Akaba: We can't return now to that what was suggested a long time ago. It's impossible to erase history -- all the bloodshed and killings. I can hardly imagine that there would be a single Abkhaz who would agree to become vice president of Georgia. In general, it's strange to talk about some common institutions of government. For 15 years Abkhazia has existed in an independent state. I can't imagine anyone who would give up their independence for dependence.
RFE/RL: Petre, if you recognize that the Georgian side started this conflict, do you think an apology would help to ease tensions?
Mamradze: This has already happened. However, it's also necessary to say that [1992-93] conflict ended with the ethnic cleansing of Georgian inhabitants, that is something that both OSCE and UN have confirmed. There were 300,000 Georgians forced out, forced to leave their homes. We wouldn't mind at all if they could come back, vote, and take decisions together with other indigenous people.
Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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