Conflicts settlement for Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Lessons and prospects

Posted on May 4, 2013. Filed under: Conflicts settlement for Abkhazia and South Ossetia |

Author Dieter Boden

images20 years of Georgia’s independence-this means 20 years of ethno-political conflicts surrounding the secession territories of Abkhazia and South Osetia. This is the worst legacy that Georgia has inherited from the Soviet era. The consequences are to be felt to the present day as a festering wound. He political, economic, social and cultural developmentt of independent Georgia cannot be understood without them. As long as these conflicts are not settled by mutual agreement, the country will remain in a condition of latent instability.

The causes of the conflicts reach far back into Soviet times, in which Abkhazia had the status of an autonomous republic, South Ossetia that of an autonomous region within the Soviet Republic of Georgia. There were tensions time and again already then, especially between the Abkhaz and Georgians, which were reflected in several public protest rallies. However, the Soviet state, with its centrally organized unity party, was able to present the then more or less completely sealed off Caucasus as a place of harmony between the various ethnicities. This version was not so far off the mark in the case of Ossetians. Iinn the past, the Georgians in fact had managed to get along with them without much tension. Among the minorities living in Georgia, the Ossetians were one of th most integrated groups. This is proven also by dynastic connections between Ossetian feudal  lords and the royal family of Georgia, which had come into being already in the epoch before Russian colonization.

So the news of the outbreak of armed conflict came all the more as a surprise between the Ossetians and Goergians in he region of Tskhinvali, which had started to flare up already during the last days of Soviet rule in late 1989. At the beginning of 1991, it entered into an acute stage. It was provoked by the Georgian government that had just taken office under President Gamsakhurdia, which resorted to military force in its attempts at amending the South Ossetian status of autonomy. A ceasefire agreement, brokered by Russia and signed in Sochi in June 1992, more or less withdrew jurisdiction over South Ossetia from the Georgian central state. As a result, this armed conflict left some 2, 500 people dead, including many civilians, as well as about 60, 00 internally displaced persons, many of whom took flight across the border to North Ossetia.

Under Gamsakhurdia’s successor Shevardnadze, Georgian military units invaded Abkhazia shortly afterwards, in August 1992, following several constructional disputes between Tbilisi and Sukhumi over the preceding months. A bloody war followed, which ended with the withdrawal of Georgia from Abkhazia and the latter’s factual independence, forced to a large degree by Russian arms aid. Again, the balance was shocking: Abkhazia, which used to be one of the most prosperous parts of the country during Soviet times, was left devastated. This time, there were about 8, 000fatalities and some 250, 000 internally great majority among them Georgians.

Despite manifold political efforts, these two conflicts remained “frozen” over the years to come. The August War of 2008 brought a further dramatic aggravation by Russia onbehalf of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This cemented a situation that had existed since the beginning of the 1990s of a secession of the two territories from Georgia. With the recognition of Abkhazia and Souеh Ossetia as independent countries by Rusia and three further states thus far, the secession took on a new quality under international law. Due to the August War, all previous efforts undertaken to settle the conflicts were rendered futile.

The re-legitimazation of military violence as a means of solving conflicts had a psychologically disastrous effect, as the renunciation of the use of force had been one of the few positions that all parties to the conflict had shared. A further consequence of the August Was was the collapse of teу conflict settlement mechanisms agreed among the conflicting parties thus far, including the Joint Control Commission for Georgian-Ossetian Conflict Resolution (JCC) and the Joint Consultative Group (JCG) for the Abkhaz conflict. Further more, existing mandates for conflict settlement were either terminated or not extended for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations(UN). The principle of territorial integrity was also shattered, which had been advocated as a legal foundation for any settlement by all the mediators, including Russia, before.

source: South Caucasus 20 Years of Independence

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Challenges for Georgia

Posted on May 3, 2013. Filed under: Conflicts settlement for Abkhazia and South Ossetia |

small_map_geoThere cannot be any doubt that the main effort for a settlement of the Georgian conflicts has to come from Georgia itself. International partners may always only play a complementary role in this respect. This role play has changed several times over the years. In the mid 1990s, the focus was on conflict settlement negotiations, with Russia. With the growing political distance from Russia, Georgia sought to strengthen the mediating efforts of international organizations. As a consequence, the OSCE and the UN took over the chairmanship of both the so-called Geneva Process on Abkhazia as well as of the conflict mechanisms set up at working level, such as the Joint Control Commission and Joint Consultative Group.

Due to the severing of diplomatic relations with Russia, Georgia has to rely on such mediating services rendered by its international partners today more that ever before. The challenge for Georgia itself to make its own substantial contribution has thus not become any smaller. This applies especially to the inner-Georgian aspects of the conflict. In this context, the introduction of a reconciliation process with the ethnic groups living in the secession areas needs to take top priority. The wars have left behind traumatic experiences among the population of both sides, which have a continued effect to the present day. The mere evocation of an allegedly historically unbroken ethnic harmony will not be sufficient for a renewed start of living together in one state. To re-establish human, economic and cultural contacts across the ceasefire lines requires the building of confidence.

The factor has been neglected obviously in the peace process so far-another reason for the August War of 2008 to have become possible. It was the rapid loss of confidence on both sides which led to a policy of confrontations and menacing rhetoric in the advent of the August War. the lessons learnt from the past were disregarded also in this instance.

As of 1997 initiators o the Geneva Process had expressly declared confidence-building as a priority objective. It was to this end that three successive conferences were held in Athens, Istanbul and, finally, in March 2001 in Yalta, at which catalogues of confidence-building measures were agreed. Unfortunately, they were put into practice only to a minimal extent afterwards. The reason is to be seen in an obvious disregard on behalf of the conflict sides, including also Russia, for confidence-building measures. These are considered as having a certain tactical function at most but no value in and of themselves. There is more or less no insight regarding the fact that basis for political compromise but may also be immeasurably relevant for preventing further inter-ethnic alienation.

The Georgian government seems to have recognized this challenge at long last and is attempting to live up to it with a policy made public in January 2010 and called “Strategy on Occupied Territories”. This strategy comprises a broad-ranging program of measures geared towards confidence-building and reconciliation. Practice has to show whether it is really able to fulfill its purpose or whether it is only, as alleged also by critics in Georgia, an attempt at placing under the state’s guardianship initiatives of independent players, above all from civil society.

source: South Caucasus 20 Years of Independence. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

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