Interviews

Vakhtang Kolbaia: “What we finally got? Abkhazia without Georgians that is not controlled even by Abkhazians and it can be said that they are losing Abkhazia too.”

"What we finally got? Abkhazia without Georgians that is not controlled even by Abkhazians and it can be said that they are losing Abkhazia too."

 

  • Each year on August 14 we have to talk about the hardest effects of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, remembrance of the tragic war chronicles at the memorial of the fallen soldiers. August and September are very hard months to remember. 8 and 14 August - Georgian Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian armed conflicts, September 27 - Fall of Sokhumi, August 26, Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. For a small country it is more than a person can imagine. 26 years have passed and now how can you see the current situation?

 

I have said it many times that our conflict was a fatal mistake on both sides. Neither the Georgians nor the Abkhaz were able to stop this war. August 14 is considered the most tragic date in the modern history of Georgia. The 1992-93 war in Abkhazia killed many people on both sides. After 2008 several days of war, Kodori and Akhalgori district were lost and our jurisdiction was stopped in Samachablo as well. Georgia cannot temporarily control 20 percent of neighboring Russia's occupied territories. We have got resulted a huge wave of IDPs, violence, hardship, humiliation, unfairness, expulsion from the home houses, living in exile and many others. In fact the best representation of the nation was destroyed, lots of young people were died. In demographic terms, Georgians, Abkhazians and Ossetians have been experienced a great loss. In a small country, two conflict centers great challenge for Georgia. Conflicts are distinguished by a complex structure and it is not easy for a small country to deal with it.

The war broke out with the direct involvement of Russia, harmed all sides of the public life, which deals with politics, ideology, justice, morals, and economics. With the support of the international community, Georgia has been able to step up and continue living. With the European activity, its consolidated action on the ongoing processes, not recognition policy, the Kremlin is obviously irritated. Moscow responds by subsequent occupation of Georgian territories, with creeping annexation and extreme restrictions on the rights of Gali and Tskhinvali population. This exception of the protest of our society, government and foreign ministry is joint the official protests of the world community, diplomatic missions, the EU, UN, US Administration, Senate and Congress, and numerous authoritative organizations.

The Geneva process, which is held by all parties, has great importance.

The process is not velvety, but it is not surprising but Georgians and Abkhazians face each other and discuss issues that cannot be discussed in any other format. There are skeptics who are suspicious of this process, but it does not reduce the process of the Geneva process, which has decided on some common humanitarian issues.

Of course, in every situation we need to be cautious and reasonable. Russia is working on our challenge. This is going to be done on the background of a court case against Russia in Hague. We also see that the threats from Moscow some days ago Dmitri Medvedev's message on Georgia's NATO membership.

 

  • What is resulted from this so-called independence of Abkhazia that Russia officially recognized in 2008. Experts believe that Abkhazians have made a fatal mistake when they became totally dependent on Russia. According them Abkhazians undermined their originality by doing this. Do you agree with this assumption?

 

Let us recall about the "dream" of Abkhazia about independence, on both sides we received unreasonable human casualties and virtually destroying future resources. What is the prospect of the so-called Abkhazian state that the new model of so-called independent, full-fledged state should be created without Georgians. And what we have now? - turning into a part of the military industrial complex of Abkhazia by Russia. The expectation that Russia would invest in and Abkhazia would grow appeared fatal mistake of Abkhazians. We all see how Russia treats annexed territories. The Kremlin's biggest investment is militarization of captured areas. These processes have been well studied by Abkhazians and Abkhazian Diaspora, and traces of grief and indignation are clearly visible to the Russians.

 

We finally got Abkhazia without Georgian population, that is not controlled even by Abkhazians and it can be said that they are losing Abkhazia too. But it has been achieved with great effort. I do not want to have rhetorical talk; I would like to bring examples of how ordinary citizens of Abkhazia perceive the situation. These extracts are not secret and everyone can find on the Internet.

 

  • "We have learned that Russia is the main guarantor of security of our republic but if Russia invades itself, what does it matter to us?"

 

We have realized that there is nothing to do with economy by tourism alone? We have no law, we have no constitution, and we have not held one democratic election for 25 years. There are Russian militaries at the borders, business is theirs, law is theirs, everything is Russians and who we are Abkhazians in Abkhazia?! "

"Russian militaries have always called Abkhazians" beggars "and "miserables" to tell us how long it is not occupation and Russia only takes care of our development." How long should we lie ourselves that Russia is not occupant and it only takes care of our development." "We live in a swamp and soon we will have to live in the worst swamp where we will have nothing"."Nobody speaks in Abkhazian language already, the army is joined to Russia, we don't have the MIA, the criminal is running everything, the economy has never got us and if the Russians do not come to the sea nobody does.

 

  • "Our leadership is constantly talking about the future threat from Georgia and they want to neutralize everything, they have complex because Abkhazians are running out to Georgia for any medical assistance and they want to tighten the border, but nobody reads what people are going to do in a situation where a sick son, a mother, a brother or another member of the family. Georgian doctors conduct free of charge medical needs for our family members. You're going to tighten the border control and what can we do to die here?! "

As they say, the comments are superfluous. And I would like to say some words about one more video that was spread over the Internet a few days ago. The coastline of Sokhumi and its surroundings was shown by the person being in Sokhumi. The striking beach where there are no tourists and no human. Not to mention the any human comfort on the beach. This is Sokhumi where life was felt; everything was sinking in green, every corner was sorted and cleaned. "A large number of tourists in the season did not leave the needle place". And now we see the Sukhumi, which is almost empty of Georgians. How can face up to such challenge? Under these conditions, of course, our governments proposed peace initiative "Step for a Better Future" brings new strength and content, which I think will be able to defrost the ice on the path of Georgian-Abkhazian relations.

The Georgian government offers Abkhazians and Ossetians all the good things that come with visa liberalization, health care, education system and many other social issues. As for the trap that Russians gave us Abkhazians and Georgians, salvation can only be done through joint action, if Abkhazians will is. It's hard, sometimes it seems impossible, but we should be able to negotiate with the negotiation process in favor of both parties. It's difficult, sometimes it seems impossible; however, with many attempts the goal is achieved. We should talk all the time with language of peace. Our co-workers in Abkhazia and Samachablo should finally be convinced that they should not expect any military threat from Georgia.

 

  • You often say that your mainstream is youth that they are more and more flexible and more inventive to find a common language with Abkhazian youth. Have planned anything?

Yes, so it is. Somehow the access roads to each other should be opened to Georgian, Abkhaz and Ossetian youth. We want to gather Georgian and Abkhaz youth in a round table, we think of joint sports events. We want to organize a folk concert with the participation of Abkhaz, Ossetian and Georgian youth. We plan to invite the international conference, which will be attended not only by Abkhaz, Georgian and Ossetian youth, but also our region and foreign separatist regions. All the concepts will have the right to exist at this conference and its scientific discussion will not disappoint anyone. For example, I can name the Florence Project, which involves Georgian and Abkhazian students and pupils. There is established   scholarship named after the first Chair of the Abkhazian Government, Arzakan Emukhvari and the first Georgian national hero, Zhiuli Shartava. Scholarship studies are dedicated to the conflict resolution issues in Abkhazia. In the works there is an attempt to analyze past mistakes and many other things related to this process. The first contest has already been conducted. There were two winners of Shartava Scholarship. Introduction of teaching Abkhaz language is a good project in our schools, school Olympiads on Abkhazian issues, new conferences, disputes on conflict resolution issues and so on.

26 years ago I could not imagine that my generation could not solve this conflict. I thought that this problem should not be left for the future generation, but as I see, the new generation will have an active involvement in this process. I have a feeling that they will become one of the key figures in the peaceful resolution of the conflict. I have repeatedly said and I will repeat it again - youth is a great force that can do more than us. The more inventive, the more flexible, the quick thinkers and the ability to adequately assess the situation they can. Relationships with them, frequent meetings, talk about the topic of Abkhazia have taught me among others a lot.

 

  • After 26 years, what about the IDPs from Abkhazia? How do you think about their integration with our population?

 

IDPs from Abkhazia are a very conscious part of our society, whose patience is awesome. They have felt almost everything Dismissal from their own home, displacement, humiliation, hardship, homelessness...and still are facing everything with conscious. They are bringing up their children with a great dignity and Abkhazia is as precious for their children as each of us. We are not a fingerprinting society that should be identified as the only IDP in your country. We are the children of the occupied territories, and given the special function. And this function should not only be fighting for the existence. We should keep in mind that, fortunately, we live in our country and we are not in the territory of another state. It is vital for us to move to a new stage of life, let's leave the enchanted circle around us for we are standing for many years. Our goals, reforms, and all the action areas developed by our structures serve one purpose. We can use all means to improve the social conditions of our population. Everyone knows that their condition is not good.

Depressed, unemployed person who has find a daily basis to get the family survived does not really help our common goal. I mean the process of restoring confidence and rapprochement with Abkhazians. In spite of such a difficult situation, we have no right to stop, let down hands. 26 years have passed since that awful day. The youth has grown. They are looking for a better life; they see how their parents find it difficult to survive the fortune is a very hard for a displaced person. Modernity brings its own requirements and lifestyle that will force you to move on this wave. We want to bring changes in each of our lives. We want to take a step forward, in bringing up the youth, important economic changes, helping with the people still not having the own living places, education, culture and science development, small business promotion, health care, new job creation and many other aspects. In these issues, integration of IDPs with the local population is one of the most important factors. Unfortunately, IDPs with the local population are not fully integrated. The alienation factor exists, which is not desirable. We should avoid this fact that our IDPs not to have feelings of separated. There are many threats to us including the world problems. For us it is a great hope that the West in this turbulent world, full of endangered threats is able to support Georgia strongly. This gives us strength and explains the way to strengthen the peace process and to see it in a new way. But I have repeatedly said that the closed door will be opened when the peaceful return of the occupied territories becomes a symbol of the absolute unity and strength of our nation.

 

  • How would you evaluate current developments in Gali district, what would you say about education in Georgian, division line, social problems, militarization of Gali and other issues, with which population of Gali lives in difficult conditions?

 

As you already know, I participate in the Geneva negotiations process. One of the main issues on which we constantly talk about is the education issue. Unfortunately, we have not achieved real results in education. The issue of teaching Georgian language is a matter of great debate. This problem was relatively less in Gali district but now it is real. We see that gradually, methodically happening forbidding Georgian which is very alarming. The issue of privatization in Abkhazia is problem that is equal to the seizure of property for Gali population. Issues of Abkhazian lands are also problematic and difficult situation on the so called dividing line. These are most serious issues that suppress Gali population very much and make them feeling of constant injustice. Despite the fact that the law adopted in Georgia, invalidates any treaty with the Abkhazians, the situation is not changing better. The situation is highly hard at the so called line and this is futile. The Abkhazians do not realize that despite all the barriers and discomfort people will not stop moving one or another side of Enguri. If this does not happen, the problem will have Abkhazia itself, because nothing can stop Gali market not only with Zugdidi but also with Abkhazia. Nevertheless, satisfaction of their ambitions is more important for them than to regulate the situation. Sokhumi knows that this is a temporary but it still not making steps back. Sadly this is hard for only ordinary population.

I recall the Abkhazian columnist's "note" in one of the news sources that the "little stream" was closed down, and why all of Europe and the world are paying attention to this, what happened? "For some people it is a "little stream" line, for the locals - it is a vital crossing, a way to save themselves and their family. People moved quietly on this little passage, and the prohibition had dramatically changed their team-mood, economic situation. The local population did not have to pay anything to move but now it is connected with serious costs. Abkhazians also realize that today or tomorrow, sooner or later our contacts will become more tangible, people will talk freely with each other. Therefore, everything is going to be eradicated, which is connected with the common past- for example, attempt to overthrow Georgian toponyms. I understand that "Leselidze" has been renamed that has emerged in Soviet times, but changing the names that have been known since the ancient times, it is clear what we are dealing with. It seems that they do not know that it is impossible to delete the historical memory.

Let's take the issues related to Mingrelian language teaching. Megrelian language will never be lost in the consciousness, life and everyday life of Samegrelo population. The Megrelian language does not need the support of the Abkhazians and the Russians - the Russians who use it as an alternative to the Georgian language. That's why it's waste of energy that has no prospect. They know that Megrelian language will never change the Georgian state language and love of each of us to Megrelian language will not be changed. It is not accidental that Gali was chosen for such issues. One thing is that Gali is still a frontier region. Secondly, it seems that Russians are going to intensify military pressure on Georgia.

Gali is the only district in occupied Abkhazia, where most of the Georgian population lives. On this background, I think it is clear why the announcement of Gali as "military city" - the relevant law is enacted in occupied Abkhazia. The decision was made by the Abkhazian occupational regime and official Moscow. More than 25 military posts have been placed in Gali territory. The part of the villages of Gali region became parts of Ochamchire, some parts of Tkvarcheli region. The complex is protected by strangers and is controlled by the relevant services. This is a closed military city, where a non-military person is not allowed to move without a special permit or crossing.

Naturally, we are trying to use all the tools of peaceful pressure at our disposal, but it is still insurmountable. The murder of Giga Otkhozoria and Archil Tatunashvili are not still punished. This is great injustice. Despite the fact that this issue has the greatest international resonance, criminals are still free. In Geneva our delegation requested detention of convict Rashid Kandhi Oghli by Georgian court for killing Giga Otkhozoria and prosecution of the murder of Archil Tatunashvili. The Georgian side appeals to Russia not to interfere with the investigation launched by Georgian law enforcers on this purpose. At the Geneva International Discussion, we also discussed the difficult situation of security, humanitarian and human rights violations in Georgia's occupied territories. Impunity syndrome encourages violence in the occupied regions, so it is necessary to use all the mechanisms that any violence that has occurred many times in the occupied territories cannot escape justice.

 

  • Mr. Vakhtang, ways of conflict resolution should be reviewed and complaints against your institutions are often heard. What is your answer on this issue?

I agree on this that ways of conflict resolution should be reviewed and it has to be improved. The initiative proposed by the Government of Georgia implies the development of new technologies along with other issues as "step forward for better future", which is timely and welcoming. We have a great deal of work on all those who are responsible. During the 26-year period, there were periods when the theme of Abkhazia was heard rarely even in Georgia. Now the issue of occupied territories is activated not only by our but also from the international community. The efforts of our friends are a stimulus for us to be able to make very thorough steps in the way of conflict resolution. US and European Senators' opinions on Abkhazian issue, public condemnation of Russia's actions, a document signed by the President of the United States on sanctions on Abkhazia... Moreover, our peace policy is declared publicly. Once again I will repeat the main path and message to the Abkhaz population is that we are not really preparing for revenge. We only want peaceful coexistence in the united Georgia.

Today we recall our devoted heroes to their homeland. We honor and bend the knees in front of the grief of the mothers of fallen Abkhaz, Ossetian and other nation's heroes participating in the war. Let have the eternal memory to their great names.

 

 

 

 

 

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