Abkhazia: Frozen Conflict?

A Broken Bridge and Two Separate Banks

By Mirian Jugheli

All my short life, I remember conversations and discussions about the conflict in Abkhazia. I don’t remember the war, but I do remember the endless talk about its causes and consequences. I also remember the pain in the eyes of the thousands who had to leave their land. Some were happy just to have survived, but others left behind the remains of their beloved, never knowing if they would be able to go back and bury them.

My memory of the war goes back to my grandmother who lived in Gagra all her life. She loved playing the piano and

singing a song in a Tango rhythm, (we called it her Gagra hymn) of “Oh, sea in Gagra, Oh, palms in Gagra, who sees this once will never forget.’’

She never blamed Abkhazians for the war: many of them were her friends and neighbors. She just could not understand why Georgians, whose roots had been in Abkhazia for so many years, had to leave.

In early 1992, the president of Georgia was thrown out of office and the Abkhazian Supreme Soviet Chairman took advantage of the chaos in Tbilisi to support the republic’s de facto independence. By July the constitution was replaced with one from 1925 which declared Abkhazia a sovereign republic. My father insisted we move out as quickly as possible because Gagra was no longer safe. But Grandma refused to leave with us, believing the war was just some kind of misunderstanding, and that she would be waiting at home until we came back. Finally, we ended up back in Tbilisi.

The war began on August 27, 1992. Georgian laws were nullified, and Abkhazians began taking official posts in the capital Sokhumi.

By October the streets of Gagra were full of Soviet tanks, and the town on fire. Georgian military forces entered but gave up within a year, since Abkhazian separatists were supported by the pro-Russian Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus (CMPC) and Russian military units.

Meanwhile, my grandma’s neighbors, ethnic Abkhazians, kept her safe for four years and in 1996 helped her escape to join us.

Ghost Country

Before the war, Georgians made up at least a half of Abkhazia’s population. Statistics aren’t clear, but between 10,000 and 30,000 ethnic Georgians died during the war, as opposed to 3,000 ethnic Abkhaz. Both sides were accused of human rights violations and some human rights groups support the claim that there was an ‘”ethnic cleansing” of Georgians. Today, the result for me is being among 250,000 Georgians forced into exile, an Internally Displaced Person. Will I ever see my home again?

Abkhazia remains a self-proclaimed autonomous republic recognized by no country or international organization. The part of the ancient kingdom of Kolchis, that of Jason’s Golden Fleece, is currently a no-man’s land and is frequently referred to as a ‘Ghost Country’.
However, a great number of Abkhazians already carry Russian passports, and therefore, if Georgia makes any aggressive moves, Russia will defend its citizens. For now Russia keeps quiet, not recognizing Abkhazia’s independence openly due to post-Kosovo tension in Chechnya and other regions within the Russian Federation.

For ordinary people, the best solution can only be a restoration of trust. One side wants official status, another to gain back its territory, but already 15 years have passed and there is no movement – the conflict is frozen.

I would love to stand on the balcony of my house again and sing: “Oh sea in Gagra, oh palms in Gagra, who saw that once will never forget…”

May, 2008