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Caucasus Report: July 22, 1999

22 July 1999, Volume 2, Number 29

Georgia Lobbies For International Condemnation Of Alleged Ehnic Cleansing. Over the past two months, the Georgian leadership has launched an all-out campaign to persuade the international community that the Abkhaz leadership headed by President Vladislav Ardzinba implemented a deliberate policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing against Abkhazia's ethnic Georgian population during the 1992-1993 war. In early July, the Georgian authorities convened an international conference in Tbilisi entitled "The Politics of Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide in Abkhazia -- The Main Weapon of Aggressive Separatism." Also in early July, President Eduard Shevardnadze announced that he will appeal to the members of the UN Security Council to discuss at the upcoming Security Council meeting later this month Georgia's demand for a formal condemnation of ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia. The Security Council turned down an earlier appeal by Georgian displaced persons to do so (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 2 February 1999).

Precisely why the Georgian leadership has decided to take this action now has not been spelled out. It may be prompted by a desire to capitalize on the international community's condemnation of ethnic cleansing in Kosova by seeking to highlight purported similarities between the two conflicts, or by frustration with the Abkhaz leadership's consistent rejection of Georgia's terms for a settlement of the conflict. In addition, in the runup to the parliamentary elections expected in October, Shevardnadze may be hoping to compensate for the failure to sustain the shortlived economic upswing of 1996 to early 1998 (or to make good on his 1995 presidential election pledge to create one million new jobs) by having Ardzinba dispatched to the International Court at The Hague. Such a move would be widely acclaimed among a population that is reportedly increasingly seeking refuge from economic hardship in introspective nationalism. It would also open the door to the election of a more moderate Abkhaz leader in the presidential elections to be held in October, in which Arzdinba intends to seek a second term.

A prominent role in the campaign to induce the international community to condemn Abkhazia is being played by Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the so-called Abkhaz parliament-in-exile, which comprises the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in late1991. Nadareishvili visited NATO headquarters in Brussels in early June to outline Tbilisi's case, arguing during his meetings there that Ardzinba, like Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic, should be indicted for genocide and war crimes. (No other leading Georgian politician has echoed that demand.) Nadareishvili subsequently told a correspondent at RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau that the response of NATO ambassadors was far more positive than he had anticipated.

Additional comments by Nadareishvili differ markedly from the interpretation given by other Georgian politicians to the 1992-1993 war. Nadareishvili describes that war as a military-political conflict instigated by the Russian state, as a result of whose aggression Abkhazia today is "occupied." He argues that it is incorecct to refer to "the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict," because that would imply a conflict between two equals. A more appropriate term, Nadareishvili suggests, would be "the conflict in Abkhazia," which he described as pitting "Ardzinba's faction, which wanted to prevent Georgia making progress on the road to becoming a democratic state and gaining independence by dismembering it," and "Nadareishvili's faction, which wanted to preserve Abkhazia within a single Georgian state." In this situation, Nadareishvili suggests, the central Georgian government in Tbilisi is not, as is frequently stated, a party to the conflict, but merely a mediator between the "legitimate" leadership of Abkhazia, which he claims to represent, and Ardzinba, who, according to Nadareishvili, is backed by Moscow. Nadareishvili further expresses his categorical opposition to the continued deployment along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia of Russian peacekeeping troops, whom he accuses of aiding and abetting the Abkhaz in the killing over the past five years of more than 1,500 Georgian civilians.

Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, however, offers a different slant. "Izvestiya" of 9 July quotes him as admitting that Tbilisi currently sees no alternative either to the continued presence of the Russian peacekeeping force, or to Russia's ongoing role in the Abkhaz peace process, together with the Western states grouped together under UN auspices.

The central government in Tbilisi may currently consider Nadareishvili a useful tool to draw attention to the suffering of the ethnic Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia, but his long-term political ambitions may at some point bring him into conflict with other prominent members of the present leadership. Nadareishvili recently created his own political party to contend the Georgian parliamentary elections in October. Alternatively, if Arzdinba were to be removed from power in the context of a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict that enabled the 200,000 ethnic Georgian displaced persons to return to Abkhazia, Nadareishvili as their leader would stand a good chance of being elected the next Abkhaz president. In the longer term, Nadareishvili and Zhvania may be rival candidates in the Georgian presidential poll in 2005. (Liz Fuller)

Georgian Opposition Parties Cement Election Alliance. Following months of negotiations, on 11 July representatives of five Georgian opposition parties announced in Batumi, the capital of Georgia's autonomous Adjar Republic, the creation of a bloc to contend the October parliamentary elections. Those parties are the Union for Democratic Revival, headed by Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze; the Union of Traditionalists, whose chairman is Akaki Asatiani, who served as parliamentary speaker under former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia; the People's Party, which split in late 1996 from the National Independence Party of Georgia; the Socialist Party, chaired by Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, and the Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Society (one of several parties created by supporters of the deceased president).

Observers in Tbilisi predict that other political figures and groups, including the Communist Party and Djumber Patiashvili, who succeeded Eduard Shevardnadze in 1985 as First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party and finished second to Shevardnadze in the November 1995 presidential elections with 19 percent of the vote.

The mainstay of the bloc is, however, Abashidze, who has ruled Adjaria as his own fiefdom since 1991, protecting the region from the civil war and economic collapse that swept over much of Georgia. Abashidze, whose Union for Democratic Revival is currently the second-largest faction within the Georgian parliament, is considered by some observers in Tbilisi as a potential challenger to Shevardnadze in next year's presidential elections (although he has not yet stated his intention to contend that poll), and even as the focus of an alternative power center. There are increasing signs, however, that Abashidze may be implicated in the recent financial scandal involving the Georgian Merchant Navy, which has its headquarters in Batumi.

Predictably, Shevardnadze and representatives of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia have downplayed the potential threat posed by the "Batumi alliance." Indeed, the five member parties of that bloc have not yet come to an agreement among themselves over whether its candidates will run on a single list, or separately. Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania suggested that the bloc's objective is not so much to become the largest faction in the new parliament as to steal votes from other parties, by which presumably he meant the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia. That hypothesis is credible, especially if one considers that Akaki Asatiani has already announced his intention of running in next year's presidential election, and Abashidze may also do so, as may Djumber Patiashvili. The rivalry between those three would create severe tensions within the bloc's parliamentary faction. (Liz Fuller)

Dagestan To Have An Additional Duma Deputy. Under the new Russian election law, the number of deputies to be elected from Dagestan has been increased from two to three. That change reflects the arguments expounded in an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 July, although the author of that article, Magomed-Zagid Varisov, who is a deputy to Dagestan's parliament, suggested that the optimum number of deputies to be elected from the Duma from his republic would be four. Varisov based his argument on statistical data, pointing out that on average the number of voters per electoral district in the Russian Federation as a whole is 660,000, whereas in Dagestan it is almost twice that figure (1.1 million). Varisov further points out that Dagestan, with a total population of 2.15 million, is the only federation subject with a population of over 2 million that is represented in the Duma by only two deputies, whereas four federation subjects with a population approximately the size of Dagestan's or even smaller, including Tula (1.83 million), have three deputies. He claims that creating at least one additional constituency is imperative in light of the republic's highly complex ethnic makeup (fourteen ethnic groups are recognized as titular nationalities.)

Even with a total of three constituencies, the Duma election campaign is likely to prove heated. Both former Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov and former Dagestan Security Council secretary Magomed Tolboev have signalled their intention to participate. Whether Union of Muslims of Russia chairman Nadirshakh Khachilaev will seek reelection is still unclear. Khachilaev has been in hiding in Chechnya since a warrant for his arrest was issued last year in connection with his supporters' storming of the government building in Makhachkala in May. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "The Caucasus cannot exist without Russia, despite all the tempting proposals from Turkey, Iran, and other countries of the Near East." North Ossetia's President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, quoted by ITAR-TASS on 15 July 1999.

"One cannot consider the current stability in Azerbaijan real. It was created by using repression, and for that reason it is relative." Azerbaijan Popular Front Party First Deputy Chairman Ali Kerimov, interviewed in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 15 July 1999.

"As for the possibilities of resolving conflicts in the Caucasus using the Kosovo 'peace enforcement' scenario, that is an even more dangerous illusion than it may appear at first glance. True, I hope that [politicians] in the West understand that the Caucasus is not Yugoslavia and that any enforcement on behalf of one of the sides could lead to a partisan war and terrorist acts not only in the region but on the territory of those countries that will participate in such an operation. I hope that the ideas that the West is being fed will not be developed, as they are simply dangerous. To judge by the most recent reactions, at least those I know of, it seems that the West understands this." Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Leonid Drachevskii, interviewed in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 14 July 1999.