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Caucasus Report: June 9, 1998


9 June 1998, Volume 1, Number 15

Armenia, Turkey, and 1915. The Armenian foreign ministry on 3 June reaffirmed its intention to extract from Turkey formal recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, but said that recognition is not a precondition for developing bilateral ties. Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian told RFE/RL that Yerevan believes the controversial issue that has soured Turkish-Armenian relations must be included on the agenda of a wider political "dialogue" between the two countries, in addition to its international examination by historians.

Gasparian said the genocide issue, as well as Turkey's refusal to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia, damages the bilateral relationship and stability in the region. He said Ankara should follow the example of France, which recognized the killings of more than one million Armenians as genocide. That decision, made by the French National Assembly on May 29, has been strongly condemned by Turkey, which has threatened economic sanctions against Paris. Ankara consistently denies any premeditated policy by the Ottoman leadership to exterminate the empire's Armenian population. But Armenia has welcomed the French move, arguing that it will help prevent further crimes against humanity.

Gasparian said Yerevan supports the creation of an international commission of Armenian, Turkish and Western historians to examine the genocide controversy, but added that the issue must nonetheless be addressed by the two countries' governments. "This is a useful idea, but in any event we believe that the problems between our two countries can only be sorted out by including the genocide issue on the agenda of a political dialogue between them," he said. Gasparian was responding to comments by his Turkish counterpart, Necati Urkan, who told RFE/RL on 2 June that Ankara does not object to the existence of such a commission, although he ruled out any government participation in it. (Emil Danielyan)

Georgian Opposition Blames Shevardnadze For Abkhaz Debacle. Predictably, Georgian opposition politicians from across the political spectrum have laid the blame for last month's fighting in Abkhazia, which precipitated the flight from Gali raion of some 35,000 -- 40,000 ethnic Georgians, squarely on the country's leadership.

For example, Labour Party leader Shalva Natelashvili harshly criticized the 25 May protocol on a ceasefire, disengagement and the repatriation of Georgian fugitives to Gali as being tantamount to official recognition by Tbilisi of Abkhazia's independence. Specifically, he said the conditions stipulated in that protocol for the return of the Georgian population to Gali are "criminal." Natelashvili said Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze should either to agree to the Labour Party's demands for pre-term elections to a two-chamber parliament, or resign.

Nationalist Party leader Zaza Vashakmadze similarly demanded Shevardnadze's resignation, castigating the Georgian leadership's failure to give any concrete assistance to the Georgian guerrillas fighting in Gali. Vakhtang Bochorishvili, who heads the Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Society, accused the country's leadership of condoning "genocide" in Gali and of sacrificing the guerrillas to ensure their own political survival. He called for a radical change in Georgian policy towards Russia, without which he argued Gali "will be lost forever."

While not specifically focussing on the leadership's reaction to the recent fighting in Gali, the left-wing People's Patriotic Movement, which includes the United Communist Party and the Union of Stalin's Heirs, issued a similar ultimatum: it called on Shevardnadze either to disassociate himself from the policies of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia, which it accuses of economic mismanagement and corruption on an epic scale, or to step down.

Union of Georgian Traditionalists chairman Akaki Asatiani, who served as parliament speaker under Zviad Gamsakhurdia, labelled Shevardnadze a "deceiver" and a "provocateur," and announced that his party would begin collecting signatures to demand the president's resignation. Asatiani signalled that he would contend the next presidential elections, naming as other potential candidates Shevardnadze's successor as Georgian CP First Secretary, Djumber Patiashvili, present parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, Socialist Party leader Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, former parliament speaker Vakhtang Goguadze, United Communist Party chairman Panteleimon Giorgadze, and Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze.

Perhaps the most vicious criticism of Shevardnadze came from Socialist Party leader Rcheulishvili, who predicted that the president's failure to resign would lead to the loss of further Georgian territories. He also blamed Shevardnadze for the marked deterioration in Georgian-Russian relations, and for his subservience to the IMF, whose policies he termed devastating for the country's economy. (Liz Fuller)

Tamaz Nadareishvili -- Leader Of Abkhazia's Georgian Exiles. One man whose name does not figure on Asatiani's list of potential presidential candidates, but who undoubtedly enjoys both greater authority and greater power than some who do, is Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile, which comprises the 26 ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in autumn, 1991. A former Communist Party official who began his career working for the KGB, Nadareishvili has since 1993 served as the acknowledged leader and spokesman of the approximately 200,000 ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war. He has also written a book documenting atrocities committed against the Georgian population during the fighting.

Meeting with an RFE/RL delegation in Tbilisi in early February, 1998, Nadareishvili spoke at some length about Russia's role in the Abkhaz conflict, stressing that the conflict was a military-political, not an ethnic one. Nadareishvili described Abkhazia as the leverage that Moscow is using to keep Georgia within its sphere of influence, and claimed that unnamed Russian politicians have assured the Abkhaz leadership that if they continue to reject any compromise proposed by Tbilisi, Abkhazia will eventually be admitted to the Russian Federation.

Nadareishvili said that the Georgian displaced persons from Gali were increasingly angry and resentful at the Georgian leadership's inability to expedite their repatriation, and warned that "external forces" may try to mobilize the fugitives. (He refused, however, to confirm that the "external force" in question is Russia.) Nadareishvili described himself as a restraining influence on the fugitives, but predicted that if such an attempt succeeded, it would inevitably result in major bloodshed. While affirming that "not a single Georgian will ever resign himself to the loss of Abkhazia," Nadareishvili simultaneously professed his commitment to a peaceful solution of the conflict.

More recent actions and statements by Nadareishvili are, however, at odds with his effort to portray himself as a moderate, and lend substance to allegations that he has contacts with, or even coordinates, the activities of the Georgian guerrilla formations operating in Gali. He called for the withdrawal from Gali of the CIS peacekeeping force, and expressed doubts that Tbilisi could ever restore its jurisdiction over Abkhazia by peaceful means. In early May, the Abkhaz parliament in exile moved its seat from Tbilisi to the west Georgian town of Zugdidi, close to the internal border with Abkhazia.

In late May, following the renewed exodus from Gali of those Georgians who had been expelled in 1992-1993, but since returned, Nadareishvili announced his intention to step down as chairman of the parliament in exile in order to join the guerrilla movement, but his fellow deputies rejected this request. Unconfirmed reports claim that Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba had made his endorsement of the 25 May ceasefire protocol contingent on Nadareishvili's resignation. (Liz Fuller)

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