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Caucasus Report: December 16, 1998

16 December 1998, Volume 1, Number 42

Georgian-Abkhaz Deadlock Continues ... Georgian and Abkhaz delegations to the Coordinating Council created one year ago are scheduled to met in Geneva under UN auspices on 17 - 18 December for talks that are likely to focus primarily on the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons who fled during the fighting in 1992-1993 and in May of this year. Failure to reach agreement on repatriation has proven to be the main obstacle to the planned meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart Vladislav Ardzinba, which was to have taken place some time last month.

While over the past few days both leaders have reaffirmed their willingness to meet, both have made it clear that they consider that the other is sabotaging the proposed meeting by setting unacceptable conditions. In addition, both have suggested that the other's demand for amendments to previously agreed draft documents was made in response to pressure from a third party.

Tbilisi objects to Abkhazia's stipulation that women and children should be the first to return, and that men of military age should be screened to preclude the repatriation of persons suspected of committing war crimes. The Abkhaz leadership for its part is insisting on the lifting of the border restrictions which prevent Abkhaz villagers from selling agricultural produce in the Russian Federation. Sukhumi also rejects the Georgian demand for the creation in Gali of dual (Abkhaz and Georgian) local administration bodies, and accuses Tbilisi of failing to comply with its obligations under the ceasefire protocol signed in late May to crack down on terrorist activities by Georgian guerrillas operating in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali raion. The leader of one of those guerrilla groups, Zurab Samushia, has denied responsibility for the killing last week of an ethnic Armenian serving in the Abkhaz police force. (Liz Fuller)

... As Displaced Persons' Leaders Outline Tactics. Meanwhile Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile comprising the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in late 1991, continues to argue that Tbilisi should use all means at its disposal to pressure the Abkhaz leadership. Specifically, Nadareishvili told Caucasus Press last week that the Georgian parliament should pass a formal resolution condemning Sukhumi's alleged policy of genocide towards the Georgian population of Abkhazia, and that the Georgian government should then request that the UN Security Council consider the genocide issue. Nadareishvili also advocated involving both Ukraine and Azerbaijan in the process of mediating a political settlement of the conflict. (Ukraine had earlier offered to provide peacekeepers to serve in Abkhazia under the auspices of either the UN or the CIS.)

The devaluation of the Georgian currency has exacerbated the already grave financial situation of the displaced persons, who receive only a token 12 lari ($5) per month from the Georgian government. Boris Kakubava, the Georgian parliament deputy who, like Nadareishvili, aspires to the role of spokesmen and leader of the fugitives, plans to convene a conference of the All-Georgian Refugees' League in January to debate ways of bringing Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under the control of the central Georgian government. (Liz Fuller)

Georgian Repatriation Service Head Interviewed. In an interview with RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau in early December, Guram Mamulia confirmed Georgian media reports that Georgia's acceptance into full membership of the Council of Europe has been linked to progress on the repatriation to Georgia of the Meskhetians deported by Stalin to Central Asia in November 1944. Mamulia noted with regret that Georgia has not yet adopted any formal legal resolution on the rehabilitation of the Meskhetians. (The Georgian parliament debated a bill on "victims of repression" in November, 1997, but it did not include the Meskhetians among the groups formally exonerated.) By contrast, the Russian Federation has adopted a comparable declaration with respect to its deported North Caucasus minorities.

Mamulia explained that on acceptance into full membership of the Council of Europe, in which it currently has "special guest" status, Georgia must adopt such a declaration within one year, and must within five years allow those Meskhetians who wish to settle in Georgia do so. If Tbilisi fails to comply with these requirements, Mamulia said, it may face sanctions imposed by the Council of Europe Human Rights Court.

Asked to comment on Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze's opposition to the Meskhetians' return to Georgia, Mamulia admitted that initially he found Abashidze's position strange, especially since the Georgians of Adjaria, like the Meskhetians, are Muslims. The answer, Mamulia suggested, lies in the "political game" Abashidze has embarked upon with the aim of annexing to his autonomous Adjar Republic the predominantly Armenian-populated south Georgian region of Djavakheti, the ancestral home of many of the Meskhetians. Mamulia went on to suggest that Abashidze may have reached an agreement with what he described as "a very few individuals in Djavakheti who support the ideas of nationalist and chauvinist Armenian circles," and who are seeking to prevent the Meskhetians' return to Djavakheti. Abashidze caved in to the Djavakheti Armenians' demand, Mamulia said, because he hoped for their votes.

Mamulia was clearly discomforted by the interviewer's assertion that the final return of the Meskhetians is attributable not to a spontaneous Georgian initiative but to pressure from the Council of Europe. He pointed out that initial steps to bring the Meskhetians home were undertaken in the 1980s (by Eduard Shevardnadze, then Georgian CP First Secretary, although Mamulia does not say as much), and that a 1996 program to expedite their repatriation was formally adopted, but not systematically implemented (possibly because it did not allocate sufficent funds, although again Mamulia fails to clarify that point.) "I say this to my shame, and the shame of my generation, that we were not at a sufficiently high level of humanism to resolve this problem independently," Mamulia concluded. (Liz Fuller)

Armenian Press Enumerates Possible Motives For Deputy Defence Minister's Murder. The Armenian Defence Ministry has offered a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of the killer of Deputy Defence Minister Vahram Khorkhoruni, gunned down outside his Yerevan apartment on 10 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 14 December. The Armenian Prosecutor-General's office has said that the investigation into the killing is continuing, without providing further details. That dearth of information has fuelled speculation in the press as to the possible motives for the latest in a series of spectacular and mostly unresolved murders dating back several years.

"Aravot" on 11 December propounded three alternative hypotheses. The first is that the killing was political, and directed against powerful Defence Minister Vazgen Sargsian, whom many believe has political ambitions. (Khorkhoruni was one of Sargsian's closest aides.) The second hypothesis is that someone with whom Khorkhoruni crossed swords during his early career within the Interior Ministry may have killed him in revenge. And the third is financial, and hinges on the belief that both the defence ministry and the state security system engage in sometimes dubious business dealings in order to supplement the funding they receive from the state budget.

A variation on this latter theory is offered by "Iravunk" on 11 December. The paper suggests that unidentified "Mafia structures" may have been behind the killing. If that is the case, the paper continues, the investigation "may pit Vazgen Sargsian against the mafia, with unpredictable consequences for the latter."

"Oragir" on 15 December points out that if the motive for the murder was indeed political, it could have been directed against a number of leading officials, or several of them simultaneously: for President Robert Kocharian, the murder is an "attempt to destabilize the situation" in Armenia. Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian is rumored to have said that the killing was "directed against him." And Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian could be blamed for the "inefficient work" of his agency. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "If our [1999 parliamentary] elections don't meet European standards, we may find ourselves in a sad situation." Self-Determination Union chairman and Armenian presidential advisor Paruyr Hayrikian, quoted by RFE/RL, 15 December 1998.

"The Council of Europe is beginning to understand that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Europe. In European capitals, Karabakh is sometimes fancied as a region high in the mountains with armed and bearded men roaming the streets. But in Paris, Council of Europe officials will see that Karabakh is represented by well-prepared and courteous individuals with European manners." Armenian parliament external relations department head Shmavon Shahbazian, interviewed by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau, 14 December 1998.