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Caucasus Report: March 3, 2000

3 March 2000, Volume 3, Number 9

COULD A RETURN TO TRADITIONAL STRUCTURES STABILIZE CHECHNYA? In a lengthy article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 February, Igor Zadvornov and Aleksandr Khalmukhamedov review the problems facing Chechnya, of which the most crucial are the choice of a new leadership and the optimum administrative structure, and suggest a number of unconventional solutions.

The two authors begin by excluding any future role for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, whom they accuse of "an act of personal capitulation" by "fleeing from Grozny," instead of disassociating himself from his field commanders and welcoming Russian forces into Grozny, as the Yamadaev brothers did in Gudermes. They claim that either the Russian Constitutional Court, or the Criminal Code, could furnish grounds for removing Maskhadov from the post of president.

But having done so, the Russian authorities will be faced with selecting a replacement--a problematic task given that Russian expectations that a successor to Maskhadov would emerge who is both loyal to Moscow and acceptable to all Chechens, whether in Moscow or Chechnya, proved utopian. The authors implicitly exclude Moscow-based Chechens from the lineup of possible future leaders, commenting that the Chechen emigration is more an economic than an ethno-political category. Speaking in Moscow the following day, Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii similarly argued that the new Chechen leadership should be selected from the ranks of competent individuals who have worked for years in Chechnya and won the confidence of the local population. Candidates who fit those criteria include Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, but not the head of the pro-Moscow State Council, Malik Saidullaev.

In the absence of an obvious and universally acceptable candidate to replace Maskhadov, the authors argue, it would be premature at this juncture to embark on even a gradual transfer of power to local bodies. On the contrary, power should remain in the hands of the Russian military, in the first instance (in the person of military commandants), and of the Russian government's representative, Nikolai Koshman, whose responsibilities center primarily on economic reconstruction.

In addition, a presidential representative to Chechnya should also be appointed, who would be empowered to rule on all administrative issues, including coordinating the work of the power structures. That representative, the two authors suggest, would serve as a surrogate president during the "transition period," which they say should last for about two years. During that time, new organs of state power would be developed in Chechnya.

On the local level, raion administrators are currently named by Koshman in consultation with the raion military commandant. But in the medium-to-long term, a new workable model for local administration in the lowland regions of Chechnya must be devised. That task is the more problematic, the two authors say, insofar as "not even embryonic traces of a civil society have emerged in Chechnya." The new model, the authors suggest, should therefore be based on the traditional patriarchal division of Chechen society and the dictates of the traditional code of behavior and law, that combines historic precepts and prohibitions and elements of Islamic law.

Under the new model which the authors propose, two traditional institutions would be revived and institutionalized. The first of those is local village councils, which would assume the functions of local self-government: such councils, the authors claim, have already emerged in the villages of Shalazhi and Ken-Yurt. The second is the "teyps" or clans, of which there are an estimated 130. Each teyp has its own head, and members of one teyp do not necessarily acknowledge the authority of another. (In an article published in October 1998, Aslambek Akbulatov, who served as state secretary to the late Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev, similarly proposed reviving the teyp system as the most effective way of restoring some semblance of order. Akbulatov also suggested abolishing the post of Chechen president as being "alien to the Vainakh mentality.")

The authors admit, however, that while their proposed model may be appropriate for the lowland and foothill regions of Chechnya, it may not prove workable in the southern mountain districts whose inhabitants are, they claim, more inclined to sympathize with radical Islam. (Liz Fuller)

LATEST ROUND OF GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS SPARKS NEW CONTROVERSY. On 27-28 February, Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee chairman Revaz Adamia held talks in Sukhum with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba's special representative Anri Djergenia. Caucasus Press on 29 February quoted Djergenia as saying that he and Adamia reached provisional agreement on the wording of an agreement on a ceasefire and measures to preclude a resumption of hostilities. That document, together with a companion agreement on the repatriation to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian displaced persons and measures to restore the socio-economic situation in Abkhazia, had been under discussion since 1998 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 6 May 1999). Djergenia said the latter document "needs polishing," and that both sides will exchange proposals on the final wording within the next 10 days, after which a further meeting will be scheduled. Djergenia said Abkhazia's future status within Georgia was not discussed during the talks, which were also attended by UN Special Representative Dieter Boden.

But Adamia gave a different slant on his talks with Djergenia, saying that they did focus on Abkhazia's future status within Georgia, and that he had stressed that the Abkhaz leadership's insistence that the breakaway region is an independent state "leads negotiations into a blind alley and may have unpredictable consequences." Adamia added that the repatriation of the displaced persons must precede any measures to restore Abkhazia's economy.

Caucasus Press, however, quoted Boden as expressing "shock" at both versions. The news agency quoted the German diplomat as saying that Abkhazia's status was discussed, albeit only briefly, as were the two draft documents. Caucasus Press further quoted Boden as saying that a certain rapprochement between the two sides' positions was reached. Boden also reportedly disclosed that a new draft document delineating the division of constitutional authority between Georgia and Abkhazia, which is being drafted by the UN in conjunction with the states that belong to the "Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia" group, is near completion.

In addition, Boden expressed concern at a statement made by Adamia on 1 March, after his return from Sukhumi. Adamia said that if the Abkhaz leadership continues to reject the offer of autonomous status within Georgia, Tbilisi may resort to the "Chechen variant," implying that Tbilisi would launch a military campaign to bring the breakaway region back under its control. Such statements, Caucasus Press quoted Boden as saying, run counter to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's insistence that the Abkhaz conflict must be resolved by exclusively peaceful means.

Finally, Boden said that the UN is preparing a response to President Ardzinba's 14 February letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In that missive, a copy of which has been made available to RFE/RL, Ardzinba recalled that in April 1994 Georgian and Abkhaz representatives had signed a Declaration "On measures for a political solution of the Georgian-Abkhazia conflict." An appendix to that Declaration stipulated that "Abkhazia will be a subject with sovereign rights within the framework of a union State to be established as a result of negotiations after issues in dispute have been settled." Proceeding from that definition, the Russian Foreign Ministry in June 1997 drafted a Protocol "On a Georgian-Abkhazian Resolution," which served as the basis for intensive negotiations, but which Tbilisi finally rejected.

Since that time, the Georgian leadership has insisted that the highest status it can offer Abkhazia is that of the broadest imaginable autonomy within Georgia. Ardzinba slammed that proposal as "the intention of the metropolis to preserve its power over a colony." He further argued that it constitutes a violation of the April 1994 Declaration.

Ardzinba also rejected as "unjustifiable" the refusal of the international community to acknowledge the legality either of his election in October 1999 for a second presidential term or of the referendum held concurrently in which the population of Abkhazia affirmed its approval of the region's independence. Ardzinba noted that as a result of the repatriation of displaced persons which got underway in March 1999, more than 60,000 people had returned to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, raising the total population of Abkhazia to approximately 2/3 of its prewar level of some 500,000. (The Georgian authorities reject those figures, claiming that there are still some 300,000 displaced persons from Abkhazia elsewhere in Georgia.)

There can be no doubts, Ardzinba reasoned, concerning the legality of either the presidential election or of the referendum, given that the overwhelming majority of the Abkhaz population cast their ballot. Consequently, Ardzinba continued, "any attempt to impose a discussion of the question of Abkhazia's possible entry into the composition of Georgia will be deemed by us interference into our internal affairs." The Abkhaz, Ardzinba continues, "are prepared to discuss only one question--the question of the possible mutual relations between two sovereign states of equal rights--Abkhazia and Georgia." (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Russian leaders have to understand the depth of outrage at what people have read in their newspapers and seen on their TV screens.... Even if only half the stories were true, they would still be horrific. We cannot behave with Russia as though nothing untoward had happened--as though we could simply conduct business the way we wanted to before the Chechen hostilities...

"Some of the horrors inflicted on the civilian population are going to create scars that are going to take a very long time to heal. There is a sort of spiritual pollution about closing your eyes to human rights abuses on such a dreadful organized scale." -- EU Foreign Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, interviewed in "The Guardian," 1 March.

"Wahhabis are enemies of Muslims, enemies of Islam. Wahhabism is the most dangerous religious trend in the world. Wahhabis must be isolated from society.

"The Chechens have strayed away from their true faith, otherwise we wouldn't have allowed any bandit gangs to appear in our republic, wouldn't have allowed any fratricidal confrontation." -- Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, quoted by ITAR-TASS, 29 February.

"A political system which in my opinion is based on clans is incompatible with the free market. In a country with a huge shadow economy, the budget is a mere formality." -- Armenian parliamentary deputies Ruben Hakobian (Dashnaktsutiun) and Gagik Kostandian (Right and Accord), speaking during the budget debate on 1 March, quoted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau.