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Georgian Parliament Approves New Probe Into First President's Death

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili attends services ahead of the reburial of Zviad Gamsakhurdia in March 2007.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili attends services ahead of the reburial of Zviad Gamsakhurdia in March 2007.
The Georgian parliament approved on October 20 a proposal by opposition deputy Djondi Baghaturia to form a commission that will conduct a repeat investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Zviad Gamsakhurdia in 1993. The commission will also deliver a formal "legal and political assessment" of the events that preceded Gamsakhurdia's violent ouster in early January 1992.

A Soviet-era dissident, Gamsakhurdia was elected president in May 1991, but fled Georgia seven months later following a coup by informal paramilitary groups, apparently with backing from Moscow. He took up residence in Grozny, from where he launched an abortive comeback attempt in September 1993 at the height of the war in Abkhazia. But he soon abandoned his march on Tbilisi, and died on December 31, 1993, in a remote village in western Georgia.

The Georgian authorities claimed he committed suicide; his widow Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia insists he was murdered. His body was taken to Grozny for burial, but following the destruction of much of that city during two successive wars, the precise site of his grave became unclear. It was located in March 2007, and his body was reinterred in Tbilisi with full honors shortly afterwards.

The uncertainty about Gamsakhurdia's death persisted, however: a forensic examination undertaken in Grozny in March 2007 reportedly found two bullet holes in his skull. It is not clear whether his remains will again be exhumed for examination. Tengiz Sigua, who in 1993 was prime minister, said that the investigation of Gamsakhurdia's death conducted at the time proved inconclusive because his widow refused to allow a formal autopsy.

Eduard Shevardnadze, who in 1993 headed Georgia's ruling State Council, told the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" he welcomes the decision to conduct a new investigation that will lay to rest lingering speculation that he was behind Gamsakhurdia's death.

Giorgi Gamsakhurdia, the younger son of Gamsakhurdia and Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, was quoted by Caucasus Press on October 23 as saying he is convinced that his father was murdered. He said be believes then-Georgian intelligence chief Igor Giorgadze masterminded the killing at the behest of Russian security services. Giorgadze fled Georgia 14 years ago after being accused of the failed attempt in August 1995 to assassinate Shevardnadze.

Some observers in Tbilisi have suggested that the new probe was intended as a sweetener to induce Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, Giorgi's older half-brother, to take up the parliament mandate he rejected last year to protest the perceived rigging of the early parliamentary ballot in May 2008. Konstantine Gamaskhurdia heads the small Tavisupleba (Liberty) party, which participated in the mass opposition protests launched in April with the aim of compelling President Mikheil Saakashvili to resign.

On October 23 Gamsakhurdia told journalists he will return to parliament. The other nine oppositionists who likewise rejected their parliament mandates have said they will not avail themselves of President Saakashvili's invitation to reconsider that decision.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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