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Fugitive Warlord Arrested On Return To Georgia

Why did Emzar Kvitsiani come back to Georgia?
Emzar Kvitsiani, who in the early 2000s served as Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's governor in the Kodori gorge, has returned to Tbilisi, almost eight years after the armed insurrection that culminated in his flight to Russia.

Kvitsiani, 52, was arrested on landing at Tbilisi airport on February 28. He has been remanded in pretrial detention despite the readiness of 30 generals, including former Defense Ministers Gia Qarqarashvili and Davit Tevzadze, to stand bail.

The remote and inaccessible Kodori Gorge in western Georgia links Georgia proper with its breakaway region of Abkhazia. Its upper reaches were the only stretch of Abkhaz territory that remained under Tbilisi's jurisdiction following the 1992-93 war that ended with the loss of Georgian control over the breakaway region. In 1997, Shevardnadze tasked Kvitsiani and his Monadire (Hunter) militia with policing the gorge. Monadire, many of whose members, like Kvitsiani, belonged to Georgia's Svan ethnic sub-group, was nominally subordinated to the Georgian Defense Ministry a year later.

Kvitsiani pledged his support for Shevardnadze in the Rose Revolution of November 2003 that precipitated Shevardnadze's ouster. One year later, Shevardnadze's successor as president, Mikheil Saakashvili, dismissed Kvitsiani as Kodori governor. Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili ordered the disbanding of Monadire in April 2005, but its members refused to surrender their arms.

Things came to a head in July 2006, when Kvitsiani protested the reappointment to the new cabinet of Okruashvili and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. Specifically, he warned that in light of the unresolved killings of several Svans, including banker Sandro Girgvliani, he would "start a civil war" if Merabishvili retained his post. Merabishvili's wife had been present during an altercation in a Tbilisi bar the evening before Girgvliani's death between the young Svan and four mid-level Interior Ministry staffers subsequently found guilty of his murder.

Saakashvili sent Okruashvili and Merabishvili to quash the insurrection in an operation that U.S. military advisers to Georgia described as less than stellar, and which apparently succeeded primarily because Kvitsiani offered no resistance, and fled, either to Abkhazia or Russia. Several months later, Abkhaz television broadcast a statement by Kvitsiani in which he claimed responsibility for the artillery bombardment of Kodori on October 25 while Merabishvili was touring the region. Kvitsiani also sent a missive to the independent Georgian TV station Mze (Sun) branding the Saakashvili leadership "fascist" and vowing "revenge on the authorities for insulting the people of Georgia. But he failed to deliver on that threat.

Kvitsiani's sister Nora, however, was apprehended and went on trial in March 2007 on charges of illegal possession of arms, creation of an illegal armed group, and theft of humanitarian aid. She was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. She was released in November 2012, shortly after the defeat of Saakashvili's United National Movement in the October parliamentary elections.

What impelled Kvitsiani to return to Georgia at this juncture after what he termed "eight years of hell" and face trial on charges of armed insurrection remains unclear. It is possible that given the bad blood between Kvitsiani and Merabishvili, the former intends to divulge damaging information about the latter.

Merabishvili was sentenced last month to 4 1/2 years in prison on charges of exceeding his authority in connection with orders he is believed to have given to police and security personnel during a standoff with opposition protesters in Tbilisi in May 2011. He faces further charges in connection with Girgvliani's murder.

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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