Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

More border fiddling in the Soviet North Caucasus

In my post on the Prigorodny District I mentioned the fact that part of the District had been transferred from Ingushetia to North Ossetia following Stalin’s 1944 expulsion of the ‘guilty’ Ingush people to Central Asia. I’ve found a very useful map of the North Caucasus on Wikipedia (uploaded by the user Kuban Kazak) that juxtaposes the current administrative borders there with the internal borders of the Mountain Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic that existed from 1921 to 1924.

Administrative divisions in the North Caucasus in 1921 and in 2009

Administrative divisions in the North Caucasus in 1921 and in 2009

The map shows that part of Ingushetia was indeed transferred to North Ossetia, together with the city of Vladikavkaz, which in 1921 still formed its own administrative entity. In fact Vladikavkaz had been founded by the Russian empire on an Ingush village and it had a sizeable Ingush population until 1944. But Ingushetia in turn has gained most of what used to be the Sunzha Cossack District.

More towards the west, Kabarda (now part of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic) lost some of its territory to Karachaya (now part of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic), but gained some territory off Russia.

Overall, North Ossetia and Chechnya are the only nations that only gained territory, absorbing their current capitals of Vladikavkaz and Grozny and nibbling parts off of the Sunzha Cossack and Russia.

None of these other transferred territories however seems to have caused the Prigorodny District’s level of conflict.

Filed under: Balkaria, Chechnya, Cherkessia, Ingushetia, Kabarda, Karachaya, North Ossetia, Russia, Sunzha Cossacks, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Did Russia plan to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a confederation?

The Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets claims that after the August 2008 War, Russia was originally planning for Abkhazia and South Ossetia to form a confederation, and to recognise them as one state. The crux of the plan though was that the confederation would have been open for new members, specifically Georgia. However, despite Russia arguing that it would be easier to get other countries to recognise them together, both Abkhazia and South Ossetia refused. Apparently, the decision to instead recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia separately was then only taken three days before 26 August.

What to make of this story – is it true? It is not the first time that a newspaper reports about some secret plan for Abkhazia or South Ossetia, and most of these have seemed rather doubtful. In June 2008 it was Kommersant which claimed that Georgia had proposed dividing up Abkhazia to Russia. Perhaps we will know when the politicians involved write their autobiographies.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Russia, South Ossetia, The Great Recognition Game, , , , , , ,

North Ossetia and Ingushetia sign agreement over Prigorodny District

Window on Eurasia draws attention to a story which RFE/RL seems not to have covered: on 17 December Taymuraz Mamsurov, President of North Ossetia-Alania, and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, President of Ingushetia, signed an agreement over the Prigorodny District.

The conflict over the Prigorodny District is one of the many conflicts due to Stalin’s meddling with boundaries. In 1944 the Ingush were deported by Stalin to Central Asia as one of the so-called ‘guilty peoples’. The eastern part of the Prigorodny District had been part of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR up to that point, but was then transferred to the North-Ossetian ASSR. In 1957 under Khrushchev the Ingush were allowed to return to the Caucasus, but the Prigorodny District was not rehabilitated to the Chechen-Ingush ASSR, even though some Ingush returned there clandestinely.

Then under Glasnost, the Ingush demanded that the Prigorodny District should finally be returned to them, backed by the recently passed Soviet law on territorial rehabilitation. Tensions between Ingush and Ossetians slowly escalated culminating in a week of violence in October and November of 1992 in which some 600 Ingush were killed and some 65,000 expelled, versus just 52 Ossetian deaths and 9,000 Ossetian refugees.

The conlict has not been solved since. The current agreement provides in the return of the Ingush refugees to their homes (and not just to other accomodations within Prigorodny District) in return for the District staying with North-Ossetia. It would indeed be good news if the refugees could really return to their homes. But the fact that this hasn’t received wider coverage may indicate that the settlement is not yet final.

Filed under: Ingushetia, North Ossetia, , , , , , , ,

The destroyed World War II monument in Kutaisi – Part 2

This post is a quick update to the story of the destruction of the World War II monument in Kutaisi last Saturday, which killed a mother and her child.

The governor of the Imereti region has been fired, and the head of the company directly responsible for the detonation has been put into preliminary detention. But people are still angry, and this seems to be a very welcome incident for the Georgian opposition: apparently there was absolutely no good reason to pull down the monument in the first place. Saakashvili will have to admit in some form that he was wrong, or people will continue to hold this against him.

Incidentally, a video has been uploaded to YouTube that shows what happened during the destruction the pulling down of the monument. Warning: it is quite shocking. It shows that the spectators stood at a reasonable distance, but that during the collapse of the structure, suddenly a boulder springs forth with incredible speed, shooting at the crowd not unlike a bowling ball.

Filed under: Georgia, , , , ,

The meandering political career of Sergei Shamba

The politics of Abkhazia revolve around individual politicians and temporary alliances, and less around political parties and ideological current. The run-up to the recent Presidential election in Abkhazia added another chapter to the already very interesting post-Soviet political career of Sergei Shamba.

Sergei Shamba first became Foreign Minister in May 1997, under former President Vladislav Ardzinba. In May 2004 he was among the group of (former) government members who founded the opposition party United Abkhazia, and he subsequently resigned from his position as minister. According to an interview Shamba gave at the time, the original plan was for him and Sergei Bagapsh to be United Abkhazia’s Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates for the election of 3 October 2004. But United Abkhazia entered into an electoral alliance with Amtsakhara, and the combination nominated Bagapsh and Amtsakhara’s Stanislav Lakoba.

Shamba then participated in the election independently, coming in third place, behind Bagapsh and Prime Minister Raul Khajimba, who had the outgoing government’s support. During the post-election stand off between Bagapsh and Khajimba, Shamba presented himself as the  third-way candidate, founding his own Social-Democratic Party and at one point even calling upon both candidates to withdraw in favour of someone unaffiliated, presumably himself. In the end Bagapsh and Khajimba agreed to share power and to run as one team in a new election to be held on 12 January 2005.

This seemed to spell the end of Shamba’s ambitions, even though Ardzinba had again appointed him as Foreign Minister on 15 December. Bagapsh did not want to keep Shamba in his post, preferring Natella Aqaba, head of the NGO Association of Women of Abkhazia. But under the power sharing accord, appointing the foreign Minister was Khajimba’s prerogative, and Khajimba was already angry that his preferences had been ignored for some of the other cabinet positions. In the end Bagapsh submitted to the pressure from both American and Russian officials who were content to deal with Shamba in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict negotiations.

Given the above history, it would have seemed that Shamba was now a political ally of Khajimba. Indeed, Shamba’s Social-Democratic Party stayed in opposition, even officially joining the Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia, bundling those forces which had supported Khajimba in the election. However, during the following five years Shamba again shifted position. Much of the opposition criticism in the run-up to the 12 December 2009 Presidential election regarded the government’s foreign policy. Shamba clearly dismissed this criticism and he stayed on when Khajimba resigned on 28 May.

Shamba’s long tenure as foreign minister both under Ardzinba and Bagapsh has made him the politician with the most government experience in Abkhazia. There was some speculation that he might have another go at the presidency in this election. Instead, Shamba seems to have kept totally silent throughout the entire election period, thus tacidly supporting Bagapsh. The two will probably have agreed on this beforehand in return for Shamba being allowed to stay on as Foreign Minister. Bagapsh might then support Shamba in the next presidential election, Bagapsh himself being constitutionally barred from a third term.

As an interesting footnote to this story, Shamba seems to have parted ways with his Social-Democratic Party, even though at the time of its founding he seemed to be its principal sponsor. In the end, the Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia did not subsume the various movements it intended to unite, instead becoming a seperate political party. Still, the Social-Democratic Party has consistently joined the Forum in its government criticism. Its principal figure now seems to its chairman Gennadi Alamia, who during the Soviet period was a poet and an activist for Abkhazian separation from Georgia and who served as chief of staff of the army after independence.

Filed under: Abkhazia, , , , , ,

Authorities in Kutaisi pull down World War II monument (killing two)

Authorities in Kutaisi have pulled down a World War II monument, making headlines because it cost two people’s lives and it injured several others. Which is a tragedy, and I wonder why they had to pull down the monument in the first place. Supposedly it stood on the site where the new parliament building will be constructed, now that it has been decided that some of Parliament’s sessions will be held in Georgia’s second city. But surely there were other suitable locations? The monument looked rather impressive, and however much Georgian authorities like to condemn Russia’s role in history, I couldn’t think of a reason why commemorating World War II should be controversial in Georgia? In fact, Civil Georgia reports that many local inhabitants were unhappy about the plans.

Filed under: Georgia, , , ,

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