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

Abkhazian Army Purge? – Part 2

When a large number of senior members of the Abkhazian military was sent into retirement late April, this caused some speculation as to whether this wasn’t in reality a purge, and if so, whom this purge was directed against. One option was that Minister of Defence Mirab Kishmaria had removed officers with ties to the Russian Army, led by Chief of the General Staff Anatoli Zaitsev. Another option was that Kishmaria had indeed removed Zaitsev, but that in retaliation Russia had forced him to fire the others, so that the army could then get a new completely Russian command.

At the time, this was all speculative, we would get to know more once it would become known whom these men would be replaced by. Now, the first names have become known. On May the 21st, Colonel Beslan Tsvizhba was appointed Deputy Minister of Defence. Also, former commander of the Abkhazian missile and artillery forces Aslan Ankvab is the acting Chief of the General Staff, and it is likely that his position will become permanent. Tsvizhba and Ankvab are both Abkhaz, so it appears that if this was a purge, it had more to do with army-internal factionalism than with a Russian take-over.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Russia, , , , , , ,

Head of Syrian diplomatic mission attends opening of Akhazia’s embassy in Moscow

Abkhazia’s embassy in Moscow has officially been opened on May the 17th. Apart from the relevant Abkhazian and Russian officials, the ceremony was also attended by the heads of the diplomatic missions of Nicaragua, South Ossetia, and… Syria. Past experience teaches that this should probably not be seen as an auspicious sign, but it is certainly interesting.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Russia, Syria, The Great Recognition Game, , ,

Raul Khajimba elected FNUA’s new sole leader

The opposition Forum for the National Unity of Abkhazia (FNUA) has elected Raul Khajimba as its new Chairman during its annual congress on May the 12th. Khajimba’s association with the FNUA dates back to its foundation in February 2005 – it was founded to unite the various movements and parties that had supported Khajimba in the controversial 3 October 2004 Presidential election. And even though Khajimba became Vice President under Sergei Bagapsh in the resulting power-sharing agreement, he was seen to unofficially lead the FNUA’s opposition to the government.

Khajimba resigned as Vice President in May 2009. The idea was then that the FNUA would officially nominate Khajimba together with Zaur Ardzinba for the 12 December 2009 Presidential election, but in the end Khajimba and Ardzinba failed to agree over who would get what position in the future government, and the FNUA congress had to be cancelled. It is not surprising that the current congress singled out internal division as the primary cause for the opposition’s defeat in the election.

To make Khajimba’s chairmanship possible, the congress first had to change its leadership structure, reducing the number of its Chairmen from 2 to 1 and the number of its Deputy Chairmen from 4 to 2. Of the two previous Chairmen, Astamur Tania did not return, whereas Daur Arshba was elected Deputy Chairman along with Rita Lolua, both are members of the People’s Assembly. Daur Arshba is proving to be the most stable factor in FNUA’s leadership – he had been Chairman ever since the positions was first created with the FNUA’s transformation into a socio-political movement on October the 10th 2005.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, , , , , , ,

Albert Hovsepyan retires as Vice Speaker of Abkhazia’s People’s Assembly

On the 3rd of May, Albert Hovsepyan announced that on account of his old age (72), he was retiring as Vice Speaker of the People’s Assembly of Abkhazia. This news has received very little media attention, but it is potentially significant, since Hovsepyan is probably the most important Armenian politician of Abkhazia.

Armenians form about a fifth of Abkhazia’s population, and they have always supported Abkhazia’s independence, but they play only a very minimal part in Abkhazian politics. Until now, this has not led to public Armenian dissatisfaction, but it is clear that in the long term, the Abkhazian state needs the active participation of Armenians – and hence Hovsepyan’s retirement is a step backwards.

When Hovsepyan was re-elected as Vice Speaker following the 2007 parliamentary elections, he stood against his fellow Armenian Sergei Matosyan. The Assembly might thus choose to elect Matosyan as Hovsepyan’s successor, but that does not seem to have happened. This is probably due to the fact that in 2007, the Assembly elected 3 Vice Speakers instead of the usual 2, facilitating the election of a female candidate, Irina Agrba.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Elections, , , , , , , ,

Genocides and politics in the Caucasus

The Georgian parliament may be moving in the direction of formally recognising the Circassian genocide perpetrated by Tsarist Russia in the 19th century. This genocide took place around the year 1864, the official end of the 50 year Caucasus war that more or less concluded Russia’s conquest of the Caucasus. As always with such events, it is controversial to what extent the Russian Empire intended to kill Circassian civilians, and whether the term genocide can be applied to it, but there is no doubt that the result was horrendous. In 2005 the Cherkess Congress issued a statement in which it claimed that even according to the Russian Empire’s own figures, 400,000 people were killed, 497,000 forced into exile in the Ottoman Empire and only 80,000 remained.

These events clearly merit recognition, but there are extra incentives that could play a role in Tbilisi’s decision. During the Caucasus War, the Russian Empire also killed and deported a large number of Abkhaz, with the result that there are now also more Abkhaz in Turkey than in Abkhazia itself. The larger Circassian diaspora has always supported the Abkhaz diaspora and Abkhazia, and this is what Georgia may want to try to change – it may hope that the Circassian diaspora will stop lobbying in favour of Abkhazia’s interests in Turkey and the Middle East.

Georgia may also simply be trying to win the hearts and minds of Abkhazian society, by showing that it values its past sufferings more than does Russia. And recognising the Circassian Genocide naturally fits well within Georgia’s ideological conflict with Russia.

That politics really does enter into these matters is illustrated well by the fact that a request by Georgia’s Armenian community made on the 23rd of April to formally recognise the Armenian genocide has so far been ignored. While Georgia and Armenia are on good terms, due to its political isolation Armenia needs Georgia more than the other way around. Recognising the Armenian genocide would seriously damage Georgia’s relations with Turkey. In the worst case scenario, Turkey might respond by recognising Abkhazia – although that would be very ironic, given that Abkhazia also recognises the Armenian genocide.

Abkhazia sits right in the middle of this web of political alliances and past grievances. It has to stay friends both with the Circassian diaspora and Russia, and with both Turkey and its Armenian population. Armenians form Abkhazia’s second largest ethnic group and their support is crucial for the survival of the Abkhazian state. This balance of interests is manageable so long as the status quo is maintained, and in this respect Abkhazia is lucky that it has already recognised the Armenian Genocide. Occasionally, the underlying tensions come to the surface, as when a couple of years ago the idea was raised to recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus: protests by the Armenians and the Orthodox Church put a quick end to that.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Armenia, Circassians, Georgia, Human Rights, Russia, The Great Recognition Game, Turkey, , ,

Radical Georgian Orthodox leader flees to… South Ossetia?

What started as a brawl following a Georgian TV talk show has taken a definite turn for the surreal now that one of the central figures in the controversy has fled to Tskhinval , of all places. Even before this latest development, the situation was quite confusing.

The TV station in question was Kavkasia TV – generally sympathetic to Georgia’s opposition. The talk show featured a live debate over recent confrontations between radical Orthodox Christians and their critics.

The person who has now fled to Tskhinval is Malkhaz Gulashvili, co-founder of the radical People’s Orthodox Christian Movement.

More Church influence in society has generally been something advocated for by parts of the opposition.

And indeed on 7 May, Gulashvili had told his supporters that his newly found movement aimed to rid Georgia of the Liberty Institute, cornerstone of Georgia’s Rose Revolution government.

But during the brawl outside the TV studio, sympathisers of Gulashvili not only attacked his secular opponents during the debate, but also TV staff, including the station’s founder Davit Akubardia.

And afterwards, several opposition politicians condemned the attacks, expressing their belief that the authorities were covertly supporting the activists.

And Gulashvili has in the past had business links with the Davit Bezhuashvili and his Georgian Industrial Group, controversial for allegedly controlling large parts of Georgia’s media landscape for the government.

Whatever Gulashvili’s true allegiances, none of them seem to square with fleeing to South Ossetia. The South Ossetian authorities are normally quick to arrest Georgians found trespassing their border, but they will have been very happy to be able to grant him political asylum. Gulashvili said that he had been forced to flee after his son had been assaulted, with the supposed intention of rape. He again accused the Liberty Institute for being directly responsible, and claimed that the fight outside Kavkasia TV had been staged by the station itself, and that it worked for the Interior Ministry.

To top this all off, Gulashvili is the owner of the Georgian Times media holding – the Georgian Times being a major Georgian newspaper.

Filed under: Georgia, Media, South Ossetia, , , , , , , , ,

Abkhazian Army Purge?

On the 29th of April, Abkhazian Minister of Defence Mirab Kishmaria announced during a press conference that a number of very high ranking officers of the Abkhazian army had been dismissed from active service into the reserve forces. The list includes Col. Gen. Anatoli Zaitsev, who is Chief of the General Staff and Deputy Defence Minister, Maj. Gen. Garri Kupalba, who is also a Deputy Defence Minister, Maj. Gen. Zakan Nanba, Maj. Gen. Slava Ankvab, Maj. Gen. Aleksandr Melnik and the Colonels Dmitri Sokolov, Aleksandr Antipov, Anatoli Gorbunov, Zaur Adleiba, Ruslan Chokua and Nodar Kakubava

Even though Kishmaria claimed that these dismissals were due to old age and in line with army regulations, it is rather curious that old age should strike so many high army officers at the same time. No wonder then that some Georgian analysts instead see a purge.

Giorgi Tsiklauri of expertclub.ge claims that a chain of events was set off when President Sergei Bagapsh fired Anatoli Zaitsev, allegedly because his driver and members of his security team had robbed a gas station – but Tsiklauri does not believe this. Instead, he thinks that Bagapsh wanted to get rid of Zaitsev because the latter was perceived as a minder from the Russian army. In retaliation then, Russia forced Bagapsh to dismiss the other officers, and to replace them by Russians in the near future.

But on the 4th of April, EurasiaNet’s weblog The Bug Pit cited the Georgian newspaper 24 Saati with a different theory: that Zaitsev and the other involved officers had been dismissed by Kishmaria because they were all informers for Russia. 24 Saati sees confirmation for this in the fact that Kishmaria himself has not lost his position.

Due to a lack of further information it is unclear which explanation is correct. But in principle, it should not be too hard to establish, provided certain question can be answered. Did Zaitsev’s men really rob a gas station? Were the other officers Zaitsev’s men or not? – unless I am mistaken, at least Ankvab, Kupalba, Nanba, Adleiba and Chokua are all Abkhaz names. And perhaps most tellingly, whom will they be replaced by?

Filed under: Abkhazia, Russia, , , , , , , , , ,

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