Georgian-Abkhaz relations becoming tense again
The murder of Gigla Otkhozoria, 32, in the Gali district on May 19, has flared tensions in the Georgian and Abkhaz communities. Social media is literally boiling with negative comments and discussions and a great number of people are pointing their fingers to the authorities, accusing them of incompetent reaction.
JAMnews offers a detailed picture of the incident as seen from both side’s point of view.
What happened on May 19?
The version from Tbilisi
Giga Otkhozoria, a Georgian national, was killed by Abkhaz border guard officers in Khurcha village, in a territory under Georgian control, in the near to the Georgian-Abkhaz administrative border, on May 19.
Two military servicemen first handled the situation with Otkhozoria by physical force and then inflicted six gunshot wounds. One of the bullets went right into his forehead.
There is video footage of this murder, captured by a CCTV camera, installed near the Georgian checkpoint.
According to Georgian law-enforcement officials, they have already identified the murder suspect. Eye-witnesses claim it’s Rashid Kanji-ogli, the Abkhaz border guard officer, a native of the town of Tkvarcheli.
According to the locals, the conflict broke out at the border checkpoint. As the victim’s family claims, he tried to transport products for his relative’s funeral feast in Gali. The border guards demanded money from him and that resulted in a quarrel.
The witnesses say that after the quarrel Otkhozoria turned back and headed for the Georgian post, but two Abkhazian border guards followed him and started shooting at him in the territory under the control of Georgian authorities.
The incident took place at 3 p.m. There were many people at the border checkpoint at that time and many of them witnessed the murder.
Giga Otkhozoria, 31, an IDP from Abkhazia, lived with his family in a rented apartment in the town of Zugdidi. He had a wife and two small children.
According to his relatives, he hadn’t entered the territory of Abkhazia since he became an IDP. Georgian Prosecutor’s Office has demanded criminal proceedings to be held for Giga Otkhozoria’s murder case.
Georgian authorities have placed the entire responsibility for the incident upon the Russian Federation, since it is the power that maintains control over this area.
Giorgi Kvirikashvili, the Prime Minister of Georgia, termed the incident as ‘a purposeful provocation’ and expressed hope that “the Abkhazians will perceive the incident as a direct provocation, too.
As the Georgian Foreign Ministry emphasized in its statement, the situation in the region is “very alarming and “absolutely out of control, posing a threat to the Gali population. The murder suspect will be put on the ‘most wanted’ list both at the national and international level.
According to Archil Talakvadze, the Deputy Interior Minister of Georgia, the meetings under the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) in Abkhazia will be resumed after a 4-year pause. He noted that the first meeting “will be held in the near future, but he did not specify a date.
Paata Zakareishvili, the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, believes that Georgia should demand international organizations, not Russia, to respond to the incident.
“This is the first victim during the period that we are in power, and this questions the peaceful policy that has been pursued until present. We are not going to give up on our peaceful policy, but we will insist that this person be punished as strictly as possible.
“What should we expect from Russia? Who will it punish? That is what we demand of international organizations.
“This is an awful murder…[but it] is an exception. It is not one that is systemic. We will do our best to ensure that it remains an isolate incident, stated Paata Zakareishvili.
A series of protest rallies under the slogans- “No to occupation, “Russia kills, have been organized in Tbilisi and Zugdidi over the past few days.
On social media
Otkhozoria’s murder has caused great outrage on social networks; thousands of users have reposted the video of Otkhozoria’s murder.
Trend One: It’s all Russia’s fault.
“The war with the Russian empire has been waged since Georgia took its path towards independence. This war has its hot phases, in which thousands are killed, disabled, and there are dozens of thousands of IDPs followed by periods of relative calmness, when one may be killed like Othkhozoria has been. Whether we want to see it or not, Georgia is fighting against a vigilant enemy.
“Let’s plainly admit that the state is unable to defend its citizens. It should be admitted that the current ‘resolution’ policy brings us no peace. Russia comes and kills then and there, and in such a cruel manner.
Trend Two: Abkhazians do not deserve kind treatment.
“We “coddle the Abkhazians, talk to them about brotherly feelings, treat them free of charge, spend budget assets on them – maybe they will please have a gracious look at us! Maybe they will be attracted by the benefits of the visa liberalization. ..Meanwhile they come down on us, walk all over us and call us “dogs and “bastards.
“If we were a self-respecting state, our special services would have found those dogs and punished them in public, a Georgian Facebook users’ posts read.
Trend Three: Aggression against Paata Zakareishvii, State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality.
Paata Zakareishvili’s comment [cited in the text above], in which he used such words as ‘not a systemic murder, but an exception’ when speaking about the murder case in Khurcha, caused a real fuss on Facebook.
“Imagine that the occupants had killed one of your family members and Zakareishvili made such a comment. Then also recall that it’s you, who pays the salary to this person.
“What does ‘exception’ mean? Each human being’s life is unique and exclusive. How can the minister make such an irresponsible statement?
Georgian opposition and most experts blame the authorities for their inertness and insist on toughening security measures in the conflict area and on a harsher response to the murder committed.
Irakli Alasania, Free Democrats’ leader:
“The very fact that it happened in a Georgian controlled territory has outraged me. Urgent measures must be taken. If a police officer were there, he would have responded and fired at those who killed a Georgian citizen in public on the territory that we control.
Salome Samadashvili, a member of the United National Movement:
“The Georgian side should announce that we are going to suspend any talks with Russia until the investigation into this murder has commenced. “We must put an end to a self-delusional policy. The incumbent Georgian authorities should wake up and act as it befits the leadership of a sovereign state.
The version from Sukhum
The conflict between a Abkhaz border guard officer and Georgian national, Gigla Otkhozoria, took place on at the “Nabakia border checkpoint, in the village of Bataiguara in the Gali district on May 19.
Otkhozoria and his friend tried to cross into the territory of Abkhazia on a cart loaded with products. However, Otkhozoria did not have a pass, usually issued by the local administration, necessary for entry into Abkhazia.
Therefore, he was not allowed to drive through the border. The friend accompanying him did not argue and returned back to Georgian territory.
As for Otkhozoria, who was under the influence of alcohol, he continued to insist that the border guards let him cross the border. He sweared loudly, threatened the border guard officer, trying to induce a scuffle. He was rebuffed and finally went back. Then the Abkhaz border guard caught up to him and opened fire from a service gun.
The Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Abkhazia has enacted criminal proceedings against the serviceman (the name not specified) of the border guard unit of the National Security Service of the Republic of Abkhazia, under Part 1, Article 99 (‘premeditated murder’) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Abkhazia.
Moreover, the Abkhaz Prosecutor-General’s Office said it was going to appeal to the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry to obtain materials in possession of competent Georgian agencies, in order to use them in course of the investigation. The format of Geneva Security Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus may be used for this purpose.
“We express deep regret over the recent tragic incident. At the same time, we also regret that the Georgian side, in particular, the Foreign Ministry of Georgia, has used this incident to exacerbate the situation, once again trying to gain political points in the information war by portraying the situation in Abkhazia as ‘absolutely uncontrollable’ and declaring Russia responsible for the entire incident, as it is an ‘occupant state’.
The Abkhaz Foreign Ministry calls on Georgian leadership to exercise restraint and avoid making far-reaching conclusions prior to the discussions during the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms (IPRM), due to be held in the near future, as well as before the results of the ongoing criminal investigation in Abkhazia are made public.
Social media review
Trend One: Killing unacceptable.
“No matter how one drunken Georgian behaved, it should not have been a motive for murder. This is because Otkhozoria was unarmed.
Trend Two: “Georgians would do better if they looked after themselves first.
“Georgians have raised a universal outcry over a murder of a hellbender, accusing Abkhazians of all kinds of offences. However, our authorities have began criminal proceedings on the murder case, and they are not going to hush it up. At the same time, when their subversive groups crossed into our territory, killing our citizens by the bunch, for some reason nobody in Georgia thought about the law or morality. On the contrary, they were heroizing the murderers at the national level. Now, can you see the difference?
Temur Nadaraia, the Head of Gali district administration:
“The Prosecutor’s Office of Abkhazia is conducting an investigation. It’s quite understandable that there are different comments and emotions, but this is the law and justice. What we can be seen in that video footage [posted by the Georgian social media users] is just one part of the incident. Whereas who actually started it all, a drunken man attacking a border guard officer and all the physical violence – all that is missing.
“It’s the Abkhaz border guards’ fault that a man, who provoked a fight with a border guard officer, was not arrested. If they had done so, the murder would not have happened.
“We are building a legal state. Every day some trespassers are detained, taken to a appropriate place, fined, and some of them even face criminal charges. That’s what professionalism is.
However, in this case, our border guard officer obviously abused the duties vested to him by law, and he killed a man. He should be made liable for that.
It is noteworthy that, as it turns out, this particular border guard officer has been always characterized by the locals, who frequently cross the border, as the most caring as treating all his fellow workers with equal kindness.’
Ashida Shakril, a human rights activist from the Center for Humanitarian Programs:
‘It’s honorable for Abkhaz law-enforcement agencies to conduct a thorough, rather than a pro forma, investigation and thereby punishing the person guilty of this murder.
The matter here does not concern an individual case, like in a quarrel at the marketplace. This is an incident on the border, the result of which an Abkhaz border guard officer killed a man. We need to make the right conclusions and carry out just punishment not for the sake of gaining favor with the international community, but rather in view of our own national interests, to build a normal legal state.
• A thirteen-month war took place in 1992-1993, when Georgia gained its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union after which, Abkhazia insisted on its independence from Georgia. In September 1993, Abkhaz forces established control over almost the entire territory of Abkhazia. Part of the Abkhazian population, mainly Georgians, abandoned their homes.
• A ceasefire agreement was signed in May 1994, thus pitting an end to the war. However, the region has not preserved this peace and stability.
• Representatives of the international monitoring missions are probing into the May 19 incident together with Georgian law-enforcement agencies.
• The U.S. Embassy in Georgia has released a special statement in connection to the incident, particularly focusing on the need for the strengthening of incident prevention and response mechanisms. As it is pointed out in the U.S. Embassy’s statement, “The USA fully supports Georgia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
Cover photo – A protest rally in Tbilisi, May 22, 2016
The opinions expressed in the article convey the author’s terminology and views and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff.