"Guarantee of equal rights, including to property": How to solve the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, VIDEO
How to solve the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict
Russia may finally weaken and be expelled from the Caucasus, and Georgians and Abkhazians will find themselves facing each other. It is necessary to prepare for this situation now to avoid a catastrophe.
- The parties need a mediator-guarantor of peace, and the European Union could be it.
- We need a fair solution to the problem of property which Georgians who lived in Abkhazia lost – so that Abkhazians do not suffer.
- Abkhazians must be given the right to independent self-governance.
This is the opinion of two well-known politicians in Georgia, representatives of the party “Girchi”, Vakho Megrelishvili and Yago Khvichia. They invited conflictologist Paata Zakareishvili to discuss the prospects of reaching consensus in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict.
JAMnews publishes the video conversation with the kind permission of the authors. Сaptions prepared by Mikhail Simonyan/JAMnews. Below is a brief text summary of the conversation.
Russia may collapse. Georgians and Abkhazians should prepare for such a scenario now
Vakho Megrelishvili: We have an idea how to start relations with Abkhazians and we want to test it. What suggestions can we, Georgian society, address to Abkhazians with? What is generally right and wrong in a situation when the main obstacle on the way to independence, freedom and normal development is suddenly removed (meaning Russia)?
The Russian empire may weaken and fall apart again. In the 1990s, probably no one in the West supported its collapse. No one wanted many nuclear states. But if that happens again, I think the thoughts of Georgian society will be preoccupied with our territories occupied by Russia.
“Abkhazians had no chance for independence; even with Georgia’s consent, Russia wouldn’t have allowed it”
Paata Zakareishvili: The danger for Abkhazia started in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. The years that followed did not go in their favor. Then war started in Ukraine and the situation became even more aggravated.
Ossetians have a different situation, they want to be part of Russia. One of the manifestations of incompetent Georgian policy is that we look at these conflicts together. We are meeting with both of them in Geneva at the same time, with Russians. This is absurd and shows how far we are from reality.
The Georgian-Ossetian, Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Russian conflicts are completely different. They are certainly related to each other, but we need to work separately in these areas.
The Abkhazians’ goal is independence. But they already realize that they have no chance. Even if Georgia would give them this independence – Russia would not allow them.
But now the time has come when Russia may leave Abkhazia. And then they will find themselves alone with Georgians.
- Thirty years have passed. Do Abkhazians and Georgians need a new war? Opinion
- “How Abkhazia was alienated, how the Abkhaz nation was formed and how we ended up with separatism”. Blog of historian Beka Kobakhidze
- Abkhazians and Georgians – what do they say about each other in literature? Guram Odisharia video
“The West has finally realized who Russia is. And now is a good time to defeat it”
Paata Zakareishvili: Now the West and everyone has realized what Russia is. They didn’t understand in 2008, in 2014, but now they understand. Now is not the time to analyze what happened in those years. To say: where were you then? – is immoral. Let us make better use of this knowledge today. Politics is done here and now, not in the past.
Russia is indeed a threat. But Russia is not a state. It is aggressive, it is threatening, it has all the downsides, but it is not a state, even though it is a leading member of the UN and a permanent member of the Security Council.
The West, which has realized what Russia is, will kick it out of all the regions it has illegally occupied. As happened in Afghanistan during Gorbachev’s time, in Germany and in Eastern Europe in general.
Russia has damaged Georgia twice. In the 1990s, when its empire was crumbling, and in 2008, when its new empire was being built. Now is a good time to defeat Russia.
- When the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict was closest to resolution – panel discussion & video
- “Interaction without diplomatic relations” between Russia and Georgia. Opinion from Abkhazia
- “If Abkhazia wants to be recognized, it should not alienate but invite the West”
“Georgian authorities may support the presence of Russian troops in Abkhazia when the West demands their withdrawal”
The world demands that Russia withdraw all illegal troops from Abkhazia and from South Ossetia. But I fear that the Georgian Dream will claim that they can solve this issue on their own. The world will be very surprised if we tell them that.
So far in Georgia, it was not the opposition that brought the people to the streets. It was the Georgian Dream that did that. It was the actions of the authorities that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets both in the “Gavrilov night” in June 2021 and in the case of the foreign agents bill in March 2023.
It is extremely important to Russia to stay in the Caucasus, and it will go to any lengths, including [putting pressure on the Georgian authorities]. But it is more realistic that the West will force Russia to leave, and the Georgian Dream will not dare to object, no matter how much it wants to.
Georgia has a 6-point agreement of August 12, 2008, where in the fifth point it is written that Russia must withdraw its troops, and this document is signed by the President of Russia.
How to solve the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict
“Georgia should offer Abkhazians the EU as a mediator when Russia withdraws from the region”
Vakho Megrelishvili: Georgian society now has time to formulate a political strategy, how to act rationally in a situation when Russia leaves.
Paata Zakareishvili: There is a solution. The European Union is already present in Georgia, it has a monitoring mission here.
And we have to tell Abkhazians: do not be afraid, you will not be left alone with us.
Georgia is not going to attack Abkhazia, it is impossible. We have stated at all levels, including in the European Union, that we are not going to fight. But it is important to remind Abkhazia that the best option for them is the EU.
And the EU is already here, money has been spent, bureaucracy has been set up, and it is very complicated there. And since they are already here, let us turn the EU observer mission into a peacekeeping force.
The EU also wants this. And we see how the EU has implemented the same scheme in Armenia as in Georgia, deploying an observation mission on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. This clearly shows that the EU is interested in the Caucasus.
We should ask the EU to stay, to be a peacekeeping force. And inform Abkhazians that the EU will be a guarantor that no one will attack them.
In this way we can neutralize fears of Abkhazians and Ossetians.
- “Georgians and Abkhazians work well together when they both need it” – Inguri HPP director, VIDEO
- Op-ed: Abkhazia does not want to be turned into a copy of another country
- Re-examining the radicalizing narratives of Georgia’s conflicts
“If the EU mediates, Georgians and Abkhazians will be able to sign an agreement on non-use of force”
Paata Zakareishvili: Then it will be time for the second step.
For years Abkhazians have been asking Georgia to sign an agreement with them on non-use of force. We responded that Russian troops are there. What logic is there to sign an agreement with Abkhazians on non-use of force, on non-resumption of war when Russian tanks are there?
Can Abkhazia stop them? No. It has no tanks at all.
But if the Russians leave and the European Union comes in – the Georgian side would undertake to sign such an agreement in an expedited manner with both the Abkhazian and Ossetian sides.
“Invite Turkish peacekeeping battalion”
Paata Zakareishvili: The third step is Turkey. It is a NATO member state. Georgia aspires to NATO and Turkey is on the Black Sea.
We need to invite a Turkish peacekeeping contingent. Now Turks are standing in Kosovo, and Kosovo is a topic of the European Union.
By strengthening Turkey’s presence, we will also inform Russia that it should not interfere in anything, because the presence of Turkish forces is actually NATO’s defense.
Just recently Turkey and Azerbaijan signed an agreement on joint defense of airspace. Shouldn’t Georgia also be a part of this agreement? Why instead of looking for partnership, our authorities publicly complain that they are alone in confronting Russia?
We are not alone. Turkey and Azerbaijan have planned 16 military exercises for this year. Why aren’t we participating? Why don’t we tell Russia that there is no threat to our security because we have on our side a state to which you in Moscow are accountable and with which you are friends (meaning Turkey)?
“Offer Abkhazians a model of federation”
Paata Zakareishvili: You can organize a meeting with Abkhazians quite quickly, in Istanbul or Vienna, somewhere. And tell them: you see, you are alone, there are no Russians. We are ready to give you guarantees that you are not threatened.
Otherwise, how are you going to live? Recognition is impossible, neither Georgia nor the world will recognize you.
So let’s talk about a common state. I propose a model of federation, and it should be ready by now.
We can publish this model in some media resource in December 2023. And say [to Abkhazians]: whether you like this document or not, this is our proposal, this is a project, let’s work on it.
Write your ideas, requests, and let’s work out a single document where we see each other in one state, where your rights are fully protected, including with regard to land and property.
“The ban on private land ownership is ridiculous, but it can be temporarily agreed to”
Paata Zakareishvili: In Abkhazia land is the property of the state and real estate is the property of citizens.
I personally do not like this idea, land should be part of the market economy. But if they insist that land should be owned by their authorities – let it be so for 50 years. And a clause can be introduced in the federal structure that Abkhazia has the right to determine this.
The context of return of internally displaced persons should be included here, of course. Those who lived in Abkhazia and return will have the same property rights.
Vakho Megrelishvili: Here we are discussing how we will tell Abkhazians that we will join the European Union, that we are becoming a developed country so that they can see for themselves where it is better to be, in Russia or in Georgia.
But we have not done work in our country to offer something to Abkhazians.
Iago has proposals on how to build economic cooperation with the Abkhazians that can restore trust.
“A fair solution to the problem with property lost by Georgians living in Abkhazia – so that Abkhazians do not suffer as well”
Iago Khvichia: We must first of all offer our plan to the Georgian society and get its support. Of course, support of those who do not want to kill Abkhazians, but want to solve the problem.
I believe that the main deterrent in this conflict is disputes over property.
On the one hand there are people who have been deprived of their property quite unfairly. And on the other hand, there are people who have received property just as unjustly.
On the other hand, a generation has already changed. There are people in Abkhazia who were born in houses where Georgians used to live. If someone says to me that the place where I was born does not belong to me by right, this, in my opinion, is wrong.
Georgia should have this position: we will not take anyone’s property by force.
We will not go to any Abkhazian and tell him that he must leave his house on the grounds that it was the house of a Georgian family.
Instead, we will entrust the solution of this property issue to the court.
But not Georgian court, where there are judges under American sanctions for corruption. And in any case, it is difficult for Abkhazians to trust Georgian court. So let us trust Abkhazian court, but on certain conditions.
Let’s say a Georgian and an Abkhazian are arguing about who should own some property. Conditions for resolving the dispute should be as follows:
The loser in this court should receive compensation of value not less, and maybe even more than the property they are arguing about.
Thus, in my opinion, the very subject of the dispute will disappear. We will have a dispute not to quarrel with each other, but to agree. There will be property reconciliation, where no one loses anything against their will.
But the judicial system in Abkhazia should be on the same principle as in Georgia, with elected judges, sheriffs and juries.
The main task is to make sure that no one loses. So that there would be an opportunity to say: if you want, take my place, give me the house, and you will get compensation.
This will become an insurance so that there will be no revenge. And it will be an understandable system for everyone.
“Abkhazia could get full control over all spheres except international relations and defense”
Iago Khvichia: Let’s move on to the constitutional structure.
Two issues in which Abkhazia cannot act independently: international relations and defense.
If we want good for Georgia, we need to decentralize the police. For example, Samegrelo should have its own police, people should elect their own police chief. And this chief should decide what kind of actions to take in this particular society: to arrest a person, to put him in jail, or something else that is suitable for this particular society.
Now police officers are forbidden to speak themselves, they refer everyone to the press office. But a policeman should actually be the first one who comes during a fight, the one who reconciles quarrelsome people. And our police are arrest-oriented.
I do not want that here, and I do not want that in Abkhazia.
Both they and we will choose our own sheriffs, police chiefs. We cannot tell Abkhazians that their Interior Ministry should be run by the Georgian Interior Ministry. Or that the decision of their court can be appealed in the Supreme Court of Georgia. This is also a question of trust.
The country should be decentralized.
Paata Zakareishvili: You are talking about real federalism, where everyone will have equal conditions, including Abkhazians.
“Recognize Abkhazian passports and give them full control over the court and economy”
Yago Khvichia: We need to recognize their documents, the ones they have right now. And give people the opportunity to travel and trade. That’s important to do now. And when something happens in Russia, it will be safe for all of us here.
- We have already recognized documents of Abkhazia, people travel, trade among themselves.
- And they have no need to fight for property with each other, because they are given property even more valuable than what they left behind.
- In Abkhazia there are no chiefs in the police who run them from Tbilisi.
- They do not have cases that are tried by the court in Tbilisi.
- They have full control over economic sectors.
Abkhazians will not make independent decisions only in external relations. And it also does not make sense that Abkhazians and Georgians should have a separate army, there should be a unified armed forces.
Paata Zakareishvili: In any case, today Abkhazia has no opportunity to determine its external relations, it is tied to Russia. And they have no army, the Russian army is there. And we can offer a better option than Russia offers.
Iago Khvichia: Let’s live in such a system for 40 years. Georgians will return, they will have their own property.
And then we will hold a referendum. If even after that Abkhazia wants independence, we, the state of Georgia, should recognize their independence.
We can also propose a South Caucasus soccer championship and hold it only in Abkhazia.
“Not to offer conditions to Abkhazians, but to create an opportunity for them to make proposals”
Paata Zakareishvili: I am in favor of not offering them different conditions, including a referendum in 40 years. They should offer us this themselves.
We should offer them such relations where that they have an opportunity to put forward their own conditions.
I always say that I do not understand what state ownership of land is, there is some mysticism around this issue.
Yago Khvichia: I think this comes from Russia, this is not Abkhazia.
Paata Zakareishvili: But it is not like that in Russia. In Russia land is private property and people buy it.
But Abkhazians are now very tough on this issue. As soon as we say: here, we offer you good conditions, but let’s give up state ownership of land – they will immediately become wary. I would prefer such a proposal to come from them.
Vakho Megrelishvili: Yes, the main thing is that we have to trust each other when we discuss such prospects. If there is no trust, then even if there are decisions about police, about federalism – it will be very difficult to convince Abkhazians to participate in this.
We must start acting now. I do not think that Russia will quietly allow this. I do not know what forms of influence the Russian FSB is using to penetrate the Georgian political spectrum, but I am sure that such changes in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict are unacceptable for Russia.
Paata Zakareishvili: No matter what we propose, Abkhazians today are afraid of us, they are really afraid of being left alone with Georgia. They have security problems. If we directly suggest privatization, they will be afraid and will say: what are Georgians doing there?
Iago Khvichia: I think this is a matter of principle.
Paata Zakareishvili: I agree, it is a matter of principle, but it is better to return to it after reconciliation takes place and other issues are settled.
“It’s better to discuss things openly right now.”
Iago Hvichia: In my opinion, we should not be overly cautious, or it looks like we are treating them like little weak-minded people. When we say that we should be careful when talking to them about land, it turns out that I kind of doubt their intelligence. I don’t have that problem with Georgians, though.
We all need the disputes regarding property to be resolved. There is no other way to reach an agreement with Georgians on this issue. Otherwise, what, to tell Georgians that they will not get their houses back?
“Abkhazians were in a very comfortable situation using both Georgia and Russia”
Paata Zakareishvili: They have everything hanging in the air, as there is no international recognition. But they also have absolutely nothing to do. They just receive money from Russia.
We should understand that Abkhazians are in a very comfortable position. Georgia does not recognize their independence, Russia did. They have no other neighbors and they are comfortable as long as these two states are fighting each other.
If they need something – they come out with contacts with Georgians: give them health care, tractors, Inguri HPP, electricity. And when they need something from Russia – they go there.
They did not need any more independence in anything, they were very happy. And they started to worry only now, when this comfort zone has been violated.
This situation could not have been kept in the air for long. How long can an airplane stay in the air? Sooner or later it will go down, unless it lands somewhere before then. This is the period they are in now.
Russia will be knocked down and they suddenly find themselves facing a state called Georgia. It has its own problems, but Georgia is still a state.
And we, as a state, should offer options that will not threaten them.
Iago Khvichia: In my opinion, it is quite a scary situation for them. When you know what will happen once Russia collapses. Neither I nor you will be able to stop the demand in Georgia to return to Abkhazia and return our property.
This is a danger. And here we are saying that we will try to hedge in this danger by taking the courage to offer such options to Georgians. But I cannot offer anything to Georgians until there is an answer as to what will happen to their property.
“Housing in Abkhazia has not been privatized, it is by law nobody’s property at all”
Paata Zakareishvili: Look at Cyprus. There was real, British capitalism there when the war started. Everyone had property, guarantees, ownership documents. And suddenly Cypriots lost that property.
It should have been easy to prosecute and prove their rights in court, but there are problems there to this day, although the war ended in 1974.
In Abkhazia they know that some lands and houses are not their property, they know that Georgians lived there, no one denies it. But they do not expect Georgians to return there with a confirmed right to this property.
The best option is Kofi Annan’s plan. It is excellent, it includes the property relations that exist in Cyprus. We can take it as a basis.
There are other proven examples in the world – in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Balkans in general. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The world has already gone through property issues in post-war conflicts.
It is necessary to create a commission that both sides will trust, which will include lawyers, economists, including foreign ones. And each, I emphasize, each property will be formalized in the end.
Because not only resettlers from there do not have documents for ownership. Abkhazians do not have property documents either.
Property is really the main topic. A person has nothing more than property.
Vaho Megrelishvili: There is experience in Georgia in terms of ownership. It may not be easy, but it is not an alien topic for the average citizen. People know that they can pledge real estate to a bank and get a loan. I understand that in Abkhazia they do not do this yet.
They do not realize the importance of property there. And, in my opinion, it is impossible to create a successful country if people are not owners in this country. This applies to Abkhazia, Georgia and Burkina Faso. This is a universal human trait.
Paata Zakareishvili: This is what we lost in the Soviet Union. But we, all citizens, during Shevardnadze’s time more or less painlessly got ownership of our houses. Under Shevardnadze all of Georgia became the owner, everyone got his own apartment. I can put it in a bank, sell it. But in Abkhazia this did not happen.
“Lack of right to property is the central problem of Abkhazia”
Paata Zakareishvili: What is the main dispute in Abkhazia today? The number one problem is not to build apartments for sale. They call it “the issue of apartments”.
Once Abkhazian President Bzhania held a government meeting and showed everyone Batumi at night. This was not so long ago.
“Sukhumi has always been better than Batumi. Can you tell me what is the difference now?”, Bzhania said.
The government wants to give this business to the Russians, the people are against it, the opposition is against it. The whole situation is not against Georgians, but against Russians. But there is talk about Georgians too.
They say that most of the Georgians from Abkhazia are no longer displaced persons. They have become citizens of Russia. And there are Georgians who want to return as citizens of Russia, return their homes and live there. But in Abkhazia they say that any appearance of Georgians, even from Russia, is unacceptable for them.
By the way, Georgians won three or four cases on return of property in court, and then the processes were stopped, a moratorium was declared.
Parliament should make a decision and solve the “question of apartments”. I can say with certainty that almost the entire population of Abkhazia is against this, but Russia insistently demands it.
There are several topics that Russia needs. Two of them are not solved: transfer of land into its ownership and apartments. And Russia is looking for a way out.
The Kremlin wanted to buy land in Pitsunda and part of the forest park and appropriate it. But the case has stopped, the parliament does not make a decision, these are very difficult issues for them.
There is also the issue of foreign agents, which has also stalled, the parliament has opposed it. Yes, they have been resisting Russian pressure with this law for two years, and their parliament has not given up. And we had the opposite.
Vakho Megrelishvili: It is unusual and interesting that we will learn something from Abkhazians.
Iago Khvichia: We say: look at the whole world, property rights are recognized there. Perhaps there was a specific historical moment when you were fighting with Georgia on the one hand and Russia on the other, so that you would not be swallowed up. For that time, maybe that was the right order for you. But we want peace.
“There must be trust first. Therefore, Abkhazians themselves must find solutions that are acceptable to them”
Paata Zakareishvili: We must offer such a federal model so that they make such a decision themselves and see that, for example, Batumi is developing and they are still like in a swamp.
They should come to this realization on their own. We should not touch these topics for at least five years. The first thing is trust, they should trust Georgia that we are not going to act against them, to do something at their expense.
Five years is a suspended sentence. Elections and change of government also happens every five years. As it is, I would think it will take at least 10 years.
“Abkhazia today is the worst version of the Soviet Union.”
Paata Zakareishvili: Abkhazia has a very traditional society. We have mastered the post-Soviet space and they have mothballed it. Today Abkhazia is the worst version of the Soviet Union.
Belarus is the Soviet Union, which could have been if it had remained the Soviet Union. One can directly make a movie about the Soviet Union in 2024 in Belarus.
But in Abkhazia, and also in Tajikistan, where there are traditional societies, there was a movement backwards. That is why in Abkhazia now it is worse than it was in the Soviet Union.
As it was with Christianity in mountainous regions: it entered and then disappeared. Christian signs remained, but it has nothing to do with Christianity, as well as with the church.
“Russia strengthened itself in Abkhazia because Georgia kept it in isolation”
Vakho Megrelishvili: What system does Abkhazian society like? Many of us like American society and American institutions. And what do Abkhazians like?
Paata Zakareishvili: Abkhazians say that it is not Russia but Georgia that keeps them in isolation, deprived them of all opportunities.
They know very well who Russians are. They know that it is impossible to develop in authoritarian Russia, that Russia is a prison of peoples. Its only interest is imperialism.
And why Russia is so firmly entrenched in our country? – people ask in Abkhazia. And they answer: because Georgia left us no other chances.
But they are happy to live in this medieval Soviet Union, where Russia is so scary, but at the same time it helps them. And the price for this is that they have to follow the policy of Russia and do not expect anything good from Georgia.
There are many people who think about these topics. Your party is represented in the parliament. It is not numerous, but everyone in Georgia knows what “Girchi” is.
Abkhazia should be talked about much more in Georgia, that is how we are talking now. There should be constant discussions on different spheres of this topic.
Vaho Megrelishvili: Georgian media will not go for this, but such a discussion would prepare us for the future.
Paata Zakareishvili: Sooner or later, the issue of property will be number one in the dialog we will start with them. And there should be at least one plan ready. Maybe two or three.
But it’s all still in our heads, and it would be important to put it on paper. These plans could then be criticized by real estate professionals. Foreigners could be hired, there are many people who are interested in our reconciliation and can help us in this direction.
Vakho Megrelishvili: This is actually a political idea. We are in the pre-election period, we have a year and a half left. And if we have any prospect to make a positive contribution to Georgian-Abkhazian relations, we must first convince Georgians.
If Abkhazians get involved at once, then this topic will be all the more important.
But in any case, we must first convince Georgians that it is important.
“The problem that we do not own the riches of our country is also relevant for Georgians.”
Vakho Megrelishvili: We are forbidden to use minerals, forests. So we, Georgians, live as on a reservation, in small reservations, and the rest of the country is uninhabited territory, forbidden for settlement.
Paata Zakareishvili: If we talk to our society only about what concerns them – no problem. But it is different if we start talking about Abkhazia in Georgian context. So it is better to talk about ownership of natural resources on the example of Kakheti and say that you propose the same thing in Abkhazia.
“We need a clear plan of settlement, proposals put in writing”
Paata Zakareishvili: You are a political party and you are going to elections. Now is the time to write a document, to outline what you propose to Abkhazians.
My friends and I wrote a concept of special status of Abkhazia within Georgia in 2003. To this day Abkhazians are still talking about this concept. They were waiting for continuation. But, unfortunately, the National Movement came to power – in 2003 there was the “rose revolution”.
On June 30th 2004 we published a rather long text in the Georgian newspaper “24 hours” and Abkhazians were waiting for Georgia to officially offer them this plan. It was a paper by experts, but it did not go any further.
And Abkhazians regretted and remember this plan to this day. We talked about the General Court, Constitutional Court, about Abkhazian deputies who will be elected to the parliament of Abkhazia and will automatically become members of the Georgian parliament. We talked about veto system in the parliament. If the Abkhazian deputation in the Georgian parliament was against it, even if there were five people, their veto could not be overridden.
And now, when a new situation has arisen, we can return to that plan. The document is naturally outdated, but it can be updated. Written documents always work better, including for foreigners.
If you write a plan on property rights, I have no doubt that it will be reflected in future settlement documents, there will be a great response, maybe they will want to meet and talk to you.
Vaho Megrelishvili: Georgians should realize that war is unacceptable.
Paata Zakareishvili: War is not only immoral, but also unpragmatic value. War destroys everything.
How to solve the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict