On October 15, 2009 the second meeting of the experts involved in the Georgian component of “The Black Sea Peacebuilding Network” project was held in Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS).
The project is implemented with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and in cooperation with the organization of Crisis Management Initiative. At the meeting, two representatives of Experts Working Group provided their own presentations on the following topics: The Government Policy in Relation with Gali and Akhalgori Districts and Current Situation There (Mr. Paata Zakareishvili, independent expert in conflict resolution) and Potential Conflict Zones (Mr. Mamuka Areshidze, Caucasus Centre for Strategic Studies).
The Government Policy in Relation with Gali and Akhalgori Districts and Current Situation There
The first presentation reflected the current situation in Akhalgori and Gali districts, as well as the difficulties which are confronted by the remaining population there. The attitude of the Georgian government towards these regions in general and to the remaining Georgian population has been also reviewed. Mr. Paata Zakareishvili presented in details the problems related with Akhalgori region. He noted that the attitude towards Akhalgori is changing permanently and this dynamics is initiated by Georgian party. The expert overviewed the difficulties raised during crossing the border which is created to the population by Ossetian and Russian, as well as Georgia party (border-guards). The presenter mentioned the facts to prove that Georgian government is not interested in bringing back and leaving Georgian population in Akhalgori. As he mentioned, the Georgian citizens who are not registered in Akhalgori, are not allowed by Georgian police to enter the territory freely. It has been highlighted by the presenter that the only format of negotiations used by Georgian party for the mentioned conflict resolution is the rounds of Geneva negotiations; The author added that, in parallel, the perspective of bilateral negotiation with Ossetian party could be created.
The project is funded by Finnish government
Mr. Paata Zakareishvili also described the current situation in Gali and the attitude of its population towards Russian occupants, Abkhazians and Georgian government. He noted that nowadays the population in Gali feels more relaxed in the environment of Russian soldiers than they did during the dislocation of Abkhazians in Gali (the facts of robbery and terror of the population were frequent). The reporter presented in details the current situation in the field of education in Gali and Akhalgori districts. He also talked about the Russian schools where the spouses of Russian soldiers teach. It was also mentioned that the number of schools have been decreased and Gali population tend to take their children to Russian schools rather than to Georgian-Mingrelian ones.
The issue of passportization has been reviewed separately. The question was put: whether Georgian government should allow Georgian population to accept other passport (Abkhazian, Russian). The presenter’s opinion is that this issue needs thorough discussion.
Presenter described the phenomenon of so called Mingrelization which takes place among Gali population and which is actively supported by Abkhazians (radio, newspapers are in Mingrelian language. They spread through various methods that Mingrelians are not Georgians).
The current situation in Kodori Gorge (Upper Abkhazia) was also described in the presentation. As mentioned by the author, the place is totally deserted and Abkhazians offer the return of Georgian population there. Abkhazian party is ready to conduct negotiations; however, there is no evidence of readiness from Georgian (official) party.
After the presentation an interesting discussion took place between the experts; the current government policy in relation with the mentioned regions was evaluated and the opinions about actual problems were shared:
a) The issue of travelling of the population. The opinions were divided in two directions. Some of the Council Members thought that Georgian government will not be able to do this officially (Opening the safe path), and this is the priority of non-governmental sector or international organizations, whereas the others admitted that this should be regulated by the government. A person must always be aware of the exact reason why he/she can not cross the border.
b) The issue of Georgian pedagogues working in Akhalgori and Gali. It has been discussed whether the government should provide salaries from the centre and enable them to work on the occupied territory despite the fact their security can not be guaranteed by the government.
c) The arguments concerning the acceptance of Abkhazian passports were divided in two direction. Some think that Georgian government may allow the persons holding Abkhazian passports to use it without constraints as it will help them to settle in Abkhazia and their rights as Georgian citizens would not be restricted; Others think that if Abkhazian passports are acknowledged by Georgian government, it could be interpreted as “hidden acknowledgment” of the sovereignty of the separatist Abkhazia, which might be dangerous as it has been practiced in the international law.
d) The opinion was expressed that the meeting should be arranged with the Minister on Reintegration Issues regarding this presentation that will enable Expert Group to hear the government vision and policy in relation with these regions.
The discussion was actively participated by the Trust Group which was attending the meeting with the guest statues and had been invited by one of the members of the Advisory Council. The members of the Trust Group, church and civil society representatives working in Gali, Kodori and Akhalgori contributed a lot to the meeting. Based on their information, the meeting participants were clearly briefed on current situation in the occupied districts.
Potential Conflict Zones
Another presentation referred to the potential conflict zones existing in Georgia. The potential conflict zones were divided into several categories by the presenter (Mamuka Areshidze), among them:
1. Areas controlled by the separatist authority;
2. Areas neighboring to the separatist regions;
3. Several sections of Russian-Georgian border perimeter;
4. Regions of compact settlements of ethnic minorities;
5. Several regions (Adjara, Samagrelo, Kazbegi) included in the “special interest” area.
According to each category zone the reporter provided general characteristics of the conflicts of different nature.
It was underlined that Georgian police is responsible to ensure security of the population living in all the neighboring regions of the separatist region. Peacekeeing process is observed by international observers, however they do not have enough power to avoid danger in case of potential conflict.
The situation at some sections of Russian-Georgian border perimeter is dangerous due to the fact that the border delimitation could not be managed during years. As mentioned by the presentation provider, it could not be excluded that this was done on purpose by Russian party; however, inflexibility of Georgian party might have been an issue as well. In result, preparations related with possible military operation are observed on the whole perimeter of Caucasian mountain.
Several factors (strong impact of border countries, activity of religious groups, sending of youth for studying abroad, strong economic attachment to other countries, etc.) in the regions settled by ethnic minorities represent the basis of potential danger. It was underlined that each region is specific and special approach is required to each of them.
“On the background of the recent activity of Georgian government to the North Caucasus, it might be expected from Russian party to put into force the law based on which the protection of Russian interests out of its borders is envisaged and start an attack towards Caucasus” – the presenter mentioned.
After completing the presentation, the discussion was held among the experts. A number of important issues have been discussed, including: situation in Truso gorge, necessity of increase of the EU role in terms of patrolling near the occupied territories, prospects of settling Meskhetian-Turks, problems of Muslim ethnic minorities.
A number of interesting suggestions were mentioned by the members of Expert Group, for instance: restoring of joint patrolling at the North Caucasus border under the umbrella of OSCE or other international organizations, broadening of the EU mandate at the border sections of Chechnya, etc.
Discussion of the agenda for the next meeting of the experts of the Black Sea Peacekeeping network. End of the meeting
At the end of the meeting were discussed the presentations to be provided for the next meeting. Several suggested issues were prioritized by the members of the Expert Council:
- Armenian-Turkish relations (presenter: Mr. Ivlian Haindrava, South Caucasus Research Program, Development and Cooperation Centre).
- Europe role in conflict resolution (presenter: Nika Chitadze, International Security Research Centre)
- Education Problems of Ossetians (Presenter: Naia Bepiev, Tbilisi State University)