Europe Report N°176
15 Sep 2006
Conflict over Abkhazia, squeezed between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains, has festered since the 1992-1993 fighting. Internationally recognised as part of Georgia and largely destroyed, with half the pre-war population forcibly displaced, Abkhazia is establishing the institutions of an independent state. In twelve years since the ceasefire, the sides have come no closer to a settlement despite ongoing UN-mediated negotiations.
Tensions rose in July 2006 when a forceful Georgian police operation cleaned a renegade militia out of upper Kodori Gorge, the one part of pre-war Abkhazia not controlled by the de facto government in Sukhumi. Since then Georgian-Abkhaz negotiations have been frozen. While Georgia asserts that it is committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, its military budget rose in 2005 at a rate higher than any other country in the world. Bellicose statements by some officials do not increase confidence. Georgia insists that the problem is Russia, whose increasingly assertive policy in the region includes support for Abkhazia.
Abkhaz seek independence, arguing that they have a democratic government, rule of law, defence capabilities, and economy worthy of a state. In the past decade they have made strides to re-establish a sense of normality. The first round of the 2004 presidential election offered voters a choice and a genuine contest. Yet disputes over the result and Moscow’s intervention, including closing the border, led to a power sharing arrangement between the two top contenders. The entity’s population includes Abkhaz, Armenians, Russians and ethnic Georgians. The latter, who live primarily in one district (Gali), represent at least a quarter of today’s residents. But over 200,000 remain displaced in Georgia proper, unable to participate in life in their homeland.
For Georgia the unresolved conflict is an affront to its state building project, impeding the consolidation of national security, democratic institutions, economic development and regional integration. The many internally displaced persons (IDPs) impose heavy political, economic and psychological burdens. For over a decade, Tbilisi had no integration policy, relying instead on short-term, emergency solutions. Although a national integration strategy for IDPs is now being drafted, the displaced are the poorest section of Georgian society. They are disappointed by the government’s failure to keep its promises of returning them to their homes, or provide a better life for them in Georgia, yet have little capacity to mobilise politically.
This report looks at the causes of conflict, conditions in Abkhazia and reforms affecting Georgian IDPs. A subsequent report will assess the negotiation and peacekeeping mechanisms, with specific recommendations on what should be done to facilitate resolution.
Tbilisi/Brussels, 15 September 2006