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Abkhazia needs Muslim support to resist pressure for concessions

Crescent International

The Abkhazian cause was briefly restored to international headlines when the Abkhaz leader, Vladisiav Ardzinba, and Georgia’s president Eduard Shevardnadze signed a pledge of peace on August 15, raising hopes for a political settlement of the conflict. But as Russia, the sole mediator between the two adversaries, is opposed to full independence for Abhazia, the terms of an eventual settlement are likely to favour Georgia unless Muslim countries intervene strongly to lobby on behalf of their fellow Muslims in the ‘Black Sea paradise.’

The Abkhazians have fought bravely and successfully (see chronology) and have suffered grievously for their independence from Georgia, only to be ignored totally by the rest of the world, including Muslim States. Even northern Cyprus is better off as it enjoys the diplomatic recognition of Turkey, which maintains an army there and foots the enclave’s economic bills.

After two days of talks in the Georgian capital of Tibilisi, joined by the Russian foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov, Ardzinba and Shevardnaze committed themselves to peaceful solution of the face off. A statement signed by the two men said that the Georgian government and the Abkhazian leadership agreed to take upon themselves the obligation not to use force to resolve differences between them and under no circumstances to allow a resumption of bloodshed... only peaceful political methods through negotiations should be used.

Given the fact that the two leaders are bitter personal enemies, their readiness to meet, let alone sign a peace pledge, was considered a breakthrough. But as Shevardnadze pointed out at the end of the talks, the breakthrough was not in a settlement but in the fact that he and the Abkhaz leaders had defied the suspicions of their peoples, and their personal pride by agreeing to meet face to face. ‘This is a major political event which has overcome a very complicated and difficult psychological barrier,’ he said.

According to political commentators, the Tbilisi conclave is a climbdown by both leaders. For Shevardnadze, says the Mascow correspondent of the London-based Guardian daily, it is tacit acknowledgement that Georgia has no chance of recovering Abkhazia by force; for Ardzinba, acceptance that Moscow will never sacrifice good relations with Georgia for an independent Abkhazia.

Initially, Moscow sided with the Abkhazians to the extent of arming them and allowing Chechen fellow Muslims to help them. The strategy was to blackmail Georgia into giving Russia military bases and trade cancessions but never to bring about Abkhazian independence as that would encourage the Chechens to fight for sovereignty.

In the event, Russia has obtained base rights in Georgia, worthless as they have turned out to be, and has lost all trade with Georgia because the old railway lines connecting the two countries run through Abkhazia. And the Chechens have driven the Russian army out of their country, declaring sovereignty.

Russian president Boris Yeltsin, determined to prevent the precedent of a successful secession in the Caucasian region, agrees with Shevardnadze that the Abkhazians should be content with a high degree of autonomy rather than the sovereignty they strive for.

But the Russians are in dire financial straits and their main strategy for recovery is to sell more arms - not least to Muslim countries.Yeltsin in fact reconstructed the Russian arms industry in late August by executive decree to maximise defence exports. This makes Moscow amenable to sustained pressure by those Muslim countries targeted by the Russian arms exporters.

Another type of support which Muslims can afford Abkhazians to strengthen their resolve to resist pressure for concessions is diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia. Muslim countries, after all, do not have vital ‘national interests’ in Georgia and cannot be bullied by Tbilisi into withholding diplomatic recognition from Abkhazia. Turkey should exploit its trade links with Georgia to help the Abhazians or end those ties.

Abkhazia - devastated by the conflict and brought to its knees by the economic blockade - needs urgent economic assistance if it is to resist efforts to bounce it into giving major concessions.

Chronology of main events in the Abkhazian conflict:

August 14, 1992

Georgian government troops move into Abkhazia after local parliament votes for sovereignty. Fighting begins.

August 14, 1993

Warring sides move apart and heavy weapons withdrawn under Russia-brokered peace deal.

September 16, 1993

Abkhazian forces launch surprise attack on Georgian troops, preoccupied with rebellion elsewhere. Shevardnadze accuses Russia of premeditated betrayal.

September 30, 1993

Abkhazian forces drive last Georgian troops out of the territory.

May 14, 1994

Georgia and Abkhazia sign truce.

June 26, 1994

Russian peacekeepers begin fanning into Georgian-Abkhazian buffer zone.

March 22, 1995

Moscow and Tbilisi sign deal allowing Russian military bases in Georgia for 25 years.

August 15, 1997

Shevardnadze and Ardzinba agree they will not settle the conflict by force.

Muslimedia - September 1-15, 1997

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 13

Rabi' al-Thani 28, 14181997-09-01

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