Nato’s intervention in Kosova failed to save the country’s infrastructure from destruction and its Muslim population from genocide, but it has saved the territory for Serbia, asserting the ‘principle’ that it is an integral and inalienable part of Yugoslavia, and disarming the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA). Other countries with Muslim minorities are now looking to invoke the same ‘principle’, including Georgia, to rob Abkhazians of their victory in a war of independence six years ago, while Russia and Greece are set to demand its extension to cover Chechnya and Cyprus respectively.
This dangerous precedent is justified on the grounds that international law requires respect for the territorial integrity of States. It is effectively used to prevent Muslims from exercising their right to self-determination. Yet when it comes to the issue of the territorial integrity of Muslim states, the principle of self-determination is given precedence to enable non-Muslim minorities to secede. The issue of southern Sudan and the Timorese province of Indonesia sharply illustrate this. The determination of the so-called ‘international community’ - effectively controlled by Uncle Sam and his western allies - to deny Muslims their right to self-determination is indicated by the fact that diplomatic recognition has been withheld from Turkish Cypriots, Abkhazians and Chechens, despite their convincing victories in costly wars of liberation.
The Turkish Cypriots gained their freedom 25 years ago when the Turkish army entered northern Cyprus to pre-empt a military coup by the Greeks designed to annexe the island. And although the island has been divided since then - with the Turkish and Greek communities living totally apart like separate countries - only Turkey recognizes Northern Cyprus. This diplomatic limbo has thrown the territory’s economy into chaos, while the Greek enclave is thriving and has gained the right to apply for membership of the European Union as a representative of the whole island.
The Chechens won a spectacular victory over Russia during the 1994-96 war, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the mighty Russian military machine, but not before seeing their country destroyed a vindictive enemy. But they have not been recognized by a single country, although they possess a distinct national, cultural and religious identity, and control a territory with its own, clearly-demarcated borders - clearly qualifying, under international law, to have a state of their own.
The Abkhazians gained their independence from Georgia in 1993 during a war of liberation - not opposed, though not effectively assisted - by Russia, which maintains military garrisons on the territory. Again no-one has recognized Abkhazia, including Moscow, which has its eyes on this beautiful and strategic region.
All three Muslim countries face fresh efforts to snatch their independence from them in the wake of the Kosova calamity. Georgia has now formally requested the UN to apply this precedent to Abkhazia; Moscow, emboldened by the Kosova experience, has intensified its pressure on Chechnya; and Greece, the new EU and the US are making new attempts - though discreetly in Washington’s case - to ‘end the division’ of Cyprus.
As a report in the London-based Economist weekly put it on July 17, Georgia - “in the desperate hope that Kosova might have set a precedent” - has written to the UN security Council, calling for a formal recognition that its people suffered ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia in 1993.
According to the report, Georgia has reached separate agreements with Turkey, which it describes a ‘friend of Georgia’, and Russia, that will help it to tighten the maritime blockade it has been maintaining on Abkhazia. Moscow has ‘abandoned a series of posts on the Abkhaz coastline, and Turkey has agreed that its ships sailing to and from Abkhazia must call at Poti - the only important post the Georgians control - to ensure that only ‘humanitarian goods’ are getting through, another way of describing an arms embargo.
Russia is also evidently exploiting the Kosova precedent when it steps up its pressure on Chechnya - which it considers a province of the Russian Federation - to the extent of arresting Chechen ministers visiting Moscow on the invitation of the authorities there. There has also been heavy fighting between Russian and Chechens in recent months. (See article below.)
Fortunately, all three Muslim countries are resisting the new encroachments on their hard-won independence. Both northern Cyprus and Turkey are disdainful of the pressures and blandishments organized by the Greeks, the US and the EU to make them accept reunification of the island. And the Abkhazians, like the Chechens, are determined to remain independent despite the hardships inflicted on them by the diplomatic limbo they live in.
Unfortunately, the three are not getting any support or assistance from other Muslim countries. The most effective help Muslim states can give them is, of course, diplomatic recognition. But that is clearly not forthcoming as no states seems willing to oppose the western dictat on the matter.
In recent months, some people had thought that the support the Kosovans received from Muslim countries might be followed by backing for Northern Cyprus, Chechnya and Abkhazia - a fond hope, as events show. In fact, much of the interest in Kosova has now vanished, an indication that the Muslim rulers’ main interest was to ingratiate themselves with the west rather than to help the Muslims of Kosova. It is difficult then to blame non-Muslim nations for conspiring to apply the Kosova formula to the northern Cypriots, Chechens, and Abkhazians.
Muslimedia: August 1-15, 1999