FACT SHEET ON THE REPUBLIC OF ABKHAZIA’S REFUGEE PROGRAM
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Since the 1992-93 Georgian - Abkhazian war, more than 60,000 refugees have been successfully resettled in Abkhazia, which represents the largest peaceful resettlement program in modern times. This has occurred in spite of an ongoing campaign by the Georgian government to politicize the refugee process by provoking ethnic tensions, creating impediments to the safe return of refugees and establishing legal and diplomatic barriers to an international resolution.
The following points are designed to provide background on the refugee situation in Abkhazia.
- WHY HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE FLED ABKHAZIA?
During the 1992-93 war, Georgian troops launched a massive attack on the civilian population of Abkhazia, destroying schools, hospitals, cultural relics and government buildings. This attack, which was aimed at annihilating the Abkhazian population and bringing the territory firmly under Georgian control, caused a massive exodus. More than 500 villages were destroyed. Though the Abkhazians successfully fought off Georgian attackers, the conflict did not end. In the decades following, Georgia repeatedly tried to destabilize Abkhazia, launching military incursions in 1998, 2001 and August 2006. Each conflict triggered another outflow of refugees.
- HOW MANY REFUGEES HAVE BEEN FORCED TO LEAVE ABKHAZIA?
Since the 1992-93 war, an estimated 190,000 refugees have left Abkhazia. They included Abkhazians, Georgians, Mingrelians, Greeks, Jews and Russians.
- HOW MANY REFUGEES HAVE RETURNED?
The largest concentration of Georgians within Abkhazia was in the Gal region. Since the war, more than 52,000 refugees have returned to Gal. In addition, at least 15,000 Georgians have returned to other regions of Abkhazia. Claims by the Georgian government that there are more than 500,000 refugees still displaced from their homes are absurd.
- WHAT RIGHTS DO GEORGIAN RETURNEES HAVE?
Under Abkhazian law, citizens are treated equally regardless of race, nationality, sex or religion.
- DO RESIDENTS OF GAL HAVE ANY SPECIAL RIGHTS?
To assist the residents of Gal in their resettlement, the government of Abkhazia has provided them with some special privileges. They include an exemption from compulsory military service, free emergency medical care, Georgian-language schools, scholarships for higher education and small business assistance.
- ARE GEORGIANS FORCED TO TAKE ABKHAZIAN PASSPORTS TO LIVE IN ABKHAZIA?
The identity documents valid for residency in Abkhazia include the following: passports from Abkhazia or the Russia Federation or an identity document known as Form 9. An identity document is required to hold a job, purchase real estate, enroll children in school and receive medical care. According to the Gal administration, 1,642 Georgian residents of Gal have applied for and received Abkhazian passports. Reports that Georgians have been forced to take Abkhazian passports are untrue.
- WHY HAS THE ABKHAZIAN GOVERNMENT REFUSED TO ALLOW GEORGIAN REFUGEES BACK TO THEIR HOMES IN EASTERN ABKHAZIA?
The Abkhazian government has not prevented refugees from returning, and to the contrary, has overseen the largest peaceful resettlement of refugees in history. However, to ensure the safety and economic security of its population, the Abkhazian government insists that certain preconditions be met before it opens its door to thousands of additional people. Those conditions include a Georgian pledge of non-violence and an independent assessment of the current refugee situation in Abkhazia, including a full accounting of all refugees resettled to date.
- ARE THERE ANY REFUGEES WHO HAVE NOT BEEN ALLOWED TO RETURN?
The Abkhazian government maintains the right to prosecute any citizens who have participated in subversive activities, such as armed attacks or kidnappings. The government has a list of people accused of those activities and they will be arrested and prosecuted if they return to Abkhazian territory. Since August 2008, five people have been killed and more than 10 injured as a result of terrorist attacks involving Georgians.
- HOW HAS THE GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT IMPEDEDTHE SUCCESSFUL RESOLUTION OF THE REFUGEE PROBLEM?
To begin with, Georgia’s government is responsible for creating the refugee problem by its repeated and unsuccessful efforts to retake its former territories in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force. Georgia’s leaders have attempted to sabotage the resettlement process by supporting subversive activities inside Gal and harassing and intimidating Georgians who have chosen to return to Abkhazia. Georgia has also demanded that international groups freeze economic development and social programs in Abkhazia and South Ossetia or risk prosecution under Georgian law. Georgia adopted a law that makes it a crime for representatives of international organizations to enter Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These laws have forced international groups to make a choice between working in Abkhazia or Georgia. Finally, economic sanctions imposed by Georgia, and supported by its Western backers, have made it difficult for Abkhazia to obtain the necessary funding needed to implement a successful refugee resettlement program.
From Abkhaz World:
Over the years since the end of the war in Abkhazia on 30 September 1993 and the flight of most of the former Kartvelian population from the region, various figures for the refugees resident in Georgia have been cited by different organisations and commentators. Please see below a selection of these figures along with the relevant source.
1989 - Total Population of Abkhazia: 525,061
Graphic: Demographic change in Abkhazia 1897–1989 - Conciliation Resources
1. Mikheil SAAKASHVILI (President of Georgia)
-- “Any hint on possibility to legalize expulsion of 500,000 people from Abkhazia and occupation of 20% of Georgian territory… would be a disaster for Ukraine itself, because some voice certain territorial claims towards Ukraine too,” Saakashvili said. [Civil Georgia, 15 Feb. 2010]
2. Giorgi BADRIDZE (Georgian ambassador to UK)
-- that is forcing the remaining inhabitants to take Russian citizenship and which has systematically ejected more than 350,000 Georgians, the largest ethnic group in Abkhazia, and other nationalities in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign.
[Guardian, 5 March 2010
3. Vakhtang JAOSHVILI (Georgian ambassador to Israel)
-- August 7 is the second anniversary of the war with Russia, which soundly defeated Georgia, taking major parts of its territory (the Abkhazia and South Ossetia districts ) and turning 300,000 people into refugees. [Haaretz,3 Aug. 2010]
4. Grigol VASHADZE (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia)
-- In the early 90’s, about 50,000 people died during the war in Abkhazia and in Tskinvali; and up to 500 000, mostly ethnic Georgians were forcibly displaced. [Chatham House, 13 Oct. 2009 - (PDF)]
5. Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Acccommodation and Refugees of Georgia
-- Figures on persons internally displaced in Georgia in 1990/1993As of June 2009, there are 228,142 IDPs from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region [Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons - Georgia]
6. --''According to claims of the separatist authorities there are currently 320 000 people living in Abkhazia. According to Tbilisi this is an unrealistic figure as the government-in-exile of Abkhazia’s autonomous republic reports that the total number currently living in Abkhazia is no more than 167 000 people, the majority of whom are Armenians – 57 000, then Georgians – 46 000, Abkhazians – 34 000, then Russians 23 000 and so on.'' [The Messenger Online, 12 August 2010]
7. Organised by French NGOs, SOS Racism and the Union of Jewish Students of France, the concert was aimed at "expressing French civil society's solidarity" with the Georgian refugees."Today nearly 400,000 refugees from these occupied and 'cleaned' provinces live in Georgia and abroad. These Georgian citizens ask Europe for help. It is the honour of Europe and of the Europeans to answer to their desire," the organisers said in a written statement. [France 24, 27 May 2010]
8. -- UNHCR addresses the protection and assistance needs of nearly 340,000 individuals in Georgia. As of September 2009, this number included around 230,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Georgia, including in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The total number also includes some 106,000 people who have returned to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and areas adjacent to South Ossetia, whose situation remains precarious. [UNHCR]
10. -- Between 1992 and 1994, it is estimated that nearly 350,000 members of Abkhazia’s population were displaced (UNHCR 1999) (RefWorld 1999). The most recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) estimate has adjusted the original number to 201,000 IDPs, suggesting that there has been some spontaneous return of IDPs to Abkhazia (UNHCR 2005). Abkhazian IDPs are predominately made-up of ethnic Georgians who were forced from their homes in Abkhazia and now live in makeshift settlements around Tbilisi and central Georgia. [Maggie Koziol - Poverty Alleviation for Internally Displaced Persons: Case Study of Georgia - (PDF)]
11. -- The Georgian population, especially the 200,000 refugees from Abkhazia, have been rapidly losing faith in the UN Representative. [Irakly Areshidze - CACI Analyst]
-- According to the Georgian Ministry for Refugees and Accommodation more than 290,000 internally displaced persons currently reside in Georgia. More than 80 percent of these were driven from Abkhazia, the rest from South Ossetia.
[Timur Kiguradze - Messenger.ge
14. -- Approximately 300,000 predominantly ethnic Ossetians and ethnic Georgians were displaced following the secessionist conficts in South Ossetia in 1991–92 and in Abkhazia in 1992–93.
The 1989 Soviet Census put the Georgian population of Abkhazia at 239,872 (45.7% of a total pre-war population of 525,061) and most led in 1992–93. In 2005, the Georgian Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation and the UNHCR registered 209,013 displaced from Abkhazia, including approximately 45,000 Gali returnees. The Ministry later retracted the igure and put the igure at 247,612. [David L. Phillips - Restoring Georgia’s Sovereignty in Abkhazia (PDF)] (Note 29)
THE VIEW FROM ABKHAZIA
15. -- According to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, those who use arms in an armed struggle and then flee do not fall under the international definition of refugees. The responsibility for these people fell and falls solely on the Georgian authorities. It is important to note here that a great many of those who fled from Abkhazia were recent immigrants. They were partly victims of the compulsory resettlement organized by Stalin and his Abkhazian-born Mingrelian lieutenant Lavrenti Beria. David Galaridze expressed well-founded doubts about the mass-return of these Kartvelians to Abkhazia in the newspaper “Akhali Taoba”: “What do we want in Abkhazia, to kill everyone and live there?” From the Abkhazian point of view, there are grave doubts concerning the legitimacy of UN Security Council Resolution № 876, (19 October 1993) paragraph 5 and also Resolution 1 898, (31 January 1994) paragraph 2, and other international resolutions on the so-called IDPs relating to the Republic of Abkhazia.
Another important fact to consider on the question of Kartvelian displaced persons is that their number is regularly exaggerated by the Georgian authorities. Some of them have never left Abkhazia and others never lived here. The Georgian authorities have engineered a home-aspect to the conflict in Abkhazia by establishing a so-called "government in exile of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia”. Through the deliberate exaggeration of the number of IDPs, Georgia is able to win support and money from international humanitarian organizations.
Experienced Abkhazian expert Liana Kvarchelia writes that Abkhazian society can allow the return only of those Kartvelians who did not fight on the Georgian side and only after they recognize Abkhazia as an independent state. She also says that the same right for return should be given also to descendants of Abkhazian refugees from the Caucasian War of the XIX century, who live mostly in Turkey. [E. K. Adzhindzhal - Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law]
- Georgian population fled before Abkhaz Army entered the occupied territories: See UNPO's report: <THE MAJORITY OF GEORGIANS, HOWEVER, FLED BEFORE ABKHAZIAN AND NORTHERN CAUCASUS TROOPS ARRIVED.>
- Abkhazia unilaterally decided to open the gates for the (largely Mingrelian) refugees to return to Abkhazia from Georgia in 1999. Georgia at that time was actually accusing these refugees of being TRAITORS to Georgia.
When most of Abkhazia was denuded of its native population in the wake of (a) the end of the Great Caucasian War in 1864 and (b) the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the question arose as to who would make the most appropriate substitute-population. One of the leading Georgian intellectuals of the time, the educationalist Iakob Gogebashvili, wrote an interesting article in Tiflisskij Vestnik in 1877 entitled /vin unda iknes dasaxlebuli apxazetshi?/ (Who should be settled in Abkhazia?). In this article he argued that the neighbouring Mingrelians would make the best /kolonizatorebi/ (colonisers)... And this is precisely what they subsequently became.
It was no accident that the Georgian newspaper ‘Shroma’ considered Georgian acquisition of the land in Abkhazia and Circassia as ‘one of the most wonderful events’ in the life of the Georgian nation ['Shroma', 1882, №15 (in Georgian)]. On 4 February 1879 another newspaper, the ‘Droeba’, urged its readers: ‘Let us expand while there is still time to do it, before other peoples come and settle the empty spaces of our Caucasus.’ While the aforementioned issue of ‘Shroma’ pleaded with its readers: ‘Send us lots of Rachintsy, Lechkhumtsians, Upper Imeretians and Mingrelians from our mountainous regions!’ ['Shroma', 1882, №15 (in Georgian)].
The mass-immigration of Kartvelians (mostly Mingrelians) goes back to the late 1930s. Abkhaz's script was then altered from a roman to a Georgian base. Abkhaz-language schools were summarily closed in 1945-6, following by a ban on broadcasting and publications. The Abkhazians as a nation were due to face transportation (like the numerous other peoples transported by Stalin from the Koreans in the late 1930s through to Abkhazia's Greeks in the late 1940s), and, as a 'scholarly' justification for that, the literary-historian Pavle Ingoroqva was commissioned to argue in print that the Abkhazians only arrived in Abkhazia in the 17th century, conquering the 'original' Abkhazians of history, who were thus a 'Georgian' tribe. This calumny was revived in the heady days of Georgian nationalism from 1988 AND IS WIDELY BELIEVED BY MANY ORDINARY KARTVELIANS, who for this reason still regard the Abkhazians as unentitled to be living in Abkhazia. (Demographic Change in Abkhazia
- An excerpt from George Hewitt's reply to Svante E. Cornell.
<...Contrary to various misinformed reports, Abkhazia did not declare independence from Georgia either before, during, or upon its victory in, the war. Throughout years of negotiations, Abkhazia was willing to contemplate making a concession and to enter confederal relations with Georgia. And let it not be forgotten that for most of the 1990s, especially when Shevardnadze-protegé Andrej Kozyrev served as Boris Yeltsin’s Foreign Minister, Russia’s policy was by no means pro-Abkhazian, a CIS-blockade being imposed along Abkhazia’s River Psou border with Russia. But let us see what I had to say on this matter in my earlier review: ‘Abkhazia did not formally declare independence until 12 October 1999. And this was in large measure the result of frustration at continuing bad faith on the part of Tbilisi in post-war negotiations. Pace Cornell (p.192), it has not been the Abkhazians who have refused to compromise — one might say that after their military victory, they were fully entitled to declare independence at once (September 1993), and yet they continued to pursue federative possibilities, whilst all that Georgia has offered is a return to the status quo ante bellum (some compromise from Georgia!). After protracted talks and constant last-minute revisions by Georgia a Protocol was ready for presidential signing in summer 1997, and yet at the last minute Tbilisi (not Sukhum) refused (Abkhazian Foreign Ministry Document 325, 25 Dec 1997). Such petty obstructionism continues, for in February 2001 Georgia's UN Ambassador, P’et’re Chkheidze, refused to sign two draft-documents, claiming them “unacceptable for the government of Georgia” — as the respected commentator, Liz Fuller, noted in her Radio Liberty report (4.5, 2 Feb 2001): “Chkheidze's criticism is surprising as the versions of both drafts currently under discussion were proposed by the Georgian side”.’>
- The Georgian general leading the invading forces in the autumn of 1992, Giorgi (Gia) Karkarashvili, stated on TV that he would sacrifice 100,000 Georgians to kill ALL 97,000 Abkhazians, if that is what it took to keep Georgia's borders inviolate.
See: VIDEO: Gia Karkarashvili, the Georgian Commander-in-Chief on TV threatens the Abkhazian nation with genocide (YouTube)
A similar threat came from the head of Georgia's wartime administration, Giorgi Khaindrava, on the pages of Le Monde Diplomatique in April 1993. Goga (Giorgi) Khaindrava, told the correspondent from Le Monde Diplomatique that "there are only 80,000 Abkhazians, which means that we can easily and completely destroy the genetic stock of their nation by killing 15,000 of their youth. And we are perfectly capable of doing this."