Book Review: Valiko M. Pachulia ‘Gruzino-abxazskaja vojna 1992-1993 gg. [The Georgian-Abkhazian War of 1992-1993]. by George Hewitt
Valiko M. PACHULIA ‘Gruzino-abxazskaja vojna 1992-1993 gg. (Boevye dejstvija)’ [The Georgian-Abkhazian War of 1992-1993. (Military Operations)]. Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Abkhazia. Sukhum. 2010. 561pp.
In this weighty tome (N.B. the paper is of high quality and thus heavy) Valiko Pachulia continues his excellent work of marshalling evidence to illuminate significant episodes in Abkhazian history. One recalls his role as joint-compiler (along with the late Badzhgur Sagarija and Tejmuraz Achugba) of the immensely valuable 1992 Abxazija: dokumenty svidetel’stvujut 1937-1953 [Abkhazia: Documents Bear Witness 1937-1953], which provides evidence on the artificial, politically motivated mass-importation of Kartvelians from various regions of Georgia during the anti-Abkhazian repression of the Stalin-Beria years. That work counters the argument of Georgians and their apologists that the Kartvelian migration into Abkhazia in those years was simply to provide a necessary local work-force. The present volume answers that legion of commentators who advance the outrageous claim that it was the Russians who fought and won the 1992-93 war for the Abkhazians.
Pachulia notes, contrary to popular belief, that ‘Shevardnadze agreed a plan to occupy Abkhazia under the codename “Sword” with the Russian government’ (p. 28). This plan had been worked on from April 1992, immediately after Shevardnadze’s return from his Moscow retirement, at the HQ of the Russian military stationed in Transcaucasia (p. 26). The intention had been to transport tanks by rail in order, when combined with sea-landings in the north of the then Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, to take control of all vital organs within the region, but supporters of the ousted Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, in his home-region of Mingrelia (bordering Abkhazia) blew up the railway-line over the R. Ingur, the historical border, now restored, between Abkhazia and Georgia, thus forcing the tanks to move along the coastal highway and travel no further than the capital (Sukhum). The war began with the Georgian invasion early on 14 August 1992, and, had it been successful, it would have led to the ‘resolution’ of the ‘Abkhazian question’ (p. 27) once and for all... Those, such as Daniel Hamilton, Denis MacShane MP, and Bruce George MP (to name but three recent poorly qualified commentators from the UK), who naively advocate that Abkhazians would be better off if they were to rejoin Georgia need to be constantly reminded by such works as the present volume that material well-being is irrelevant, if one’s very physical survival is under threat, and no credence whatsoever can be given to the words of a Georgian leader who at 7.30 pm on 7 August 2008 told the South Ossetian people how much he loved them and that they could sleep peacefully in their beds, only to issue the order to attack their capital with tanks and planes a mere five hours later. Of course, the Abkhazians, like all other peoples, wish to improve their living standards, but, after reading the details of the military operations described in this book that earned the Abkhazians and the other non-Kartvelian citizens of their republic their hard-won victory and independence on 30 September 1993, any reader must surely understand that those improvements have to come in an Abkhazia under self-government and not under Georgian domination (or, to use a fashionable idiom, ‘occupation’).
The descriptions of the various military operations are filled out with copious figures and names of individuals, places and types of weaponry. There are numerous photos of leading fighters, as well as coloured maps (not always of the highest resolution) of the fronts, battle-plans and military movements. Particular attention should be paid to the list of the fallen, who are classified by place of residence, name, date of death, and place of death. Of a total of 1,667 deaths of military personnel, only 99 were of Russians from the Russian Federation, and this figure is exclusive of those volunteers who came from the various North Caucasian regions (including, for example, 54 Chechen dead), who were technically citizens of Russia. These figures indicate all too painfully the losses, village by village, and town by town, suffered across the whole of Abkhazia (sc. outside the Gal District, which was largely settled by Mingrelians, who mostly took no part in the war) and give the lie to the myth that it was a Russian (not an Abkhazian) victory. It should be stressed that these figures are exclusively for dead military personnel and take no account of the huge civilian losses, estimated to have cost the Abkhazians alone 4% of their population on their home-soil — the majority of the world’s ethnic Abkhazians live, of course, in Turkey.
The book ends with one additional list. This relates to perhaps the most terrible outrage of the war, namely the deliberate shooting down on 14 December 1992 of a helicopter on a humanitarian mission to evacuate women (some pregnant) and children from the besieged town of T’q’warchal to safety in Gudauta. Pachulia gives 87 names for those who perished in this act of infamy over the village of Lat’a in the K’odor Valley — years later, while this part of Abkhazia was still under Georgian control, a UN helicopter was shot down over the K’odor Valley with the loss of all on board, an action for which the Abkhazians were initially blamed but which later turned out not to have been their responsibility, at which point the international community chose to forget about it.
In addition to the military operations during the 1992-3 war, Pachulia also includes actions around Lat’a (1994) and along the Ingur border in the Gal District (1998), an anti-terrorist move in the K’odor Valley (2001), and finally the clearance of Georgian forces from the Upper K’odor Valley (2008).
Apart from being a record of a tragically bloody event in Abkhazia’s recent history, this noteworthy book will be a valuable source for students of the sort of military activities that occurred during the 14 months of conflict. Experts will, no doubt, wish to analyse which aspects of the various (counter-)offensives deserve praise or criticism. And, naturally, the book would have a wider readership if translated into English.
Though the volume does not contain many footnotes, placed here at the foot of each page, it should be noted that footnotes should not be used for bibliographical citation. There should be one holistic Bibliography (or list of references) at the end of the work, and citations should be placed within the body of the text after the pattern: (author’s surname+year of publication+page-reference). Full title and relevant bibliographical data will then appear within the book only once, namely at its conclusion. This obviates the need both for possible repetition of this or that book-title within the footnotes, which should be reserved for the insertion of comments which, while important, are not entirely central to the general thrust of the text’s main argument, and for use of such terms as op. cit. or ibid, which send the reader on a time-consuming search for the book concerned in some earlier footnote.