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Geography Term Paper Example



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Georgian Abkhaz Conflict


The collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp contributed to the formation of the new world order. This event led to a radical redrawing of the political map of the planet marking the emergence of a large number of newly sovereign states. Hasty adoption of the Acts of Independence by the former Soviet Union republics was carried out without considering the possible consequences of the territorial and status changes of the autonomous republics. Ultimately, it led to a series of armed conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union.

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This period was a turning point in the modern history of Abkhazia and Georgia. It enhanced the desire for achieving state independence in the national consciousness of the Abkhazian people. They imagined sovereignty as a non-alternative guarantee of preservation and survival of the Abkhazian ethnos as a distinctive socio-cultural community. The Republic of Abkhazia formed on the former Soviet Union territory as a result of the Georgian-Abkhaz armed confrontation, which ended with the military defeat of Georgia. This paper will discuss the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict from the geographic perspective and analyze its aspects.

Origin of the Conflict

The opposing sides recognize that the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict of modern times has deep historical roots. Abkhazians are an ethnicity that is close to the Circassian peoples of the Northwest Caucasus. Abkhazian principality was under the formal protectorate of the Ottoman Empire by the beginning of the 19th century. The incorporation of the region into the Russian Empire started in 1810 (Hewitt, 2013: 21). It enjoyed de facto autonomy until 1864. A significant number of the Abkhazians were deported or forced to emigrate from the Russian Empire. This fact was a result of the anti-Russian uprising in 1866 caused by the liquidation of the Abkhazian principality and the transition to empire-wide jurisdiction (Cornell, 2005: 70). At the end of the 19th – the early 20th century, the Sukhumi district (former name of Abkhazia) was a part of the Kutaisi province, and then submitted to the Russian Caucasus administration in Tbilisi (Beissinger, 2002: 8). Thus, the territory of today’s Abkhazia was divided between the different administrative and territorial entities of the Russian Empire in the pre-revolutionary period.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire and the formation of the newly independent states on its territory, including the Democratic Republic of Georgia, the Abkhaz issue became the point of intersection of the interests of the Armed Forces of South Russia and sovereign Georgia. Abkhazia was incorporated into the Georgian state in the summer of 1918 (Hughes & Sasse, 2014: 55). The introduction of Georgian troops on the territory of Abkhazia accompanied this process. In March 1921, the Soviet government proclaimed the Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia (Hughes & Sasse, 2014: 56). It became a part of Soviet Georgia in December of the same year. The Abkhazian Autonomous Republic was established within the Georgian Soviet Republic in 1931 (Hewitt, 2013: 35).

In the Soviet Union, the Georgian Republican leadership pursued an aggressive policy of discrimination against the Abkhazian population. The Georgian letters formed the basis of the Abkhazian alphabet in 1937–1938 (Beissinger, 2002: 19). Education in the Abkhazian schools was turned to the Georgian language in 1945–1946. Such a policy of ethnic discrimination played a negative role (Beissinger, 2002: 20). Since 1957 and until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Abkhaz leaders have repeatedly proclaimed their unity with the peoples of the North Caucasus (Hewitt, 2013: 47). They demanded from the authorities of the USSR to join their autonomous republic to Russia.

Thus, the Russian factor in the Abkhaz movement emerged long before the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict of modern times.

Role of the Ethno-Geographic Aspect

The geographical location of Abkhazia is advantageous and determines its geopolitical significance. In 1860, the tsarist government drove Circassians and Ubykhs out from the Black Sea coast (Hughes & Sasse, 2014: 36). As a result, Abkhazians remained the only indigenous people in the Caucasus (except Georgians) with access to the open sea. This fact allows neutralizing the economic sanctions substantially today. Additionally, Abkhazia had unique climatic resources for the USSR. In Soviet times, Abkhazia turned into a recreation area and a large producer of agricultural products such as citrus fruits, tea, and tobacco (Souleimanov, 2013: 91). These goods and services were focused almost entirely on the capacious Soviet market, and partly the markets of the CMEA countries were protected from foreign competition (Souleimanov, 2013: 94). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is very difficult for Abkhazia to regain access to these markets at least until the conflict remains unresolved. However, the single economic space of Georgia and Abkhazia will simplify the problem of the Abkhazian exports.

The Russian Empire was intensively expanding to the south and entered Transcaucasia in the early 19th century. This territory, including Abkhazia, was necessary for the empire as a military foothold rather than a space for economic development. Only the last third of the 19th century increased the economic interest in the Abkhazian territory. The royal power provoked the emigration of more than half of Abkhazians to the Ottoman Empire in 1878 (Kaiser, 1993: 17). Nearly half of them soon returned. This fact was followed by colonization of the land abandoned by Slavic settlers from Russia. However, the Georgian population increased on Abkhazian territory faster than the Russian one, since it lived in a similar geographic environment and adapted easier to the natural environment of the coast of Abkhazia. In turn, natural conditions restricted the influx of the Russian population (Coppieters, Nodia, & Anchabadze, 1998: 47).

The increase in the number of Georgians in Abkhazia from the end of the 19th century, which occurred simultaneously with the rapid consolidation of the Georgian nation and the growth of its national identity, aroused suspicions in the tsarist government (Kaiser, 1993: 25). The geographic factor was important again. Georgian province directly bordered the Sukhumi district. Moreover, the area of resettlement of Georgians expanded, so they were becoming the direct competitors of Russians on the Caucasian coast of the Black Sea (Coppieters, Nodia, & Anchabadze, 1998: 53).

The empire took a step towards the promotion of Abkhazian nationalism as a counterweight to the Georgian one, which was considered more dangerous. To block the growing Georgian influence, the tsarist government attempted to create sharp hostility between Georgians and Abkhazians (Coppieters, Nodia, & Anchabadze, 1998: 58). This aspect largely initiated the conflict, which continues to this day.

Escalation of the Conflict

The modern stage of the Abkhazian people’s struggle for independence relates to the end of the 20th century. In 1989–1990, the Georgian parliament unilaterally began to make decisions that led to the abolition of the autonomous status of Abkhazia (Tuminez, 2000: 62). As a result, the War of Laws began and caused an open armed conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia on August 14, 1992 (Gachechiladze, 2014: 11). Half of the population of Abkhazia, fleeing the fighting, was forced to leave their homes. The negotiation process that followed the end of hostilities on September 30, 1993, was a new tool for holding a dialogue on issues affecting the national interests of the parties at the highest level (Gachechiladze, 2014: 43).

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The status of the winner in the war opened up new opportunities for the Abkhaz side. Participation in the negotiation process on an equal footing with Georgia characterized Abkhazia as an independent subject of the political dialogue. In many ways, the progress and positive outcome of the Georgian-Abkhaz talks depended both on the position of its direct participants and the role of intermediaries. The latter showed an interest in a particular result of the negotiations and did not stimulate the parts to search for more flexible approaches and mitigation of positions. The political-legal format and opportunistic atmosphere reduced the prospects of the parties to achieve mutually acceptable solutions. Mediation of Russia, the UN, and the OSCE did not always maintain an impartial and neutral position, which affected the effectiveness of the negotiation process as a political tool of settling the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

In general, there were no positive decisions and actions after the post-war talks because the periodic escalation of tensions between the parties did not contribute to the development of a compromise model of the relations between Abkhazia and Georgia. In many ways, the opposed positions of Georgian and Abkhaz sides on key issues of the discord settlement and the lack of political flexibility explained this situation. The attempts to restore the Soviet model of state-legal relations without considering the national interests of Abkhazians as well as the focus on the consequences of the conflict in isolation from the analysis of its origins aggravated the conditions (Souleimanov, 2013: 109). As a result, the contention entered a stage of a stagnant and uncertain confrontation. The negotiation process has finally reached a deadlock in July 2006, after the introduction of Georgian troops in the upper Kodori Valley (Souleimanov, 2013: 109).

The events of August 2008 and the subsequent recognition of the independence of the Republic of Abkhazia have completely changed the balance of forces in the Caucasus, the context of the conflict, and the basic mechanisms of its settlement (Souleimanov, 2013: 115). In general, the August crisis did not alter the initial position on fundamental issues of the problem solution. Russia’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia after the armed confrontation led to the virtual collapse of the negotiation process and mechanisms of post-conflict settlement. Abkhazia became an unrecognized state, and almost the whole international community continues to regard Abkhazia as part of Georgia (Francis, 2011: 9). Currently, Abkhazia is in deep financial, economic, military, and political dependence on Russia due to its unsettled international legal status.

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The Georgian-Abkhaz discord is one of the manifestations of inter-ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus region, aggravated at the end of 1980 due to increased instability and the weakening of central power in the USSR. In August 1992, the tension between the leadership of Georgia, which gained independence from the Soviet Union, and the leaders of Abkhazia, who strived for their sovereignty from Georgia, has turned into an open armed conflict. As a result, Abkhazian forces established control over almost the entire territory of Abkhazia.

Analysis of the aspects of Georgian-Abkhaz conflict showed that prospects for the settlement of the contention depend on the mutual interest of the parties in the neutralization of disputes, the speed, and effectiveness of overcoming ethnic and social tensions between Georgians and Abkhazians, as well as the successful implementation of policy on conflict transformation. The international community would also prefer to deal with unified Georgia rather than two small subjects of international law.

Theoretically, there is no radical obstacle for finding common ground between the Georgian and Abkhaz peoples. However, the expectation of rapid overcoming of psychological problems of coexistence is hardly justified. The tense inter-ethnic relations have been seriously deteriorated by the Georgian-Abkhaz war and its consequences represented by the August crisis. The geopolitical calculations of the third forces and the political status of Abkhazia create the biggest problem in resolving the conflict. However, international organizations and the world community as a whole can play a decisive role in the clash settlement.

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