There was more from the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) news service on Friday regarding Israel’s delicate dance in balancing its sympathies and its interests between Georgia and Russia. Sunday’s NY Times had a fascinating little article on how language separates some 40 distinct ethnic groups in the Caucasus region, including the Ossetians who speak a language related to Farsi (Persian) and the Georgians whose tongue most closely resembles that of the Basques. There was also a captivating report in the PBS Newshour television program on the rebel Georgian territory of Abkhazia.
One was struck in the PBS program on how sympathetic the Abkhazian people seemed. In particular, there was the honesty and sensitivity of the young vice foreign minister and the earnest concerns of a spokeswoman for something called the “Centre for Humanitarian Programmes.” It’s obvious that both Abkhazians and Georgians have suffered. In this, and undoubtedly with the struggle in the other rebel region of South Ossetia, innocents have suffered and crimes have been committed on both sides, as with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Russia has just recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “independent” states. It is generally believed that Russia will annex these territories as “autonomous” republics or regions (like the old Soviet Union, Russia is officially a federal state). The Abkhaz and South Ossetian peoples are thought to fully expect and to welcome their incorporation into the Russian Federation. (One wonders how they will feel afterwards.) What follows is part of the PBS Newshour transcript:
… Abkhazia and another region within Georgia, South Ossetia, remained part of Georgia. Amidst the turbulence and national awakenings of the early ’90s, both decided to push for independence, too. Although most people on both sides are [Eastern] Orthodox Christians, the Abkhaz consider themselves ethnically different from Georgians.
Georgia moved militarily against the breakaway regions in a war that lasted two years. There is a war memorial in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, but you don’t need to visit it to remember what happened here.
On every block, on every corner, empty shells stand where beautiful villas once hosted generals and leaders. Billboards all over town remind citizens of the heavy price they paid.
Both sides have made harsh accusations. The Abkhaz say deliberate attempts were made to erase them from history. The Georgians claim they were ethnically cleansed. And, indeed, even today, 15 years later, more than 200,000 people driven from Abkhazia during the war now live as refugees in Georgia, many in squalid settlements near the border, unable to return.
Maxim Gunjia is only 32, but he has already spent a decade in the Abkhaz government, and he remembers the 1992 war very well.
What are your memories of those days?
MAXIM GUNJIA, Vice Foreign Minister, Abkhazia: Very bad memories. It’s a very strange situation when you start to understand human reality, human identity. And humans could be very cruel, very rough. It’s very strange to see how people change in a second.
KIRA KAY: And there was a lot of violence against ethnic Georgians, too?
MAXIM GUNJIA: You’re right. This is war. There was a lot — a lot of crimes, I would say. When the fighting starts, you already can hardly say who is right and who is wrong. It is a very sad situation. Click here for the entire report in both transcript and video forms.