Научная статья на тему 'The Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus and the conflict over Abkhazia'

The Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus and the conflict over Abkhazia Текст научной статьи по специальности «Политологические науки»

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Ключевые слова
CONFEDERATION OF THE MOUNTAIN PEOPLES / CAUCASIAN PEOPLES / GEORGIA / ABKHAZIA / RUSSIA / CIRCASSIANS / ABKHAZIAN SECESSIONISM / GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN-CONFEDERATION RELATIONS

Аннотация научной статьи по политологическим наукам, автор научной работы — Matsaberidze David

This paper argues that the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples turned the ethnic relations among the peoples of the Caucasus into a zero-sum game. Initiated as a platform for peaceful collaboration among the Caucasian peoples, the Confederation turned into a kind of hub where ethnic claims and contradictions were played out among the various ethnic groups in general and between the Georgians and the Abkhazians in particular. This study claims that establishment of the Confederation was motivated by the political conjunctures generated by dissolution of the Soviet Union and that the Abkhazian secessionist, central Georgian, and Russian authorities, as well as the leaders of the North Caucasian ethnic groups, used it to pursue their radically different [political] interests. Hence, there are serious doubts about the prospect of the Confederation forming a common platform for settling the conflict over Abkhazia and building peace in the post-Soviet Caucasus.

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Текст научной работы на тему «The Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus and the conflict over Abkhazia»

THE CAUCASUS & GLOBALIZATION

David MATSABERIDZE

Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (Tbilisi, Georgia).

THE CONFEDERATION OF THE MOUNTAIN PEOPLES OF THE CAUCASUS AND THE CONFLICT OVER ABKHAZIA

Abstract

This paper argues that the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples turned the ethnic relations among the peoples of the Caucasus into a zero-sum game. Initiated as a platform for peaceful collaboration among the Caucasian peoples, the Confederation turned into a kind of hub where ethnic claims and contradictions were played out among the various ethnic groups in general and between the Georgians and the Abkhazians in particular. This study claims that establishment of

the Confederation was motivated by the political conjunctures generated by dissolution of the Soviet Union and that the Abkhazian secessionist, central Georgian, and Russian authorities, as well as the leaders of the North Caucasian ethnic groups, used it to pursue their radically different [political] interests. Hence, there are serious doubts about the prospect of the Confederation forming a common platform for settling the conflict over Abkhazia and building peace in the post-Soviet Caucasus.

Introduction

This paper deals with various aspects of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples that emerged at the end of the 1980s as a project for a future political entity within the Caucasus. It was designed to bring the peoples of the North Caucasian territorial-administrative units into a single political-governmental structure, attaching some other peoples of the Russian Federation (mainly Cossacks from the Kuban district) and incorporating some territories of the Republic of Georgia (Ab-

THE CAUCASUS & GLOBALIZATION

khazians, through incorporation of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic, Shida Kartli, Racha, Svan-eti, and a portion of Samegrelo).1 An analysis of the popular speeches of that time by politicians from Georgia, Abkhazia, the Russian Federation, and the North Caucasian political units, as well as of the founding Declaration of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples, reveals that the new structure turned the ethnic relations among the targeted groups into a zero-sum game. Initiated as a platform for peaceful collaboration among the Caucasian peoples, the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples turned into a kind of hub where ethnic claims and contradictions were played out between the Georgians and the Abkhazians.

Interestingly, the post-Soviet developments around Abkhazia have always gone beyond the framework of the so-called Georgian-Abkhazian confrontation due to the involvement of wider regional political entities. At different times, Abkhazia, as a political unit, was depicted either as part of wider regional political structures (the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples) or was seen as a member of non-materialized ideological inventions (the Caucasian House). Paradoxically, since the late 1980s, relations between Sukhumi and Tbilisi were frequently developed through this institution. Nevertheless, it is hard to deny the negative role of the Russian Federation in the relations among the various units of the Confederation and the developments over Abkhazia. The logic of Russia's involvement in this respect is summarized nicely by Gachechiladze, who rightly mentions that "Abkhazia has a definite advantage over the land-locked North Caucasus republics of the Russian Federation."2

The first part of this paper will discuss the emergence of the Confederation and its relation to the conflict over Abkhazia, while the second part will highlight the triangle of Georgian-Russian-Confederation relations of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The conclusion will provide some justification for wider regional contextualization of the Abkhazian problem at different times, i.e. viewing it through the prism of the Confederation.

The Birth of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus

The idea for establishing the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus was born in the minds of the North Caucasian people who emigrated to Turkey in the middle of the 19th century. Their aim was to unify the small peoples of the Northern Caucasus into a common Circassian state, create a common language, and form a new territorial unit as the 16th Union Republic of the Soviet Union. Thus, there was a perceived need to bring all the mountain peoples together into a new state. This idea was voiced at the congress held in Sukhumi on 25 August, 1989, which established the Confederation as a political organization along with a defense committee and military units for protection from the "empire." It is obvious that the formation of a 16th Union republic was an adventurist move, evidently quite understandable to the Russian Federation. These developments were negatively assessed from the very beginning by President Gamsakhurdia, who called it another of the Kremlin's provocations in the Caucasus. The Caucasian peoples, he stated, "had the right to choose the path of their future development themselves, whereas the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples would be a structure imposed on them by the Russian Federation as another imperial mechanism to bring

1 See: "Separatists, Confederalists and their Supporters," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 171 (450), 5 September, 1992 (in Georgian).

2 R. Gachechiladze, "Geographical Background to a Settlement of the Conflict in Abkhazia," in: Georgians and Abkhazians. The Search for a Peace Settlement, ed. by B. Coppieters, G. Nodia, Yu. Anchabadze, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, 1998, p. 54, available at [http://poli.vub.ac.be/publi/Georgians/], June 2011.

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them under its control."3 For Gamsakhurdia, the "Assembly of the Mountain Peoples" was the echo of the so-called "North Caucasian Red Republic"4 of the 1920s, which "Chechnia withdrew from with the aim of creating its own republic."5

Influence of the Confederation on the Conflict over Abkhazia

The Confederation of the Mountain Peoples, crystallized at the end of the 1980s, ultimately played a negative role in the Abkhazian developments in the early 1990s and arguably crushed any possibility of Caucasian unity due to its conflicting intervention in the relations between the different Caucasian peoples (the Georgians and Abkhazians, the Russians and Georgians, the Circassians and Russians, the Chechens and Georgians). Since the new institutional creation was heavily burdened by Soviet legacy, it became more engaged in struggling with the legacies of the past, rather than in planning and devising a future peaceful framework and a common platform for the Caucasian peoples. The main problem was that the Confederation negatively interfered with the vertical and horizontal division and subjugation of the regional autonomous and republican units. Besides, the pan-Caucasian project was not simply a matter of Caucasians per se; the Russian Federation was also extremely interested in it. In addition, the international marketing of pan-Caucasian projects, like the Caucasian House and the Peaceful Caucasus, further complicated the existing situation. In this respect, any sort of pan-Caucasian unity became an externally projected plan, rather than a scheme for internal consideration and regional consumption. That is, Soviet institutional legacies, ethnic policy, and the important geopolitical location of the region turned the possibility of implementing any pan-Caucasian project into a zero-sum game. Meanwhile, the failed opportunities of wider pan-Caucasian unification determined the failure of any peace project for Abkhazia emerging from pan-Caucasian institutional considerations.

So, what was the role of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples in the conflict over Abkhazia that erupted in the early 1990s? The course of developments has demonstrated the negative role played by the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus in post-Soviet Caucasian affairs in general, and in the Abkhazian developments of the early 1990s in particular. The first two assemblies of the Confederation were held in 1989 (the founding congress) and in 1990. During the meeting on 25-26 August, 1989, the Assembly of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus—AMPC (AGNK is the abbreviation in Russian—Assambleya Gorskikh Narodov Kavkaza) was formed. The AMPC's Second Congress, held in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, on 13-14 October, 1990, confirmed that "a period of practical work to implement a program for a new state structure for the Northern Caucasus and Abkhazia was on the way."6 By 1-2 November, 1991, however, the third gathering of the representatives of the mountain peoples of the Caucasus, held in Sukhumi, had transformed the assembly into a confederation. Nevertheless, the Turkish people of the Northern Caucasus—the Balkarians, Karachays, Kumyks, and Nogays—refused to participate in the event, and the Laks even did not respond to the invitation.7

3 "To the Chechen Delegation, Participating in the Assembly of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus," Sakartve-los Respublika, No. 171 (450), 5 September, 1992, p. 3.

4 Gamsakhurdia evidently meant the Mountain Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The "North Caucasian Republic," which united several territories populated by mountain peoples, also existed, but only in 1918-1920, whereby it was in no way "red."

5 "To the Chechen Delegation, Participating in the Assembly of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus."

6 S. Lakoba, "Abkhazia, Georgia and the Caucasus Confederation," in: Georgians and Abkhazians. The Search for a Peace Settlement, p. 102.

7 See: J. Oguz, "The Unity of the Peoples of the North Caucasus: Myth or Reality?" Bulletin of the Center of the Foreign Policy Study and Analyses (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia), No. 7 (16), 1999, p. 20 (in Georgian).

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These assemblies were used by the delegates to voice their grievances against each other. The opening remarks of these assemblies already demonstrated the confrontational, rather than cooperative nature and spirit of the representatives of the Caucasian peoples. The first assembly was opened by Sergei Shamba, the leader of the Abkhazian National Movement—Aidgilara. According to Sham-ba, "the authoritarian-totalitarian regimes of the center have been substituted with new dictatorial regimes of the newly independent republics,"8 and since the Abkhazians felt this aggression, the Confederation was a form of response to this. The leader of the Democratic Party of Abkhazia, Guram Gumba, stated that "the Northern Caucasus is a colony of Russia, whereas Abkhazia is a colony of Georgia." Abkhazian scientist Ermolai Jinjolia stressed that the "Abkhazia should be granted the status of an occupied country." The spirit of the assembly was more pro-North Caucasian, stressing the need for common and joint action of all the North Caucasian peoples. Head of the Assembly of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus Musa Shanibov said: "If Russia were to declare war on Chechnia, the entire world would come to its assistance and it (the world) would prevent the defeat of the Caucasian people as a result of the Russian-Caucasian War."9

In sum, the very first meetings of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples and declarations of their participants demonstrated that the new organization had become not a platform of dialog, but rather a new arena of contestation. Thus, the CMP became an additional irritant contributing to the confrontation between different groups in the Caucasus.

The Confederation spoke out with particular vehemence against the local authorities in Tbilisi when its president, Shanibov, condemned Georgia for violating the rights of the minorities residing in its territory. Shanibov expressed his condolences regarding the tragedy of 9 April, 1989, although he stressed that subjugation and humiliation of the Ossetians by the Georgians would be unacceptable. The Caucasian Confederation, he stated, was in favor of creating "joint defense forces of the Caucasian peoples, which would be deployed in South Ossetia to stop the war in the region."10

In his concluding statement, Shanibov mentioned that the position of the Confederation would be determined by the actions and attitudes of the Georgians toward the Abkhazians. Nevertheless, the delegates jointly condemned the Russian government for its "anti-Caucasian policy," which had anti-Communist, anti-Bolshevik, and anti-czarist overtones. Thus, the ambiguity of the future role of the Confederation was already expressed by the leaders of the newly created organization, although later the secessionist-minded Abkhazians regarded it as a new institution for voicing their grievances and claims against independent Georgia.

Abkhazian Secessionism and the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples

The Confederation became angrier and more aggressive as the situation in Abkhazia deteriorated. Following the different rounds of negotiations between Moscow and Tbilisi over Abkhazian developments, President of the Confederation Musa Shanibov stressed that if Russia chose peaceful negotiations with Tbilisi, it would complicate the existing situation in the North Caucasian republics. This statement was followed by a round of negotiations on Abkhazia held in Sochi in 1993.11 It

gian).

! "Assembly of Mountain Peoples in Sokhumi," Afkhazetis Khma, No. 178 (13544), 7 November, 1991 (in Geor-

9 Ibidem.

10 Ibidem.

11 See: "Radio of Gudauta on the Georgian-Russian Meeting in Sochi," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 76 (620),

14 April, 1993.

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should be mentioned, however, that the Northern Caucasus was not unilateral in its approach. Colonel V.P. Gromov, Ataman of the Cossacks of Kuban, stressed in a letter sent to the then Chairman of the Parliament Shevardnadze: "The Cossacks of Kuban will not intervene in Abkhazian affairs and the military units of Cossacks have never been and will not be sent to the region."12

Nevertheless, statements like this were rare, and the Confederation mostly maintained its aggressive policy toward Georgia. On 9 February, 1993, the Novosti TV program quoted Nezavisi-maia gazeta as saying that "the Confederation of the Caucasian Peoples was forming military units from representatives of the North Caucasians, Cossacks, and Circassians of Turkey, Syria, and Jordan, who would cross the Russian-Georgian border with the aim ofjoining the Abkhazian irregulars."13

The Confederation's involvement in Abkhazian affairs became even more apparent by late October 1993. On 26 October, 1993, a session of the Parliament of the Confederation was held in Sukhumi with the participation of delegations from North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Karachaevo-Cherkes-sia, Daghestan, and Kabardia. The delegates from these republics confirmed their support of the separatist Abkhazians and drafted a special address to Russia, demanding an end to the economic blockade of the region.14 It is hardly imaginable that the decision on deploying the Confederation's military units in the territory of Abkhazia was made without the blessing of the Russian Federation. Following this decision, representatives of the Confederation arrived in Zugdidi to support Gamsakhurdia and his followers. According to the Georgian government, "the move was aimed at imposing control over part of the territory of the sovereign republic, and Sukhumi was targeted as the headquarters of the Confederation."15 However, the Georgian government expressed its hopes that the Russian Federation would take adequate measures to withstand illegal and provocative action in the territory of Abkhazia since this move would entail the possibility of re-escalation of the conflict.16 I would argue that there might have been another motive in the desire of the Abkhazians to seek links with the North Caucasians under the strained relations with the central authorities of Tbilisi: "Pragmatic considerations have to take precedence over a sentimental vision of pan-Caucasian ethnic solidarity. This means that as long as the confrontation with Georgia continues, the Abkhazians will have no allies to rely on besides Russia."17

Following the eruption of military clashes in Abkhazia, the President of the Confederation and the Head of the Parliament of the Confederation issued a special decree on mobilization of the military forces of the Confederation, according to which all the headquarters of the Confederation should ensure military resistance against the aggressors and be urgently deployed in the territory of Abkhazia. To this end, they should try their best to enter the territory of Abkhazia by any means; the capital city—Tbilisi—should be declared a zone of disaster and terrorist attacks should be launched there; all ethnic Georgians in the territory of the Confederation should be considered hostages; and mobilization should be implemented until 24:00 on 22 August, 1992.18 De Waal claims that the support provided by the several hundred volunteer soldiers from the Northern Cau-

12 "Cossacks Would not Take Part in the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict—To the Head of the Parliament of Georgia—Eduard Shevardnadze," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 43 (587), 5 March, 1993, p. 1.

13 "Declaration of the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of Georgia," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 29 (273), 13 February, 1993, p. 1.

14 See: "Comment of the Press-Speaker of the Head of State," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 235 (763), 29 October, 1993, p. 1.

15 "Declaration of the Government of the Republic of Georgia," Sakartvelos Respublica, No. 236 (764), 30 October, 1993, p. 1.

16 See: "Appeal to the President of the Russian Federation, Boris Eltsin," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 238 (766), 3 November, 1993, p. 2.

17 G. Nodia, "The Conflict in Abkhazia: National Projects and Political Circumstances," in: Georgians andAbkhaz-ians. The Search for a Peace Settlement, p. 20.

18 See: "The Creation of the Confederation was Aimed at Dissolution of the State Integrity of Georgia and Capturing its Historically Undivided Land—Abkhazia," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 161 (440), 25 August, 1992, p. 1.

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casus was an important factor in the Abkhaz victory: "They were inspired by the new idea of a Confederation of the Mountain Peoples bringing independence to the numerically small peoples of the Caucasus."19 Nevertheless, the figure of Basaev and his transformation from number one supporter of the Abkhazian people to number one terrorist of the Russian Federation speaks volumes about the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples as an independent actor in the post-Soviet developments over the Caucasus in general, and in Abkhazia in particular.

The vice-head of the Abkhazian National Movement Aidgilara mentioned that "the Georgians have wonderful traditions and a great culture, and the country (Georgia) really has the chance to become the leader of the liberation movement of the Caucasian peoples."20 It was also mentioned, however, that Georgia lost this chance at some point in the course of the developments. In addition, there was not a common agreement among the members of the Confederation over the issue of Georgia. Lioma Usmanov, a member of the united congress of the Chechen people, mentioned that it was "hard to imagine a Caucasian Confederation without Georgia," while Davit Pai-chadze called for unification of the democratic forces of the Caucasus.21 The ambiguity over the future vision of the emerging structure contributed to its disordered and negative role in the transformation of the post-Soviet Caucasus.

The attempts to bring Abkhazia into the Confederation were denounced by part of Abkhazian society. The Appeal to the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus stressed that no referendum had been held on the issue of Abkhazia entering the Confederation; moreover, 90 percent of the Christian population of Abkhazia did not have any desire to do so.22 Davit Dolbadze of the Sukhumi branch of Tbilisi State University wrote that the question of whether or not the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic would join the Confederation should be decided jointly by all the peoples of Abkhazia. The statement rejected the possibility of Confederation acceding on religious grounds, stressing that "the unity of the peoples in the Confederation is based on the Islamic religion, whereas the majority of Abkhazians (90 percent) practice the Christian faith."23 The announcement called for reaching common ground on the matter of ethnic Abkhazians and Georgians, whereby a solution to the problem would contribute to reconciliation of the two ethnic groups, rather than making their relations even more conflict-prone. It should be mentioned that in the midst of building a common (North) Caucasian platform out of the territorial administrative units of the Northern Caucasus only Chechnia's position over the developments in Abkhazia was ambiguous. According to the Chechen-press Agency, "any Chechen fighting on the side of the Abkhazians will be considered an enemy of the Chechen people and a traitor of the interests of Chechens."24 Meanwhile, Commander of the military units of the Confederation of the Caucasian Peoples Shamil Basaev mentioned that "if there is a war between the Georgians and the Abkhazians and the Abkhazians are under severe pressure, the Chechens will support the Abkhazians. Whereas if a war between Russia and Georgia is launched, Chechen volunteers will support Georgia."25

Oguz rightly mentions that the Confederation became another irritant in the developments over Abkhazia. He claims that "the Chechens saw the organization as an instrument in the fight for independence, whereas the leadership of the Confederation deemed it to be a forum of regional collaboration and cooperation."26 Thus, it is not surprising that the position of the Confederation regarding the three conflicts of the Caucasus, over Abkhazia, in Ingush-Ossetia, and in Chechnia, was radically

19 T. De Waal, The Caucasus—An Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2010.

20 "Assembly of the Mountain Peoples in Sukhumi."

21 See: Ibidem.

22 See: "Appeal to the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus," Afkhazetis Khma, No. 198 (13687), 2 July, 1992, p. 1.

23 "It's Time to Sound the Alarm," Afkhazetis Khma, 17 June, 1993.

24 "Reaction of Grozny on the Abkhazian Developments," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 56 (560), 19 March, 1993.

25 Ibidem.

26 J. Oguz, op. cit., p. 21.

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different. Oguz is right when arguing that since all the actors proposed their vision and future political-institutional structure of the CMP, it could have never been transformed into a framework for peace for the conflicting peoples of the Caucasus.

The Triangle of Georgian-Russian-Confederation Relations

The central Russian authorities issued a special announcement advising the peoples of the Northern Caucasus not to intervene and destabilize the situation in the Caucasus through their arbitrary decisions.27 The statement of the Russian Ministry of Justice stressed that the activities of the Confederation violated the Constitution of the Russian Federation and denounced the decision of the Confederation to send military units comprised of volunteers to Abkhazia to fight against the military units of the central Georgian authorities.28 As time passed, suspicions of the involvement of military units of the Confederation in the internal affairs of Georgia through its actions in Abkhazia gradually increased. "The presence of paramilitary units of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples worsened the situation in Abkhazia," the Georgian delegation stated at a meeting of the Inspective Commission for the Situation in Abkhazia. "Particular terrorist acts were organized in the territory of Georgia at the behest of the head of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples,"29 the Georgian delegation claimed.

Head of the Georgian State Council Eduard Shevardnadze wrote a special letter to President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin on the attitude of the local Cossacks toward the Abkhazian issue. According to the opinion of the majority of Cossacks residing in Abkhazia, "the local sociopolitical developments in Abkhazia are the internal affair of Georgia, of which Abkhazia forms a part, and interference in the internal affairs of the Georgian state might seriously worsen the situation on ground."30 During a press conference on 7 October, 1992, Shevardnadze pointed to the threat to Georgia's territorial integrity from separatists "supported by the Confederation of the North Caucasian Peoples, which, in essence, is a terrorist organization, as well as on the part of the various factions of the Parliament of the Russian Federation."31

Evidently, Shevardnadze had already understood the possible negative influence of the Confederation on the developments in Abkhazia. Obviously, the Russian Federation did not sanction or accept the formation of any kind of political organization or new institution in its territory in general, or in one of its most vulnerable parts—the Northern Caucasus—in particular, beyond its control. In addition, an experienced politician like Eduard Shevardnadze would easily sense the possible outcomes of the emerging developments in the Northern Caucasus for Georgia.

The Georgian politicians were heavily criticized on the anniversary of the deportation of the Caucasian peoples to Turkey at a rally in the republican stadium of Sukhumi. A speech was delivered by Vladislav Ardzinba, followed by M. Elmesov, representative of the Kabardian people, A. Dakanov, representative of the Shapsug people, S. Dakaev, state artist of the Chechen people, as well as by

27 See: "This was Yesterday... " Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 158 (437), 20 August, 1992, p. 2.

28 See: Ibid., p. 1.

29 i

30 "Head of the State Council of Georgia, Mr. Eduard Shevardnadze to the President of the Russian Federation, Mr.

' "15 September in Sochi," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 181 (460), 17 September, 1992.

Boris Yeltsin," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 120 (399), 3 July, 1992.

31 "Press Conference of Eduard Shevardnadze," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 204 (483), 7 October, 1992.

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Abkhazians living abroad, E. Kvadzba and E. Ashuba. After the meeting, the participants left for the coast to see the place where the monument to the muhajirs was to be erected.32

This event signaled the involvement of the Confederation in Abkhazian developments through the cultural realm as well. During the Second International Festival of Adighe Culture in Sukhumi, a green (Muslim) flag was flown from the building of the Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia. The event was attended by representatives of all Muslim peoples of the North Caucasus. At the end, a special decision was made to build a mosque in south-west Sukhumi.33 These two events could be considered as attempts by the secessionist-minded Abkhazian elite to find allies for the future building of independent Abkhazia. Nevertheless, as hard as it is to claim the political independence of the Confederation from Russia, it is just as hard to imagine these two events occurring without the blessing of Moscow. Equally, the Abkhazians were unlikely to find any other "new partner" than Moscow. As time passed, representatives of the Confederation continued to interfere in the internal affairs of Georgia. Vice-President of the Confederation Isa Arsamikov pointed out the occupation of Abkhazia by Georgian military units and called for peace and brotherhood between the two peoples. Nevertheless, parallel to his statement, a military clash took place in the region of Ochamchira between the Georgian military and paramilitary divisions of the Confederation.34

There is some evidence to support the anti-Georgian mindset of representatives of the Confederation. In her article published in Nezavisimaia gazeta on 28 May, 1992, Liana Minasian wrote that the leaders of so-called South Ossetia were ready to collaborate with all forces due to the late responses of the Russian Federation. Such assistance was offered by representatives of the North Caucasian Confederation. The same anti-Georgian stance was taken by the newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta (19 June, 1992), which published an article by Andranik Migranian (the then Head of the Center for Studying the CIS Social and Political Problems and Inter-State Relations, Institute of International Economic and Political Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences) stating that in the Southern Caucasus a group of states was waging war against Georgia. States like South Ossetia and North Ossetia were among them and, over time, the North Caucasians would fight against Georgia on the side of Ossetians. Migranian was even annoyed that the leadership of the Russian Federation had not noticed in time the aspirations of the South Ossetian people to join the Russian Federation. Moreover, according to Migranian, if Russia supported Georgia, South Ossetia would be unable to withstand the abuses of the Russian Federation, since the internal political situation in the country put Georgia in an unfavorable position.

Confederation as a Peace Project?

After the end of the hot phase of the conflict in 1993, the idea of confederation transformed into a peace project for resolving the Abkhazian problem. In the late 1990s, a famous representative of the Abkhazian elite, Stanislav Lakoba, proposed a vision of a future pan-Caucasian confederation bringing the Northern and Southern Caucasus together. According to Lakoba, the Caucasian autonomous republics and oblasts should declare themselves sovereign states, and later on a new alliance could be formed based on this self-assertion. This new union—a Caucasus Confederation—would unite Chechnia, Daghestan, Georgia, Ingushetia, Ossetia, Kabardia, Karachaevo-

32 See: "A Rally in Sukhumi," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 96 (375), 3 June, 1992, p. 1.

33 See: "A Green Flag over Sukhumi," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 139 (418), 28 July, 1992.

34 See: "My Name is Karkarashvili, You Can't Defeat Me," Sakartvelos Respublika, No. 201 (480), 3 October, 1992, p. 2.

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Balkaria, Abkhazia, and Adigey, all of them to be joined as equal members.35 Lakoba insisted that this relationship would solve the main problem: the peoples of the region (Georgians and Abkhazians as well) "will be both together and apart at the same time in their mutual relations; with time, the Caucasus Confederation will transform itself into a federation, but this will occur peacefully and painlessly."36 In this respect, the new structure of the Confederation was a good point for the Abkhazian claims vis-à-vis the Republic of Georgia. In essence, it would continue the previous line of the Confederation toward the conflict over Abkhazia, which, when the war started, came to the aid of the Abkhazian military units by sending organized groups of soldiers to support Abkhazian cause and fight for independence.

Conclusion

The ambiguous position of the Confederation and the internal clashes between the various territorial-administrative units of the Northern Caucasus made the role of the Confederation particularly alarming and negative in the developments over Abkhazia during the early 1990s. There was no unified position among the member units of the Confederation, while the various territorial-administrative entities launched their own action plans vis-à-vis Georgia in general, and Abkhazia in particular. Oguz gives a good summary of why the Confederation failed as a political project for uniting the Caucasus:

■ firstly, it did not manage to unite all the peoples of the Caucasus,

■ secondly, the Adighes and other ethnic groups were in confrontation over the leading positions in the new union;

■ and thirdly, the Karachais and Balkarians created the Assembly of the Turkish People separately, which gained the support of Chechnia and Azerbaijan.37

An analysis of the wider framework of the post-Soviet confrontation over Abkhazia, i.e. its contextualization in the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples, has demonstrated that this regional institutional structure had a negative impact on the post-Soviet developments over Abkhazia. Ultimately, the creation or formulation of the CMP was conditioned by the political conjunctures of a particular period in post-Soviet development and was heavily dependent not only on the regional actors, but also on external players who were interested either in ensuring stability or in causing instability in the region. At the same time, the central government of Georgia, the local authorities of Abkhazia, the various units of the North Caucasus, and the Russian Federation all had different ideas of the Confederation as an institution. Hence, there are serious doubts about the prospect of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples forming a common platform for settling the conflict over Abkhazia and building peace in the post-Soviet Caucasus.

See: S. Lakoba, op. cit., pp. 102-103.

Ibid, p. 103.

See: J. Oguz, op. cit., pp. 20-26.

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