New Focuses of the Anti-Occupation Policy
By Shota Utiashvili, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
The (non)incident that took place in Chorchana overshadowed a much more serious case in Gugutiantkari when the occupation forces grabbed additional land and expelled three families living in the village from their homes.
If you take a closer look, nothing special happened in Chorchana – Georgian police decided that placing an additional outpost on a Georgian-controlled territory was necessary to better ensure the security of the local population. This action did not violate the ceasefire agreement nor was it contrary to the agreement between the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia and the European Union Monitoring Mission. If we do not count the short-lived ultimatum raised by the puppet regime, this incident did not cause the security environment to worsen. Despite this, Georgia’s partners made statements urging “both sides” to maintain restraint (“We call on all sides to avoid escalation and work through the European Monitoring Mission hotline and the Geneva International Discussion Co-Chairs to resolve the situation” – USA, “The Mission-managed Hotline is being actively used to exchange information between all actors and to reduce the potential for inadvertent escalation,” – EUMM, “We urge all sides to show readiness for continuing dialogue” – Germany).
It is clear from what the other side should have restrained itself – from presenting ultimatums and explicit or implicit threats of using force; however, it was unclear to me what the Georgian side should have restrained itself from doing.
Photo: qartli.ge, Chorchana
The US, the EU and Georgia’s other Western partners also commented on the events in Gugutiantkari as a mainly humanitarian problem which “limits freedom of movement and deprives the local population from having access to their orchards and water resources” (EU). “The borderization process threatens peace and stability as it harms families and limits the movement of people and livestock” – US. Not a single word about the Russian occupation of additional Georgian territories.
Because even though the West considers the occupation (yet it is very careful in using this term) of Georgian territories to be a violation of the 12 August agreement, it believes that the occupation of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian administrative units is a done deal and if during borderization the Russian border guards do not exceed the administrative border lines (as determined by the maps issued by the USSR General Command in the 70s and 80s), then we have a humanitarian problem and not a military-political one.
Georgia, naturally, considers that the occupation of the Znauri district is just as illegal as that of Gori and the appropriation of additional lands by the Russians, even if this happens within the confines of Znauri, and means the extension of the occupation. It is a separate issue that any fencing of the lands belonging to Georgian villages causes severe protest in the Georgian population (and in most cases the protest is directed towards the Government of Georgia which is unable to defend its land) and, therefore, represents a powerful instrument in Russian hands for pressuring Georgia.
Despite this, the Government of Georgia is alone in facing this challenge.
What Can Be Done?
Let us, for a moment, try to see the developments in Gugutiantkari in a different light. Let us look at it not only or even primarily as occupation (as already pointed out – in the Western view it has already been occupied once so the repeat occupation is difficult to perceive) but as ethnic cleansing.
Even if Russian border guards were to think that the occupied part of Gugutiantkari is the territory of “South Ossetia” and they have a right to reinforce the border of an “allied state,” this does not give them the right to expel the local peaceful population. These people have done no crime, do not represent a threat to peace and stability and simply live in their homes. The only reason for them being expelled is their ethnic origins – that they are Georgians.
Of course, if we were merely speaking about expelling several families, qualifying this as ethnic cleansing would be ridiculous; however, we have all necessary evidence that since at least 2008, Russia and its puppet regime have been conducting a purposeful policy of ethnic cleansing against Georgians on the territory of “South Ossetia” which has produced over 25,000 ethnic Georgian victims. Georgian villages were first torched, then demolished and finally, plowed. On the territory of the village of Eredvi, where over a thousand Georgian families used to live, a dumpster is being organized. The evidence is so plentiful, listing it would be pointless.
The case of Gugutiantkari confirms that ethnic cleansing was not just a one-time occurrence and rather it continues to this day. We do not know what will happen tomorrow in Akhalgori or Gali; however, nobody can exclude that a new wave of ethnic cleansing could start there. The majority of the population of Akhalgori say that Russian border guards tell them – if they do not leave Akhalgori in the nearest future, it will be too late and they will not be let go. In Gali, in order to take a passport, Georgian people are required to renounce their nationality and Georgian-sounding surnames, take an Abkhazian surname and change their nationality to Abkhazian.
Georgia must do everything in its power and explain to the whole world that this is not just borderization, constraining the freedom of movement, a humanitarian problem, about which the parties need to talk through a hotline and co-chairs of Geneva talks (however, as a former head of the Georgian delegation at these talks, I confirm that this is also important and should continue) but rather, this is ethnic cleansing – a crime against humanity, in the face of which the international community will not be able to remain indifferent and neutral.
Of course, we should also continue speaking about occupation as a problem; however, at the same time, a much more profound focus needs to be made on the issue of an on-going ethnic cleansing. This alteration of focuses can start through an internal legislative change.
As for the issue that I opened with – the outpost of Chorchana, it is important not only because it is supposed to protect us from expanding occupation but also to protect the local population from the continuation of ethnic cleansing.
And finally, as the threat of Russian annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia becomes increasingly real, the international recognition of the ethnic cleansing committed by the incumbent Russian government could become one of the constraining factors.
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