Focus on Faction: Georgian media stirs Abkhazian-Armenian “conflict”

When Abkhazia, the self-declared republic enclave of Georgia, elects a Parliament March 4, the results could be distinctly Armenian, if Georgian media are to be believed.

One Georgian newspaper predicts that 14 of 35 seats will be contested by Abkhazian Armenians, a possibility that nationalistic Georgians find troubling and that is becoming fuel for antagonism by Georgian media.

“Specialists say if the ‘parliamentary elections’ slated in Abkhazia for March 4 are held objectively, the new parliament will be ‘Armenian’ and the president possibly will be an Armenian. The Abkhazian capital today is exclusively ‘Armenian’; demographically Abkhazians yield to Armenians two times and very soon the Armenian capital from the Krasnodar krai, Moscow and the United States will flow to Abkhazia,” wrote Sakartvelos Respublika, January 24.

Situated on the Black Sea shore, Abkhazia has a Mediterranean climate and occupies a territory of 8.6 thousand square kilometers. In the Soviet period it was one of the three autonomous entities of the Georgian SSR, however in the period of the empire’s collapse it seceded. Active military operations between Georgia and Abkhazia began a little earlier. They lasted 412 days and ended on September 27, 1993, in the defeat of the Georgian army. Just like in the case with Nagorno-Karabakh, the war there began still in the period of the existence of the Soviet Union and ended in conditions of the presence of independent states. The hostilities in Abkhazia claimed a total of more than 10,000 lives. Official Tbilisi does not recognize the right of the Abkhazian population to political independence and as President Mikhail Saakashvili repeatedly stated, is ready to grant Abkhazia “the broadest autonomy within Georgia.” (According to the last pre-war census of the population in 1989, the total population of Abkhazia was 525,061 people, 45 percent of which were Georgian, and who fled during the war.)

The upcoming parliamentary elections in Abkhazia caused a strong indignation among Georgian authorities.

On the threshold of parliamentary elections in Abkhazia, Georgian mass media boosted their efforts aimed at creating an atmosphere of intolerance in relations between the Armenians and Abkhazians living in the republic. It is apparent that the goal of the information policy being implemented is destabilization of the situation in Abkhazia and the presentation of the latter as a Georgian breakaway region whose self-proclaimed regime is not capable of providing guarantees of stable social-economic development, as well as the due level of interethnic mutual ties.

Anti-Armenian rhetoric is expected in the mainstream Georgian press until election day. Already, Respublika (about 3,000 circulation) is reporting that : “Parliamentary elections are due to be held in Abkhazia in two months and it is obvious that pro-Russian forces wish to strengthen their positions. According to information available in the corridors, they are using the financial possibilities of Armenians living in the United States.”

On January 19, Rezonansi (also about 3,000) published an article in which it was contested that “Sergey Bagapsh’s upcoming visit to Turkey caused dissatisfaction among the Armenians of Abkhazia, who turned to the de-facto ‘president’ for him to remember the nature of Armenian-Turkish relations.” As the paper reports, the Armenian Diaspora is especially concerned over the circumstance that Bagapsh plans a series of meetings with representatives of the Abkhazian population of Turkey with whom a project on the resettlement to Abkhazia of up to 50,000 compatriots is being developed.