TBILISI, DFWatch – The Georgian parliament on Friday approved the country’s strategy on relations with North Caucasus people. At the beginning, the strategy had status as a concept, but when it finally was passed its status had been raised and it needed a parliamentary vote.
Georgia’s strategy on relations with North Caucasus people was prepared by the parliamentary committee on diaspora and Caucasus issues. The Georgian National Security Council played an active role, as did other parliamentary committees, organizations and foreign experts.
There are several chapters in the strategy. It defines priority directions, which Tbilisi plans to deepen relations with the region, including from trade and economy issues to contacts between peoples, education, health-care and human rights.
“It openly shows Georgia’s attitude towards North Caucasus and it also reflects aspects of future cooperation, which our country will implement in this region,” says Nugzar Tsiklauri, chair of parliament’s committee on relation with Caucasus people.
There are nine chapters in the concept document defining how to deepen relations between Georgians and North Caucasus peoples in the fields of culture, education, science, trade, peoples’ relation and other humanitarian fields.
When parliament passed the document, it contuned a government policy which started in a speech by President Mikheil Saakashvil to the UN General Assembly in 2010, in which he spoke about a ‘united Caucasus’, an idea he said Georgia should promote.
His statement was followed up by action when in May 2011, Georgia recognized the mass killings and resettlement of Circassian people by Russia in the nineteenth century as a genocide. Georgia is the first and so far only country which has defined these events as a genocide.
In May 2012, a memorial dedicated to the victims of the Circassian genocide was opened in Anaklia, a city on the coast next to the administrative border line with Abkhazia.
It should be noted that during the military confrontation between Georgia and Abkhazia in the early 1990s, Circassian people fought against Georgians on the Abkhaz side. But today Circassian people support Georgian policy, which can be seen in social networks. Political commentators believe the reason for this is the Georgian government’s recent steps to woo the Circassians.
The issue about deepening relations with North Caucasus peoples was also mentioned in a concept paper adopted by Georgia’s National Security Council in December. It is mentioned in that part of the document which deals with relations with Russia.
This new document has a chapter named Support for Defining Historical Truth. It says that ‘Caucasus people repeatedly were becoming victims of ethnic cleansing, deportation and genocide by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, which should become a subject of historical and legal research and should be given a clear and strongly proven historical evaluation.’
According to this document, Georgia will support the study of these issues in detail, including providing information and facts about these crimes to the international community.
Nugzar Tsiklauri says that the strategy mainly focuses on helping North Caucasus people in scientific and research issues.
“The strategy transforms Georgia’s relation with North Caucasus people on a completely new level and will make Tbilisi’s policy more transparent and predictable,” he said.
Mamuka Areshidze, an analyst working on Caucasus issues, thinks there is nothing bad in having this concept paper and that it is a good basis for cooperation. But today Russian-Georgian relations are very difficult, and official Kremlin views the creation of each such concept paper with suspicion and gives corresponding orders to the leaders of the the North Caucasus republics.
So, it will bring some positive things to the people living there, but the active participation of regional governments is excluded. It is hard to say how effective this document will be, he says.
Ghia Nodia, Professor at Ilia State University and former education minister within Saakashvili’s government, participated in creating this concept paper. He notes that adopting this document is no guarantee. It will be long-term or consistent, but in each case a statement is already made on this issue.
He remarks that Georgian policy towards North Caucasus relations implements since 2008, in fact. There were taken serious steps in education. Nodia considers that one of the reasons Georgia decided to focus on these issues is to gain the good will of North Caucasus people.
“We know that years ago, the attitude towards Georgia in North Caucasus was negative. It especially became clear during the Abkhazia war [in 1993, ed.]. Part of North Caucasus people still considers that solidarity towards Abkhaz takes precedence before good relation with Georgia. But as I know and I have met many authoritative North Caucasus people, some of these people today are positive to this step of Georgia.”
The professor says that when the Georgian parliament recognized the Circassian genocide, it somewhat strained Abkhaz relations on some level.
“Abkhazians were saying that we adopted this document only because we do everything to make them and Circassians fight with each other. But the fact is that some Circassian leaders, like Ibrahim Iaganovi, who fought in Abkhazia and is recognized as a hero by the Abkhaz, now critically views Abkhazia’s pro-Russian position and has pro-Georgian attitudes.”
Ghia Nodia adds that the main goal is to change social attitudes. He hopes nothing will happen, but if any conflict situation starts, Georgia should work towards a situation where people in North Caucasus are not joining the Russian side.