One of the most contentious issues I’ve encountered in the Caucasus is the Georgian-Abkhazian dispute. My own research has only touched some superficial historical aspects of the conflict, but the Abkhazian situation mirrors others both in the Caucasus and throughout the world.
I found this article today in Vestnik Kavkaza that presents a possible solution:
The regional policy of the South Caucasus is defined by the economic interdependence of neighboring states while serious contradictions between them in matters of security exist. Under these conditions, the formation of a complex multi-level model of interaction in the region is extremely difficult. At the same time, the South Caucasus is the focus of attention of some international actors who are interested in the infusion of transnational capital into new regions that have European aspirations. However, at this stage, the main interests of Europe are related to issues of their own security and overcoming social and economic problems.
Therefore, regional integration, in particular the union of Georgia and Abkhazia, can become one of the solutions to the problems of the South Caucasus. Moreover, the development of such an agreement has already been conducted. Although for a quarter of a century the South Caucasus remains a zone of local contradictions, the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict can be considered the closest to a peaceful resolution. Both in Tbilisi and Sukhum they understand that a return to the autonomous coexistence of Abkhazia within Georgia is impossible. Over the past 25 years, a generation has grown up in both Georgia and Abkhazia without experience in living together.
The idea is that Georgia and Abkhazia, as two equal subjects, will be able to establish bilateral diplomatic and consular relations with foreign countries, have representation in international organizations such as the UN, OSCE, and the Council of Europe. The United States, the EU and Russia could be intermediaries and guarantors of a constitutional structure of a future confederation. Tbilisi and Sukhum may even become the founders of the exceedingly important process of demilitarization of the entire region. In this case, in order to maintain law and order, members of the confederation could be limited to exceptional police forces and emergency response groups, refraining from membership in any military-political associations.
This fundamental new agreement will open up broad opportunities. We are talking about the reanimation of railway communication throughout the entire region, and in the future, perhaps, the creation of a free trade zone between Europe and the South Caucasus on Abkhazian territory. The tangible benefits of a confederation are obvious. Over the past twenty years, Abkhazia’s energy system has fallen into decay, and financial problems do not permit the renewal of power grids and the initiation of alternative energy sources that would end Abkhazia’s total dependence on the Ingur hydroelectric power station located on the border with Georgia. Financial investments in the infrastructure of Abkhazia will not have any particular effect, since today its economy is not able to provide long-term maintenance of the energy sector. Currently, Abkhazia needs integration, which would reanimate the full potential of the once all-union resort, allowing it to fill its seaports and expand the domestic market for goods.
As for Tbilisi, the free movement of citizens throughout the confederation will confirm the success of the policy of the ruling Georgian Dream in Georgia, and significantly weaken the Georgian opposition.
One of the issues mentioned in this article is one I’ve pondered for a long time when considering not only the potential repatriation of the Circassians, but also territorial disputes in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Northeast Caucasus, Turkey and the Middle East, to name a few places: how do you reconcile the claims of ethnic groups whose ancestors were driven from their homelands with the rights of people who were born on that territory and sometimes represent the third or fourth generation born there?
With Abkhazia, it ended with a brutal war that saw thousands of Georgian residents of Abkhazia driven out, many of whom died of the travails of evacuation. The argument (the same one the Armenian government used to justify the ethnic cleansing of Azeris from Nagorno-Karabakh) was that the land is the ancestral homeland of the Abkhazian people, and the Georgians there were descendants of squatters. The Abkhazians also point to the fact that Georgians participated in the original ethnic cleansing of the Abkhazians in 1865.
Personally, I need to gather more information about this particular issue before I can even begin to formulate an opinion about the situation, possible solutions, and the work-ability of the solution presented in the above article. If anyone would like to contribute their point of view I would be very happy to publish it here, either as a comment or as a free-standing article on the site.