“FATE CAN BE IRONIC SOMETIMES: I TAUGHT History of Georgia to Raul Khajimba”
27 November, 2014
“FATE CAN BE IRONIC SOMETIMES: I TAUGHT History of Georgia to Raul Khajimba”
Among the atrocities of the Abkhazian civil war in the 1990s, there were also acts of courage and compassion by men on both sides. These courageous gestures of human kindness are often forgotten and eclipsed by the ongoing bitter politics of the conflict.

Accused of “incitement of ethnic hatred and dissemination of war propaganda,” Zurab Papaskiri, a Georgian historian and professor, spent more than three months in a prison cell in Sukhumi during the Georgian-Abkhazian War in the 1990s. He was released with the help of his former student of Georgian history, Raul Khajimba, now the de facto president of Abkhazia.
In an interview with Georgian Journal, Zurab, a former professor at Sukhumi State University, readily recalls these days and the political developments that were occurring around him in the 1990s. He also evaluates the possible results of a newly signed “Alliance and Strategic Partnership Treaty ” between Russia and Abkhazia.
– I spent a hundred days in an Abkhazian prison after the war. These days changed my life completely. I didn’t have the health for this, and to be honest, neither did I have what people call a “warrior’s spirit.” I never even held a gun in my hands. My only “gun” was my pen. For some reason, I believed to the very end that the war would soon be over and we would reconcile. I remained at home with my wife and mother and urged others not to leave as well. We were under the protection of our Abkhazian and Armenian neighbors for 10 days. There were times when someone tried to break into the house and kill us, but our neighbors wouldn’t let them. My Armenian neighbor, Kalaijan, got on his knees in front of his former classmate, who was a Security Service officer, and begged him to leave us alone. But on October 7th, the Security Service issued an ultimatum to them: either you hand over this Georgian historian willingly or we will take him by force. I had no choice but to comply; to do otherwise would most likely mean subjecting my family to abuse. Therefore, I asked my Abkhazian friend to walk me to the Security Service building. Many well-known Georgian writers and public figures were executed at that time, so I can’t say that I was not afraid. Upon entering the building, I was handed a three-page-long list of people who had a reputation of influence among the Georgian population.

– Was your name on that list too?

– Yes, on the second page. At that office, I saw many Abkhazians who used to be my students. Most of them didn’t look me in the eye, but one of them, Agrba, hugged me and asked how I was doing. When an Abkhazian major hit me with a rifle stock, Agrba and one other man rushed in front of him and told him that if he wanted to beat me, he would have to kill them first. The major froze. It is very painful for me to recall these moments. This major insisted on my execution. I was transferred to a temporary cell until my fate was decided. Otar Delba, warden-in-chief, intervened and saved me. They knew that I didn’t take part in any military action, but it was my civil activism that caused their aggression. You are an ideologist, they told me, and accused me of inciting ethnic hatred and disseminating war propaganda.

– Raul Khajimba was a former student of yours, was he not?

– Yes. Fate can be ironic sometimes: I taught history of Georgia to Raul Khajimba at Abkhazian State University. He studied law in the university’s Russian sector, together with Georgians, Russians and Armenians. His talent and analytical thinking made him stand out. I never contacted him after graduation, but I knew that he worked at Security Service. After about a month and a half of my imprisonment, he came to me. It turned out that local law enforcement guys wanted to offer me to come out on TV with an “interview,” but Raul intervened and said that something like this would not happen without Raul’s own involvement.

– Why would they need to put you on TV?

– It was an assignment by Sergei Bganba, prosecutor general, who oversaw my interrogation. Bganba tasked the Security Service with recording the “interview” with me, saying, “He is not just some nobody – he is a professor, let him speak his mind.” When I was brought to a separate room, I found Raul waiting for me there. He hugged me and told me that everything would be fine. His Abkhazian coworkers just watched us, dumbfounded. I mustered up all my courage and covered the camera with my hand, saying that I had a condition of my own. He was surprised – a prisoner laying out conditions! I said that I will not give an interview until I am released and that I will say what I always used to say before. Eventually, I ended up avoiding the “interview” altogether. Raul followed me out, inquiring about my health. After that incident, the attitude of prison guards towards me changed. Soon afterward, I was released.

– Do you see any way to restore the Georgian-Abkhazian relationship?

– Hard to say, especially after that treaty they signed. Many Abkhazian politicians and experts do not even hide their chagrin at this document. Anatoly Otirba was particularly honest about it, writing that signing such a treaty means giving over control of the land to outsiders, which will be followed by assimilation and disappearance of Abkhazia as a nation. According to him, this is a document that implies the sale of Abkhazia, which a certain group of Russian political swindlers desperately tries to pass. But nevertheless, my Abkhazian colleague refuses to admit that it’s not a “group of swindlers” that is trying to buy Abkhazia, but the Kremlin itself. There is no doubt that the Kremlin acknowledged Khajimba’s opportunistic approach and his ‘presidential’ ambitions, offering him a guarantee of power for further integration with Russia in exchange.
Long story short, what we are dealing with here is the complete denigration and humiliation of Abkhazian society. It is hardly surprising that this is happening at the hands of the same leaders who not so long ago positioned themselves as staunch “patriots” and accused Ankvab’s government of having an overly lenient and complicit policy towards Russia. I do not know how events will unfold in the future. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the opposition somehow impeding the ratification of this agreement in the Abkhazian “parliament.” However, I doubt they will be successful.

“WHAT KIND OF ABKHAZIA DOES THE RUSSIAN POLITICAL ELITE NEED?”

ARDA INAL-IPA, a representative of the Abkhazian NGO “Center for Humanitarian Programs”:
One part of Abkhazian society thinks that it would be ungrateful to refuse signing the agreement suggested by Russia, considering the financial and social assistance provided by Russia over the years, as well as the recognition of Abkhazia’s sovereignty. The Russian press has used this topic on purpose to provoke those who are against this agreement and to present the opponents as if they are “afflicted with ‘Russophobia.’” Though it is blatantly obvious what kind of threats this cooperation will bring to Abkhazia’s sovereignty, considering the cards up Russia’s sleeve concerning defense and domestic policy issues... Moreover, is it hard to guess what kind of Abkhazia the Russian political elite needs?

“WE SHOULD NOT SELL ABKHAZIA FOR 5 BILLION RUBLES”

A representative of Abkhazia’s political opposition, IRINE AGRBA, on the agreement between Abkhazia and Russia:
– You [the Abkhaz government] use social media in order to manipulate public opinion. This agreement is shameful for our entire society. I am sure you also feel ashamed of this document but you cannot say it. Our nation does not deserve such kind of an agreement. You are ready to sell yourselves and your nation for 5 billion rubbles. Why are you not doing anything to improve our economic situation? You have not delivered on your commitments. Where are the reforms? You are obsessed with lying to our people. I believe that most of the nation, especially mothers who lost their sons, will not give away their hard-earned sovereignty. You do not realize it now, but after some years your children will not be taught all the important events and the history of Abkhazia at school.


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