Interview with Aslan Bzhania, De-facto leader of Abkhazia
24 March, 2020
Interview with Aslan Bzhania, De-facto leader of Abkhazia
Aslan Bzhania, the winner of the so-called presidential elections in Abkhazia, with 56.5% of the votes, gave the first full interview to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti correspondent Dmitry Statinev. During the televised debates you made a number of demands on Georgia, in particular, you said that Georgians should consider the issue of either assuming the obligation before the UN for either not renewing military actions, or signing a bilateral agreement with Abkhazia on non-renewal of hostilities. In which particular
framework would you prefer to put your requirement on Georgia today? Is it possible for new frameworks to emerge besides the Geneva one?

All our foreign policy steps will be coordinated with Moscow, under the agreement signed with the Russian federation. We should pursue the same policy goals agreed-upon with regard to some issues.

As for other issues, I mean our relations with Georgia and Georgians, they are our neighbors. Whether we like it or not, we still have quite frequent contacts, at the level of citizens of Georgia and Abkhazia. These people often cross the border, they have different problems. For example, many of our citizens are forced to seek quality medical care in Georgia. In addition, there are quite frequent cases of our citizens hiding in the territory of Georgia after having committed a crime, and vice versa. As you know, we jointly operate the Enguri HPP, which represents a certain level of contact. I think such issues can be resolved through negotiations within frameworks other than ones as far away from us as Geneva. It can happen here, at the border or anywhere near. We have to face the need of resolving such practical issues on a daily basis.

And do you think bilateral talks between Georgia and Abkhazia are possible at all?

Bilateral talks between the Georgian and Abkhazian states are probably impossible, and, besides, this is the fault of the Georgian side, as Georgia refuses to recognize the independence of Abkhazia. On the one hand, there are several laws in Georgia, according to which, the territory of Abkhazia is the territory of Georgia occupied by Russia. On the other hand, we feel some signals coming from various Georgian public institutions containing the message that certain Georgian political forces call for intensive dialogue. With regard to negotiations between Georgia and Abkhazia – as subjects of international law - this is impossible because of the position of Tbilisi. We are interested in Georgia's recognition of the independence of Abkhazia. We have already done a lot to accomplish this goal, but I still think that the position of the Georgian side hampers the process of finalization of the issue. Of course, we should hope and believe that they will change their position but we should not dwell on it. We have many other important problems inside the country. We are a peaceful state with no claims on the territories of other states. We recognize the independence of Georgia. What else is needed?
If there were any framework for bilateral negotiations, the process of recognition would probably go ahead…

There is the Geneva framework for talks... What is there to talk about? About this kind of issues, but there the position of the Georgian side is clear (non-recognition of Abkhazia – editor’s remark).

But as decades go by ...

Indeed, decades go by, but we witness similar developments in other countries as well. For example, in Greece there are still political forces that consider Constantinople to be their city. We know it used to be theirs, but how many centuries have passed since Constantinople was no longer the city of the Greeks? Today there is another changed reality. There are political forces that are unwilling to recognize a changed reality even after tens of centuries… Or let’s take the city of Tigranakert – which used to be the capital city of Armenia. Nowadays, the city is called Diyarbakir and is located in Turkey. The same is true of Mount Ararat - considered a sacred mountain by Armenianson, which is now also in the territory of Turkey.

There seem to be many of those in Georgia who still regard Abkhazia as the territory of Georgia. Unless they realize that the new reality is already here, the processes won’t be dynamic.

State officials and politicians need to know the simple truths, including that wars bring about too much changes. Wars change the borders between states and some states disappear… some states emerge. There are some who say that we have to go back to the pre-war period. Can we make it back to 1992? Is this possible at all? Can we bring back the people who died in that war? It is impossible. And it is similarly impossible to get back the united Georgia. This is never the case.

Do you remember what Vladimir Putin said - whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. I would add that whoever wants it back has no brain. It is the responsibility of politicians around the world to be able and to find the strength in themselves to recognize a new reality. And it has happened so many times. We have been living in our new reality for 27 years now. It's high time to get used to it, and get back to a normal life.

Abkhaz politicians, including your rivals, are making a number of demands on Georgia and the demands are quite high. Is Abkhazia ready to make some compromises as well?

But why? It seems that I have failed to make my point clear. The new reality is that there is an independent state of Abkhazia recognized by big states.
Wouldn’t it be great to be recognized by neighbors as well?

Of course, it will be great. We are not against it. But it is neither possible nor advisable to discuss the territorial integrity of Abkhazia and its sovereignty with the Georgian authorities. These issues are not subject to discussion. Let's talk about anything else. Isn't that a compromise? Let's build peaceful and neighborly relations, trade, exchange, etc. Once Georgia recognizes the independence of Abkhazia, all processes will gain certain momentum.

There is one sensitive issue that concerns the population of Gali – a district of Abkhazia – the citizens of Georgian origin. The Abkhaz president gave them Abkhazian passports, which were later invalidated ...

It was not the President who gave them citizenship, but the Abkhazian state. A significant proportion of these people were eligible to become citizens of Abkhazia. But the issue was politicized and used conveniently to destabilize the situation in the country and to change the government. It happened in May 2014 and was organized by the opposition led by Mr. Khajimba. They assessed the issuance of passports to the Georgian population as a criminal act. By the way, 6 years have passed since then and not a single person has been held legally responsible for the criminal actions committed years ago. (During Khajimba's presidency, old passports were replaced by new ones. Passports of Gali residents were no longer valid and new passports were not given to those who had Georgian passports as well - editor’s remark).

Prepared by Tinatin Vashakmadze, Lika Gabelia, Ana Abramishvili, Natia Gonadze, Mari Varamishvili, Mari Kakashvili

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