The Kraken. According to ancient stories, this huge many-armed creature looked like an island when motionless and could reach as high as the top of a sailing ship’s main mast with its arms deployed. When the Kraken attacked a ship, it wrapped its arms around the hull and capsised it. The crew would drown or be eaten by the monster.
Occasionally, we Europeans look at Africa and its constant political flux and we shake our heads. We mutter about the conflicts between tribal culture and political expediency and how impossible it is to overlay a stable democratic system over an ancient tribal mentality.
We forget the similarity between those African mud huts and the wooden shacks of what used to be the USSR. The ethnic stirrings within Georgia remind us that tribal identity and tribal belonging – our ancestral herding instincts – are far from extinct.
This week, the news networks have been dominated by harrowing scenes of civilian suffering in the ongoing Russo-Georgian conflict over the separatist region of South Ossetia.
There are shades of the Sudetenland crisis in 1938, when Hitler, on the pretext of defending a ‘persecuted’ German minority in that region of Czechoslovakia, was appeased and allowed to annex it. Six months later, he had conquered the entire country.
Russia is seeking Anschluss of Russocentric regions in its former Soviet empire.
While anxious that Russia must not be appeased (for a change, George Bush is right in having sent an uncompromising Condoleezza Rice to state the West’s views), one can sympathise with nationalities seeking to go their own way in an historic homeland.
Even so, the merits of their independence bids are not universally clear to those without a knowledge of the history of the South Ossettian and Abkhazian conflicts which have led to two Russian puppet-states on internationally-recognised Georgian soil.
In Abkhazia, prior to the 1992-1994 war, the majority of the population was Georgian.
Now, Abkhazia seems undeserving of independence, given that its pro-independence demographic is a result of the ethnic-cleansing of Georgians.
Nowadays, the Abkhaz people, (who were never a majority in the region) are the largest ethnic-group.
The 1989 census said that the Abhkaz were 18% of the population, whereas now, according to the 2003 census, they are closer to 40% .
Around 190,000 ethnic-Georgians were expelled and 15,000 massacred by Abkhaz pro-Moscow militias and Russian troops.
The Sukhumi Massacre of September 27th 1993 was a gruesome atrocity against the ethnic-Georgians.
The late Russian journalist Dmitry Kholodov (assassinated in a suspected contract-killing for investigating corruption in the Russian military) , witnessed the massacre and reported the following:
“They captured a young girl. She was hiding in the bushes near the house where they killed her parents. She was raped several times. One of the soldiers killed her and mutilated her. She was cut in half. Near her body they left a message: as this corpse will never be as one piece, Abkhazia and Georgia will never be united either.”
The Abkhazans could not have driven the Georgians out without massive military aid from Moscow, which certainly connived to help the separatists. In 1992, it negotiated ceasefires in Sukhumi and Gagra.
The Georgian troops were promised an end to the shelling of the cities if they left. In fact the cities were stormed by the separatists. Thousands of Georgians were butchered in the ensuing massacre, some of them, ironically, by Chechen militia led by Shamil Basayev who later masterminded the Beslan massacre.
So to grant Abkhazia international recognition as an independent state would be to reward ethnic-cleansing and should be unacceptable to the international community.
The Georgian refugees expelled in the 1990’s must be allowed return and then perhaps take part in a referendum on independence.
The existing “YES” votes on independence cannot stand, considering their basis in ethnic-cleansing and their non-recognition by the international community.
Abkhazia’s place in Georgia dates back to the ancient kingdom of Colchis. Subsequently, there was an independent kingdom of Abkhazia, which nonetheless may have been primarily ethnic-Georgian anyway, judging by the names of its kings. Abkhazia was later reunited with Georgia by marriage.
In South Ossetia, the Ossetians have been a majority since at least 1926, with a 26% Georgian minority prior to the current conflict. But the Georgian claim to the territory is legitimate in moral terms because they were there first.
The Ossetians migrated to South Ossetia in the 1300’s following expulsion from parts of European Russia by the Mongols.
North Ossetia, which is a Russian republic has 10 times the Ossetian population, and as such the Ossetians already have a homeland (considering they don’t want independence and have always been remarkably loyal to Russia).
According to Human Rights Watch, there is evidence that pro-Russian militia are ethnic-cleansing Georgian villages. Russian troops have been pouring into the region ever since the Bucharest NATO summit that refused to give Georgia and Ukraine a date for admission to the alliance.
The Russians have continued the intermittent bombing of parts of Georgia in an attempt to provoke Tbilisi. Now Russia has the excuse it needs to meddle in Georgian affairs with something approaching an occupation.
As with Abkhazia, the old pattern of ethnic-cleansing, destruction and looting of ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia seems to be repeating itself.
Human Rights Watch claims that it witnessed the destruction of the four Georgian villages of Kekhvi, Nizhnie Achaveti, Verkhnie Achaveti and Tamarasheni.
The Russians keep a high-profile as they Blitzkrieg through the country. Consequently, observers do not see what is happening a few miles behind the Russian line. THAT is where the butchery and destruction are taking place.
In the village of Nizhnie Achaveti, Human Rights Watch researchers spoke to an elderly man who was desperately trying to rescue his smoldering house using two half-empty buckets of dirty water brought from a spring. He said that the vast majority of residents, including his family, fled the village when fighting broke out between Georgian forces and South Ossetian militias on August 8th but he then decided to stay to look after the cattle.
He said members of the South Ossetian militia came to his house on August 11, and tried to take away some household items. When he protested, they torched the house and left. The man said he had no food or drinking water. His hands were burned and hair was singed and he appeared to be in a state of shock. He said that there were five to ten elderly and sick people left in the village, all in a similar desperate condition. Many of the houses had been destroyed.
Russian influence in the region has been the real winner.
The crucial Baku-Ceyhan-Tblisi oil pipeline, owned by BP and carrying 1 million barrels worth of oil a day from Azerbaijan to Turkey (before it was temporarily put out of action by a terrorist attack in Turkey) now risks falling into Russian hands. The pipeline, more commonly referred-to as the BTC pipeline runs from Baku 443km through Azerbaijan, 249km through Georgia and 1,076km through Turkey to the Ceyhan Marine Terminal.
Russia has always been at its most dangerous when it has felt powerful. Currently, it feels powerful because of its substantial oil and gas reserves.
A crucial part of exerting leverage on Russia is to develop pipelines which bypass the country. Without Georgia, this strategy is dealt a crushing blow.
We must not be naive enough to believe the Russians on their ‘humanitarian’ motives for intervention. We remember the lack of concern by the Kremlin for Chechnya’s right to self-determination and its destruction of Grozny.
What about the Sarkozy Peace Plan and the curious refusal by Russia to agree to an amendment to Point 4 (on humanitarian agencies’ access to the region) that would have guaranteed the right of return of refugees to their homes?
Today in South Ossetia, the ethnic cleansing of villages continues. They have been told that Putin had ordered them to be expelled or killed.
Does this not show that Russia is motivated by territorial ambition and NOT by humanitarianism and concern for the self-determination of small nations?
For several years, Russian strategy has been to stoke the separatist conflicts in its former Soviet republics. Why?
In order to frustrate them from NATO membership and from forging closer links to the West.
There is a long way to go.
Click here for a look at ALL the Russian Tribes.