A "Cold" Peace in Abkhazia

By Natella Akaba

Abkhazia is a beautiful country with a subtropical climate. Until recently, each summer this paradise attracted thousands of tired people from the big cities of the Soviet Union.

But that Abkhazia was destroyed in August 1992 when a savage war broke out on this land--a war between Georgia and Abkhazia. The war ended in 1993, but the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict is still unresolved.

Violent conflicts are typical of the post-Soviet Empire Caucasus. One of the explanations for this phenomenon is the traditional militarism in the culture. A kind of cult of weapons and blood revenge are still among the traditional values in the whole Caucasus region.

My personal experiences of the war were very painful. My family and I were forced to become refugees for a 14-month period. Our house in Sukhum, the capital of Abkhazia, was burnt down and completely looted by our Georgian neighbors. My aged father who did not want to abandon his home in Sukhum was severely beaten by Georgian soldiers. They took away his most cherished relics of World War II--his awards and medals. He died very soon after the war.

Natella (left) at a UN workshop

As I was a chairperson of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee at that time, I collected the facts on a great number of human rights violations and atrocities on the territories which were under Georgian control from 1992-93 for a report to the UN. I was very traumatized by the stories I heard and felt that it was very difficult for me to meet Georgian people. Negative feelings and stereotypes overwhelmed me.

Sharing Pain

However, I was lucky to participate in several schools and courses on conflict transformation, and I had heard about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. I decided that my people needed something like that. It is necessary to tell other people about your pain, to share your experiences. But no organization in the world was going to help Abkhaz people to get over their negative emotions.

Later I participated in a process of unofficial diplomacy. Meetings of several Abkhaz and Georgian scholars, NGO activists and journalists started in 1996 on "neutral territory." But from the beginning this was very difficult. Both Abkhaz and Georgians did not trust each other and tension was very high. But step by step, a core group developed--people who are prepared to discuss the most complicated and neglected problems of the Georgian-Abkhaz relationship. In the next stage we began to publish books together--collections of our reports and articles on the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.

In both societies in fact, this activity has not been welcomed. In Georgia and Abkhazia articles were published criticizing those involved in the unofficial diplomacy movement. We were blamed as "bad patriots." But we are continuing our discussions, because for all of us this communication across the border has become an important part of our life. Our dialogue helped me understand the roots of the conflict and at the same time it restored my belief in human beings.

Natella Akaba is chair of the board of the Association of Women of Abkhazia (AWA), an NGO established in 1999. AWA is a cofounder of a networking peacebuilding organization--the Caucasus Women's League.