You Betta Recognize, Son!
An old roommate recently asked me over the phone: “Hey, did you hear that Abkhazia is an officially independent country?” The excitement in his voice and his eagerness to hear my answer were the only things I could hear in that split-second silence before I answered in the affirmative. This former roommate, it just so happens, is an Abkhaz Circassian from Syria, the son of an Abkhaz Kabardin father and an Adigha mother. “Circassian,” “Abkhaz,” “Adigha” were all unfamiliar terminology two years ago, but as I came to discover, Circassians have a very long history in Middle Eastern, as Mamluks, Amirs and Sultans, ruling Syria and Egypt for almost three hundred years. Ramadan 2008 brought me the opportunity to sit down with my friend’s father, a diplomat and a high ranking Abkhaz political figure and to hear an abridged version of the past 100+ years of Circassian history.
The timing of my friend’s question could not have come at a better moment, with Nicaragua and Venezuela’s formal recognition of Abkhazia (and South Ossetia) as independent states the following week. New reports are now buzzing around the possibility of Turkey jumping on the Recognition Band Wagon out of a desire to play “a much greater role in the Caucasus.” As my last piece on Turkey pointed out, Turkey is taking the necessary steps to reach out to Armenia and with recent visits to Tblisi and Sukhumi, Turkey sees Abkhazia’s recognition as a matter of strategy in the region. Georgia’s capture of a Turkish ship in international waters, which the Georgians claim was smuggling oil to Abkhazia, doesn’t help the Georgian cause much either. And while everyone’s playing a harmonious “Recognize ‘Em” chord, perhaps the real motives for Turkey to recognize the two autonomous regions is to gain a little piece of that recognition pie from the Russians with its own “enclave,” the infamous Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, which according to one analyst in one report, is nothing less than “the elder brother of Abkhazia.”
Since 2008, we have grown fond of the idea of thinking of Abkhazia as an “integral part of Georgia,” a territory that cannot nor should be divided from the young nation. The stories we read portray a dominant bully undermining a small and defenseless little camper. We also hear our Politicians coming out and speaking out against Russia’s “occupation” of Georgia, about the ongoing erosion of Georgian sovereignty and the looming threat facing the integrity of the tiny state in the Caucasus. Plus, the international community overwhelmingly tells us that Abkhazia is just a “puppet” in Russian hands, a new Russian outpost within Georgia’s borders.
But what all this really boils down to is the simple fact that many people are comfortable with supporting the system that Stalin, the “Butcher of Georgia,” created and enacted. As an ethnic Georgian (who lusted after Abkhazia), Stalin incorporated Abkhazia into the Georgian SSR in 1931, settling hundreds of thousands of Georgians, Russians and Armenians in Abkhazia and turning the native Abkhaz into a minority in their own country. After the implosion of the Soviet Union, the ’92 Abkhazian war of independence changed the course of events, essentially allowing Abkhazia to gain its independence from Georgia. Since that time, Georgia has refused to accept the facts on the ground, considering Abkhazia to be a historical and integral part of Georgia. That’s like saying that the Western Sahara has always been a part of Morocco.
A careful re-reading of the mostly accurate and somtimes biased timeline and actual reporting of events from 2008 have definitely ingrained the fact that Russia’s new steps towards imperialism are bad news for everyone in the area and that somehow, the West did the “right thing” by refusing to recognize the new states. The Economist said it best when it wrote that Russia “should not be rewarded by any Western country granting the new enclaves recognized independence.” This gives the impression that the Russians simply invaded Georgia and now they are recognizing what they occupied in order to gain a greater foothold in the region.
First of all, what do the Abkhaz want? Where is their voice in all of this? The Abkhaz don’t want to be a part of Georgia and they don’t want to be a part of Russia either. They want to be independent, just like any other country. Anyone who has any real idea of the politics of the region these last 20 years can tell you that. Yes, it is true: Abkhazia does lean Red, but can you blame them for doing so? Who was there for them in the 90’s, following their successful war of independence? The Europeans, the U.N. and to a large extent, the U.S. were all too busy with Yugoslavia and the Balkans and the Americans wouldn’t even come close to dealing or even getting involved with any “breakaway territory” in any part of the world.
Some argue that Russia’s recognition of these two states creates a 21stcentury Russian annexation of Georgian territory. But can we open our eyes for a moment and see that the West essentially abandoned Abkhazia and thus, in a very de facto way, push Abkhazia into the Russian camp, which provided the only means of military and economic support? It is for this reason alone that Russia has stepped in and has essentially bought Abkhazia from Georgia.
While I support Abkhazia and their efforts to be independent and to be free from Georgian occupation, no matter how long it may have been, I feel that our attitude towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia for that matter, is quite childish. What, are we still stuck in the Cold War? Let’s be honest for a moment and recognize that our lack of desire in recognizing the two independent states is less because of the states themselves and more because it is Russia who is seen as the “man behind the curtain,” the one calling the shots. Alienating the two minute territories will only drive them further in their resilience to be Pro-Moscow.
Despite the good that might come out of the recognition of these two independent states, other autonomous or semi-autonomous territories that have desires to secede – in countries like Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and China – might want to follow suit. Russia might even find that even her good-willed steps of recognition could potentially come back to bite her in the ass.
Only time will tell . . .