EU – Caucasus roundtable on Georgian-Abkhaz relations

International Alert hosted a roundtable on Georgian-Abkhaz relations in Brussels on 29th November with experts from the South Caucasus, Russia and representatives of European institutions and the UN. This roundtable was the culmination of a two-year dialogue through research process between Georgian and Abkhaz experts which International Alert has been facilitating with a view to contribute new thinking on conflict related issues to as wide an audience as possible.The roundtable was framed as a conversation between diplomats engaged in official dialogue processes and experts from the region participating in civil society dialogue, to explore together what the different ”sides” – including the western international community and peacebuilding organisations – can contribute to conflict resolution. The inclusion of experts from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, in addition to the Georgian and Abkhaz experts, allowed a wide range of perspectives to be taken into account and as each side voiced their priorities and analysed the situation on the ground, a broad picture of the conflict dynamic emerged.During the discussion, when talking about the past, the language of ”historical justice” and ”lost opportunities” featured prominently. Participants reflected on how far back in history one should go to determine the causes of the conflict, while others spoke of the need to openly acknowledge mistakes made by different sides in very recent times.It was proposed that an independent investigation into the war of ‘92-’93 might help to begin to deal with some of these issues – though it was pointed out that this was unlikely to happen given the time passed and the huge amount of resources that it would require. In any case, others were critical of the lack of outcomes from an analogous investigation into the August 2008 events (the ‘Tagliavini Commission’), lamenting that despite the richness and balanced nature of the findings there had been no political consequences for the perpetrators on any of the sides as a result of the commission. It was suggested that there would still be a great deal to gain from proper discussion and debate of the findings of the Tagliavini Commission, and for that to happen there needs to be an official translation into Russian and Georgian of the report to make it more accessible to local audiences.The main stumbling blocks to the conflict resolution process were touched upon: the polarising issues of refugees and the political status of Abkhazia. Participants suggested that the solution lies somewhere in between the maximalist positions and called for all sides – including the international community – to rethink the basic assumptions underpinning their approach to the resolution of the conflict.A number of concrete proposals were tabled to facilitate the de-isolation of Abkhazia suggesting the need for real engagement by the international community directed not only towards the Georgian population but to the whole of Abkhazia. Moreover, the inclusion of Abkhazia into regional cooperation projects in the sphere of culture, tourism or education was also proposed, drawing on the example and model of the European Union.The discussions were lively and continued during the breaks and over dinner, and in closing, all participants agreed on the importance of keeping open channels of communication between unofficial and official dialogue processes and pledged to continue the dialogue in future.You can read the report of the roundtable "EU-Caucasus Dialogue on Georgian-Abkhaz Relations" on our publications page.As part of this project, Alert has also published several publications on the issue of Georgian-Abkhaz relations. You can find them on the Caucasus Dialogue project page.This event was possible thanks to the generous support from the UK Conflict Pool and the European Union’s Instrument for Stability.