Between 28th June and 1st July, International Alert gathered together Georgian and Abkhaz civil society activists and experts in the latest in a series of “dialogue through research” meetings intended to shed new light on the conflict and explore different ways of thinking about conflict-related issues.
Earlier meetings focused on the theme of security guarantees and the contentious issue of an agreement on the non-use of force, resulting in the September 2009 Alert publication ‘Dialogue on Security Guarantees in the context of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict’. Another meeting in January 2010 concentrated on the theme of ‘International engagement in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict resolution process’ (publication forthcoming), a topic prompted by the withdrawal of the UN Observer Mission from Abkhazia in 2009.
This latest meeting focused on the politics of “non-recognition” in relation to Abkhazia, exploring to what extent the manifestations of this policy help or hinder the resolution of the conflict. “Non-recognition” based on the principle of territorial integrity remains the cornerstone of Georgian and international policy towards the conflict, including Russia’s, up until the August 2008 war after which Russia recognised the independence of Abkhazia (and South Ossetia). Dialogue participants presented papers on several aspects of “non-recognition” and its implications for conflict resolution and regional security, starting with highlighting inconsistencies in the international legal framework and practice regarding the recognition of new states. Other papers considered the impact of the policy on the fate of displaced people, to what extent Abkhaz society needs or indeed is ready for wider international recognition with all the responsibilities that would entail, and under what circumstances, if any, could this “non-recognition” policy change? In discussing these issues, the dialogue participants grappled with weighing moral and ethical issues against pragmatic arguments regarding the political, economic and social gains and losses associated with such a policy.
Unsurprisingly, no common agreement was reached on the question of recognition, and indeed this was not the purpose of the dialogue. This dialogue demonstrated that by tackling such an ideologically charged topic from a number of angles, one can gain deeper insights and increase mutual understanding of the sides’ fundamental fears and concerns related to conflict resolution. These insights should be of interest to a wide audience, from international political actors, experts, government officials, students and a wider public within the respective societies.
While the prevailing rhetoric and fear of backlash in each society inhibits an open discussion of such issues, peaceful resolution of the conflict is impossible without questioning the underlying factors forming the sides’ positions. International Alert is committed to supporting partners to continue to open up this debate both internationally and at home.
As part of this project, Alert has published several publications on the issue of Georgian-Abkhaz relations. You can find them on the Caucasus Dialogue project page.