Georgia: Amidst Murder Investigation, No Facebook Friendship with Abkhazia
Breakaway Abkhazia last week placed under house arrest the de-facto Abkhaz border guard charged with the murder of a Georgian man on Georgian-controlled territory. But those thinking that Tbilisi and Sokhumi now have found a way to put their past behind them and move forward with the investigation might need to think again. Apart from the June 23 arrest, all else remains in a holding pattern.
The fallout from the May 19 murder of Giga Otkhozoria has put to the test Tbilisi’s policy of piecemeal reconciliation with Abkhazia and its separatist twin, South Ossetia, and their overlord, Russia.
Georgian public anger over Otkhozoria’s slaying has been directed mainly at Russia, seen as the one calling the shots in both of the breakaways. Russian troops are stationed along both Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s administrative borders with Georgian-controlled territory.
That view of Russia’s role may not jive with that of Abkhazia’s separatist government, but, for now, Tbilisi is sticking with it.
Zurab Abashidze, Georgia’s point man for talks with Moscow, said that he will discuss the murder at a June 27 meeting in Prague with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.
In an incident captured by a Georgian CCTV camera, Otkhozoria was pursued by de facto Abkhaz border guards and shot dead as he crossed back into Georgian-controlled territory from Abkhazia, where he had been denied entry.
The Abkhaz have charged Rashid Kanji-Ogli with premeditated murder -- his response is unknown -- but say that they require evidence from Tbilisi to proceed.
Whether the Abashidze-Karasin talks can do anything to break this impasse is unknown.
The soft-spoken Abashidze is hardly expected to pound his fist on the table at his meeting with Karasin. The duo’s agenda is dominated by matters of trade and transportation, and also Georgians imprisoned in Russia on spy charges.
Critics within Georgia blast the Abashidze-Karasin talks for its focus on economic rapprochement with Moscow, while claiming Tbilisi is making a spineless capitulation on Georgia’s territorial integrity and the fate of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war with separatists over the territory.
In defense of its policy, the Georgian government speaks of the futility of playing hardball with Russia and insists on the pragmatic need to engage with Moscow.
Georgians generally believe that Moscow holds the key to the resolution of the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict. So far, civilian attempts at reconciliation have fallen flat.
Shortly after Otkhzoria’s murder, a group of Georgian activists launched a “Hello” Facebook campaign that they hope will help start a Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue. For the campaign, thousands of Georgians have taken photos holding posters saying “Мшыбзиа,” or “hello” in the Abkhaz language.
“We have not said hello to one another for over 8,000 days, so we just want to make up for it,” said the campaign organizers.
The initiative was met skeptically in Abkhazia, where memories of the brutal conflict with Tbilisi are very much alive. The response to the Georgian “Hello” campaign was with a smaller initiative entitled “Abziaraz," or “Goodbye.”