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De-facto Abkhaz Foreign Minister reaches out

By Ernest Petrosyan
Wednesday, August 1
Europe is completely ignoring the democratic processes in Abkhazia, and is interested only in Abkhazia’s reintegration into Georgia, de-facto Abkhazian Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Chirikba told local news agency Apsnypress.

Taking about the ties with Europe, the de-facto Foreign Minister called it the dawn of [new] relations. “Each week we are hosting various European missions. Moreover, Abkhazia is actively involved in the Geneva process, so I see no reason to believe that we will turn off the relationship with Europe,” said Chirikba.

Chirikba is disappointed that Europe is “completely ignoring the democratic processes in Abkhazia,” it seems that Europe does not care about democratic processes in Abkhazia, and is only interested in how soon can Abkhazia rejoin Georgia, which is absolutely unreal.

“So, relations with Europe are not minimized, but the frustration in relation to the Europeans is a big deal. The recent resolutions, adopted by European Parliament suggest that they are taken by people who do not even know where Abkhazia is, and which claim that it has been a systematic violation of human rights, ethnic cleansing and the like,” Chirikba noted.

“Europe comes with moralization, but in reality, it does not help us neither in terms of financial assistance, nor in terms of visa policy. After the declaration of the non-recognition policy of Abkhazia, it has become much worse with visas. Europe does not issue visas to those who want to have a medical service abroad, tourists, and businessmen. In this case, a Europe that cares about human rights, it also violates them. And we raise this issue with all the Europeans who come.”

Chirikba complains that among Western states, there is a general consensus which recommends not issuing visas to Abkhazian residents despite their Russian passport.

“They find out their place of residence, and if a person is living in Abkhazia, and then getting a visa is very difficult for them or they are not issued at all. In fact, Europe violates one of the basic human rights– the freedom of movement,” said Chirikba, citing the examples of Northern Cyprus and Kosovo, which are not recognized by European countries, yet nonetheless issuing them visas.

As for the relations with Georgia, Chirikba said that all Georgian actions are aimed to somehow integrate Abkhazia into Georgia. They couldn’t do it by force, and they are looking for other ways of trying to convince the West that it is possible. We are neighbors, and I am sure that in the long term, we will restore the relationship. But until the war ends and a peace treaty is signed with Georgia, we are technically at war,” said Chirikba.

According to him, there is no attempt from the Georgian side to realistically assess the situation and come to a pragmatic solution. “Georgia has driven itself into a corner, and so far we have not seen in the Georgian leadership someone who can move to a moderate position, not to mention a realistic position. While the revanchist government is in power, the conflict will not end. Our goal is simply to restore relations with Georgia in its entirety on the basis of mutual recognition and friendship.”

Referring to national minority issues, Chirikba said that Abkhazia will never remain without Abkhazians as it will look like Adler or Sochi.

“Yes, the majority of leadership positions in Abkhazia are held by ethnic Abkhazians. But the Abkhazians, in fact, are the majority of Abkhazia's population according to the latest census. Moreover, other communities are not so politically active,” Chirikba said.

According to him, there is a very small Russian community and an Armenian community that is partially fragmented. He claims all these factors in varying degrees affect the existing balance of power. “You need to go to greater diversity in government, a more equitable representation of ethnic groups in government. With the present situation, it is difficult to change any regulations or laws, it must be done in an evolutionary way,” he said.

What are the foreign policy priorities of Abkhazia at the moment?

We have excellent relations with the Russian Federation, with the Foreign Ministry of Russia. Russia is our strategic partner and a friend, but we try to develop relations with the other countries of the region too. Of course, the relations with Georgia are difficult since we are technically in a state of war with Georgia. We are trying to develop relations with Turkey. We have established strong economic ties already. Moreover, Turkey has a large Abkhazian Diaspora. Relations with Turkey at the moment are mainly economic in nature, although during the visit of Sergei Bagapsh to Turkey other issues were discussed, including the opening of the ferry service between Abkhazia and Turkey–Turkish Abkhazians were free to visit their relatives. We also develop relationships with our partners - countries that have recognized us. We recently signed an agreement with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu for visa-free travel.

What are the relations with the Abkhaz diaspora abroad?

These issues involved in the repatriation committee, it is their problem. Recently, the mission traveled to Syria, and there are about a hundred people that expressed their desire to return to their historic homeland. They work closely with the Russian embassy in Damascus. We are ready to provide the opportunity to all want to come here. There is even a program in place for their resettlement, employment, language training and subsidies.

There is the belief that the return of the descendants of Muhajirs may lead to the arrival of radical Islamist elements in Abkhazia. How justified are these concerns?

There is no reason to believe these people will come here and be radical; these people are all law-abiding citizens. I am often in Turkey, and I can say that Turkish Abkhazians did not tend towards religious radicalism. The main threat of Islamic radicalism to Abkhazia does not come from Turkey or Syria, but rather from the North Caucasus. Political Islam has penetrated the North Caucasus, where there is a certain underground and for us it's actually a serious threat. The worst thing for Abkhazia is the division of society along religious lines. Abkhazian society has always been tolerant, and we have no tradition of religious conflicts.