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Debunking Putin’s ‘bedtime stories,’ a brief history of Georgia’s occupied regions

By Levan Abramishvili
Thursday, July 11
While the anti-occupation rallies are in full force, going on for more than 20 consecutive days, the president of the occupying country, Vladimir Putin is attempting to rewrite the history; saying that Georgia occupied Abkhazia in 1918.

This Sunday, a Rustavi 2 anchor addressed Putin, using foul language towards him and his deceased parents. This kicked off a series of reactions, sanctions, and tensions between Georgia and Russia. The fact that an action of a private-owned TV channel journalist became a subject of controversy between the countries is comical in and of itself, but Putin went as far as to attempt to change historical facts about Georgia and its occupied territories.

He turned to the age-old narrative regarding the 2008 war, saying that Russia had to intervene to “protect the people of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” He went on telling a distorted story of Georgia and the occupied territories, Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (so-called South Ossetia).

“Ossetia became a part of the Russian Empire, if I remember correctly in 1774, both South and North together as an independent state. Abkhazia in 1810 as an independent state, as a principality. There was no Georgia. It was the Tbilisi province,” said Putin.

He also accused Georgians of committing genocide and of being occupiers.

“After World War I, Georgia attempted to engulf Abkhazia. An independent Georgian state was formed that occupied Abkhazia in 1918, assisted by the German troops. And the occupiers were behaving brutally, Georgian forces were even more ruthless in Ossetia in 1919-1920. Actually, this is what is called genocide today,” he added.

He advised Georgian authorities never to forget this, if they “want to improve the relations with people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

He believes that during the Soviet Union, Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia was created first and Georgia, with its current territory, became a part of it.

“It was not even Georgia. During Stalin’s period, the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic was created and became a part of Abkhazia. By the way, our human rights advocates never draw attention to it. It’s even strange. At Stalin’s request, the Soviet People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs headed by Beria took a few steps regarding the Abkhaz people, very brutal, I don’t even want to draw examples now, for Georgia to absorb this territory and its people,” said Putin.

The above mentioned are lies, not facts, that might seem easy to believe for someone with no access to the internet. The reality is different.

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, after the Russian Empire collapsed, The Democratic Republic of Georgia (often referred as the ‘First Republic’) was created, which included Abkhazia and the area of modern South Ossetia.

Georgia was immediately recognized by Germany and the Ottoman Empire. The young state had to place itself under German protection, which enabled the Georgians to repel the Bolshevik threat from Abkhazia in 1918. The 1921 constitution granted Abkhazia autonomy.

In 1921, the Bolshevik Red Army invaded Georgia and ended its short-lived independence. Abkhazia was made a Socialist Soviet Republic with the status of a ‘treaty republic’ associated with the Georgian SSR. In 1931, Joseph Stalin made it an autonomous republic within the Georgian SSR.

In 1991, Georgia managed to restore independence and created the Republic of Georgia. Abkhazia is represented with a broad autonomy in the constitution, which is in force to this day.

In an attempt to undermine Georgia’s independence, the Russian forces were able to instigate separatist population in Abkhazia, which was followed by the 1992-1993 Russian-Georgian war in Abkhazia. The war resulted in the expulsion of 80% of the population from Abkhazia (mainly ethnically Georgians, Abkhazs, Russians and others).

On August 26, 2008, the government of Russia finalized the annexation of Abkhazia by formally recognizing the independence of the Abkhazian state. In reality, this is a seizure of the territory, which is used as a Russian’ military base’, with their units controlling the political climate in the occupied territory. Despite the attempts of Russia, the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia legally remains a part of the Georgian state.

As for the so-called South Ossetia region, separatist forces there declared independence in 1990. In October 1990, the parliamentary elections in Georgia was won by Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s “Round Table” block. On December 11, 1990, Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s government declared the Ossetian election illegitimate and abolished South Ossetia’s autonomous status altogether, and the territory was divided up to different Georgian regions.

Amidst rising tensions, a war (1991-1992 South Ossetia War) broke out when Georgian forces entered the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali. More than 2,000 people are believed to have been killed in the war. The separatists were helped by former Soviet military units, who by now had come under Russian command. Approximately 100,000 Ossetians fled Georgia proper and South Ossetia, while 23,000 Georgians left South Ossetia.

A ceasefire agreement (the Sochi Agreement) was reached on June 24, 1992. While it ended the war, it did not deal with the status of South Ossetia. A Joint Control Commission for Georgian–Ossetian Conflict Resolution and peacekeeping force, composed of Russian, Georgian and Ossetian troops, was set up.

Following the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, the whole territory of the region is controlled by the Russian occupying army.

On October 23, 2008, the Georgian Parliament adopted the “Law on Occupied Territories of Georgia,” which criminalizes and prosecutes entry into Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the Russian side without special permission.

The Georgian law also allows any economic activity only according to the Georgian law. Georgia and many other members of the international community including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Germany, Ukraine, the EU, OSCE, and the UN have recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as occupied territories and have condemned the Russian military’s presence and actions there.

The law says that the Russian Federation – the state which has carried out the military occupation – is fully responsible for the violation of human rights in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

It also reads that de facto state agencies and officials operating in the occupied territories are regarded by Georgia as illegal. The law will remain in force until “full restoration of the jurisdiction of Georgia.”

No matter how hard Putin keeps trying to rewrite the history, he needs to remember that in the age of the internet, the methods that he became acquainted with as the intelligence officer of the KGB are outdated and will never work in the developed world of today.