The messenger logo

Reflecting on 30 Years Since the Fall of Sokhumi: Georgia's Ongoing Struggle for Justice

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, October 23, 2023
Last month marked the 30th year after the fall of Sokhumi. September 27, 1993, is the most tragic date in the recent history of Georgia, with the most severe consequences, which significantly hampered and still hampers the development of Georgia. Today, there is a consensus in the Georgian society that it was Georgia's war with Russia, which, with the support of the separatists, tried to maintain its influence on Georgia.

At the end of the 1980s, Soviet Moscow opposed Georgia's quest for independence by not only inciting Abkhazian and Ossetian separatism but also turning it into an armed conflict. Yeltsin's "democracy-oriented" Russia actively continued this policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If it were not for the orientation of the Soviet and post-Soviet Russia to start a bloody conflict, independent Georgia would have managed to settle the existing problems peacefully. Let's recall the legislative change carried out by Zviad Gamsakhurdia, according to which Abkhazians were guaranteed more than half of the seats in the Parliament of Abkhazia.

What Yeltsin's Russia could not do in the Baltic countries, it compensated tenfold in the Caucasus. The authorities of Gamsakhurdia and especially Shevardnadze filled with Russian agents, overthrowing Gamsakhurdia and imitating civil conflict through armed groups, abundantly supplying Abkhazian separatists with weapons and thousands of North Caucasians and Cossack "volunteers" who came from the territory of the Russian Federation, who were acting alongside the elite special forces of the Russian army.

Official Moscow itself not only washed its hands of it but also assumed the role of "peacekeeper", claiming they would help solve the conflict. Shevardnadze's government agreed to this - "maybe somehow we can win the heart of the Russian government." Moscow's "mediation" always returned to Georgia as a new defeat.

In 1993, separatists and "volunteers" from Russia attacked Sokhumi several times, but without success. They stood up and signed a "ceasefire" agreement between the "opposing parties" on July 27, 1993 - the Georgian government agreed to withdraw its troops from Sokhumi, but the separatists broke their promise and attacked Sokhumi on September 16. Russia claimed they had nothing to do with it.

On September 27, Sokhumi fell. The fall of Sokhumi ended with the expulsion of the Georgian population from the territory of Abkhazia. September 27 is associated with the loss of control over Abkhazia in Georgia and the ethnic cleansing of Georgians on the territory of Abkhazia. About 30,000 people died in the armed conflict, and 300,000 people, mostly Georgians, became displaced. Shevardnadze's government still relied on Russia's "peaceful mediation". He tried to make concessions to Moscow in order to restore territorial integrity. Georgia joined the "Commonwealth of Independent States" created by Moscow and agreed to place Russian military bases in Georgia, but these and other steps did not result in any "concessions" from Moscow. Moreover, in 2008, Russia launched a direct war against Georgia and declared the occupied territories of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali as "independent" states. Today, against the background of the war against Ukraine, Russia is preparing to join these "independent" republics with Russia.

In the circumstances of Russia's attack on Ukraine and the war that has been going on for two years now, the West has already understood the Russian imperial policy towards the neighboring countries and can better understand the problems that Russia has inflicted on Georgia. During the entire post-Soviet period, Russia continuously waged a hybrid war against Georgia, which turned into a bloodstained war twice. What happened was not Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian ethno-conflicts, as claimed by Russian propaganda, it was the direct occupation of Georgian territories by Russia. Furthermore, it can be explicitly stated that Russia's policy towards Georgians has extended beyond ethnic cleansing to include genocide.

During the 11 years of its rule, the Georgian Dream government, naturally, marks the day every year, bringing flower wreaths as a tribute to the dead expressing the hope that the "conflict will be resolved", but has never mentioned Russia's responsibility and has not demanded an end to the Russian occupation.

Georgian Dream parliaments never discussed the tragedy in Abkhazia or passed any documents or appeals, even in connection with the 30th year after the fall of Sokhumi. Unlike the current government of Georgia, the opposition insists more and more that it is necessary to tell the full truth about the crimes committed by Russia in Georgia, what happened three decades ago in Gagra, and two years ago the Russian army repeated it in Bucha, Ukraine. They consider it necessary to first recognize the genocide of Georgians on the territory of Abkhazia by the Parliament of Georgia, by issuing relevant legal conclusions.

It so happened that the 30th anniversary of the fall of Sokhumi coincided with the restoration of territorial integrity by Azerbaijan. Of course, no one expects the Georgian authorities to use the same methods to restore territorial integrity. It may happen that before the 2024 parliamentary elections, the issue of the occupied territories of Georgia will become one of the leading topics. The view was expressed that the Georgian Dream" aims to project an image of Moscow as "understanding" of Georgia's territorial integrity restoration, whereas the opposition will prioritize discussing Russia's crimes against Georgia and advocating for the necessary legal actions.