Thursday, June 23, 2016

Georgia Sacrificing Relations with North Caucasus for Ties with Russia, Tbilisi Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 23 – Russia has never been able to achieve control over the North Caucasus until after it has dominated or even occupied the South Caucasus, and consequently, the attitudes of the countries there about the North Caucasus remain a matter of constant concern in Moscow.

            None of the three Transcaucasus countries has been more important in this regard than the Republic of Georgia which under Mikhail Saakashvili developed intense relations with various nations in the North Caucasus and in this way made itself a target for Russian aggression against his country in 2008.

            And in the period since, Moscow has made it clear that any restoration of good relations between Russia and Georgia will depend at least in part on Tbilisi reducing its interest in and support for the peoples of the North Caucasus.  Now, it appears, the current Georgian government has quietly decided to go along.

            In an interview with Georgia Online’s Leyla Naroushvili, Aleko Kvakhadze, a Georgian specialist on the North Caucasus and on the Circassian language, notes with regret that Tbilisi has reduced its contacts with and support for peoples in the North Caucasus in order to curry favor with Moscow (

            In earlier years, Kvakhadze says, “a Circassian Cultural Center and the Institute of Caucasus Studies at Tbilisi State University worked actively, Georgia recognized the genocide of the Circassians, and special educational programs were developed for students from the North Caucasus, along with other projects.”

            “Some of these things continue to work by inertia,” he says; “but these are old initaitives and are not projects of the new government.” Indeed, the Georgian government today “considers that Georgia must not be an apple of discord between the West and Russia and thus is conducting a policy which will not anger Russia … Therefore, all these projects were stopped.”

Moreover, he continues, Tbilisi has been cooperating with Russian security services on occasion and the Georgian press has been full of stories that people from the North Caucasus living in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge are going to fight for ISIS and other Islamist organizations in the Middle East.

All Georgian scholarship programs for North Caucasian university students have ended, Kvakhadze says, although he notes that some people from that region who can afford to pay their own way are still studying in Georgian institutions. At the same time, many North Caucasians continue to come to or pass through Georgia despite the end of the special visa regime for them.

The Georgian scholar says that he continues to meet with scholars from the North Caucasus but typically at conferences held not in Georgia but in Turkey or elsewhere.  The North Caucasians are interested in such contacts, and they have “expressed the hope” that there will be more of them in the future.

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