Tuesday, October 08, 2013

BLOG: Occupation Continuum – New Berlin Wall in Georgia. By Tamar Lobjanidze (adjapsandali.wordpress.com)

“A good neighbor is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it”, Arthur Baer.
http://adjapsandali.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/12.jpg(adjapsandali.wordpress.com) Post-Soviet conflicts are mostly referred to as “Frozen Conflicts”, but since the August war broke out in 08.08.08 we can no longer consider the unresolved dispute in South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region “frozen”, as the dramatic events continue to occur ever since the active armed conflict has been brought to an end by the Cease-fire Agreement on August 12th, 2008.
To follow the Michael S. Lund’s Curve of Conflict theory, after the peace enforcement, conflicts are mitigated, therefore peacekeeping is launched to terminate and engage in post-conflict peace building process, that finally brings parties to the conflict stabilization and further resolution.
In the case of South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region, the August heat completely melted the stagnant situation, and dramatically changed the dynamics of the ethnic conflict, first broken out in the years of 1988-1989. As a result, the inhabitants of the region witnessed a second wave of ethnic cleansing, expulsion, torture, captivity, destruction and degradation of their property and many more of the physical and moral damage a human brain could imagine. Consequently, the war resulted in the occupation of 127 Georgian villages; most of which have been entirely obliterated (Tamarasheni, Avnevi, Ergneti, Kekhvi, Dzartsemi etc.), while the neighboring villages left under the control of Georgia, continually witnessed cruelty and oppression from Russian-Ossetian militias.
Particularly, during the last five years, Georgians living around the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL), have been systematically exposed to arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions and abductions, resulting in physical abuse and other inhumane treatments. The de facto authorities, together with Russian military forces, massively discriminated the ethnic Georgians – intimidation, harassment, humiliation and other acts of ill-treatment were designed to terrorize or to push Georgians to flee from their native territories. More precisely, during last five years, due to the mass militarization of South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region (build up of military bases, deploying around 3500 Russian troops), the local population tremendously suffered from the violation of their basic rights – freedom of movement and the adverse impact on their livelihood, destruction and plunder of their property belongings, etc. and continue to suffer, as of the so called process of building new border with Georgia.
As a matter of fact, in the post war period, efforts are made to end the hostilities and switch to peacemaking and/or conflict management process, where the outside parties engaged in peace enforcement and conflict mitigation. In the case of the Russia-Georgia war, the Six-Point Ceasefire Agreement had been reached to end hostilities and an outside party, the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM), was set up to seek stabilization, normalization, confidence building amongst the relevant authorities and “help make sure that the local people are living in a safe and secure environment”. The efforts to keep the conflict from re-escalation succeeded, as the fighting subsided and military conflict terminated. Therefore, post-war activities helped to reduce tensions, moving the conflict from a state of war to a state of crisis. However, the efforts at peacemaking failed, as peace enforcement never actually happened.
One of the main reason, why a state of crisis constantly fluctuates and sends signals to re-escalation, is directly related to continual land appropriation. Instead of fulfilling the obligation as stated in the principle five of the Six-Point Ceasefire Agreement: “Russian armed forces to withdraw to the positions held before hostilities began in South Ossetia.”, The Russian Authorities continue to penetrate and seize Georgian territories along the ABL. Therefore, Russia plays its own game in the Caucasus and has no interest in managing conflicts and making peace. On the contrary, it deliberately continues to destabilize the situation and create chaos that seems to suit Russia’s interests.
Therefore, the process is, fairly, called the Crawling/Creeping Occupation, as for its character of jutting about 1000 meters south, further into Georgia – drawing a new border between Georgia and its breakaway province of South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region, by installing a new Berlin Wall – metal border fences unilaterally – impeding the freedom of movement of ethnic Georgians and the appropriation of their belongings.
The installation of barbed wires and fences started after the August War and was in progress during 2009-2012 around the villages of Gori, Kareli and Kaspi region. The process intensively continues currently in 2013, and rapidly covers the villages belonging Gori, Kareli, Akhalgori regions, which raises tensions locally and internationally.
In September, the situation turned even more dramatic. Russians and Ossetians claimed the border is in fact deeper into villages of Ditsi and Dvani, and continue to build actual fences. While local Georgian civilians, together with Georgian armed forces, have no plans to resist. As a result, residents are currently forced to evict, as their houses are crossed by the Occupation line, Russian and Ossetian forces claim to be the new borderline. Sadly, three families – Mekarishvili, Makhachashvili and Korashvili living in Dvani, were pressured to abandon their homes. Consequently, families dismantled their property, took their belongings and fled.
The fact demonstrates, that Russia will never agree to stable peace in the region. Instead of following the Six-Point Ceasefire Plan, where Russian armed forces were to pull back on the line, preceding the start of hostilities, it purposely penetrates deeply in Georgia, to tease the new government, demoralize, raise tensions and finally break the country. Moreover, instead of finding solutions for peaceful co-existence, or building confidence and reconciliation, the Russian authorities decided to build a Berlin Wall of barbed wire entanglements and, whilst,  impeding the right of return of the displaced people.
In the meantime, the Georgian society has mobilized and has been planning to take  action against the occupation of their country. During the last week of September, civil society members, journalists and students organized protests against the crawling occupation, visiting the ABL and the local population to show their support. In total around 35 foreign journalists and analysts, high profile officials, Embassy representatives in Georgia arrived in Ditsi and Dvani to evaluate situation on the ground. Also 28 Ambassadors of the EU Member States went on patrol to Ditsi, Ergneti and Zardiantkari to witness the situation along the ABL. Activism in the region significantly raised interest and concerns on local and international levels.
“We note with concern the continued and increasing activities by Russian security forces to erect fences and other physical barriers along the administrative boundary lines of the occupied territories in Georgia,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
“It has a negative impact on the situation on the ground, and it affects the lives of those citizens of Georgia who live on either side of the administrative boundary lines,” Rasmussen stated. “I call for the removal of these barriers.” He also called upon Russia “to reverse its recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia as independent states.”
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, called on the barriers to be removed and expressed “profound concern” over “the continued and increasing activities by Russian security forces to erect fences and other obstacles along administrative boundary lines in Georgia.”
After the strong signals and statements were voiced towards Russia, on October 3, 2013, Dvani residents noticed how Russian border forces temporarily terminated the installation of fences and took all the equipment away. Hence, international involvement and peaceful activism appears to be helpful so far, although nobody assures, Russia is going to stop building a new Berlin Wall in Georgia in the future.
Nevertheless, it is a fact, that strong international support and on time engagement could have a positive impact to prevent conflicts and keep peace. Even though, on a longer perspective, due to Russia’s irrational politics and realism in the region, it will be hard to predict, whether Georgians should wait for 30 more years to “TEAR DOWN THIS WALL”.

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