A short history of the conflict in Abkhazia and the South Ossetian/Tskhinvali region
During the Soviet Union, South Ossetia and Abkhazia were autonomous republics within the territory of Soviet Georgian.
After the fall of the USSR, Georgia began to strive for independence. The autonomous republics wanted the same - they did not want to remain part of Georgian territory.
The Georgian-Ossetian ethno-territorial conflict began at the end of the 1980s and grew into an armed conflict between 1990-1992.
A few years later, in 1992, war broke out in Abkhazia, and ended in 1993 with the almost complete expulsion of Georgian military units and ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia.
In these conflicts, Moscow formally supported Georgia, but in fact helped South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
By 1994, when the ceasefire agreement was put into force, Tbilisi had lost control of much of Abkhazia and several parts of South Ossetia. The joint peacekeeping forces of Georgia, Russia and Tskhinvali were located in South Ossetia, and Russian peacekeepers are in Abkhazia.
According to some reports, the armed conflict in Abkhazia claimed the lives of more than 13 thousand people, and 250-300 thousand became refugees. Most of them are ethnic Georgians. Later, about 40-50 thousand ethnic Georgians returned to their homes, but only in the Gali district. Gali is the only region in Abkhazia where Georgians live today.
The conflict in South Ossetia in the 1990s, according to various estimates, claimed the lives of up to a thousand people, and 60 thousand became refugees. Most of them are ethnic Ossetians living in different parts of Georgia. Up to 10 thousand ethnic Georgians living in South Ossetia also became refugees.
After the ceasefire, armed confrontation would still break out from time to time in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In August 2008, the confrontation in South Ossetia turned into a full-scale war.
Military operations swept over and captured territories controlled by Tbilisi. This included the part of Abkhazia that was controlled by the Georgian authorities before the war.
As a result of the hostilities, Georgia lost control over the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that it controlled before the armed confrontation in 2008.
Military operations ceased on August 12 with the signing of a six-point treaty, mediated by the EU. The 2008 conflict created a new wave of refugees - around 26 thousand people, most of them ethnic Georgians, who were forced to leave the villages located in the South Ossetian conflict zone. After the war, only the Georgians who lived in the Akhalgori region returned home. The ethnic Georgians living in other regions were unable to return to their homes.
On August 26, 2008, Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, these two territories still remain unrecognized by the absolute majority of countries in the international community.
Today, te administrative borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia aree controlled by the Russian Federation. Tskhinvali and Sukhumi believee that Russia will guarantee their safety and protect them from aggressive Georgian policy.
Georgia has called the Russian presence in Abkhazia an act of occupation.
The majority of UN member states support the territorial integrity of Georgia.
“Borderization” in the South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region
Over 60 kilometers of territory have been fenced in
Observation equipment stretches across 20 kilometers of land
More than 200 signs have been erected, reading “Border of the South Ossetian Republic”
There are 19 bases and four checkpoints controlled by Russian border guards
“Borderization” in Abkhazia
More than 40 kilometers of fenced-in territory
Observation posts from which an approximately 25-kilometer section of the administrative border is controlled
19 bases and two checkpoints controlled by Russian border guards
“Russian soldiers came to my house and said that the area is no longer part of Georgia. That evening, they started to put up barbed wire in my yard. They cut me off from the rest of the village and country,” said 85-year old David Vanishvili from the village of Khurvateli. “Borderization” cut him off from his village, neighbors, and relatives.
In 2013, when the Russian and Ossetian soldiers put up barbed wire in his village, David Vanishvili was faced with a difficult choice: he had to say goodbye to either his house and land, or his village, neighbors and relatives. David Vanishvili was unable to remain in his home. Now, he and his wife rely on their neighbors to survive. They secretly pass retirement money, medication, and other items to the elderly couple through the barbed wire. In gratitude, David Vanishvili takes care of the graves of their deceased relatives, who also ended up on the other side of the administrative border.
Amiran Gugutishvili, a 71-year-old resident of Gugutiantkari, lost an orchard due to borderization in 2017:
“Every year I grew about a hundred boxes of apples. This fed the family. Since 2017, I haven’t been able to enter my orchard. The Russians put a sign saying that the “state border” is there. Sometimes I go and look at my apple trees from afar.”
How the Georgian authorities are helping those living in the conflict zone
After 2013, the Georgian authorities launched several social and infrastructural projects to help the population affected by borderization, including projects to transport gas across the country, fix irrigation systems, and subsidize agriculture.
Villages near the administrative border were given the status of highlands, which provides special benefits for local residents - pension and social assistance are increased by 20%, and they are exempt from property and income tax.
However, citizens interviewed by Amnesty International say that government assistance is not enough and they feel that they have been “abandoned” by the authorities.
“We live like refugees in our own homes,” they say.
The main problem here, as in the whole of Georgia, is poverty and unemployment. In addition, borderization has robbed these people of their previous minimum-wage income sources.
The villagers complain that the Georgian authorities did not offer them any compensation in exchange for remaining the lands and pastures on the other side of the barbed wire.
The villagers have no money to invest in agricultural businesses themselves, and because of the high risks, banks will not loan them money.
Some say that the government even deprived them of benefits because they no longer meet the requirements for receiving them.
The situation is even harder in Gali and Akhalgori. [These two regions are exceptions - after the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, only the ethnically Georgian population remains in these two regions].
Although they returned to their homes after the conflict, they must live in constant stress and poverty.
These people retain the status of internally displaced persons, since Tbilisi does not consider their return “safe and sustainable.” Based on this status, the Georgian state pays them 45 GEL (about $ 17) as a monthly allowance. In addition, pensioners receive around 200 lari (about $73). And that’s all the help they get.
In addition, these people do not enjoy the medical benefits that the Georgian authorities used for Abkhazians and Ossetians in an effort to reconcile with and reintegrate the population. Under this program, Georgia fully covers the medical costs of those living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But this does not apply to ethnic Georgians from Gali and Akhalgori. They, like other Georgian citizens, only have access to the public health program, which does not fully cover the cost of treatment.
Georgians from Gali and Akhalgori call this program discriminatory, since only ethnic Abkhazians and Ossetians can enjoy benefits.