Thursday, October 14, 2010

Georgia Expands Its Outreach to the North Caucasus

By David Iberi

On October 11, 2010, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili signed an executive order allowing the residents of the North Caucasus republics of the Russian Federation to enjoy a 90-day visa-free regime when entering and staying in Georgia starting October 13. The waiver applies to all seven ethnic republics in the North Caucasus: Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Adygea. Symbolism aside, Georgia’s latest decision aimed at “deepening dialogue” with its immediate neighbors to the north might have serious consequences for Tbilisi’s standing in the Caucasus and could as well be seen as part of a more ambitious strategy that is just taking shape and substance.

It was nearly a month ago on September 23 in New York when the Georgian president spoke before the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations and elaborated on his views of a peaceful and united Caucasus. “For too long, [the Caucasus] has suffered from division, injustice, conflict, colonization and violence,” Saakashvili asserted, “Today, however, change is possible. In fact, change is already taking place.” He then talked about his vision of a “free, stable and united Caucasus.” To be sure, the Georgian leader then made a direct connection between Georgia’s rapid modernization and its deepening ties with the outside world, including the Caucasus, against a background of Russia’s failed policies in its ethnically diverse North Caucasus region – “a region that is exploding,” in Saakashvili’s own words.

Georgia has had visa-free relations with three out of its four neighboring countries. With trade and people-to-people contacts burgeoning with Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, Russia stands as an exception for understandable reasons. Tbilisi severed diplomatic ties with Moscow after the latter started to annex the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia following the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008. But the establishment of a visa regime with Georgia had itself been a unilateral decision by the Kremlin almost ten years ago, in December 2000. Tbilisi had then felt compelled to take a reciprocal step.

Georgia significantly stepped up its engagement with the North Caucasus soon after the August war. A special body charged with a task to strengthen humanitarian relations with the indigenous populations across the major Caucasus ridge was created in the Georgian Parliament. In an apparent show of increasing confidence, in March 2010, the Georgian Parliament received an appeal by Circassian communities to recognize the massacres and deportations of Circassians orchestrated by Tsarist Russia in the 19th century as genocide. Georgia’s Public Broadcaster created a special Russian-language First Caucasus Channel to reach to the audiences in the post-Soviet space, including the North Caucasus. Although the channel was shortly removed from a French satellite under alleged Russian pressure, it is currently being renovated and its producers hope to resume satellite broadcasting soon. The number of students from across the Caucasus, including the North Caucasus, studying in public and private Georgian universities has dramatically increased over the past several years as well as think-tanks and academic institutions studying and researching the North Caucasus. Tbilisi’s visa facilitation policy seems to be the latest measure reinforcing the general trend in what could be called Georgia’s Caucasus strategy.

Nugzar Tsiklauri, a Georgian MP who is actively engaged in developing Georgia’s North Caucasus direction, told Israel’s news agency in April 2010 that Georgia’s strategy was to help “create a friendly atmosphere toward the Georgian State in both North and South Caucasus and thus reduce the risks and threats emanating from Putinist Russia.” In the same interview, he also talked about a “democratic alternative” that Georgia was presenting to the peoples of the North Caucasus as a “rapidly modernizing, liberal, multi-ethnic, pluralistic, non-corrupt and transparent society.”

Apart from creating a “friendly atmosphere” and being seen as a “role model,” Georgia’s North Caucasus engagement strategy apparently has other objectives as well. Deeper ties with North Caucasus Muslim populations could help stability in Georgia itself; although the country is overwhelmingly Christian, it has a sizeable Muslim community, including Muslim Georgians, who would only hail good neighborly relations with the North Caucasus. Besides, Georgia has historically had close relations with all ethnicities across the Caucasus and although it is scientifically controversial, there is a pervasive popular belief among Georgians that most of the North Caucasians are related to them both ethnically and linguistically, and thus it is Georgia’s duty to champion the “Caucasus cause.” Several prominent Georgian writers and statesmen of the 19th and 20th centuries have helped inculcate that belief deeply into the Georgian psyche and public discourse, and many North Caucasians have only positively responded to it.

Lastly, against the backdrop of Russia’s continued occupation of Georgian lands, Georgia apparently seeks to secure a greater Caucasus-wide consensus on issues of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and hopes that a more intense interaction between Georgians and North Caucasians will play an instrumental role in it.


  1. The author of the article is avoiding truth as usual Georgians do when they would like to demonstrate belief to the values of Caucasians whom they betrayed not once in the history of the Caucasus/
    And they are following the same policy but found some cunnug ways of provocative measures to make the whole Caucasus burn but them as ostrichs will hide and be never touched by tragic events.

  2. Do you actualy believe in what u just said???Or could it be Russian propaganda??hmm...ya thats what i thought.It's a matter of question who betrayed who,Georgia or Caucasus.Georgia wasnt the one bombing Chechnya or sending vilonteers to the north to do the dirty works of Kremlin.Study the facts,read history and then try and make comment please!

  3. A[[ you do and manage - not for the great love for the peoples of the Caucasus , but just to bite Russia once more and destabilise the situation in the North Cauacsus - it is very obvious< to my regret/
    Read the history of Georgiawell, and find out who dragged Russia to the Caucasus

  4. Everywhere in the world so many problems arise that nobody can deeply study what is going on everywhere. However, I remember, after the October revolution there was a Caucasian republic for some years. Many of the respective languages belong to the same family and it has its cultural importance too. As to the nature it must be a common ecosystem. The geopolitical position between southern and northern powers is also clear. The unity in diversity is just need and logic. This must result in common historical features. I am sorry, the main contra is the possible pipe line from Kazakhstan and Central Asia to Europe, competitive to the northern ways. I am sorry, magnus amicus Plato but maior amica veritas: Russians never suffered so much from ugro-finic nations but vice versa the "tchudskoi konec" from them. Their military politics was not protection of Europe of Eastern Nomads but Expansion of Eastern Europe (Russia) over the moutaineous borders (Ural and Caucas)east and southwards. Excuse me, I like Russian people, but I dislike Russian policy and stupid desinformative speaches around. Howgh.

  5. A[[ I thought we were talking about:who betrayed who.Now we are talking about how Russia got dragged into Caucasus.So let me get this right;in your oppinion if the cause of Russia been involved in Caucasus is Georgia then it's ok to betray Georgia,did i get that right? lol Ok you seem to know history better then i do mabe you wanna explain to me,if Georgia was the "only" reason that Russia got involved in Caucasus then why was it that Russia from day one supported sepparatists in Georgias brake away regions?I hate repeating myself but as i said before READ HISTORY,STUDY THE FACTS AND ONLY AFTER MAKE CONCLUSIONS PLEASE!

  6. You know I am a Caucasian. Are you either?
    Maybe you know some historical falsification.
    But there is a true history/ which usually Georgians and their supporters do not like to listen to
    When I said that Georgians once dragged Russians to the Caucasus , I did not mean that it happened just now .

    I was referring you to the history of Georgia , which once upon a time and as today was not strong as a state to defend itself and invited Russia to protect it and joined the Russian Empire – first among others who had to join after the bloody Russian –Caucasian war/
    When the Tsarist Russian Army was expelling? Killing the Abkhazians from their Motherland as the Ubykhs? The Georgian battalions were supporting them and if you did not know it? SORRY ? BUT YOU CAN LEARN IT NOW .
    Georgians know about that fact but they do not like to hear about it.
    Concerning the situation and all this performance arranged with the North Caucasians – it is another story Saakashvili made up to make Russia angry? But not because of his great love and friendship to Caucasians
    The author of the article is too ambitious describing Georgia as something special at the Caucasus and the peoples of the Caucasus will appreciate such initiatives knowing Georgians for centuries , but not as you , or who knows , maybe you are a Georgian yourself.
    But it does not matter , in both cases, it will be not bad for you if you look and think about such actions realistically.

  7. I knew from the start that you were reffaring to "Giorgyevski Traktat" and that is exactly why i said what i said.
    Here we go again jumping conlusions.At first you were talking about how Georgians betrayed God knows who.Then it was how Russia got involved in Caucasus and now it's(Tsars Russian Army)killing the Abkhazians from their Motherland Ubykhs.
    Once again i proved my point: Kremlins Propaganda has nothing to do with History and reality.It is all part of the policy called "we take all and give nothing back." There is always, two sides of the story and you only seem to care about one.
    I am prety sure, we will continue the conversation about Stalin next.

  8. You know it seems you are the moderator ? As my previous comment disappeared twice and I had to post it for the third time.
    Stories are not medals with two sides and truth has just one side, but you would not like to see deeply into it and with open eyes.
    You are trying to play with all my sentences but in vain.
    As you know perfectly how Russians more then 200 years ago were dragged by poor Georgia to the Caucasus and of course , Russia wanted to expand its territory and it did successfully with assistance of Georgia . As you mentioned that Traktat , so you have to know other things too , that for example in the Krasnaya Poliana , the Red Field in which the Tsarist Russian army had made a military parade, in 1864 - along with their soldiers were walking solemnly Georgian soldiers and today when they speak about justice and that their rights are violated and calling Abkhazia occupied just because it is not under the rule of Georgian government, it is just stupid to talk a lot about any brotherhood with Northern Caucasians , knowing very well that at the bottom of their hearts they do not think so , but on the contrary.
    As for Stalin , this is another story, paradoxically that monster of the worlds monsters , was also Georgian. No more. All I say here is not Kremlin propaganda – and in this you are profoundly mistaken , I say it to you because I think so and my thinking did not appear in the empty place.

  9. Audkhara.. lol and after that u say this is not Kremlins propaganda.Everything you say so far is exactly what the Russian side is saying to some how make their occupation of Georgian regions legal.
    I thought i was arguing with someone that was simply misinformed,but now i know that you are the one that misinformes.
    Only truth you said so far was about Stalin,but the world knew that already anyways.Good luck with polutting the world with lies.
    p.s. The big difference between me and you is, that i dont get paid for posting comments.

  10. as soon as you could not response properly you as other of yours , started saying thigs as you say , propaganda , lies , etc. Shame on you poor guy, as for paying - you are paid and judge by yourself at others , this is not nice.
    My advice to you - start learning the history of Georgia , and the conflict then argue , otherwise you look weak.
    For the non visa pass - only of Georgian nationality passed the checkpoints as it is informed so it is opened for yours not for Caucasians.

  11. O that's exactly it.All my responses were proper to you "as other of yours."

  12. Very impressive stuff. Thanks for sharing


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