Arda Inal-Ipa: proposals of informal Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue are aimed at overcoming Abkhazia’s international isolation, stimulating regional cooperation

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In an interview with Abkhazia-Inform, the executive director of the Center for Humanitarian Programs Arda Inal-Ipa spoke about the initiatives of the conference participants in Belgrade and the proposals of the participants of the informal Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue.

Proposals of the participants in the informal Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue have recently been released. Shortly after that, in their Conversation program, Inal Khashig, together with Astamur Tania, spoke about the initiative and the process in the Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue within the framework of the Limehouse platform. We know that you have been a long-term participant in the civil dialogue, please tell us about the conference in Belgrade and the process that led to the development of the specific ideas.

Arda Inal-Ipa: I must say that the informal Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue began shortly after the end of the 1992-1993 Georgian-Abkhaz war. The meetings were organized by various international organizations and universities: International Alert, George Mason University (with the participation of MPs), various UN departments, UN Volunteers, University of California, Reconciliation Resources, Council of Europe and others. Sometimes the processes proceeded in parallel, sometimes the dialogue started by one organization was continued by another. In short, over the post-war period, hundreds of experts, representatives of civil organizations, journalists, MPs of various convocations, representatives of the executive branch and the opposition took part in the meetings devoted to the analysis of the conflict, its causes, vision of a peaceful future and many other issues.

Everyone remembers well the several meetings on the establishment of confidence-building measures, which took place under the auspices of the UN, and in which the active politicians of the highest level and public figures from both sides participated. These meetings took place in Istanbul, Athens and Yalta. All such initiatives were primarily peacekeeping-oriented. The Schleining Dialogue Process is quite famous. There, politicians “without ties”, as well as representatives of civil society, who acted as the initiators and organizers of this process, participated for several years. It was on this platform that the discussion of an agreement on the non-resumption of hostilities began, which is currently the main issue at the Geneva discussions.

As for the process in which my colleagues and I are participating today, after the stage of illusions, when it seemed to each side that they would be able to convince their opponents on political issues, they understood the need to work to reduce the negative consequences of the conflict. Due to the position of Georgia and its allies as well as international institutions supporting it, the possibilities of the residents of Abkhazia are limited – for example, freedom of movement, access to medicine and education abroad are limited, as well as direct international relations and investments in Abkhazia. Therefore, many meetings within the framework of the dialogue were devoted specifically to the problem of international isolation of Abkhazia and the need to change international approaches to overcome it. The question of involving Abkhazian representatives in international processes, their access to important international platforms, etc was raised there. Among the representatives of civil society in Georgia there are people who are convinced that there is no alternative to peaceful ways of resolving the conflict, who consider existing restrictions to be unfair on the residents of Abkhazia. We are conducting a dialogue with such people. It should also be noted that for many years, under different presidents, we discussed the results of our meetings with the RA Foreign Ministers and deputies of the Parliament of different convocations, and found understanding and support.

It is clear that the main goal of the dialogue is to achieve mutual understanding and strengthen peace, but did you manage to achieve any practical results, or was everything limited to conversations?

A. I-I: Yes, you are right – the main goal of our participation in the dialogue is to provide the Georgian side and international organizations, experts and diplomats with the information about the history and roots of the conflict, about the aspirations of modern Abkhazia. Within the framework of the dialogue, ideas are being tested, arguments are being sought in favor of unblocking Abkhazia, and allies are being found in the issue of ensuring equal participation of Abkhazia in regional processes in the South Caucasus and the Black Sea region. There are also some practical results of the dialogue. First of all, it is the emergence of opportunities for internships for students and master’s degrees in European countries. Many have heard of the British Chevening scholarship.

For several years now, our graduates have had the opportunity to enroll in a master’s program at British universities; a year ago, the opportunity for a long-term internship at the University of Zurich appeared. Our students do not go there from Georgia, they do not need to indicate someone else’s address, since a special page in the online questionnaire was created – the South Caucasus. There are other concrete results, for example, assistance in providing the Institute of Ecology with modern equipment for monitoring the aquatic environment, establishing cooperation between our mountain climbers and the best international experts – mountain rescuers, copying and transferring important archival materials in the fields of history, archeology and ethnography of Abkhazia to Abkhaz scientific institutes, as well as some other projects.

In addition, an important result is that the participants from Abkhazia are given the opportunity to speak at various influential international platforms, thanks to which, today, in the international expert and diplomatic environment a superficial understanding of the position and aspirations of Abkhazia has been largely overcome. All this became possible thanks to the dialogue mediated by international organizations.

Who worked on the proposals?

It is difficult to name everyone who participated in the process of discussion and put forward various ideas and proposals, since over the years many people participated in the dialogue at different times. It should be emphasized that on the issue of political relations between Abkhazia and Georgia, the participants remain on diametrically opposite positions. The Abkhazian participants proceed from the position of the issue of independence of Abkhazia finally being resolved and not being a subject to discussion. At the same time, the parties agreed that international isolation is not only unfair and hinders the development of Abkhazia, but also aggravates conflict with Georgia, which is the main obstacle in the issue of de-isolation. In Belgrade, the main participants of the dialogue decided to present the ideas expressed at different stages, to summarize and publish them in the form of proposals. On the Abkhaz side, the main participants were Arda Inal-Ipa, Astamur Tania, Liana Kvarchelia, Inal Khashig and others, although Liana and I did not participate in the last meeting in Belgrade. We all participate in the dialogue in our personal capacity, and, by definition, we are not going to sign any agreements, these are not our responsibility and not our task. These proposals can be a subject for discussion among experts and politicians, and we would like them to be discussed on the merits.

-Why did you decide to publish your proposals right now?

The second Karabakh war and its consequences tell us that the frozen conflict is not a guarantee of peace. Complex geopolitical processes and faults are taking place, the situation is changing rapidly, and we need to stay ahead of the curve, be proactive in promoting the peaceful agenda and issues of economic development. Today there was news of a mechanism of the 3 + 3 format (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia + Russia, Turkey, Iran) being created to regulate processes in the South Caucasus. This format excludes participation of Abkhazia. This means that decisions concerning our region will be made without us. We are striving for Abkhazia to be an active and equal participant in regional processes. And in this sense, the proposals formulated by the participants of the dialogue are precisely aimed at overcoming the international isolation of Abkhazia and promoting the issue of its participation in regional cooperation.

On the other hand, unblocking communications, which is discussed in the proposals, could become an issue in the solution of which not only Abkhazia, but also Georgia, Russia,Armenia, and the region as a whole, would be interested.

Regional economic cooperation could and should become an important factor in stability and peaceful development. It is good when such ideas are voiced by representatives of one of the countries of the region, but when people from different sides of the conflict come up with such proposals, their voice becomes much louder, and there is a greater chance that it can be heard by regional players and the international community.

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