Pridon Dochia: Interview with George Hewitt

On 15 August 2012, the Tbilisi-based Mingrelian journalist Pridon Dochia, representing a Georgian internet-media-group interested in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, sent me the following questions in Georgian. On 19 August I sent him my replies, also in Georgian. The following is my translation of the Q-&-A exchange.

You are a kartvelologist. A bond of friendship used to unite you with Georgian linguists. But unexpectedly you came sharply to oppose them and the whole Georgian people. What brought all of this about? Surely it wasn’t the fact that you became a son-in-law of the Abkhazians, was it?

I am considerably surprised that after 20 years there still exists on the other side of the Ingur [Abkhazia’s border with Georgia] the wholly mistaken notion that the Open Letter to the Georgian People that I wrote in 1989 was occasioned by my kinship with the Abkhazians. I married an Abkhazian in 1976 and had a wonderful relationship with the Georgian until the summer of 1989 when the first ethnic clashes took place in Sukhum and Ochamchira. I don’t think it can be counted an exaggeration or boasting on my part if I say that at that time I was the only Western kartvelologist interested in the question of the minorities living within Georgia (and well informed about them to boot), since I was close not only to the Georgians but also to the Abkhazians. From week to week I was reading with alarm in the papers sent to me from Georgia what was being said against the minorities (especially the Abkhazians) by Georgia’s opposition-members of the day and by leading members of the so-called intelligentsia. Since I could see what a danger all this represented to the country (including all of its inhabitants), I decided to come out myself (after all, I was known to many as a kartvelologists and foreign supporter of Georgia, wasn’t I?) with advice to the effect that the type of nationalism propounded by Gamsakhurdia, K’ost’ava and Ch’ant’uria would in no way lead Georgia to a brilliant future. So, tell me, was I right or not? If anyone reads my Open Letter with open eyes (or, more importantly, an open mind), (s)he will sense that the advice was offered in order to be of benefit to both sides. I wasn’t seeking enmity with the Georgians – I’m not a moron. But we all know the result of what I wrote. The only surprising thing is that if any on the other side of the Ingur is still thinking upto today that, after everthing that has happened, I should be supporting a side whose case rests on insults and abuse, on falsification of history, and, if one is to call a spade a spade, on bare-faced lies.

In August 2008, the whole world (including your country) condemned Russia’s occupation of Georgia. Do you share this view? If not, why?

Any ordinary citizen of Abkhazia or one knowledgeable about Abkhazia’s internal situation will immediately reply everyone who poses them the question that nick-naming Abkhazia and South Ossetia “occupied territories” totally fails to conform with reality on the ground, and use of this phrase simply reveals the regional ignorance of the user. Such verbal games can in no way correct the results of Georgia’s from the very start retrograde politics or help it achieve its goal.

After the occupation, Russia recognised as independent states Abkhazia and the Tskhinval Region. However, only upto five states have supported Moscow, and that at the price of a certain sum. On the contrary, the EU and USA have recognised Abkhazia and the Tskhinval Region as occupied territories of Georgia. Why do you suppose that is?

In March 1992 the West understood nothing about (the internal situation of) Georgia at the time it recognised the country – at that time Georgia basically received recognition because of the reputation Shevardnadze had earned in the West, and this was a huge mistake. But when Shevardnadze turned out to be an unworthy leader (and not, as previously, the executor of the decisions of others), it was too late. Nobody likes to admit his/her own mistakes, and, since Georgia’s present (latest unworthy) administration had the idea of labelling the lost republics “occupied territories”, its Western friends like sheep followed Saak’ashvili down this path even further into the existing cul-de-sac. So what? Is anything really changing (or going to change hereafter) following this decision? Nothing! It would be better for the Georgians, rather than seeking to realise the unrealisable, to take responsibility for their own behavious, to acknowledge the fact that they will not be able to get back again what has been lost, to think of the future (and not the past), and to find a common language with all neighbouring countries (i.e. Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Russia). There is no other way out. In reality, Georgia should have recognised Abkhazia as an independent republic on 30 September 1993. And, if it takes this step now, that will be the best means for Georgia and (in its track) the whole world to prevent the process of Abkhazia’s moving closer to Russia. The Georgians seem to have forgotten one elementary fact, i.e. that after the end of a war the loser is not granted the right to decide the course of the future.

You call yourself Abkhazia’s ambassador in Gt. Britain. Does Gt. Britain’s Foreign Office recognise your status?

I do not call myself Abkhazia’s ambassador in Gt. Britain – I am Abkhazia’s Honorary Consul and nothing more. What does my country’s Foreign Office have to do with it? It can’t have a voice in the matter. When interested individuals want information about Abkhazia, they approach me, and I try to help them. If any wants to obtain a visa for Abkhazia, I make one out for them. That’s all there is to it.

Politicians close to the Kremlin in Russia already do not hide the fact that Russia will annex Abkhazia and the Tskhinval Region. Recently, it became clear from the results of a survey conducted by the “Levada Centre” that 43% of Russians want Abkhazia to be represented only within the constituency of the Russian Federation. Given that, what have the Abkhazian people gained through their so-called friendship with Russia? Don’t you suppose that in the near future they will share the fate of their relatives, the Ubykhs?

The Ubykh language disappeared because the Ubykhs’ leaders at that time acted foolishly when in 1864 because of religion they took their people to find a new life in the Ottoman Empire and then, once there, decided that their Ubykh language had no value that they should no longer teach it to their children. They should have stayed in their homeland. True, Stalin and Beria would have had many of them killed, but even so the Ubykhs would have survived as a socio-linguistic entity. It was the Georgians (and not the Russians) who attacked the Abkhazians in August 1992 and slaughtered 4% of their population over the course of 14 months – neither should we forget the threats of Q’arq’arashvili and Khaindrava that the Georgians were ready to liquidate the entire Abkhazian nation root and branch. After this is there really anyone left over the Ingur who can think that in the 21st century the Abkhazians should be afraid of the Russians (and not of the Georgians)?! If anyone does really think that way, they are deceiving themselves. It is as a result (the phrase “thanks to” might suit this context) the behaviour of the Georgians (and of the Georgians alone) that today knowledge of the Abkhaz language is widening and deepening among the young folk, since they have realised that language is one of the main indicators of ethnicity. At the same time, all Abkhazians (of an appropriate age, at least) regularly assert: “Thank God that we are not so gullible as the Mingrelians, who during the last 60 years of the Soviet Union gave in to pressure from their neighbouring people and have been georgianised almost entirely. We Abkhazians shall never forget our ethnic identity.”

I hope that my position is now as clear as clear can be.

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