Q&A with Dr. Yanal Kazan
The fact that the results of the first ever contested presidential elections in breakaway Abkhazia are not announced even two days after Sunday’s polls triggers anxiety over the future developments in the unrecognized republic. On October 4 Civil Georgia interviewed Dr. Yanal Kazan, President of Abkhaz Alliance in the Diaspora, regarding the recent elections in the breakaway republic. He provided some insights into the political situation in Abkhazia.
An American-based Abkhaz, Yanal Kazan, who has US citizenship, served as Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba’s representative in the United State before resigning in 1999 because of policy disagreement with Ardzinba. Many observers think the Abkhaz election code, which states that a presidential candidate should have lived in Abkhazia for at least five years prior to his running for president, was created in order to directly bar Kazan from participating in the presidential race. In 2002 he visited Tbilisi and offered the-then Georgian leadership to be a mediator in the Abkhazia conflict settlement. Tbilisi welcomed his proposal, while the Abkhaz leadership rejected this initiative.
Dr. Yanal Kazan says that Raul Khajimba, who is the favorite candidate of outgoing Abkhaz leader Ardzinba and whose “close ties with Russia are clear to everyone,” will most likely take over the presidency. He also said that no progress in Abkhaz-Georgian consultations is expected after the new leader is elected, “since the new regime will be more of the same [as the previous one]. If anything, it will be worse.”
Q.: What is your vision of the outcome of the election in Abkhazia?
A.: I was hoping that the Abkhaz elections would be democratic: that involves multiple candidates with different agendas for peace and national reconciliation. The election of a president is a very crucial step in providing a new vision for Abkhazia. However, all the candidates are more of the same, following in the footsteps of Ardzinba and his failed policies.
Q.: Can you share with our readers your vision of the political spectrum in Abkhazia? From the outside, it seems that there is a degree of political pluralism in Sukhumi. Is this perception warranted?
A.: Unfortunately, your perception of political pluralism is unwarranted. Abkhazia is experiencing various degrees of the same Ardzinba philosophy. All candidates are running on his platform and failed policies. Power is limited to a group of people that is supported by special interest groups in Russia.
Q.: Do you think increased clarity after the elections would create a possibility of many Abkhaz-Georgian consultations edging forward?
A.: I am afraid the answer to this question is no. As I have said earlier, the new regime will be more of the same. If anything it will be worse. The new president will most likely be the current Prime Minister [Raul Khajimba] and his close ties with Russia are clear to everyone. Georgia must come up with big concessions on Abkhazia or extraordinary measures, not ordinary ones in the near future that will earn the trust and the confidence of the Abkhaz people. The sovereignty of Abkhazia must be respected on Abkhaz terms, not those of Tbilisi. At the same time the Abkhazians must get off their high horses and see the world around them in real terms. Georgia’s territorial integrity is here to stay.
Q.: You are most likely aware of the so called ‘Abkhazia concept paper,’ created by a group of Georgian experts, proposing the groundwork for settlement. What is your opinion of it?
A.: I am aware of the concept. I am afraid it is quite short on delivery. It does not recognize that the winners of the conflict dictate the terms for peace. Georgia’s experts are not giving Abkhazia anything in their concept paper. Peace centers on what the Abkhazians want to give back to Georgia and as long as the Georgians do not understand this Abkhaz concept, then achieving peace will require a miracle, to say the least.
Q.: In one of your articles you say that ‘Abkhazia needs a new agenda for peace.’ Can you outline this agenda in more detail?
A.: Abkhazia requires its dominance over the political and economic spectrum within Abkhazia in addition to guarantees for physical security. No Georgian military presence will be allowed on Abkhazian soil. Tbilisi has nominal authority over Sukhumi, having veto power over legislation concerning Abkhazia. The simple fact that Abkhazians will be masters of Abkhazia can no longer be ignored. And what I mean by Abkhazians are all the multi-ethnic groups that live in Abkhazia, including Georgians. I submitted a Diaspora Peace Plan in the Georgian capital in June of 2002.
Peace must be given a chance. I am hoping that the present leadership in Georgia will take the necessary steps in acknowledging the right of Abkhazians to their homeland and self-governance. In addition, the Abkhaz Diaspora must be part of any future peace discussions. The Georgian refugees must come home to Abkhazia. Peace, Progress, and Prosperity are awaiting us all.