[The story of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is not a simple one. Robert Hewitt's sympathies clearly lie with the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and that is a refreshing change from the posturing and gamesmanship that have characterized so much of what has been said to date about the Five Day War between Russia and Georgia. This article has lots of useful links and references to other articles. -jlt]
...since the early 1990s, and notwithstanding its clear culpability in the wars on the two territories, Georgia has - at any point of crisis or argument around either of these "frozen" conflicts - been able to call upon its fellow United Nations members to insist on the observation of the principle of territorial integrity; in effect, saying that Georgia can do as it pleases with regard to its "internal" problems and nuisance-peoples.
The Georgia-Russia war of August 2008 carries a vital lesson: the small territories that broke from Georgia's control in the early 1990s have their own voice, identity, and interest. They must be active participants in deciding their own future, says George Hewitt, the leading scholar of Abkhazian linguistics and history.
On the second full day of the Georgia-Russia war of 8-12 August 2008, Russian patrol-boats operating off the Black Sea shore of Abkhazia sank four Georgian vessels apparently intent on landing in the territory. The identity of these vessels is not yet clear, but it is interesting to note that a published list of military equipment in the possession of the Georgian government - equipment largely supplied over many years by Tbilisi's western friends - includes a ship called the General Mazniashvili.
Why interesting? Because General Mazniashvili (aka Mazniev) is best known for his role in spreading "fire and sword" through Abkhazia and South Ossetia on behalf of Georgia's Menshevik government of 1918-21. The naming of the ship is a revealing indicator of current official Georgian sentiment about a figure central to the pitiless effort ninety years ago to establish control over these two areas. It is also a reminder to Abkhazians and South Ossetians that their hard-won freedom from Georgian rule in the brutal wars of the early 1990s is part of a longer history of defence of their integrity that deserves the world's attention, understanding and respect.
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