This is the fifteenth volume in a series of publications of Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue conferences. These began in 1997 under the auspices of the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Since 2004, the process expanded to involve a number of international organizations, among them the Heinrich Boell Foundation (Berlin), Conciliation Resources (London), and International Alert (London). HBF and CR organized and funded the 2008 conference and this publication together with UCI’s Center for Citizen Peacebuilding.
This volume consists of transcripts of presentations and discussions at the conference on “Conflict and Migration: The Georgian-Abkhazian Case in a European Context” held in Istanbul, June 18-19, 2008.
Flight and displacement are among the most lasting consequences of military conflicts around the world, and they are one of the most sensitive and divisive issues in the Georgian-Abkhaz context. Apart from the existential hardships for those directly concerned, long-term displacement in this case generates wide-ranging obstacles to settling the conflict by political means.
Treating refugee/IDP issues as taboo, or instrumentalizing them, reinforces fears and illusions on both sides of the Georgian-Abkhaz divide and holds back progress in the peace process. This conference provided an opportunity for Georgian and Abkhazian participants to discuss this delicate and pressing issue openly and in a constructive way, and to explore together with a range of international experts possible ways forward. The conference allowed the issue to be examined from a new angle, and to include on the agenda questions concerning the return to Abkhazia of descendants of the makhadziry, the people forcibly displaced, mostly to present-day Turkey, in the 19th century.
The discussions focused on the following three themes:
Panel 1. Return and Repatriation – The position of the various parties, hopes and fears.
Panel 2. Integration – Strategies, political positions and experience.
Panel 3. Maintaining the Status Quo versus right to return: moving beyond the deadlock.
In addition to Georgian and Abkhaz political and civil society representatives, experts also participated from the Western Balkans and Cyprus, and from international organizations and the EU.
Less than two months after the conference, violence once again erupted in the region. This caused tremendous suffering on all sides and led to new waves of displacement. This, together with Russia’s subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, changed the political landscape of the conflicts and had repercussions far beyond the region.
While the context has changed in many respects, the topic of conflict and migration is now more relevant than ever. The respective positions on return remain entrenched, whereas prospects for reaching an agreement on IDP issues have dimmed significantly. Similarly, integration for displaced communities in their current place of residence remains a major challenge.
The discussions reflected in this volume can help inform and shape ongoing debate on displacement, return and integration. They can contribute to a better understanding of Georgian and Abkhaz positions, hopes and fears, and provide insights from the experience gained in dealing with similar issues in other areas of conflict that could have relevance for the Georgian-Abkhaz case.