Hromadske travels to the contact line between Georgia and its breakaway province of Abkhazia on 25th anniversary of the war between the two.
“Nothing changes here. Everything has stood still. One government replaces another. Nothing good ever happens here”. That’s how Terenti Kvaratskhelia, an owner of a cafe near the checkpoint at the Enguri Bridge, describes the situation at the de-facto Abkhazia-Georgia border. It has been 25 years since the beginning of the Georgian-Abkhaz war of 1992-1993, that killed around 20,000 ee and displaced 250,000. Neighboring Russia supported the Abkhaz separatists, and in 2008 the region became fully occupied by the Russian army. This conflict has been frozen for almost a quarter of a century now, but for those who live there, it seems as though nothing has really changed. On one side, there are those who decided to stay in the occupied, unrecognized territory. On the other, there are displaced people who, for decades now, have been living in houses that don’t really belong to them. Hromadske spent four days on the boundary line between Russian-occupied Abkhazia and the other part of Georgia to find out what is happening in the ‘frozen zone’.
The Enguri Bridge
Currently, Georgia supports the liberal regime at the border crossing into Abkhazia. Georgia allows vehicles with Abkhazian numbers plates cross the border, and does not require any additional documents from residents of the self-proclaimed republic, recognized only by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru. Abkhazians can freely cross to the Georgian side where there is no military presence, but instead, the boundary line is controlled by police and border guards.
Closed checkpoint in Hurcha village
Next to the police station there is a representative office of the Georgian bank - a trailer on wheels - where Abkhazians who possess Georgian passports can collect their pensions and other social payments. It’s just next to the checkpoint across the Enguri Bridge, where there are never any long queues.
There is a special medical program for Abkhazians in Georgia, entitling them to free medical care. In the interests of security, all information about patients from Abkhazia is classified. Not even journalists have the right to access this information.
The ruined bridge which connected Abkhazia and other part of Georgia
“Georgia introduced the liberal regime for crossing the de facto boundary line, medical programs and social support as way to‘fight for people’ ”, explains the acting Governor of Zugdidi, Giorgi Todua.
The self-proclaimed authorities of Abkhazia perceive the de facto border, not as a separation line, but as a real “administrative border”. The Abkhaz side and Russian soldiers do not let vehicles with Georgian number plates cross the border; they require entry visas from Georgians and foreigners. They recently closed two checkpoints out of four in March 2017. From now on, the checkpoints Nabakiya and Otobaya cease to function. In fact, now it is only possible to cross at checkpoint at the Enguri Bridge, in the village of Rukhi. You can also enter Abkhazia from Russian territory through the Psou crossing, but then you also have to leave this way.
The Enguri hydroelectric power station
For a quarter of a century, the Georgian government has managed to find the optimal formula for running the boundary line, but solving the problems of the IDPs, has proven much more difficult. It appears 24-25 years has not been enough time for this to happen successfully.
Over the past few years, IDPs in Zugdidi, a city in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, have started receiving apartments in new buildings. It is expected that it will take Georgia another 30 years to provide all 273,411 IDPs from Abkhazia and South Ossetia with housing.
Before the war in Abkhazia started, about 45% of the inhabitants were Georgians, and about 17% were Abkhazians. Some of the Georgian refugees returned to their homes in the Gali district of Abkhazia. Those whose relatives were fighting on the Georgian side are not permitted to enter Abkhazian territory.
However, some still believe that one day they’ll get the chance to return to their homes, even if they were destroyed long ago...
/Authors: Zhanna Bezpiatchuk, Anna Tsygyma
/Translated by Olga Kuchmagra
Watch the full Sunday Show 09/04/2017 here.