September 26, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexei Chichkin


Saakashvili may lose one more autonomy

In 2004, months after the "rosy revolution" in Tbilisi, Aslan Abashidze, president of the semi-independent autonomy of Adjaria, was forced to leave the country under threat of severe persecution. The success of re-establishing control over the autonomy's central city, Batumi, and particularly over its seaport, had been since regarded as the highest achievement of Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili, encouraging him for new crackdowns on breakaway autonomies that enjoyed an autonomous status in the USSR.

In fact, Aslan Abashidze surrendered to the Tbilisi regime only in order to avoid bloodshed in Adjaria.

The autonomous status of this territory has got a longtime cultural and political background. Adjaria, with its predominantly Moslem population, had a special political status since 1921. In accordance with the Kars Treaty, signed by Soviet Russia and Kemal Ataturk's Turkish Republic, Adjaria was established as a joint dominion of the two countries. The agreement suggests that both Moscow and Ankara have a right for military intervention in Batumi in case of necessity.

In 2004, Ankara opposed the ouster and expatriation of Aslan Abashidze by Georgian regime. In the midst of the crisis the Turkish ambassador publicly reaffirmed the right of Turkey to intervene in Adjaria according to the Kars Treaty, saying that the 1921 treaty is still actual. But Ankara was eventually forced to cave in to Washington that strongly backed Saakashvili's regime. Establishing a puppet administration in Batumi, Mikhail Saakashvili intended to control Adjaria's budget, as well as the incomes of the autonomy from the trans-border trade with Turkey. However, since 2006 Tbilisi does not receive the prescribed portion of Adjarian revenues. Centrifugal tendencies have resumed after the failure of Tbilisi's military assault on the breakaway South Ossetia and Moscow's decision to officially recognize independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

It is noteworthy that Tbilisi's efforts to establish a joint railway connection with Batumi have failed. The current administration of the autonomy does not display enthusiasm over implementation of this project, suspecting that the railroad could be used for delivery of Georgian troops to intimidate the population of Adjaria in case of new disobedience. Saakashvili's intention to build the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku railroad is also partially explained with Batumi's reluctance for establishing a direct rail connection with Georgia's capital.

Abkhazia's President Sergey Bagapsh is convinced that Turkey has got long-lasting plans of political control of Batumi. The significance of Batumi with its oil refinery and gasoline terminal should not be underestimated. In 2004, the Turkish ambassador in Georgia emphasized that the Kars Treaty is still in force. Indirect political influence from Ankara was exemplified with the recent joint exercises of Turkish and Adjarian patrol boats.

Inal Pliyev, chair of the information department of South Ossetia's Ministry of Special Affairs, emphasizes that Adjarian separatism is fueled not only with the tense relations between Batumi and Tbilisi but also with ethnic, religious and cultural differences of the population.

Adjarian secessionism is also influenced with economic problems. According to Inal Pliyev, many Adjarians believe that during the overtake of control in 2004, Saakashvili's regime has "stolen all the precious assets" of Batumi. The population of the autonomy is still sympahetic with Aslan Abashidze, once regarded as "the father of the Adjarian nation".

On this unfavorable background, Mikhail Saakashvili ruled to postpone the earlier scheduled by-elections to the Supreme Council of Adjaria till November 3, using the state of emergency in Tbilisi as a pretext. According to the official explanation, the "aggression from Russia" has made the preparations for the campaign impossible. However, experts believe that the decision to postpone the elections in Batumi was made in the process of Saakashvili's talks with US Vice President Dick Cheney.

According to a source in Adjaria's office in Moscow, the unofficial agreements between Cheney and Saakashvili guarantees that in case of political destabilization in Adjaria, NATO forces may be used to suppress the unrest. Ships with «humanitarian aid», arriving to the Batumi port, are reportedly used for relevant intelligence goals, as well as for psychological pressure on local secessionists.

Experts admit that the Adjarian branches of Georgia oppositionist parties may join the secessionist campaign as well, though the central bodies of these parties stand for integrity of Georgia.

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