A parliamentary commission studying the August war, questioned on November 22, Malkhaz Akishbaia, the head of the Abkhaz government-in-exile.
During the hearings Akishbaia was mainly pressed by the commission members about the reason why he was in Batumi instead of upper Kodori Gorge during the war. There have been rumors that Akishbaia fled, or was intending to flee to Turkey when the war erupted. The Tbilisi-loyal Abkhaz government-in-exile was based in upper Kodori Gorge – the only part of breakaway Abkhazia which was under the Tbilisi control before the August war.
Akishbaia told the commission members that on August 8 at 3pm he departed from Tbilisi to western Georgia with an intention to arrive in upper Kodori Gorge. But instead of going to upper Kodori Gorge, he said, he decided to go to Batumi, Adjara Autonomous Republic. He explained that the security service was not recommending traveling on the road leading to the gorge during the night time because of security reasons, as one of the sections of the road was located close to the Abkhaz-controlled territory – he was referring to the road which links upper Kodori gorge with the rest of Georgia and which lies inside the breakaway region. Akishbaia said that for that reason he went to Adjara to meet with the head of Adjara Autonomous Republic Levan Varshalomidze.
“I decided to go to the gorge next day. Next day I was in Zugdidi, but I again failed to depart to the gorge because of two reasons: one of our employees died that day in Zugdidi and one of our vehicles crashed in an accident; so these factors have not allowed us to leave for upper Kodori Gorge on August 8,” Akishbaia said.
He then said that on August 10 at 7am he was informed from Kodori via phone that the gorge was shelled. “Then the shelling became intensive,” he said and added that his departure to the gorge was again hindered.
Below are other key points of Akishbaia’s testimony:
- Of course possibility of an attack on upper Kodori Gorge persisted throughout last two years… but in early August there was no expectation that such a disproportionate aggression would have taken place by Russia;
- My government’s major task in the gorge was to coordinate social projects for the local population, which during the summer period was usually reaching about 2,000 people in total of 18 villages;
- Local population started to leave the gorge on August 9:
- As far as we know only up to 30 people remained in the gorge;
- When asked if he knew who ordered retreat from Kodori Gorge, Akishbaia responded: “A representative of the Interior Ministry [on the ground in the gorge] ordered on August 9 to launch civilians’ evacuation.”
- Then he said that it was not a formal order; it was, he said, a verbal agreement between the Interior Ministry official and an official from his government. He also told the commission that he did not know an exact position of that official from the Interior Ministry. After that the commission chairman, MP Paata Davitaia, said that the commission would continue hearing on that particular matter behind the closed door.