Authorities in breakaway Abkhazia have suspended issuing Abkhaz passports to ethnic Georgian residents of the region fearing that the process might result into, as some Abkhaz officials put it, “Georgianization of Abkhazia.”
The process was suspended pending work of a special commission, which was established by the Abkhaz leader Alexander Ankvab last week for the purpose of studying whether this “passportization” process was done in compliance with the breakaway region’s legislation, Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, reported on May 13.
The commission was established after opposition and some other groups in Abkhazia accused the authorities of issuing Abkhaz passports in predominantly ethnic Georgian populated Gali district, as well as in Tkvarcheli and Ochamchire districts, in violation of the Abkhaz law on citizenship.
Opposition group, Forum of People’s Unity of Abkhazia, said in a statement on April 24 that “massive” passportization process was carried out in “detriment to the national security” and was fraught with risk of “losing sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
According to the breakaway region’s law on citizenship ethnic Abkhazians, regardless of place of residence, can become Abkhaz citizen; those, who are not ethnic Abkhazians, are eligible to the breakaway region’s citizenship if they lived in Abkhazia for at least five years prior to adoption of “act of independence” in October, 1999. This provision aims at creating legal hurdle in obtaining Abkhaz passports to those ethnic Georgians, who fled Abkhazia as a result of 1992-1993 armed conflict, and who then returned back to Gali district. The breakaway region’s law on citizenship allows for dual citizenship, but only with the Russian Federation.
Those ethnic Georgians, who have returned back to the Gali district, and want to obtain Abkhaz passports, according to breakaway region’s law, should undergo lengthy procedures, which also include a requirement to submit a documented proof that they renounced their Georgian citizenship. Abkhaz opposition says that this very provision is being violated while issuing Abkhaz passports to ethnic Georgians, saying that many of those who have obtained passports also retain their Georgian citizenship.
According to a recent report on Abkhazia by Brussels-based think tank, International Crisis Group, Gali residents tend to take Abkhaz passports to travel more easily across the administrative boundary line or use them to travel to Russia, where they are accepted for entry due to Moscow’s recognition of Abkhazia.
“Most Gali residents retain their Georgian passports to travel to Georgia and benefit there from basic support and services. But if local Abkhaz authorities spot a Georgian passport, ‘it is confiscated and torn up’, residents say,” according to the report, which also said Abkhazians fear that “giving ‘citizenship’ to all in the Gali district would risk diluting their tenuous position as the entity’s dominant ethnic group.”
According to 2011 census by the Abkhaz authorities, over 46,000 ethnic Georgians live in Abkhazia, mainly in the Gali district, which makes over 19% of the breakaway region’s population.
According to secretary of Abkhaz security council, Stanislav Lakoba, total of 22,724 passports have been issued to ethnic Georgians in the Gali and Tkvarcheli districts as of late February, 2013.
Lakoba, who was summoned by the Parliament to discuss the issue on May 13, told lawmakers that distributing passports to ethnic Georgians without strict observance of the law would “explode” Abkhazia from within.
“We are facing the process of oily and total Georgianization of Abkhazia,” Lakoba told lawmakers, according to Apsnipress.
The commission, which studies whether passports were issued to ethnic Georgians in compliance with the law, has to table its conclusions before August 1, 2013.
Meanwhile, the breakaway region’s Parliament decided on May 13 to establish its own, separate commission to look into the issue, Apsnipress reported.
The last time when granting of Abkhaz citizenship to ethnic Georgians triggered major political controversy in the breakaway region was in August, 2009, when the Parliament amended law on citizenship, easing granting passports to residents of the Gali district. The move at the time triggered opposition’s outcry, which forced then Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh to veto the amendment and the breakaway region’s Parliament had to revise its decision.