Puzzling Retreat on Ethnicity Law in Abkhazia

Abkhaz lawmakers were seemingly forced to make a puzzling retreat over the legislation adopted a day earlier that would allow ethnic Georgians in the Gali district to “restore” Abkhaz ethnicity and citizenship.

Following the pressure from hardline war veterans of the opposition Aruaa group, Abkhaz legislators reportedly gathered in an unpublicized extraordinary session on March 22 to retract the law. Aruaa had a protest rally slated for the next day. 

Temur Nadaraia, Aruaa member and former head of Abkhaz-controlled Gali district, was quoted as saying yesterday that some lawmakers had not been aware that Gali residents would “automatically” receive citizenship if they chose to claim Abkhaz ethnicity.

Nadaraia asserted that the lawmakers apologized, withdrew the already adopted legislation for a repeated third hearing and voted it down. He claimed he was present at the session.

Sokhumi-based Apsnypress agency also cited Nadaraia as saying that veterans are additionally preparing an appeal to the “parliament” and Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania “to impose a moratorium on mass passportization in Gali district until the end of the integration processes.”

Puzzling Retreat

But the legislative mechanisms for revoking the short-lived amendments to the occupied region’s civil code and law on acts of civil status at the March 22 extraordinary session remain puzzling.

Sokhumi-based Nuzhnaya Gazeta, an opposition media outlet, published parliamentary decisions to revoke the changes, signed by deputy speaker Mikhail Sangulia on March 22.

The document cites Article 103 of the parliamentary standing orders as the legal basis to backtrack on the changes. But the cited article regulates draft laws that passed the second hearing, while the said amendments had cleared third, the final reading.

Also, it was not immediately clear how many deputies voted – if at all – to retract the legislative amendments.

The Gali Question

There are some 30,000 ethnic Georgians in the Gali district, who returned to Abkhazia at the end of the 1990s after a few years of uprooting following the 1992-1993 war.

In 2014 and 2017, the previous Kremlin-backed administration of Raul Khajimba stripped them of Abkhaz “citizenship,” depriving them of political rights.

Over the recent years, Abkhaz hardliners have stood in vocal opposition to handing out passports to Gali residents. Aruaa group in 2020 harshly criticized administration of Aslan Bzhania for comments in favor of passportization.

They have reminded current “prime minister” Alexander Ankvab that the issuance of Abkhaz passports to Georgians led to his ousting from the presidential office back in 2014.

The hardliners, like Aruaa war veterans, fear that giving Abkhaz passports to some 30 thousand ethnic Georgians in the region of less than a quarter-million people would undermine the Abkhaz ethnocracy. 

To date, some 260,000 Georgians from other areas of Abkhazia remain uprooted from their homes.  

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