Parliament passed on June 29 Georgia’s State Strategy on Relations with the Peoples of North Caucasus, which outlines priority areas through which Tbilisi intends to boost its ties with the region ranging from trade and economy to people-to-people contacts, education, healthcare and human rights.
Ruling party lawmakers’ said that the strategy was designed to solidify Tbilisi’s “soft power” approach and the policy, which was voiced by President Saakashvili in his speech at the UN General Assembly in 2010, when he called for “united Caucasus”.
Need for deepening ties with people of North Caucasus is also discussed in Georgia’s national security concept approved in December, which mentions the issue in the portion where ties with Russia are discussed.
One of the strategy’s eight chapters is titled “Promoting establishment of historical truth” in which the document says that in the tsarist Russia, as well as in the Soviet times peoples of the North Caucasus became victims of “ethnic cleansing, deportation and genocide” for number of times, which should become a subject for thorough “historical and legal research” and each of these cases should be given “explicit and firmly justified historical assessment.”
According to the document, Georgia will support thorough research of these cases, as well as pushing the issue of “legal research of crimes committed against the peoples of the North Caucasus in the international organizations.”
“This is mainly about providing these people scientific and research assistance,” said MP Nugzar Tsiklauri, chairman of the parliamentary committee for diaspora and Caucasus issues.
Last year Georgia became the first and so far the only country, which has recognized the 19th century massacre and deportations of Circassians by the tsarist Russia in the northwest Caucasus as “genocide”. This May Georgia opened a memorial in Anaklia on the Black Sea coast commemorating the victims of those events.
The strategy also says that Georgia is ready to provide assistance to human rights activists from the North Caucasus, including through spreading information worldwide about “real state of affairs” in the region in respect of human rights.
MP Tsiklauri said that the strategy was “moving Georgia’s relations with the people of North Caucasus to an absolutely new level” and making Tbilisi policy more transparent and predictable.
Another ruling party lawmaker Akaki Minashvili, who chairs the parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, said that the strategy represented “an embodiment” to what President Saakashvili had voiced in his speech at the UN General Assembly when he spoke of “united Caucasus.”
“Georgia has turned into a regional leader and it happened not because of military force… but because it is a leader in reforms, which has gained soft power and become attractive for others,” he said.
MP Giorgi Kandelaki, deputy chair of foreign relations committee, said that the strategy was a good counter-argument to those opponents, who were criticizing the Georgian authorities’ North Caucasus moves, among them decision to introduce free-visa rules.
“It will be very hard to say, that promoting Georgia as a venue for receiving education is playing with fire,” MP Kandelaki said. “This policy will be positively received by our European partners too, who initially were also somewhat skeptical towards our initiative in respect of this region and they too thought that we were playing with fire.”