Thursday, October 3, 2013

Abkhazia & South Ossetia Won’t Compete in Sochi Olympics, I.O.C. Declares

It is now official: the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) has announced that it does not recognize the independence of two Russian puppet states in the South Caucasus region and that they therefore cannot participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, in the Russian Federation’s North Caucasus region.  A few days ago, the I.O.C. made known its decision on the two republics, the Republic of South Ossetia and the Republic of Abkhazia, in a letter to the government of the Republic of Georgia, which claims the two republics as its own territory.  But that does not mean that the controversy over the two territories—or related controversies exacerbated by an Olympics right in the Caucasus—are going away.

Abkhazia was an “autonomous republic,” and South Ossetia a lower-grade “autonomous oblast,” within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic during the years of Soviet rule.  After Georgia and Russia became independent states in 1991, Georgia descended into civil war.  In the midst of the fighting, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with the help of Russian and Chechen mercenaries, ejected ethnic Georgians from their lands and achieved de facto independence—until August 2008, when Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, decided to retake South Ossetia once and for all.  This prompted a Russian invasion, in the so-called South Ossetia War, or Five-Day War, which ended with a Georgian defeat and Russia’s elevation of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the status of fully recognized states.  Today, only a handful of nations recognize their sovereignty: Russia, along with two Latin American nations that do so only to piss off the United StatesVenezuela and Nicaragua—and two Pacific mini-nations who do so only to secure lucrative aid deals with Moscow.  Those two, Tuvalu and Nauru, are also on the slightly longer list of nations that choose to recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan) instead of the People’s Republic of China, and for similar reasons.  (Nauru and Tuvalu are the third- and fourth-smallest countries in the world, respectively.)  The whole rest of the world considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia part of Georgia.

Russia invading South Ossetia in 2008
Georgian–Russian relations have been to some extent on the rocks ever since the fall of Communism, and Georgia has become the strongest U.S. and NATO ally in the Caucasus region, to Moscow’s consternation.  But when Sochi was chosen in 2007 as the site of the 2014 Olympics, Georgia was enthusiastic, seeing a Games in the Caucasus region as an avenue for improving relations with their giant neighbor to the north.  However, the South Ossetia War the following year changed all that, and Georgia responded with an all-but-complete severance of diplomatic ties and a decision to boycott the games.  Then, when an election last year (as reported at the time in this blog), brought a new coalition into power, the new prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, quickly adopted a much more Kremlin-friendly foreign policy than the ferociously anti-Russian President Saakashvili.  Some even feared he might recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia himself.  He didn’t do that—he still claims the republics—but he reversed course on the Olympics and decided that Georgia would attend.

Prime Minister Ivanishvili and President Saakashvili share a tender, candle-lit moment
During last year’s summer Olymics in London, Abkhaz and South Ossetian athletes competed under the Russian flag.  Both republics have a high proportion of ethnic Russians, and nearly all residents (ethnic Georgians, remember, were nearly all expelled) hold Russian passports as well as their own national passports, which are of very limited use abroad.  (There are not many direct flights from Sukhumi to Managua.)  But Georgia’s Olympic committee raised a stink (as reported at the time in this blog) when two wrestlers on the Russian team, an Abkhazian and a South Ossetian, were officially listed with birthplaces in their home republics as “Russia.”  (The Abkhazian and South Ossetian governments did not complain, funnily enough; those pseudostates are such Stockholm-Syndrome-addled barnacles on the ursine underbelly of the Russian empire that they must even themselves forget from time to time that they’re supposedly “independent.”)

Neither Abkhazia’s flag (with hand) nor South Ossetia’s (the white–red–yellow tricolor at center)
will fly at next year’s Winter Olympics.
Earlier this month, Georgian diplomats pounced when Russia tried to accredit Abkhaz and South Ossetian press teams for the Sochi games under their own republics’ rubrics.  So it was clear that Georgia would not put up with any attempt to give them their own Olympic teams, despite Ivanishvili’s conciliatory policy toward Moscow.

But the very location of the winter games remain a festering controversy.  Sochi is in the region of Circassia and is the site of one of the worst atrocities in the 19th-century Russian wars to conquer the predominantly-Muslim North Caucasus region.  The Ubykh subgroup of the Circassian nationality was dispersed and nearly eradicated; the last speaker of Ubykh died in Turkey in 1992.  Circassians, including a very vocal diaspora in Turkey, have agitated harder and harder to have this recognized as a genocide.  The Georgian government has already done so.  Many Circassians are pushing for their nation to be given a coherent territory as a constituent republic of the Russian Federation, rather than being split among three ethnically-mixed mini-republics, as they are now.  (Sochi is not within any of them; it is in Krasnodar Krai, which has an ethnic Russian majority.)  Other Circassians seek full independence.  And a hardened Islamist terrorist militia called the Caucasus Emirate has established a provisional government for all the northern Caucasus, including ethnic-Russian areas.  Emirate fighters have turned places like Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Ingushetia into veritable war zones, with car-bombs, ambushes, and assassinations on an almost weekly basis.  (While blogging on the London Olympics last year, I listed the Circassian issue as no. 1 among “10 Ethnonationalist Causes That Might Disrupt the [London] Olympics.”  Abkhazia and South Ossetia were no. 7.)

Activists demanding recognition of the Russian Empire’s genocide of Circassians
To complicate matters, the Abkhaz ethnic group is considered a branch of the Circassian nation as well, and Circassian Kabardins were among the first and fiercest fighters for Abkhaz independence after the Soviet Union dissolved.  But relations are not perfect: Abkhaz in Abkhazia, who are predominantly Christian (Muslim Abkhaz were mostly expelled in the 19th century), are looked on with suspicion by many Circassian nationalists, especially in light of their recent attachment to Russia.

Some nationalist visions of Circassia include Abkhazia; increasingly, many don’t.
In addition to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia questions, Circassian nationalists and their jihadi advocates (from whom most Circassians distance themselves) are promising to disrupt the Sochi games, and Moscow is busily training Cossacks to defend the games from Muslims, by any legal or illegal means necessary.

One map of the imaginary Caucasus Emirate; other versions cover an even larger area.
There won’t be any Circassian, Abkhaz, or South Ossetian Olympic teams in Sochi next year.  But their causes will be on display—and may set the region aflame again.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, basked last year in a gold-medal victory
by the Team Russia judoku Tagir Khaybulaev,
who is a member of the Avar nationality from the Republic of Dagestan.
[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in 2013 or 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

[This article was modified on Oct. 4, 2013, to correct an error in which Ivanishvili was erroneously referred to as president instead of prime minister.]


  1. there is very little information on Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, et. al. except for the wars of independence and their continuing battle to remain at least nominally free. Sport and especially football is probably important to the people of these countries and could be mentioned somewhere especially now they are safe enough for tourisism

  2. Hey asswhipe, get your shit straight. Georgia attack South Ossetia. Dumbass. Sackofshit is a now wanted man in Georgia.


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