Eleni Sideri

Frozen conflicts, mobility and the future of the Greek-Abkhazians

Grant and Yalçin-Heckman (2007: 2), argue that the imperial agendas (Russian, Ottoman, Persian among others) deployed in the Caucasus treated the region as an “absent presence”, a view that remained unaltered until very recently complemented by the idea of transition that conceptualized the post-Soviet space as homogenous.

In this context, the “unknowability” of the Caucasus contributed to the persistence of older stereotypes regarding an endemic tradition of violence and savagery, nobility, hospitality and pristine beauty. The idea of frozen is not unfamiliar to anthropology. Claude Levi-Strauss (1968) categorized societies into cold and hot depending on their social cohesion and cultural production. If we consider the term frozen conflict in this line of thought, it seems that the latter goes beyond the translation of a political impasse and becomes rooted in a tradition of cultural evaluation and hierarchy embedded in the European history of colonization which the Caucasus took also part in.

A way to start thinking out of the box, though, could be to turn our attention to the historical and more recent mobilities in the region. The Greeks that I met in Sukhum form part of these mobilities. Since the formation of the Greek communities in 19th century due to the Ottoman and Russian imperial policies, these Greeks turned Abkhazia into their new home, strengthened by the Soviet Nationality Policy in 1920s. Even the deportation of the Greek-passport holders from Abkhazia and Adjara in 1949 to Central Asia did not stop the Greeks from returning to their land in 1960s in spite of the problems they had to reclaim their properties (Nikolaidi 2006). That is why when the war broke in 1992 their life seemed to have broken into two pieces: before and after.

The August day was split into two

Mourning streets of peaceful villages

Burnt in flames villages and cities

The seeds of tragedy took roots in the spring land

(my translation from Russian, Patoulidi 2005: 106)

I visited Abkhazia in April of 2004 with the help of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia. The organisation of this travel was not an easy task since I needed to engage people from different countries and positions for crossing some hundred kilometres that separated Tbilisi from Sukhum. The encounter with the Greeks still living in Sukhumi was revealing of the loss they suffered; even those who never had left the country in August 1993 in a rescue mission organised by the Greek Government. The historian of the Greek Abkhazian history Nikolai Nikolaidi in an interview he gave me was adamant. The Greek diaspora in Abkhazia is dead, he told me, since the villages are destroyed and the youth has left either to Greece or Russia, our diaspora is doomed. The trip I went with some of the Greeks to their villages around Sukhumi stressed this impression of loss. What came up frequently in our discussions was the comparison to the past that was idealised: the cosmopolitanism of their city, the pride about being Greek but also Abkhazian, the love for the country and its beauty. In comparison, the present seemed gloomy: most of them, in their middle or old age had lost their families and friends to emigration, dependent economically either on remittances or small pensions from Russia, felt trapped in a country that was changing. However, the important about diasporas is not only their roots but their routes too and this fact makes me more optimistic about their future.

In emigration the memory of Sukhum is cherished. This year in Thessaloniki the Sukhumian Greeks organised a small event in order to honour the memory of their beloved poet Nikos Patoulidi. They prepared videos of the city, before and after the war, they had a live orchestra and singers. What was impressive was the participation of the young people, the children and great grandchildren of those who lived the tragedy. They seemed to share the feelings of their parents and grandparents for their city, but also their pride for their Sukhumian culture. This pride feeds their new identity as Greeks of Abkhazia in Greece. In this renegotiation of their identity the hope for a better future lies. The historical mobilities of the Caucasus do not work only in one direction, inwards, but also outwards, even when the borders are closed and unrecognised. These outwards mobilities, these transnational connections with the wider world could help Abkhazia build its future in a more inclusive way.

References

B. Grant και L. Yalcin-Heckmann  (2007).  Introduction in their Caucasus Paradigms: Anthropologies, Histories, and the Making of the World Area. Munster, Lit Verlag, p.p. 1-21

Claude Levi-Strauss (1968). The savage mind, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

N. Nikolaidi (2006). 1949 (Technologies of Punishment), Sukhum: Alashara. In Russian.

N. Patoulidi (2005). Under the Sign of the Lion, Sukhum: Novyi Den. In Russian.

E. Sideri (2006) The Greek of the Former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Discourses and Practices of a diaspora, London: SOAS (Unpublished)

Dr Eleni Sideri
Adjunct Faculty, International Hellenic University Cultural Studies of the Black Sea. GREECE

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