Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Remembering Homeland in Exile: Recollections of IDPs from the Abkhazia Region of Georgia

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Remembering Homeland in Exile: Recollections of IDPs from the Abkhazia Region of Georgia

Article excerpt

The Abkhazia region - along with another breakaway part of Georgia, South Ossetia - has witnessed bloody secessionist civil wars and ethnic cleansings since the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict in 1992-1993, Tbilisi lost control over the region and thousands of ethnic Georgians were forced to leave their homeland. After the brief Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, the situation became more problematic. The Russian Federation recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and has tried to create so-called "new reality", which, in fact, undermines international law on territorial integrity. After recognizing the regions' independence, Russia's next move was to "legalize" its presence in the areas; a whole package of defense and border protection agreements with the de-facto Abkhazia government 'enables the Russian military to use, build and upgrade military infrastructure and bases in Abkhazia [...] Russian forces have taken control of the security of the administrative border with Georgia along the Inguri River' (O'Loughlin et al., 2011: 6).1 In this situation, peace processes between Georgian-Abkhazian conflicting sides have remained deadlocked and the return of IDPs2 seems non-starter.3

IDPs as a "mnemonic community" have a shared experience of hardship4 from the war and forced migration that somehow serves as common source of their memories of homeland. However, IDPs represent a quite heterogeneous community with a complex socio-economic composition, which might affect the way they remember their homeland and view the future of reconciliation. I choose one possibility among many (there could be more differentiated perspectives depending on an IDP's age, gender, job, place of living-region, urban or rural environment, etc.) to see the difference and/or similarities in recollections within IDP communities from distinct social positions. Particularly, I rely on the results of the two fieldworks5 - semi-structured interviews conducted in 2014 with IDPs living in collective centers in Tbilisi and with IDP historians affiliated to Sokhumi State University (in exile).6

IDPs in collective centers live more or less in similar environments and deal with the common problems of housing, poverty, unemployment and other economic and social challenges. Their memory is maintained in everyday communication with family members, neighbours and relatives within the same location or outside of it. To a certain degree, their memories, or the ways they organize recollections, are affected by official narrative, for instance, through school curricula and media. But again, their primary living environment is confined by these collective centers. On the other hand, IDP historians, given their position in the community and activities, are mainly concerned with studying, teaching and publicizing the history of the Abkhazia, Georgian-Abkhazian conflict and displacement. Therefore, the main aim of the article is to show how "ordinary" IDPs on the one hand, and historian or "memory specialist" IDPs on the other, remember and represent the same past.

I would propose to analyze all gathered accounts within the theoretical framework that allows me to reflect on nostalgic (Boym 2011) idealization of pre-war Georgian-Abkhazian relationships, reconstructing supposed reasons for the conflict, and imagining the future of reconciliation with Abkhazians. All these key elements of IDPs' recollections and expectations generally fit into Georgian "memory project" (Zarecka 2007) and "national narrative template" (Wertsch 2002; 2008). In this sense, the theory of "communicative" and "cultural memory" (Assmann 1995; 2008) seems useful for marking how IDPs' personal recollections are defined and affected by institutionalized national narrative.

1. Collecting the memories: conversations with IDPs in collective centers and the University in exile

In January 2014, my research team7 interviewed 20 IDPs, with participants of both genders, various ages, and from different regions of Abkhazia in two collective centers in Tbilisi. …

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