Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Georgia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Georgia, 16 July 2009, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In August 2008, conflict broke out between the Georgian military and the breakaway South Ossetian forces aided by the Russian military. The origin of the conflict is attributed to one of myriad minority – majority disputes that accompanied the break-up of the Soviet Union. As nationalist leaders gained power throughout the successor state, claims for autonomy and, ultimately, independence followed. Clashes between the Georgians and Ossetians in 1989 erupted into war from 1990 to 1992, in the midst of which Georgia declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Ossetia, in turn, declared its own independence and the conflict remained frozen. August 2008 saw a series of shooting incidents in the South Ossetian conflict zone.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili declared his intention to offer unlimited autonomy to the region, but ultimately he launched a massive artillery attack on Tskhinvali, the regional capital. Russian forces occupied sections of Georgia proper by 12 August and took control of access to the west of Georgia, Gori and other areas. Within a day of the conflict breaking out, separatist forces in Abkhazia launched an offensive against Georgian troops in the Kodori gorge area, the only part of their territory remaining under Georgian control, with Russian support. Human rights activists reported that Georgian villages were looted and burnt. As a result of the offensive the Georgian troops left the territory and some 3,000 ethnic Georgians were forced to leave their homes, some of them for the second time. The conflict caused much suffering for the civilian population in South Ossetia, home to both ethnic Ossetians and Georgians, numbering some 75,000 inhabitants, about one-third of the population. It caused a significant displacement of civilians, ethnic Georgians as well as minorities. A number of ethnic Armenians sought refuge in Armenia. Several thousand Georgians who fled from the Kodori gorge have not been able to return home. The inhabitants of the area are almost exclusively Svans, a Georgian ethnic sub-group with their own distinctive language.

In a move strongly condemned by EU leaders as contrary to international law, Russia recognized the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Proponents of their independence cited the precedent of Kosovo. In the words of the Abkhaz Deputy Foreign Minister Maxim Gunjia: 'We use the same arguments as those used by the West with regard to Kosovo: All other possible means were exhausted.'

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