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'There Is no Way to Peace; Peace Is the Way' - An Appeal to the Georgian Nation

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Gogi Topadze: “We need to admit our mistakes and make an apology”
Salome Achba

Georgian media has covered the meeting of Abkhazian, Ossetian and Georgian businessmen according to the interviews of one of the participants of the meeting – Gogi Topadze. This is reasonable considering that other businessmen decided not to say anything about the meeting. While talking with humanrights.ge Gogi Topadze cannot explain why his colleagues decided not to talk about the Cyprus meeting.

The meeting of Abkhazian, Ossetian and Georgian businessmen was arranged by the international organization International Alert throughout February 27 - March 2. The organization works on the conflict management using peaceful means and tries to involve the conflict sides in the business sphere. The perspectives of restoration of business and economics ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia were also discussed during the meeting. One of the participants of the meeting Gogi Topadze while talking with human rights.ge states that these kinds of non-political meetings among the conflict sides is very important.

- Slowly we need to start the process of reconciliation and healing the wounds. It is obvious that the conflict sides were the victims of the provocation and political ambitions. This resulted in a big tragedy. As I know several meetings were conducted abroad with Abkhazians and Ossetians earlier as well. However, these meetings had no outcomes since both sides were categorical – Abkhazians requested to talk with them as with the representatives of independent states, but Georgian side was categorically opposing this.

Cyprus meeting was interesting considering that we tried to bypass politics. At first, Osettians and Abkhazians were rather aggressive, particularly the ones with the Georgian last name. We stated: “This is not a political meeting. Both sides have an obligation before the future generation and let us start a dialogue.” We agreed that Georgians and Abkhazians should not identify one another as enemies. Identifying each other as enemies will always create problems. It can even trigger the tragedies. Therefore, our generation is obligated to somehow destroy these enemy images.

I told Abkhazians that there are many Abkhazians on this side of Enguri who want to pass to Abkhazian territory as they have many relatives there. I gave concrete names of these Abkhazians. Also there are many ethnic Georgians on the territory of Abkhazia who have family here and want to come back but cannot do it considering the current situation. I offered to give a right of free movement to these people and start working on it.

We were straightforward to Abkhazians and said that neither they nor we are self-governing – they are guided by the directives of your northern neighbors and we are following the advice of our trans ocean friend. Considering this situation, we should try to start building relationship. It should be said that they were positive towards my initiatives.

As for the restoration of business and economic ties, they said that they have problems of provision during the holiday season. I told them that I can help with this problem. Also I offered to start joint undertakings – sell their products here and vice versa. Besides, we talked about the perspectives of undertaking charity actions – we expressed readiness for it.

- Is it possible to do this without a political will? Do you think Abkhazia and Ossetia de-facto governments and Georgian government will be ready for this?

- This is a political aspect of this matter. We will just prepare the soil to restore such economic ties. Whether the governments cooperate is a matter of negotiation. The main thing is to prepare basis for it. Georgian side asked them to raise the issues that we discussed to their government authorities. Of course, we also talked about in what legal frames the business relations can be restored. However, I said that first we should decide what we want to do and what we can and then seek ways for legal framing.

- Who exactly attended this meeting?

- I cannot provide this information. They asked me not to. Abkhazian and Osettian businessmen said their work might be impeded when they go back. It is nothing new that there are radical groups in South Osettia and Abkhazia who exclude any possibility of dialogue with Georgians.

- The request of Osettian and Abkhazian businessmen to stay anonymous is understandable, but why did Georgian businessmen decide to keep secret their participation in the Cyprus meeting? What were they afraid of?

- I am also very surprised that Georgian businessmen decided to stay anonymous. I contacted several of them and asked to publicly talk about the issues that we discussed at Cyprus meeting. But they restrained. It is their will and we should not analyze this at this phase.

- What do you think, what will be the outcomes of restoring relations with Abkhazia and South Osettia?

- Restoring economic and business ties will play a big role in conflict management issues. Commerce and economics always brings people together. We have a concrete example of positive outcome of business undertakings in the conflict region – at the end of 90s our company implemented certain investments in South Osettia. We opened a Georgian restaurant in Tskhinvali center. This had an immediate outcome: first Georgian boards appeared in Tskhinvali. At that time we communicated with the South Osettia de-facto government and population without any problems. We could freely go there and they could come here too. We helped the way we could. The initiative of our company in South Osettia could play a big role in the peaceful regulation of the conflict if our government did not act unreasonably.

I think if we start to make a step in this direction, we will have big outcomes. Economic strength and prosperity solves many issues, including – political ones.

- Today, on this side of Enguri many are skeptical about the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Georgia. What perspectives do you see in this direction?

- More times passes, harder it will be to resolve these conflicts. It is essential to immediately take steps for peaceful resolution of conflicts. Rough politics will not bring fruit. We need to admit our mistakes and say an apology. These wars were prepared by another country and we were the victims of provocation. Both sides were trapped. Our governments are primarily guilty in this conflict. One of the main authors of this war – Shevardnadze still lives peacefully and freely in his presidential residence and nobody asks him for what he did. We need to apologize for these things. Both sides made mistakes and nobody argues that. Admitting mistakes I think will warm the situation and relationships.

18 Mar. '11