By: Nguyen Huong Tra My
Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus was a militarized political organization composed of militants from the North Caucasian republics of the Russian Federation, active just prior to and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, primarily between 1991 and 1994.
This controversial organization, later renamed into the Confederation of the Peoples of the Caucasus (CPC), was formed on the eve of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
The Confederation and its mercenaries are primarily known for their decisive role in the War in Abkhazia against Georgian forces, rallying militants from the North Caucasian republics, and the contribution to the secessionists’ victory in the 1992-1993 hostilities.
The CPC has been accused by Georgia of committing war crimes, including ethnic cleansing of Georgians during the conflict in Abkhazia.
These allegations are currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The Confederation has been inactive since the assassination of its second leader Yusup Soslanbekov in 2000.
Creation of the Organization
The idea to establish the Caucasus Mountain Peoples Confederation was born in the minds of the people of the North Caucasus who emigrated to Turkey in the mid-19th century.
Their aim was to unify the small peoples of the Northern Caucasus into a common Circassian state, to create a common language, and to form a new territorial unit as the 16th Union Republic of the Soviet Union.
Thus, there was a perceived need to bring together all the mountain peoples into a new state. On the initiative of the Abkhaz ethno-nationalist movement Aidgylara, this idea was voiced at the congress held in Sukhumi on 25 August, 1989, which established the Assembly of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus in Abkhazia's capital, along with a defense committee and military units for protection from the “empire.”
On the 13th and 14th of October 1990, the Assembly held its second congress in Nalchik, where it was transformed into the so-called Mountain Republic.
On the 4th of November 1990, in Nalchik, its membership was expended, and it was renamed Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus.
Sixteen nations of the Caucasus joined the Confederation. The Assembly elected Musa Shanibov as the president as well as 16 vice-presidents. Yusup Soslanbekov was the chairman of the Caucasian Parliament and Sultan Sosnaliyev was appointed the head of the Confederation's military wing.
It is obvious that the formation of a 16th Union republic was an adventurist move, evidently quite understandable to the Russian Federation.
These developments were negatively assessed from the very beginning by President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who called it another of the Kremlin’s provocations in the Caucasus.
The Caucasian peoples, he stated, “had the right to choose the path of their future development themselves, whereas the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples would be a structure imposed on them by the Russian Federation as another imperial mechanism to bring them under its control.”
For Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the “Assembly of the Mountain Peoples” was the echo of the so-called “North Caucasian Red Republic” of the 1920s, which “Chechnia withdrew from with the aim of creating its own republic.”
War in Abkhazia
The Confederation of the Mountain Peoples, crystallized at the end of the 1980s, ultimately played a negative role in the Abkhazian developments in the early 1990s and arguably crushed any possibility of Caucasian unity due to its conflicting intervention in the relations between the different Caucasian peoples (the Georgians and Abkhazians, the Russians and Georgians, the Circassians and Russians, the Chechens and Georgians).
Since the new institutional creation was heavily burdened by Soviet legacy, it became more engaged in struggling with the legacies of the past, rather than in planning and devising a future peaceful framework and a common platform for the Caucasian peoples.
The main problem was that the Confederation negatively interfered with the vertical and horizontal division and subjugation of the regional autonomous and republican units.
The course of developments has demonstrated the negative role played by the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus in post-Soviet Caucasian affairs in general.
The first two assemblies of the Confederation were held in 1989 (the founding congress) and in 1990, the Assembly of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus—AMPC was formed during the meeting on 25-26 August, 1989.
On 13-14 October 1990, in Nalchik, The AMPC’s Second Congress confirmed that “a period of practical work to implement a program for a new state structure for the Northern Caucasus and Abkhazia was on the way.”
However, during the meeting on 1-2 November 1991 in Sukhumi, the representatives had transformed the assembly into a confederation.
Nevertheless, the Turkic people of the Northern Caucasus—the Balkarians, Karachays, Kumyks, and Nogays—refused to participate in the event, and the Laks even did not respond to the invitation.
These assemblies were used by the delegates to voice their grievances against each other. The opening remarks of these assemblies already demonstrated the confrontational, rather than cooperative nature and spirit of the representatives of the Caucasian peoples.
The very first meetings of the Confederation of the Mountain Peoples and declarations of their participants demonstrated that the new organization had become not a platform of dialog, but rather a new arena of contestation.
Thus, the CMP became an additional irritant contributing to the confrontation between different groups in the Caucasus.
The Confederation spoke out with particular vehemence against the local authorities in Tbilisi when its president, Shanibov, condemned Georgia for violating the rights of the minorities residing in its territory.
The Confederation became angrier and more aggressive as the situation in Abkhazia deteriorated.
Following the different rounds of negotiations between Moscow and Tbilisi over Abkhazian developments, President of the Confederation Musa Shanibov stressed that if Russia chose peaceful negotiations with Tbilisi, it would complicate the existing situation in the North Caucasian republics. This statement was followed by a round of negotiations on Abkhazia held in Sochi in 1993.
The president of the Confederation Musa Shanibov and the chairman of the parliament Iysuph Soslanbekov made an official statement:
"As there is no other way to withdraw Georgian occupants' army from the territory of the sovereign Abkhazia and in order to implement the resolution of the 10th Session of the CMPC, we order:
1) All headquarters of the Confederation have to dispatch volunteers to the territory of Abkhazia to crash the aggressor militarily.
2) All military formations of the Confederation have to conduct military actions against any forces who oppose them and try to reach the territory of Abkhazia by any method.
3) To announce Tbilisi as a zone of disaster. At that use all methods, including terrorist acts.
4) To declare all people of Georgian ethnicity on the territory of Confederation as hostages.
All type of cargoes directed to Georgia shall be detained."
The Central Headquarters of the Confederation led by Yusup Soslanbekov had been in charge to implement practical measures against the "enemies of Abkhazian people". CMPC forces took place in the storming operation of Gagra.
On October 3, Abkhaz and Confederate formations launched a full-scale attack on villages of Kamani and Shroma (near Gumista River) that was repelled by Georgian forces.
In 1992, the political situation in Abkhazia changed into a military confrontation between the Georgian government and Abkhaz separatists.
The fighting escalated as Georgian Interior and Defence Ministry forces along with police units took Sukhumi and came near the city of Gudauta.
The ethnically based policies initiated by the Georgians in Sukhumi created simultaneously refugees and a core of fighters determined to regain lost homes.
Under the alleged aid from Russia, they managed to re-arm and organize "volunteer battalions" from the North Caucasus. According to political analyst Georgy Mirsky, the Russian military base in Gudauta was, "supplying the Abkhazian side with weapons and ammunition."
Furthermore, he adds that, "no direct proof of this has ever been offered, but it would be more naïve to believe that the tanks, rockets, howitzers, pieces of ordnance, and other heavy weapons that the anti-Georgian coalition forces were increasing using in their war had been captured from the enemy."
This anti-Georgian military coalition were made up of North Caucasian Group "The Confederates of Mountain People of Caucasus", Shamil Basaev's Chechen division "Grey Wolf," Armenian battalion "Bagramian," Cossacks, militants from Transnistria and various Russian special units.
According to Political Scientist Bruno Coppieters, "Western governments took some diplomatic initiatives in the United Nations and made up an appeal to Moscow to halt an active involvement of its military forces in the conflict.
The UN Security Council passed series of resolutions in which is appeals for a cease-fire and condemned the Abkhazian policy of ethnic-cleansing."
After the War in Abkhazia
Following the Abkhazian war, the Confederation went into a period of decline due largely to the feuds among its pro and anti-Kremlin factions.
It experienced a brief revival in December 1994, when Shanibov rallied thousands across the North Caucasus to block roads to the Russian forces heading to Grozny.
However, the change of power in Shanibov’s home republic, Kabardino-Balkaria, in favor of strongly pro-Moscow leader, prevented him from exerting any political influence in the region, forcing him to retire from politics in 1996.
Since then, the organization has had no role in Caucasus affairs. It never disbanded, but has been completely inactive since Shanibov’s successor, Yusup Soslambekov, was assassinated in Moscow on July 27, 2000.
The ambiguous position of the Confederation and the internal clashes between the various territorial-administrative units of the Northern Caucasus made the role of the Confederation particularly alarming and negative in the developments over Abkhazia during the early 1990s.
There was no unified position among the member units of the Confederation, while the various territorial-administrative entities launched their own action plans vis-à-vis Georgia in general, and Abkhazia in particular.
Oguz gives a good summary of why the Confederation failed as a political project for uniting the Caucasus: Firstly, it did not manage to unite all the peoples of the Caucasus.
Secondly, the Adyghes and other ethnic groups were in confrontation over the leading positions in the new union.
Thirdly, the Karachais and Balkarians created the Assembly of the Turkic Peoples separately, which gained the support of Chechnya and Azerbaijan.
Georgiy I. Mirsky (1997, p. 73). On Ruins of Empire: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Former Soviet Union. United States. Greenwood Press.
Goltz Thomas. (2006, p. 133). Georgia Diary: A Chronicle of War and Political Chaos in the Post-Soviet. United States. M.E. Sharpe.
Human Rights Watch report. (1995, p. 23). Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia's Role in the Conflict.
Lakoba, S. (1998, p. 102). Abkhazia, Georgia and the Caucasus Confederation, in Georgians and Abkhazians. The Search for a Peace Settlement.
Miriam Lanskoy.. Who’s afraid of Yusup Soslambekov. Central Asia - Caucasus Analyst. Retrieved from: http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/265/print
Nicole J. Jackson. (2003, p. 122) Russian Foreign Policy and the CIS: Theories, Debates and Actions. New York. Routledge.
Svetlana Chervonnaya. (1994, P. 131) Conflict in the Caucasus: Georgia, Abkhazia and the Russian Shadow.
Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr. (2009, p. 27). The Guns of August 2008, Russia's War in Georgia (Studies of Central Asia and the Caucasus).
Svante E. Cornell. (1993) The War in Abkhazia. Russian Forces Ethnic Cleansing Campaign.
Thomas de Waal. (2006). Open Democracy: Abkhazia-Georgia, Kosovo-Serbia: parallel worlds?". Retrieved 2008-10-17 from: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/abkhazia_serbia_3787jsp/
US State Department. (1994, p. 120). Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993.
"Sobaka Dossier on Musa Shanibov". Archived from: https://web.archive.org/web/20060615074934/http://diacritica.com/sobaka/dossier/shanibov.html on 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2006-05-04.