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Ethnic Discrimination or Just Solving a Demographic Problem?

Abkhazia's Azkhara Foundation stands accused of providing assistance on an ethnic basis to local residents with big families. From JAMnews.

20 August 2018

A charity foundation, whose aim is to boost the birth rate in Abkhazia, has ended up the target of public outrage after releasing a report revealing that its beneficiaries have been exclusively ethnic Abkhaz families.


Abkhazia is a breakaway Georgian territory that Russia recognizes as an independent state. Moscow provides the region with Russian passports, aid, and defense.


Since 2017, the Azkhara Foundation has dedicated most of its work to helping families with many children, through both state funding and private donations.


Citizens of Abkhazia who are not themselves ethnically Abkhaz believe this to be discrimination.


According to a report by the Kremlin-controlled news agency Sputnik Abkhazia, “During the first six months of 2018, Azkhara, a charitable, non-commercial foundation, distributed 100,000 roubles [about $1,600] to 180 Abkhaz families ... after the birth of a third or additional child. The main criterion for receiving this aid was ethnic identity.”


In 2017, 407 families applied to the foundation, and 363 received aid amounting to more than 36 million roubles.


The Essence of the Argument


The issue of who should be given aid has given rise to serious discussions and arguments on social media networks.


Many Abkhaz families believe that the foundation’s decision to only help the Abkhaz is correct.


“I don’t see any problem with this. Our Abkhaz foundation helps us. Russians, Armenians, and the rest should be helped by their own communities,” wrote a woman of Abkhaz origin.


Child on the boardwalk in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia. Photo by Sergey Demyanov.


However, non-ethnic Abkhaz counter that this is a great injustice, given that the foundation exists thanks to funds received from taxpayers representing many ethnicities.


“If the foundation had accumulated this money only through private donations and then decided whom to help, then that would be okay,” one social media network user stated. “But when a representative of the foundation says ‘of course the state is providing us with quite a bit of support,’ and taxpayers to the state treasury consist of all citizens and judicial entities, then this can already be said to be discrimination on ethnic grounds.”


Zinaida, an Abkhaz citizen of Russian origin, says that it is worth remembering that during the Georgian-Abkhaz war of the 1990s, everyone – without exception – defended their homeland.


“[At that time] the issue of national identity was not on the table. It’s only in recent times that the issue has appeared,” says Zinaida. “I agree with the fact that there is a titular nation here and that the government should consist largely of its representatives. This is the norm around the world. But here we have a concrete case of discrimination, like the ban on giving out passports to citizens of Abkhazia who are not Abkhaz.”


Zinaida says that her friend, a woman with several children and an Abkhaz by origin, was refused financial aid because her husband was Russian.


“So, what does that mean? That she wasn’t right to marry [him]? Imagine how this family feels right now, especially her husband – a local, a citizen of Abkhazia!” she said.


Political Dissension


Arguing the foundation's case, Azkhara's co-founder, Luiza Tarba, said in an interview with Sputnik Abkhazia: “Abkhazia will never forget the aid it received from people of other ethnicities during the war of 1992 and 1993. But today, they don’t have a demographic problem ... which isn’t something you can say about the Abkhaz.”


“The main aim of the foundation is to try and raise the birth rate. If we are able to affect the demographic situation by just a small percentage, then we will consider that to be a big success.”


Meanwhile, some politicians of Abkhaz origin have privately expressed dissatisfaction about the foundation's decision to give aid only to large Abkhaz families.


One politician, who did not wish to give his name to JAMnews, nor admit to his opinions publicly, said that in Soviet times, the Abkhaz complained about being squeezed out by the Georgians. Now, he pointed to the Abkhaz going down the same path, and predicted this would not lead to anything good.


Parliamentary member Leonid Chamagua, another co-founder of Azkhara, recently told journalists: “The results show that we chose the right direction to go in and we have to continue working in this way and to find non-state sources to support the foundation.”


Chamagua insisted that the solution to the problem lay in the creation in Abkhazia of charitable foundations that would help multi-child families, independent of their ethnic roots.


However, he did not elaborate on how this could be achieved.

This article was originally published on JAMnews, a news and analysis site based in the South Caucasus. TOL has done some editing to fit our style. Reprinted with permission. Text image courtesy of JAMnews.

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