The War Diaries

"We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Archive for the ‘Georgia’ tag

Politics is Not a Zero Sum Game

without comments

Georgia’s Forgotten Frozen War from Derek Flood on Vimeo.

Barcelona- In the new issue of Jane’s Intelligence Review, (subscription required) I have an interview out with Ambassador Kaha Imnadze who represents the Republic of Georgia at the United Nations along the banks of New York’s East River . We spoke in early September on the heels of the NATO summit in Newport, Wales. We had a lot to discuss relating the Georgia’s signing of the EU Association Agreement earlier in the summer which acted as a veneer of raison d’étre for Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 2.42.22 PMWith Georgia already having two occupied regions where the overt presence of both Russian troops and intelligence agencies act as a shadowy reminder that this frozen conflict can reheat should Russian policy dictate so or a resurgent Georgian nationalism stumble into another fight that it cannot win on the battlefield.

Georgia occupies a unique place in the world in terms of both cartography as a mountainous land bridge between the Muslim and Orthodox worlds in broadest terms and geopolitically where it could potentially act as a robust diplomatic conduit between Iran and the West. Straddling vital energy routes, Georgia maintains amicable relations stretching from Washington to Tehran as if a fusion of its warm hospitality and realpolitik.

When asked how such a small nation can skillfully exploit its underappreciated diplomatic potential, Imnadze mentioned Georgia’s ancient history in relation to how it has lasted mostly intact for centuries.

Despite marauding powers hailing from Slavic, Turkic, Persian and other empires vying for power in a wider South Caucasus which acts as a natural land bridge between the Caspian and Black Sea regions as well as between the Middle East, Iranian plateau and Russia, for Georgians to have survived for so long in this contested environment, they seem to have in inherent diplomacy “in their DNA” as Imnadze put it to me.

Georgia's ambassador to the United Nations, Kaha Imnadze, photographed in his New York office on July 9. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kaha Imnadze, photographed in his New York office on July 9. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

One thing to remember is that Georgia’s democracy is very much a still evolving one. It’s just transformed from a presidential system to a parliamentary style democracy. The ex-president is running around Williamsburg for some reason. The parliament that was relocated out to Kutaisi is being at least partly moved back to its home in Tbilisi.

And though Moscow has pursued two largely different policies with regard to South Ossetia and Abkhazia–the former being a lightly populated space which has a thin veneer as a republic but is thought of a more of a glorified Russian base-building project while the latter has more palpable politics. Abkhazia is also possible to actually visit as an outsider on a tourist visa while what transpires in Tskhinvali is cloaked in mystery.

Despite Georgia’s challenges, it is comparatively a beacon of light when compared to its neighbors, Azerbaijan, Armenia, not to mention the violent republics of the North Caucasus to the north.

Written by derekhenryflood

October 20th, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Caucasus,Georgia

Tagged with , ,

The Beauty of a Misunderstood Place

without comments

An effusive Chechen elder I met at sundown in the village of Birkiani. What a cool guy! A random Westerner shows up at his gate and he immediately offers warm, old school Chechen hospitality. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An effusive Chechen elder I met at sundown in the village of Birkiani where I stayed in 2002. What a cool guy! A random Westerner shows up at his gate and he immediately offers warm, old school Chechen hospitality. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I haven’t done a blog post in nearly a month and felt like posting a few images if for no other reason than to do an update for the sake of doing an update. In October I visited the Pankisi Gorge for the third time in my career/life whatever I should call it. The first two visits were filled with tension and suspicion that had the feel on journalistic espionage. On this recent trip, I was able to take a few moments to remember the splendor of this far off place. Pankisi is beautiful because much of the Caucasus is gorgeous in general. Low slung cloud formations above the peaks, horses trotting along, and stunning young Chechen and Kist  women.

The Chechens are perhaps the most globally vilified people in recent history thanks to tireless propaganda efforts up north at the Lubyanka. Seemingly nearly everyone around the world bought into rather unsophisticated FSB pay-ops since the late 1990s from Hollywood screenwriters to Pakistani generals. But beyond all of this hype, most of which is completely unsupported in an empirical sense, are a very real people with a pained history. Yes, Chechens are  renown for anti-state warfare. However they also make a good cup of chai and are good conversationalists.

A boy and his horse between Duisi and Jokolo. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A boy and his horse between Duisi and Jokolo. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Soviet-style gravestones in Duisi's main cemetery written in both Cyrillic and Arabic scripts. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Soviet-style gravestones in Duisi’s main cemetery written in both Cyrillic and Arabic scripts. These visages definitely wouldn’t fit into the Salafi ideology that has been seeping into the valley in recent years. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

This guy was hilarious. How many times have you heard "Chechen" and "hilarious" in the same sentence? My guess is…never. The difference between removed analysis and field work is that you must actually interact with real people rather than study them in some abstraction. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

This guy from southern Chechnya was hilarious. How many times have you heard “Chechen” and “hilarious” in the same sentence? My guess is…never. The difference between removed analysis and field work is that you must actually interact with real people rather than study them in some abstraction. The results can sometimes be amusing. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

November 20th, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Caucasus,Georgia

Tagged with , ,

Election Eve in Georgia, Festering Instabiliy in Kirkuk

without comments

Posters for Giorgi Margvelashvili running on Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream ticket and considered the front runner (or at least he has the most posters up in town) in Sunday's Georgian presidential election. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Posters in downtown Tbilisi for Giorgi Margvelashvili running on Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream ticket. Margvelashvili is considered the front runner (or at least he has the most posters up in town) in Sunday’s Georgian presidential election. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

TScreen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.34.41 PMbilisi- The Republic of Georgia is on the cusp of a presidential election that is shaping up to be the country’s first non-ultra dramatic transition of power (think the coup against President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the Rose Revolution ousting Eduard Shevardnadze). Buzz here around town is that it may well go into a second round. If Margvelashvili does not receive 49.9% of the vote according to Thomas de Waal, the transition of power may be a touch chaotic as the era of the Rose Revolution comes to a close with little fanfare .

Some have said, rather cynically in my view, that the biggest accomplishment of the outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili will not be the reforms he’s made but stepping down from power in a peaceful and orderly manner.

In the backdrop of the election and the constitutional transformation about to be implemented turning the republic from a presidential to a parliamentary system is the Russian’s beefing up of the Soviet-era border of occupied South Ossetia (from when South Ossetia was an autonomous oblast within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic) and whether or not Georgia should formally boycott the upcoming Olympics in Sochi. The fact to a Russian pilot from the 2008 war here called Ivan Nechaev was seen being an Olympic torchbearer has not gone over at all well here.

In other news I have an article out this week in the October issue of the CTC Sentinel based on my fieldwork in Kirkuk in August, communications with my fixer afterward and months of following developments along the Green Line that is the de facto internal border between Iraq Kurdistan and Arab Iraq (for lack of a more precise term).

Posters for David Bakradze, presidential candidate from outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movment. Bakradze is considered to be the second place candidate. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Posters for Davit Bakradze, presidential candidate from outgoing president Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movment. Bakradze is considered to be the second place candidate. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A poster in the Rostaveli metro station for Nino Burjanadze, one-time leader of the Rose Revolution, now out to get Saakashvili and have Georgia's own "reset" with the Kremlin. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A poster in the Rustaveli metro station for Nino Burjanadze, one-time leader of the Rose Revolution, now out to get Saakashvili and have Georgia’s own “reset” with the Kremlin. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

October 24th, 2013 at 11:49 am

Posted in Georgia,Iraq

Tagged with , ,

Chasing Old Ghosts in Georgia

without comments

The Marjanshvilli metro station. If there is a long escalator anywhere in this world I haven't seen it. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

The Marjansihvilli metro station. If there is a longer escalator anywhere in this world I haven’t seen it. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Tbilisi- After inhabiting this post-9/11 realm for so long now,  I occasionally find myself in locales of yore retracing old steps in the name of an unfinished book. I sometimes photograph places and people (if I can still find them). I first came to Georgia in 2002 to inspect for myself the hype about the Pankisi Gorge/Valley with the West’s sudden fascination with Zarqawi, ricin and the think-tank obsession with foreign mujahideen (the meme that still won’t die) going to fight in Chechnya next door.

I arrived in Eduard Shevardnadze’s pot-hole ridden, shattered Caucasian republic after my efforts to meet with Iraqi Kurds in Syria were thwarted by the pervasive paranoid of Assad’s rather recently inherited police state. I lived with a widowed grandmother who gave shelter to Japanese backpackers (once ubiquitous in Eurasian budget travel scenes) and ended up in a mujahideen hostel in Pankisi with a Russian Federation Sukhoi (or a Georgian one in a version thinly sourced and convoluted) flying menacingly overhead.  The following are pictures that will appear random but are part of the narrative I am visually reconstructing to aid in my writing efforts.

Tsiela, the Georgian babushka I lived with in August 2002. She insisted I not go to Pankisi. She was a bit surprised that I found her 11 years on to shoot her portrait. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Tsiela, the Georgian babushka I lived with in August 2002 on Chitaya Street. She insisted I not go to Pankisi. She was a bit surprised that I found her 11 years on to shoot her portrait. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

My Chechen fixer's apartment block in Tbilisi's Saburtalo District. I was curious to go back there after reading that the Chechens involved in the August 2012 Lopota incident had been housed in this district supposedly by Georgian authorities who had recruited them in the EU if you're inclined to believe that version of events. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

My Chechen fixer’s depressing Soviet apartment block in Tbilisi’s Saburtalo District on Kavteradze Street. I was curious to go back there after reading that the Chechens involved in the August 2012 Lopota incident had been housed in this district supposedly by Georgian authorities who had recruited them in the EU if you’re inclined to believe that version of events. Saburtalo was where many of Tbilisi’s Chechen exiles once lived and now is home to part of the city’s migrant community including Pakistanis and Bangladeshis judging by my observations the other day. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

The barber shop where I ran in after my arrest by Georgian intelligence to get my beard shaved off. First and only time I ever had a woman shave my beard I think. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

The barber shop where I ran in after my arrest by Georgian intelligence to get my beard shaved off. First and only time I ever had a woman shave my beard I think. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

The lobby of the Sheraton Metechi Palace where the adventure started. There was a USAID office there and I asked a friendly yet clueless AID guy about going up to Pankisi and the prospect of getting in: "Oh yeah the refugees are there. I don't see why you can't go." Umm yeah, ok. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

The lobby of the Sheraton Metechi Palace where the adventure started. There was a USAID office there and I asked a friendly yet clueless AID guy about going up to Pankisi and the prospect of getting in: “Oh yeah the refugees are there. I don’t see why you can’t go.” Umm yeah, ok. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

In order to try and blend in with the guests while shooting photos at the Metechi, I ducked in for a beer in order to not seem suspicious. And of course there were working class BP guys at the bar talking Baku this, and pipeline that. I've been meeting BP guys every time I go out here it seems like. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

In order to try and blend in with the guests while shooting photos at the Metechi, I ducked in for a beer in order to not seem suspicious. Sometimes snooping around has its perks. And of course there were working class BP guys at the bar talking Baku this, and pipeline that. I’ve been meeting BP guys every time I go out here it seems like. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

October 22nd, 2013 at 8:50 am

Posted in Caucasus,Georgia

Tagged with , ,

New HuffPo Piece

without comments

Written by derekhenryflood

May 10th, 2010 at 6:26 pm