Lawmakers in Russian-occupied Abkhazia passed legislative changes that will pave the way for the ethnic Georgian majority of Gali district to obtain passports by “restoring Abkhazian ethnicity,” Sokhumi-based Nuzhnaya Gazeta reported.

There are some 30,000 ethnic Georgians in Gali who were stripped of all political rights after Kremlin-backed authorities stripped them of Abkhazian “citizenship” in 2014 and 2017.

But residents of Gali would have to change their Georgian surnames to Abkhazian surnames to get the papers.

The amendment package went through almost a year of legislative process, after the “speaker of parliament” Valery Kvarchia introduced the relevant bill in March 2021.

A new clause introduced today in Abkhazia’s law on civil status documents provides that foreign citizens and stateless persons residing in Abkhazia now enjoy said right to “restore Abkhazian ethnicity,” according to Sokhumi-based agency Apsnypress.

The package also included amendments to the Civil Code that introduced “restoration of Abkhazian ethnicity” as one of the personal status laws.

Notably, Article 5(a) of the Occupied Region’s “Citizenship” Law defines all people of Abkhazian ethnicity as “citizens” regardless of their place of residence or whether they hold citizenship of a foreign state, unless they endorse one “Change”. the sovereign status” of Abkhazia, among others.

Therefore, ahead of the final vote, some Abkhaz lawmakers expressed concerns about the proposed changes, arguing that the new rules could allow Georgian citizens to obtain Abkhaz “citizenship”.

Meanwhile, spokesman Valery Kvarchia backed the package, stressing that “however we vote for these changes will remain in history,” Apsnypress reported.

Another lawmaker, Givi Kvarchia, argued that approving the changes would mean a return to “historical justice”, arguing that in the 1930s thousands of Abkhazians were forced to change their ethnic identities.

Lawmakers cited a long-standing claim by Sokhumi that Gali’s native ethnic Georgian population are in fact ethnic Abkhazians who were “Georgianized” during the Soviet Union.

The Tbilisi-based Abkhaz Supreme Council, Abkhazia’s exiled legitimate legislature, has previously called such claims a “pseudo-historical theory” and a “blatant lie.”

The Council has also described suggestions by the previous, Kremlin-backed leadership, residents of Gali had political rights only through “restoration of Abkhazian ethnicity” as “unacceptable experiments on the Georgian population” and “a new form of discrimination against Georgians – an attempt to forcibly reassign their ethnicity.” change”.

The move also has opponents in occupied Abkhazia, where an influential group of hard-line Abkhazian war veterans warned lawmakers as early as April 2021 not to endorse the laws now being passed.

The same group has in the past abused Proposals by the Abkhaz leadership under Aslan Bzhania to unconditionally issue Abkhaz passports to Gali-Georgians.

The residents of Gali were internally displaced during the armed conflict of the 1990s but subsequently returned to occupied Abkhazia. The absolute majority of residents of Gali hold Georgian citizenship.

Tbilisi has repeatedly raised the issue of discrimination against ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia, including their inability to receive education in their mother tongue.

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