May 13 2004
After the revolution
Following the downfall of provincial hardman Aslan Abashidze, Nick
Paton Walsh takes a look inside his regime and examines his legacy
Thursday May 13, 2004
For prisoner David Asanidze, last week’s revolution that ended 13
years of authoritarian rule in the tiny western Georgian province of
Adzharia was a decade late in its coming.
Since 1994 he has languished in a two-man cell without sentencing or
trial, a political prisoner of the former regime. One of his
relatives, Tengiz Asanidze, is a renowned opponent of Abashidze, and
that, it seems, was enough to ensure his imprisonment on charges of
terrorism following a dispute with one of ousted leader’s bodyguards.
Confined to a cell in Adzharia’s security ministry jail and clearly
disturbed by his incarceration, he still awaits a court decision to
“I was arrested as a terrorist and put here as an example to the rest
of Adzharia. I was tortured with electric shocks. My hands were tied
from the ceiling above my head. A plastic bag was put over my head.
Sometimes they would do it here”, he said, referring to the little
courtyards adjacent to the cell. “Sometimes they would give me to the
interior ministry for a few days.”
Asanidze added that the former security minister, Soso Gogitidze, had
told him that if the revolution came near, he would be taken out into
the yard and shot in the head.
“I understand the president [Mikhail Saakashvili] has promised he
would not pursue that man [Abashidze]. But I cannot forgive. Ten
generations cannot forgive,” he said.
It did not take long for the anger felt towards Abashidze – who is in
Moscow after reportedly spending his first night in exile at the
country home of the city’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov – to rise to the
surface in the Adzharian capital, Batumi. With peaceful revolution
achieved through protest and the diplomatic intervention of Russia,
and the subsequent partying over, the region – which bares ample
evidence of the corruption and largesse of the Abashidze regime –
faces the nightmare task of rectifying more than a decade of misrule.
At Abashidze’s town residence, a large building in the centre of
town, his personal tastes are evident. There are two large ceremonial
swords in the kitchen, laid on the table beside glasses of fine
cognac and his favourite snack – sausages. In the corner lies a box
containing his favourite firearms: a Luther pistol with Nazi
insignia, a Ruger .375 pistol – in a gift box alongside the personal
card of the Armenian president, Robert Kocharian – and three AK47
Two women and a man, who refuse to comment, seem anxious to collect
Abashidze’s possessions for him. They scurry around his bedroom,
piling up his CDs and favourite medals, from a Soviet military
veteran’s award to a gift from the National Bank of Yugoslavia. On
his mahogany bedside table lie the books El Prado Erotico and a guide
to China’s forbidden city, and behind endless doors, the guest rooms
drag on, many unfurnished and clearly rarely occupied.
“This stuff belongs to the government now,” said Georgia’s deputy
security minister, Gigi Ugulava, who gave the Guardian a tour of
Abashidze’s Batumi residence. “We will appoint a government here, and
then hold elections. Then the new administration will make use of the
Outside, panic breaks out as gunfire briefly fills the air. Troops
rush in and civilians scuttle to take cover. A group of Abashidze’s
former bodyguards have arrived intent on collecting their wages.
Batumi is still in his thrall.
“People here tell stories of how Giorgi, Abashidze’s son, used to
have the roads closed here so he could race around the town in his
Lambourghini”, Ugulava said. “Property was relative here. If one of
his entourage liked your car, they took it. They owned everything.”
“These are riches greater than we found at [former president Eduard]
Shevardnadze’s residence,” said Georgia’s security minister, Zurab
Soon though, Abashidze’s 80 prize-winning exotic dogs, and his
ostriches and peacocks, will have new owners. The government has
announced that it is to auction off his pets, his two Humvee jeeps
and his other riches. “Much more was spent on those dogs than on the
healthcare for Adzharia’s Khelvachauri district,” said Georgia’s
general prosecutor, Irakli Okruashvili.
Abashidze’s two prized Tornado speedboats, one equipped with a
machine gun, now patrol the harbour for the military. Troops line the
streets his son once raced around, hoping to stop his old militia
from regrouping, and President Saakashvili has moved into his huge
country house – one of only two places locally deemed to be secure
for Georgia’s new leader. Two Strelna shoulder-fired missiles
disappeared from the Batumi arsenal recently. The risk of future
unrest is real.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress