Emzar Kvitsiani (Georgian: ემზარ კვიციანი, [ɛmzɑr kʼvitsʰiɑni] (help·info); born April 25, 1961) is a former Georgian military commander and warlord active in Abkhazia's Kodori valley, which he ran de facto through his militia from 1992 until being ousted by the Georgian government forces in 2006. He fled to Russia, but, in 2014, he was arrested on his return to Georgia, initially sentenced to 16 years in jail, and then released under a plea bargain in early 2015. He is now one of the leaders of the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia.
Kvitsiani was born in 1961 in the village of Chkhalta, part of the predominantly ethnic Georgian Svan upper Kodori valley in the then-Soviet Abkhazia, an autonomous republic within the Georgian SSR. He finished the Novosibirsk Institute of National Economy and later graduated the Kiev General Staff Academy with honors. According various reports, he had a criminal record during the Soviet period. A detailed academic study claims he developed contacts to Soviet organized crime while in jail, and that after his release he was involved in running illegal casinos in Abkhazia.
After the secessionist war broke out in Abkhazia in 1992, Kvitsiani organized a militia force of several hundred fighters named Monadire ("the Hunter") in the upper Kodori valley in order to fend off the Abkhaz threat. He succeeded in keeping the strategically crucial gorge under the control of his militia after the retreat of the Georgian forces from Abkhazia in 1993, though militia in the area reportedly also demanded money and possessions from fleeing civilians, in exchange for passage. Following the war, Kvitsiani maintained nominal dependence on the central government of Georgia. The then-President of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze attempted to channel Kvitsiani's activities into the legal framework of the Georgian state apparatus. Kvitsiani was appointed deputy special state envoy to the Kodori valley in 1997 and then special state envoy to that area in 2000. He and his men entertained good relations with the Abkhaz people despite numerous skirmishes and incidents occurring over the years. According to his own claims Abkhaz representatives occasionally tried to persuade him to sign a four-sided treaty that would effectively transfer control of the valley over to the Sukhumi administration. Kvitsiani however always refused and also countered various armed incursions, mostly in a pacifying manner. He earned the Abkhazians respect by treating prisoners well and in some cases even releasing them with their arms returned. In 1998, his militia was made a special battalion of the Georgian Armed Forces, but the government had little control of it. In 2004 on behalf of the Georgian government Emzar Kvitsiani was also engaged and partially responsible in convincing the Abkhazians to clear minefields that were deployed during the war. In return minefields laid by the Georgian army would be removed as well.
Kvitsiani's role in the abduction of the United Nations and Georgian officials in Kodori in the 1990s, the 2001 Kodori crisis, and various supposed criminal activities in the region have been disputed. Lacking any legal basis the Saakashvili regime was only able to condemn him on charges of mutiny and the illegal formation of armed groups which later lead to his conviction. During the Rose Revolution in Georgia in November 2003, he was in Tbilisi and supported Shevardnadze, after whose abdication, Kvitsiani was removed from his official position by the new President Mikheil Saakashvili in December 2004, while his unit was declared disbanded in April 2005. Kvitsiani defied the move and, on July 22, 2006, declared disobedience to the government of Georgia. In an ensuing crisis, the Georgian forces moved in into the valley and besieged Kvitsiani in Chkhalta. The "Hunter" group offered almost overwhelming resistance as primarily US trained special troops deployed by the government were not able to gain the upper hand. During a crossfire, a local woman was killed. To avoid further casualties, Kvitsiani and the remnant of his followers were allowed through a military cordon. Georgia set up a local administration of the valley under the aegis of the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, but lost control over it during the August 2008 Russia–Georgia war. Kvitsiani has repeatedly stressed and maintains to this date that the former Georgian leadership under grip of powerful outside influence has purposefully worked towards handing over the Kodory valley and that it was their plan all along.
After his ouster from the Kodori valley, Kvitsiani eventually fled to North Caucasus Russia, from where he issued threats of guerrilla warfare to the Georgian government. Later caught by Russian special services he managed to escape after reportedly being tortured. He remained wanted by Georgia for charges related to formation of an illegal armed group and an armed mutiny. His sister, Nora Kvitsiani, was arrested on similar charges and sentenced 6.5 years in prison, but she was released after the change of government in Georgia in October 2012.
Arrest and trial
On February 28, 2014, Kvitsiani, flew from Moscow to Tbilisi, where he was arrested upon his arrival at the Tbilisi International Airport. He declared he knew the authorities were going to arrest him, but he wanted to cooperate and seek justice. On November 17, 2014, a court in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi found Kvitsiani guilty of mutiny and of forming an illegal armed group—charges Kvitsiani denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in jail, but released after the Kutaisi court of appeals approved a plea bargain deal between him and the prosecution on January 28, 2015.
Political Engagement post-2015
- Fuller, Liz (28 January 2015). "Georgian Court Releases Jailed Warlord". Radio Free Europe. Retrieved 23 October 2016.
- Alliance of Patriots of Georgia. "Leadership: Emzar Kvitsiani". Retrieved 23 October 2016.
- Marten, Kimberly (2012). Warlords: Strong-arm Brokers in Weak States. Cornell University Press. pp. 88–99. ISBN 0801464587.
- Квициани, Эмзар [Kvitsiani, Emzar] (in Russian). Lenta.ru. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
- Fuller, Liz (22 November 2014). "Supporters Demand Release Of Jailed Former Georgian Warlord". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
- Marten, Kimberly (2012). Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 88.
- "Wanted Ex-Warlord Arrested on Arrival in Tbilisi". Civil Georgia. 28 February 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
- "Officials Visit Kodori". Civil Georgia. 26 July 2007. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
- Owen, Elizabeth (October 15, 2008). "Georgia: Abkhazia Reasserts Control over Upper Kodori Gorge". EurasiaNet. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
- Kirtzkhalia, Nana (February 27, 2014). "Former representative of Georgian president in Kodori gorge to return homeland". Trend News. Retrieved March 3, 2014.
- "Ex-Warlord Released from Jail in Plea Deal". Civil Georgia. 28 January 2015. Retrieved 28 January 2015.