1991–92 Georgian coup d'état

1991-92 Georgian coup d'état
Part of Georgian Civil War
Inside Area of Parliament during Georgian Civil War.jpg
Inside of Parliament after the coup
Date22 December 1991–6 January 1992
ResultZviad Gamsakhurdia left in exile, military council takes over, beginning of the Georgian Civil War
Flag of Georgia (1990–2004).svg National Guard of Georgia
Black Pantyhose Battalion
Supported by:
Flag of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.svg Ichkeria
Flag of Ukraine.svg Ukrainian mercenaries
Flag of Georgia (1990–2004).svg Rebel factions of the National Guard
Mkhedrioni Flag.gif Mkhedrioni
Tetri Artsivi
Merab Kostava Society
Union of Afghans
Replaced on 2 January by:
Flag of Georgia (1990–2004).svg Military Council
Supported by:
Red Army flag.svg Transcaucasian Military District
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Georgia (1990–2004).svg Zviad GamsakhurdiaFlag of Georgia (1990–2004).svg Tengiz Kitovani
Flag of Georgia (1990–2004).svg Tengiz Sigua
Mkhedrioni Flag.gif Jaba Ioseliani
Flag of Georgia (1990–2004).svg Gia Karkarashvili
Vazhi Adamia
Red Army flag.svg Sufian Bepayev
Flag of Georgia (1990–2004).svg 1,000-4,000Flag of Georgia (1990–2004).svg 2,000
Mkhedrioni Flag.gif 600-5,000
Casualties and losses
113 dead
Around 700 injured

The 1991–92 Georgian coup d'état, also known as the Tbilisi War, or the Putsch of 1991-92, was an internal military conflict that took place in the newly independent Republic of Georgia following the fall of the Soviet Union, from 22 December 1991 to 6 January 1992. The coup, a violent representation of the chaos that engulfed the Caucasus at the beginning the 1990s, pit factions of the National Guard loyal to President Zviad Gamsakhurdia against several paramilitary organizations unified at the end of 1991 under the leadership of warlords Tengiz Kitovani, Jaba Ioseliani and Tengiz Sigua.

Stemming from authoritarian actions undertaken by Gamsakhurdia, the Tbilisi War ended with the exile of the first democratically-elected president of Georgia, after two weeks of violent clashes in the heart of the Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Rustaveli Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Tbilisi, was ravaged by the conflict, which mainly consisted of a siege of the Georgian Parliament building, where Gamsakhurdia was isolated in a bunker.

The coup d'état, which only inaugurated a bloody civil war that lased 1994, is largely seen as an example of Russian military exploitation of legitimate pro-democratic protests in its former sphere of influence. This fact is mainly represented by the probable intervention of the Red Army in favor of opposition factions, while providing weapons to both sides of the war. Following Gamsakhurdia's fall, a Military Council, led by Kitovani and Ioseliani, took power in Tbilisi and assured the return of Eduard Shevardnadze, the last Soviet Foreign Affairs Minister to hand over power to him.

Historical Background

Fall of the Soviet Union

Since the Red Army invasion of 1921, Georgia is one of the 12 member-republics of the USSR, a communist and authoritarian federation.[1] Despite the de jure status as a sovereign nation of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Georgia, nationalistic feelings develop largely in the 1970s,[2] feelings that will be repeated across the Soviet world.[a] Large economic problems, the dictatorial nature of government, and the repression of nationalistic symbols lead to several protests in Georgia, culminating with the 9 April 1989 Tragedy, when a protest in Tbilisi is repressed by the authorities and results in the death of 21 people and the arrest of the main opposition leaders, including Zviad Gamsakhurdia.[3]

The Tbilisi Tragedy, coupled with the military failure in Afghanistan and the collapse of the Iron Curtain that separates Western Europe from the communist world lead to a chain reaction that witnesses the Baltic States declare their independence in 1990. Soon, Soviet authorities, under pressure of mass revolts, allow democratic elections in October 1990.[4]

Ethnic Conflicts

The South Ossetia war is one of the main criticisms against Gamsakhurdia.

The rise of Georgian nationalism lead to a rebirth of ethnic tensions with certain minorities within the Georgian State, most notably in the Abkhazian ASSR and the Autonomous Oblast of South Ossetia. Adamon Nikhas, a communist movement in South Ossetia, started to demand a larger autonomy from Tbilisi as early as the later 1980s,[5] a request denied by the central government in November 1989.[6] Tensions between Georgian nationalists and Ossetian communists rise until a declaration of sovereignty is proclaimed in Tskhinvali in September 1990, following which Tbilisi retaliates by abolishing entirely the local autonomy and dispatching a military faction to pacify the region.[7]

Gamsakhurdia's presidency only aggravated the conflict, especially after his promise of a "Georgia for Georgians."[8] In January 1991, the militarization of the conflict divided Tskhinvali in two, thus launching a civil war that lasted until June 1992 and that lead to the creation of the separatist Republic of South Ossetia.[9]

Meanwhile, Abkhazia fell in an ethnic strife. As early as 1989, violent clashes between Georgian and Abkhaz nationalists forced a certain division that extended into a "war of laws" between the legislatures of Tbilisi and of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia.[10]

Deception in Tbilisi

The Act of Restoration of Georgian Independence signed on 9 April 1991.

On 9 April 1991, two years after the Tbilisi Tragedy and ten days after a largely victorious referendum on the subject, the Georgian Supreme Council declared the independence of the country and appointed Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a famous dissident and spokesperson of local nationalism, as interim president.[11] The latter was eventually elected president with 86% of the vote in an election that saw an 83% participation rate on 26 May. However, his presidency began with serious opposition, notably because of the large presidential powers granted upon him by Parliament, including:[12]

  • Veto power over any law approved in Parliament;
  • War declarations and power to declare martial law;
  • Appointment powers over the Prime Minister, the presiding judge of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General, and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces;
  • A total immunity

As soon as October 1990, while Gamsakhurdia's nationalistic movement was already in power in Tbilisi under the de jure jurisdiction of the Soviet Union, the new government proceeded to close a majority of newspapers supporting the Communist Party.[13] Molodyozh Gruzii, a youth magazine based in Tbilisi, was also closed 3 April 1991 because of Gamsakhurdia's allegations of collaboration with the KGB.[13] Public television, under the new control of the nationalists, canceled all programming not openly supporting Gamsakhurdia's platform and in December 1990, 60 members of the Mkhedrioni militia launch a hungerstrike in response.[14]

Political persecutions only increased following the independence. The independent newspaper Iberia was violently expelled from its headquarters in May 1991.[14] Journalists were routinely excluded from press conferences and public television often accused its competition to be at the service of Moscow,[14] while death threats and false criminal investigations were used by Tbilisi against renegade news anchors.[15] International press was also largely repressed.[15]

Several political opponents were also persecuted by Gamsakhurdia. In February 1991, ten members of the National Democratic Party (NDP) in Kakheti and 56 members of the Mkhedrioni militia, including its leader, Jaba Ioseliani, were arrested.[16] On 18 August,[17] three ministers, including Prime Minister Tengiz Sigua, resigned from their posts and joined the opposition, accusing the President of becoming a "totalitarian demagogue."[18] Soon, the capital fell into chaos, merely a few months after the national independence.