The Intra-Georgian civil war
During the second half of 1991, Georgian President Gamsakhurdia increasingly lost popular support. In December 1991, civil war broke out in Tbilisi between his supporters and opponents. Physical signs of the fighting remain visible today in the Georgian capital. Gamsakhurdia was defeated and took refuge in Chechnya in January 1992.
Separatist movements—primarily Ossetians and Abkhaz, demanded more recognition in the early 1990s. The Georgian government, asserting its newly gained national authority, used its military to block separatism by force. On January 5, 1991, Georgia’s National Guard entered Tskhinvali,the capital of South Ossetia. Fighting broke out in and around the city. A three-way power struggle between Georgian, Ossetian and Soviet military forces broke out in the region. Gamsakhurdia denounced the Ossetian separatist movement as part of a Russian plan to undermine Georgia. This“Georgia for the Georgians” atmosphere exacerbated inter-ethnic violence. Over the next few months, his government reportedly committed numerous human rights violations. Freedom of speech and the press were restricted, the right to free assembly violated, opponents were arrested (some of whom were tortured), and there were attacks against South Ossetians. Prime MinisterTengiz Sigua and two other senior ministers resigned in August in protest Gamsakhurdia’s policies and joined the opposition. After the coup against President Gorbachev, Gamsakhurdia’s opponents accused him of not strongly opposing it. In turn, he accused forces in Moscow of conspiring with his internal enemies against Georgia’s independence.
The leader of the Mkhedrioni (Horsemen) paramilitary force Dzhaba Ioseliani gets into a car as his soldiers fight against the supporters of the first president of independent Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, at an undisclosed location in western Georgia in this 1994 photo. Ioseliani died in 2003 in Tbilisi. (© AP/Wide World Photo/ Shakh Aivazov)
In the fall of 1991, the opposition against Gamsakhurdia became violent. After the police dispersed a large opposition demonstration in Tbilisi on September 2, members of the opposition were arrested, their offices raided and pro-opposition newspapers closed. The National Guard, the major paramilitary force in the country, split into pro- and anti-Gamsakhurdia factions. Another powerful military organization, the Mkhedrioni, sided with the opposition. The power struggle intensified in late December and on December 22 the opposition took control of much of the city.
Power in Tbilisi passed into the hands of a Military Council dominated by the chiefs of the two main paramilitary forces that had defeated Gamsakhurdia—Tengiz Kitovani, commander of the National Guard, and Jaba Ioseliani, commander of the Mkhedrioni (Horsemen). A state of emergency was declared, and demonstrations by Gamsakhurdia’s supporters suppressed. The new rulers decided to strengthen the international credibility of their regime by inviting Eduard Shevardnadze back to Georgia. Upon his arrival in March 1992, the Military Council was transformed into the State Council. Although Shevardnadze chaired the meetings of the State Council, he had to share power with three other leading members.
Gamsakhurdia’s supporters attempted a coup in Tbilisi in June 1992 and staged uprisings in Megrelia in western Georgia. Gamsakhurdia later died under mysterious circumstances in Chechnya.
Shevardnadze elected president
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze stands on the podium behind a group of singers dressed in Georgian national costumes during a swearing-in ceremony in Tbilisi, 26 November 1995. (© AP/Wide World Photo/SHAKH AIVAZOV)
Shevardnadze was elected with 70% of the vote when presidential elections were held in 1995. Even after Gamsakhurdia’s death, Shevardnadze would faceassassination attempts from his supporters.