Former Caucasus Fund VP Denies Izvestia Claims

April 30, 2013

Gela Khmaldaze, former vice president of the Caucasus Fund: “Tamerlan Tsarnaev never took part in our activities. The Caucasus Fund has not worked with the Jamestown Foundation. Moreover, our fund has not been involved in any so-called ‘recruitment’. This is an obvious lie.”

We will recall that Izvestia editors claimed today to have possession of a report from Georgian counter-intelligence report said to be about a Georgian civic organization, “Caucasian Fund” (the correct name of the organization is Caucasus Fund–author), which was said to recruit suspected Boston terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  Supposedly Tsarnaev took part in seminars from the Caucasus Fund in the summer of 2012 organized together with the American Jamestown Foundation.  (Jamestown denies Izvestia’s claims–ed).

According to Izvestia, the chief goals of the Caucasus Fund consisted of “recruiting young people and the intelligentsia of the Northern Caucasus to intensify instability and extremist sentiments in the southern regions of Russia,” including in three regions of Azerbaijan bordering Dagestan: Belokan, Zakatal and Kakh.

Novaya gazeta interviewed Gela Khmaladze, former vice president of the Caucasus Fund.

Irina Gordienko:  Representatives from the Chechen Republic took part in seminars organized by the Caucasus Fund. Izvestia claimed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev visited them last year.

Gela Khmaladze:  The Caucasus Fund didn’t hold any seminars last year. The only activity we held in which Chechens took part was in April 2012.  Our fund, together with the Department of External Liaison of the Head and Government of the Chechen Republic organized a journalists’ forum. Also Kant Ibragimov, a famous Chechen writer and scholar and chairman of the Union of Writers of Chechnya also visited Georgia then at the invitation of the Caucasus Fund. About 15 Chechen journalists took part, which were officially sent by the Chechen government. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not among them.

Irina Gordienko:  Does your Fund cooperate with the American Jamestown Foundation?

Gela Khmaladze: We never conducted seminars with the Jamestown Foundation, we have not cooperated with them and have not received financing from Americans. In the last five years in Georgia, as far as I recall, this Foundation, conducted two conferences in March 2010 devoted to recognition of the genocide of the Circassian people (the Georgian parliament in May 2011 recognized the genocide of the Circassian people–author). The conference was convened together with the Ilya Chavchavadze Georgian State University, but our Fund did not have any relationship to it.

Irina Gordienko: What does your Fund do?

Gela Khmaladze:  The Caucasus Fund has three main lines of work: science, education, and culture. We have emphasized cultural and historical ties and have strived primarily to develop ties with the young people of the Northern Caucasus through cultural and educational exchanges. The students have studied in humanitarian faculties (history, archeology, and politics) and also in the art academy and conservatory. We have paid for these students’ housing and tuition.

We have not worked in the border regions of Dagestan and Azerbaijan, where an ethnic Georgian minority lives. The only activity that we have organized there was a presentation in the summer of 2012 of a collection of poetry published by us, The Call of Roots, by local poet Zurab Papiashvili.

Irina Gordienko: Who funds the activity of the Caucasus Fund?

Gela Khmaladze: In the entire history of the existence of the Caucasus Fund since 2008, we have never received funding from abroad, including grants. We have existed strictly on the basis of private donations from Georgian businessmen, and therefore our funding has always been unstable.

Irina Gordienko: This is not the first time your Fund has been accused of “extremist activity.” Could you please comment.

Gela Khmaladze: Yes, in 2011, we were accused of collaboration with intelligence agencies but the scandal immediately died down because the accusations against us were not confirmed. Therefore, I am not surprised at the appearance of such a publication in Izvestia. To speak seriously about “subversive activity” and “recruitment” and especially about “preparation of terrorist acts” is simply ridiculous. People of science have headed and worked in our Fund; recognized scholars, professors and academics in the fields of archeology and history. To be honest, I have my doubts in general about the existence of such a report to Georgian counter-intelligence. It’s absurd. If there is really such a report, then everything in it is an obvious lie.

Irina Gordienko: What is the Fund involved in now?

Gela Khmaladze: The Caucasus Fund exists now only on paper. We ceased our activity essentially in December of last year. In the first place, this is connected with the change of government [in October 2012 parliamentary elections took place in Georgia, won by the opposition coalition of Bidzina Ivanishvili–author], and the policy in the area of Georgian-Russian relations has also changed.