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Entries in U.S. Embassy Tbilisi (1)

Tuesday
May242011

Who Does The U.S. Embassy In Tbilisi Represent? (Part 1- Please Read Part 2 Below, Also)

I want to be clear that I bear no ill towards the Georgian people. Theirs is a fascinating culture and history.  My issue is with the Georgian leadership, with people who threaten me there and with the American Embassy in Tbilisi.

Question:  Of the following 3 choices what should an American Embassy do if they know an American's life and safety is being threatened? 

a) Protect the American to the best of its ability

b) Do nothing

c) Gloss over the threat and protect the person who is threatening the American

One would think that in most situations, an Embassy would not have a chance to deal with the threat directly. Most of the time, there is little to be done, except offer safety to the American.  But what if the threat comes from an employee of the US Embassy?

I am not in a "hot spot" like Pakistan.  I live in Krasnodar, Russia and the Republic of Abkhazia.  And Abkhazia is quite safe despite the reputation fostered by the US State Department and the Republic of Georgia.  How safe? Well, I have never felt the least bit threatened, except from the recent possibility that a Georgian in the employ of the Georgian Interior Ministry sneaks across the border with fell intent. So, I feel about as safe as I do in San Diego, California.  The biggest threat to personal safety in Abkhazia is from traffic accidents.  And the Republic has a 70 kilometer per hour speed limit to minimize those.

I have been outspoken about my support for Abkhazia and my belief in investment opportunities in this spectacularly beautiful country.    This has been noticed in Georgian media and government.  Because Georgia hopes to gain control of Abkhazia, they don't like what I am doing.  If I am successful it will show that Abkhazia makes its own decisions and  is not dominated by Russia as Georgia claims.  Also, the more prosperous Abkhazia is and the more business and political contacts it has with other nations, the less opportunity for Georgia to invade or attempt to gain control. So, the Georgians are concerned about my activities in Abkhazia - and not only mine. They arrest and imprison anyone entering Georgia who has entered Abkhazia from Russia. All of this is done to isolate Abkhazia.

 

Threats in Media

In February, 2011 the Atlantic Monthly published an article about me and my activities in Abkhazia.  It was not very accurate, but I was glad for the attention on Abkhazia.  On the Atlantic Monthly's website readers posted comments.  One suggested, in reference to me, that Georgia would "never tolerate such behavior". 

Shortly after this, several internet forums in Georgian lit up with comments about me.  There were some very nasty comments and threats against my safety and life were made. Also, for months on this weblog, I have been personally attacked.  And the Georgian Times published several articles about me with a threatening tone. 

Several months ago, a website was put up defacing my picture and making inaccurate claims about me.  I have been told a member of the Georgian government is behind this, but I can not verify.   About the same time a Facebook page was launched attacking me.  The name of the page was "Bruce Talley- The Kremlin's Tool in Abkhazia".  The people who posted on the page in English and Georgian had Georgian surnames.  They made false and potentially libelous claims that I am in the employ of the Russian government and that the Kremlin is blackmailing me. I was called a "prostitute" and It was said that the Russian FSB controls me.  Some posters threatened me.   One woman suggested "this place should be your grave", another,Giorgi Rurua, said:

"Believe, finally he will be broken with his stupid head and get twist of his neck" 

In his Facebook profile, Mr. Rurua listed his employer as the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia.  Whatever else may be said about Mr. Rorua, he seems to have a clear idea that he would like my neck broken.  But not according to the US Embassy in Tbilisi,  as you will read later.

After this posting, I asked Facebook to shut the page down.  They did so immediately.  Then I contacted the office of Senator Barbara Boxer of California who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.   I am a constituent of the Senator's and a long time supporter.  I sent her office a letter and  included a copy of the Facebook page and the website attacking me and explained a poster who had threatened my life advertised that he worked for the US government in Tbilisi.  I assumed the Embassy would want to know about threats made by an employee against an American's (or anyone else's) life.  And that any threat would be 100% unacceptable.

 

World Russia Forum in Washington DC, March 29 -30 2011 

I waited several weeks, but received no response.  March 29, I called the Senator's office.  I had sent the information to Josh at her office in San Francisco, but he declined to take my calls or return them.  I waited several weeks, but received no response.  The next day, I attended the World Russia Forum in Washington D.C.  While at the Forum, I publicly questioned Richard Perle on American foreign policy in the Caucasus, asking  "American foreign policy is very heavily influenced by the Republic of Georgia.  But we don't engage with Abkhazia.  How can the U.S. make informed policy decisions about the Caucasus without engaging a key player?" Mr. Perle did not offer a coherent defense.  My question drew applause from the audience and later several members of the Russian Duma approached me to thank me, one saying "my question was good, but one which no one would listen to if asked by a Russian".

While I was in Washington, I met with quite a few people, including a Congressman.  I pointed out that the reason Abkhazia was included in Georgia's post- Soviet borders was that Soviet dictator (and ethnic Georgian) had dissolved Abkhazia's status in 1931 and incorporated it into the Georgian S.S.R.. and that Stalin moved thousands of Georgians into Abkhazia to ethnically dilute it.   I also talked about Georgia's invasion of Abkhazia in 1992 and how the Abkhaz had won their freedom from Georgian colonialism and political and cultural oppression.

 

Response from Senator Boxer's Office 

Interestingly, after the Forum and after I questioned Mr.Perle directly, on April 12, I received my first response. Ms. Alicia Estrada forwarded a letter from the State Department advising me that since Abkhazia was a "hot spot" I should not travel there.  But if I must, I should first go to the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia and enroll in their STEP program for Americans abroad and give them my itinerary.

Incredulously, I wrote to Ms. Estrada and asked if anyone had bothered to read my letter.  Was the State Department really recommending I go to a nation that would imprison me for my activities and show up at the work place of the man who had threatened my life and then give my itinerary?    I pointed this out in my letter and said I did not face threats in Abkhazia, but that they came from Georgia and Georgians.


The Wingate Letter 

April 20th,  I received another letter forwarded by Senator Boxer's office from the US Embassy in Tbilisi from Patrick Wingate, Consular Chief:

"In response to Mr. Talley's concerns that a local employee was making threats against him on a Facebook page, the Embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO) conducted an investigation.  The RSO determined that the employee did not make a threat against Mr. Talley.  Although the literal translation of the post is apparently that one will break one's neck, the real meaning in Georgian is that one will not be successful.  The employee maintains that he did not mean to threaten Mr. Talley, but to imply that he would not be successful in his endeavors in Abkhazia.  The RSO concluded that the employee was sincere and truthful in explanation and that his comment was a bona fide case of mistranslation and not malice.  The RSO directed the employee to remove any reference to the Embassy on his Facebook page and to refrain from any appearance of impropriety in future posts on this or similar sites."  

Mr. Wingate repeats that I should enter Georgia and register with the Embassy.  He also does not know the dates of the conflict in Abkhazia, stating it happened there during the 1980's (incorrectly) and 1990's. 

I immediately wrote back and asked:  Do you think it would be a good idea to check the translation of the passage in which  the US Embassy employee  appears to threaten to break my neck with someone OTHER THAN THE PERSON who wrote the PASSAGE THREATENING TO BREAK MY NECK?  

Then I looked at the original posting and saw that Mr. Rorua wrote his threat in English.  There was no translation issue!  But Mr. Wingate simply glossed over that.

Does Mr. Wingate really believe the passage in English-  "finally he will get broken with his stupid head and get twist of his neck" -was misunderstood and the writer just does not want me to be successful? Is it standard practice for US Embassies to accept explanations when people make threats against Americans?   I wonder what Mr. Wingate would think if the shoe were on the other foot.  It seems like removing a reference to the Embassy from Mr. Rorua's profile is a tacit admission of something not right.

What message is the Embassy sending in Georgia about Americans in Abkhazia?  At the least the Embassy should not condone threats from its employees.   Is this incompetence? Or is it because I support Abkhazia openly and am showing that there is more to the story than Georgia wants people to know about?  I think there is an obvious course of action for an Embassy after a threat is issued by an employee of the US Embassy: Terminate his employment, issue a statement to the press that the American government will not take lightly threats or attacks on Americans regardless of political issues and send an apology to the American citizen.

I am aware that this may create an even bigger enemy in Mr. Rorua.  But there is a bigger audience in Georgia- potentially 4.7 million times bigger.

Please read part 2 of this entry below: