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Council 'sorry' for removing controversial war memorial

East Ayrshire Council removed the monument after a complaint from the Georgian government.

War memorial: Council says monument was removed accidentally.
War memorial: Council says monument was removed accidentally. CC by Thomas Nugent

A council that removed a controversial memorial to casualties of the Georgian Civil War has apologised.

The monument in Kilmarnock was dedicated to Abkhazians who died during the region's fight for independence from Georgia in the 1990s.

It was erected at the end of the two-year conflict because the Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi was twinned with the East Ayrshire town.

The memorial was removed last month after a complaint from the Georgian ambassador, prompting an outcry from the Abkhazian government.

East Ayrshire Council said it would replace the monument after it had been reworded in a "more appropriate manner".

However, it has now promised the marker will be restored unaltered and apologised for removing it.

'Recognising the hurt and controversy which has ensued the council would simply wish to acknowledge that to be the case and apologise.'
East Ayrshire Council spokeswoman

"A request was made to have the memorial assessed by a stonemason in order to obtain confirmation whether any alterations which might be proposed were technically feasible," the council said.

"Unfortunately, whilst the request was made with the intention of having a stonemason inspect the memorial in situ, the council's contractor followed their normal operating procedure and removed the memorial.

"Recognising the hurt and controversy which has ensued, the council would simply wish to acknowledge that to be the case and apologise for having unwittingly set off the subsequent chain of events which followed."

The council believes the monument, which is dedicated to "those from our twin town of Sukhumi", was intended to honour people on both sides of the conflict.

It is unclear if its view is shared by the Georgian government.

'This behaviour is regarded as an act of vandalism aimed at destroying the memory of the Abkhaz people.'
Abkhaz foreign ministry statement following removal of memorial

Ambassador Tamar Beruchashvili, who described the removal of the memorial as a "good result", first wrote to the UK Government in September.

She claimed its wording was contrary to the official stance of the UK, which supports Georgian sovereignty and does not recognise the independent Republic of Abkhazia. She also objected to the inclusion of the Abkhazian flag.

Ms Beruchashvili then discussed the issue with international development minister Alastair Allan during a visit to Scotland later that month.

Following the removal of the monument, representatives from Abkhazia wrote to East Ayrshire Council urging the local authority to restore it.

Allies: Vladimir Putin with Abkhaz president Raul Khadjimba.
Allies: Vladimir Putin with Abkhaz president Raul Khadjimba.

Kilmarnock is no longer twinned with Sukhumi but they remain in what the local authority described as a "friendship relationship". Abkhazia is also a vocal supporter of Scottish and Catalan independence.

The Abkhaz-Georgia war left thousands dead on both sides and involved a campaign of ethnic cleansing by separatists forces against the region's ethnic Georgian population, known as the Sukhumi Massacre.

Abkhazia declared independence in 1999 but its status has only been recognised by a handful of states, including close ally Russia.

Moscow deployed troops to the region during its war with Georgia in 2008.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev met Abkhazian soldiers during a visit in 2010 and Vladimir Putin held talks with president Raul Khajimba in August.

During the meeting he spoke of Russia's "special relationship" with the region and said his country would "guarantee its security and independence".

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