Nugzar Sadjaya, the Chairman of Georgia’s National Security Council and President Eduard Shevardnadze’s closest ally and confidant, apparently shot himself in his office at the State Chancellery at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Monday, 25 February 2002, local time. Sadjaya exercised considerable control over Georgia’s power ministries. His death sent the political scene into chaos, and neither the long nor short-term implications of his passing were immediately clear.
In recent weeks, the Georgian press has featured rampant speculations about the 60-years old Sadjaya, who had served the President closely for over a decade. Parliament Deputy Boris Kakubava accused Sajaya of masterminding the murder of former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakurdia (who was overthrown in 1991) and of plotting an assassination of Aslan Abashidze, the leader of the autonomous republic of Ajaria. In an interview with the newspaper Kronika published on Monday morning, Kakubava declared that he would have no choice but to bring out 100,000 refugees into the streets on April 8, with the demand of having the President resign, if Sadjaya were not fired. Kakubava is a member of the Parliamentary Faction “Revival,” which is beholden to Abashidze. According to the Prime News Agency, Revival distanced itself from Kakubava’s allegations on Tuesday, claiming that he contacted the mass media against the advice of the Faction’s leaders.
Kronika and another popular newspaper, The Georgian Times, also published interviews with Tengiz Kitovani, former Georgian Defense Minister who led the coup against Gamsakurdia, with damaging allegations about Sadjaya. In the interview with Kronika, Kitovani, who lives in Moscow and is said to have close ties with Russian security services, accused Sadjaya of being homosexual. Kitovani made similar allegations to The Georgian Times. He also declared that Sadjaya was implicated in the murder of Giorgi Sanaya, an anchor with the Rustavi-2 television channel who was found dead in his apartment last summer.
Some reports in the immediate aftermath of the suicide speculated that the pressure of these allegations had become too much for Sadjaya, who had asked for permission from the President to resign over a week ago, to bear. President Shevardnadze echoed these views, stating that the suicide “was a decision reached after moral terror.” Meanwhile, Minister of State Security Valeri Khaburzania declared on Monday that the suicide is connected with “forces active in Russia” intent on coming to power in Georgia and told Channel One Television that events leading to the suicide were “classical schemes of activities by special [intelligence] forces.”
However, for Georgian journalists, allegations about Sadjaya’s homosexuality were not new, creating doubt on that as an explanation for the suicide. Similar claims, which are very damaging in Georgia’s religiously conservative society, have been made about other politicians, including former Parliamentary Speaker Zurab Zhvania. Meanwhile, Kakubava’s claims did not amount to anything serious. As a result, many journalists are investigating potentially more complex reasons for the apparent suicide. Journalist Ani Mosidze of the newspaper Akhali Taoba (“New Generation”) claimed that opponents may have placed such damaging documentation in front of Sadjaya that he chose to kill himself rather than see them become public. In a different article, the newspaper also reported that Sadjaya first tried to assassinate himself on 21 February 2002, but was walked in on by associates.
Various scenarios were offered on Monday and Tuesday about the political implications of the suicide. Akhali Taoba wrote that the “Sadjaya team” is now leaderless, will slowly become weak and will eventually lose influence. Which if any of Georgia’s three main political forces (Abashidze’s group, the Zhvania-Saakashvili ‘team’, and the New Rights Party) would be strengthened by this was not clear. One view presented to the author by an analyst in Tbilisi argued that Zhvania’s team would grow in power around Shevardnadze. According to the February 25 issue of Kronika, Zurab Zhvania tried to reach an alliance with Sadjaya last year, but was rebuffed. Another view argued that Shevardnadze would not be inclined to deal with Zhvania and Saakashvili, who have been continually trying to destabilize the President’s rule for the last six months, and would instead look for other allies who are more democratic and are not as tainted in the eyes of the people. This would necessarily exclude Abashidze, possibly leaving the New Rights Party, which has been building strength in Tbilisi and the nation’s districts, as the remaining alternative.