History of Abkhazia

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This article refers to the history of Abkhazia from its pre-historic settlement by the lower-paleolithic hunter-gathers during the mesolithic and neolithic periods to the post-1992-1993 war situation.

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Prehistoric settlement

One of the dolmens from Eshera (now at the Sukhumi Museum) Dolmen Sukhumi.jpg
One of the dolmens from Eshera (now at the Sukhumi Museum)

Lower Paleolithic hunting-gathering encampments formed the first known settlements on the territory of modern-day Abkhazia. The earliest examples have been unearthed at the sites of Iashkhtva, Gumista, Kelasuri, and Ochamchire. Upper Paleolithic culture settled chiefly the coastline. Mesolithic and Neolithic periods brought larger permanent settlements, and marked the beginning of farming, animal husbandry, and the production of ceramics. The earliest artifacts of megalithic culture appeared in the early 3rd millennium BC and continued into the Bronze Age as the so-called dolmens of Abkhazia, typically consisting of four upright mass stones and a capstone, some of them weighing as much as 50 tonnes. A dolmen from the Eshera archaeological site is the best studied prehistoric monument of this type. The Late Bronze Age saw the development of more advanced bronze implements, and continued into the Iron Age as a part of the Colchian culture (c. 1200-600 BCE), which covered most of what is now western Georgia and part of northeastern Anatolia.

Abkhazia in antiquity

The written history of Abkhazia largely begins with the coming of the Milesian Greeks to the coastal Colchis in the 6th-5th centuries BC. They founded their maritime colonies along the eastern shore of the Black Sea, with Dioscurias being one of the most important principal centers of trade. This city, said to be so named for the Dioscuri, the twins Castor and Pollux of classical mythology, is presumed to have subsequently developed into the modern-day Sukhumi. Other notable colonies were Gyenos, Triglitis, and later Pityus, arguably near the modern-day coastal towns of Ochamchire, Gagra, and Pitsunda, respectively.

The peoples of the region were notable for their number and variety, as classical sources testify. Herodotus, Strabo, and Pliny appreciate the multitude of languages spoken in Dioscurias and other towns. The mountainous terrain tended to separate and isolate local peoples from one another and encouraged the development of dozens of separate languages and dialects complicating the ethnic makeup of the region. Even the most well-informed contemporary authors are very confused when naming and locating these peoples and provide only very limited information about the geography and population of the hinterland. Furthermore, some classic ethnic names were presumably collective terms and supposed considerable migrations also took place around the region. Various attempts have been made to identify these peoples with the ethnic terms employed by classical authors. Most scholars identify Pliny the Elder's Apsilae of the 1st century and Arrian’s Abasgoi of the 2nd century with the probable proto-Abkhaz- and Abaza-speakers respectively, while Georgian scholars consider them proto-Kartvelian tribal designations. The identity and origin of other peoples (e.g., Heniochi , Sanigae ) dwelling in the area is disputed. Archaeology has seldom been able to make strong connections between the remains of material culture and the opaque names of peoples mentioned by classical writers. Thus, controversies still continue and a series of questions remain open.

The inhabitants of the region engaged in piracy, slave trade and kidnapping people for ransom. Strabo described the habits of Achaei, Zygi, and Heniochi in his Geography as follows: [1]

These people subsist by piracy. Their boats are slender, narrow, light, and capable of holding about five and twenty men, and rarely thirty. The Greeks call them camaræ. ... They equip fleets consisting of these camaræ, and being masters of the sea sometimes attack vessels of burden, or invade a territory, or even a city. Sometimes even those who occupy the Bosporus assist them, by furnishing places of shelter for their vessels, and supply them with provision and means for the disposal of their booty. When they return to their own country, not having places suitable for mooring their vessels, they put their camaræ on their shoulders, and carry them up into the forests, among which they live, and where they cultivate a poor soil. When the season arrives for navigation, they bring them down again to the coast. Their habits are the same even in a foreign country, for they are acquainted with wooded tracts, in which, after concealing their camaræ, they wander about on foot day and night, for the purpose of capturing the inhabitants and reducing them to slavery.

According to The Georgian Chronicles, the first inhabitants of what is now Abkhazia and the whole western Georgia were Egrosians, the descendants of Egros son of Togarmah, grandson of Japhet, son of Noah, who came from the land known as Arian-Kartli. [2]

Roman and Early Byzantine era

Along with the rest of Colchis, Abkhazia was conquered by Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus between c. 110 and 63 BC, then taken by the Roman commander Pompey and incorporated into the Roman Empire in AD 61. The Roman rule here was tenuous and according to Josephus a Roman garrison of 3000 hoplites and fleet of 40 vessels could only control the ports. The Greek settlements suffered from the wars, piracy and attacks of local tribes (during one of them Dioskurias and Pityus were sacked in AD 50). [3]

With the downfall of the Roman Empire, the tribes living in the region gained some independence, nominating their rulers who were to be confirmed by Rome. In the 3rd century AD, the Lazi tribe came to dominate most of Colchis, establishing the kingdom of Lazica, locally known as Egrisi. According to Procopius, the Abasgi chieftains were also subdued by the Lazic kings.

Colchis was a scene of the protracted rivalry between the Eastern Roman/Byzantine and Sassanid empires, culminating in the Lazic War from 542 to 562. The war resulted in the decline of Lazica, and the Abasgi in their dense forests won a degree of autonomy under the Byzantine authority. During this era the Byzantines built Sebastopolis in the region. Their land, known to the Byzantines as Abasgia, was a prime source of eunuchs for the empire. The people remained pagan until a mission sent by the emperor Justinian I (527-565), around 550, [4] converted the people to Christianity, though at the 325 Council of Nicaea a bishop had attended from the port city of Pityus. [5] Byzantines constructed defensive fortifications that may have partially survived to this day as the Kelasuri Wall. [6]

Medieval Abkhazia

As the Abasgi grew in relative strength, the name Abasgia came to denote a larger area populated by various ethnic groups including Mingrelian- and Svan-speaking South Caucasian tribes, and subordinated to the Byzantine-appointed princes (Greek: archon , Georgian: eristavi ) who resided in Anacopia and were viewed as major champions of the empire's political and cultural influence in the western Caucasus. The Arabs penetrated the area in the 730s, but did not subdue it; about then the term Abkhazeti ("the land of the Abkhazians") first appeared in the Georgian annals, giving rise to the name Abkhazia, which is used today in most foreign languages. Through their dynastic intermarriages and alliance with other Georgian princes, the Abasgian dynasty acquired most of Lazica/Egrisi, and in the person of Leo established themselves as "kings of the Abkhazians" in the 780s. [7] With the Khazar help, Leo ousted the Byzantines and expanded his kingdom, transferring his capital to the Georgian city of Kutaisi. Although the nature of this kingdom's ruling family is still disputed, most scholars agree that the Abkhazian kings were Georgian in culture and language. In order to eliminate the Byzantine religious influence, the dynasty subordinated the local dioceses to the Georgian Orthodox patriarchate of Mtskheta. [8] [9]

The kingdom is frequently referred in modern history writing as the Egrisi-Abkhazian kingdom due to the fact that medieval authors viewed the new monarchy as a successor state of Egrisi and sometimes used the terms interchangeably.

The most prosperous period of the Abkhazian kingdom was between 850 and 950, when it dominated the whole western Georgia and claimed control even of the easternmost Georgian provinces. The terms "Abkhazia" and "Abkhazians" were used in a broad sense during this period – and for some while later – and covered, for all practical purposes, all the population of the kingdom regardless of their ethnicity. [10] In 989, the Bagratid ruler Bagrat III came to power in Abkhazia which he inherited from his mother Guranduxt Anch'abadze. In 1008 Bagrat inherited K'art'li from his father and united the kingdoms of Abkhazia and Georgia into a single Georgian feudal state. [11]

This state reached the apex of its strength and prestige under the queen Tamar (1184–1213). On one occasion, a contemporary Georgian chronicler mentions a people called Apsars. This source explains the sobriquet 'Lasha' of Tamar's son and successor George IV as meaning "enlightenment" in the language of the Apsars. Some modern linguists link this nickname to the modern Abkhaz words a-lasha for "clear" and a-lashara for "light", identifying the Apsars with the possible ancestors of the modern-day Abkhaz, though the exact identity and location of this tribe is unclear.

Bagrat III of Georgia; of the House of Bagrationi Bagrat III of Georgia (Gelati mural).jpg
Bagrat III of Georgia; of the House of Bagrationi

According to the Georgian chronicles, Queen Tamar granted the lordship over part of Abkhazia to the Georgian princely family of Shervashidze. According to traditional accounts, they were an offshoot of the Shirvanshahs (hence allegedly comes their dynastic name meaning "sons of Shirvanese" in Georgian). The ascendancy of this dynasty (later known also as Chachba by the Abkhaz form of their surname) in Abkhazia would last until the Russian annexation in the 1860s.

The Genoese established their trading factories along the Abkhazian coastline in the 14th century, but they functioned for a short time. The area was relatively spared from the Mongol and Timur's invasions, which terminated Georgia's "golden age". As a result, the kingdom of Georgia fragmentized into several independent or semi-independent entities by the late 15th century. The Principality of Abkhazia was one of them, and was formed around 1463. [4] The Principality of Abkhazia, whereas it acted as an independent state, was officially a vassal of the Kingdom of Imereti, following a treaty signed in 1490 splitting Georgia into three nations. [12] The Abkhazian princes engaged in incessant conflicts with the Mingrelian potentates, their nominal suzerains, and the borders of both principalities fluctuated in the course of these wars. In the following decades, the Abkhazian nobles finally prevailed and expanded their possessions up to the Inguri River, which is today's southern boundary of the region. Several medieval historians like Vakhushti and a few modern ones claimed that the Kelasuri Wall was built by prince Levan II Dadiani of Mingrelia as a protection against Abkhaz. [13]

Ottoman rule

In the 1570s, the Ottoman navy occupied the fort of Tskhumi on the Abkhazian coastline, turning it into the Turkish fortress of Suhum-Kale (hence, the modern name of the city of Sukhumi). In 1555, Georgia and the whole South Caucasus became divided between the Ottoman and Safavid Persian empires per the Peace of Amasya, with Abkhazia, along with all of western Georgia, remaining in the hands of the Ottomans. As a result, Abkhazia came under the increasing influence of Turkey and Islam, gradually losing its cultural and religious ties with the rest of Georgia. According to the Soviet historical science, Turkey, after the conquest has aimed at obliterating the material and spiritual culture of Abkhazia and forcibly convert the population to Islam, which led to numerous insurrections (in 1725, 1728, 1733, 1771 and 1806) [14]

Towards the end of the 17th century, the principality of Abkhazia broke up into several fiefdoms, depriving many areas of any centralized authority. The region became a theatre of widespread slave trade and piracy. According to some Georgian scholars (such as Pavle Ingorokva), it was when a number of the Adyghe clansmen migrated from the North Caucasus mountains and blended with the local ethnic elements, significantly changing the region's demographic situation. In the mid-18th century, the Abkhazians revolted against the Ottoman rule and took hold of Suhum-Kale, but soon the Turks regained the control of the fortress and granted it to a loyal prince of the Shervashidze family.

Kingdom of Imereti in the 16th century 129OttomanSafavid1502-1590.gif
Kingdom of Imereti in the 16th century

Russian rule

Russia annexed eastern Georgia in 1800 and took over Mingrelia in 1803. Kelesh Ahmed-Bey Shervashidze, the last pre-Russian ruler of Abkhazia had a long and successful reign. He controlled his nobles, his kinsmen commanded Poti and Batum and his fleet cruised the coast from Anapa and Batum. His invasion of the Principality of Mingrelia in 1802 contributed to Mingrelia becoming a Russian protectorate. Keleshbey died in 1808 and was succeeded by his eldest son Aslan-Bey Shervashidze. Kelesh also had a younger son, Sefer Ali-Bey Shervashidze, who lived in Mingrelia, was or became a Christian and was married to the Mingrellian ruler's sister. The Russians or Mingrelians claimed that Aslan-Bey had murdered his father. In August 1808, three months after Kelesh's death, a Mingrelian force failed to take Sukhumi. In February 1810 Russia recognized Sefer-Bey as hereditary prince of Abkhazia. In June of that year a Russian fleet captured Sukhumi and Aslan-Bey fled. Sefer-Bey, who ruled until 1821, was unable to control the countryside, things became disorganized and there were a number of revolts involving Aslan-Bey.

Initially, the Russian control hardly extended beyond Suhum-kale and the Bzyb area, with the rest of the region chiefly dominated by the pro-Turkish Muslim nobility. In a series of conflicts with the Ottoman Empire and the North Caucasian tribes, the Russians acquired possession of the whole Abkhazia in a piecemeal fashion between 1829 and 1842, but their power was not firmly established until 1864, [4] when they managed to abolish the local princely authority. The last prince of Abkhazia, Michael Shervashidze (Chachba), was exiled to Russia where he soon died. [15] The two ensuing Abkhaz revolts in 1866 and 1877, the former precipitated by the heavy taxation and the latter incited by the landing of the Turkish troops, resulted in the next significant change in the region's demographics. As a result of harsh government reaction allegedly 60% of the Muslim Abkhaz population, although contemporary census reports were not very trustworthy — became Muhajirs , and emigrated to the Ottoman possessions between 1866 and 1878. In 1881, the number of the Abkhaz in the Russian Empire was estimated at only 20,000. [16] Furthermore, a great deal of the population was forcibly displaced to Turkey (Muhajirs) and in 1877 the population of Abkhazia was 78,000, whereas at the end of the same year there were only 46,000 left. [14]

Large areas of the region were left uninhabited and many Armenians, Georgians, Russians and others subsequently migrated to Abkhazia, resettling much of the vacated territory. [17] According to Georgian historians Georgian tribes (Mingrelians and Svans) had populated Abkhazia since the time of the Colchis kingdom. [18] According to the census carried out in 1897 Abkhaz constituted 60-65% of the Sukhumi district's population (about 100,000; Sukhum district occupied almost the same territory as present'day Abkhazia in 1897), the majority of the rest being Georgian. [19] [20] [21] However the Encyclopædia Britannica reported in 1911 that in the Sukhumi district (population at the time 43,000; it did not cover all the territory of present-day Abkhazia in 1911 as some of it had been transferred to Kuban governorate) two-thirds of the population were Mingrelian Georgians and one-third were Abkhaz. [22] Those Abkhaz, who did not convert to Christianity, and who remained in Abkhazia were declared by the Russian government a "refugee population" and deprived of the right to settle in the coastal areas. [23] [24]

Map of Sukhumi district (Abkhazia), 1890s Map of Abkhazia 1890 (from B&E).jpg
Map of Sukhumi district (Abkhazia), 1890s

Meanwhile, in 1870, bound peasants, including slaves, were liberated in Abkhazia as a part of the Russian serfdom reforms. The peasants got between 3 and 8 ha and had to pay huge redemption payments (the landowners got up to 275 ha); furthermore, according to a contemporary Russian official, peasants were mostly left with rocky mountain slopes and low-lying bogs. The liberation in Abkhazia was more problematic than elsewhere as it failed to take into account fully the distinction between free, partly free and unfree peasants in the Abkhazian society. [25]

This reform triggered the moderate development of capitalism in the region. Tobacco, tea and subtropical crops became more widely grown. Industries (coal, timber) began to develop. Health resorts started to be built. A small town of Gagra, acquired by a German prince Peter of Oldenburg, a member of the Russian royal family, turned to a resort of particular tourist interest early in the 1900s (decade).

After the abolition of the autocephalous status of the Georgian Church (1811) begins the process of Russification and the Abkhaz Church. An attempt to transfer service from Georgian into Slavic, there is also a desire to introduce as an antagonist of the Georgian - Abkhazian (Apsua) identity. Against this trend, actively advocated the advanced Abkhazian society, trying to convince Russian officials that Abkhazia historically, in their culture, religion, etc., is an integral part of Georgia. In 1870, in a memo to deputies of the Abkhazian nobility and Samurzakan (Emhvari B., M. Marchand, Margani T., K. Inal-ipa) to the Chairman of the Tiflis Committee of caste landed for Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky emphasized that " Abkhazia ancient times was part of the former Georgian kingdom ... " The note provides evidence to support the common historical destiny of the Georgian and Abkhaz peoples, who are, according to the authors, "important witnesses accessories Abkhazia to Georgia" and expressed the hope that they (Abkhazians) are not are "excluded from the overall family of the Georgian people, to which from time immemorial belonged to." 4 In 1916, the Tbilisi visited the Abkhazian delegation consisting of M-princes Shervashidze M. Emhvari, A. Inal-ipa, and representatives of the peasantry P. Anchabadze, B. Ezugbaya and A. Chukbar. On behalf of the Abkhaz people, they petitioned for economic and cultural development of the region and raised the question of the transformation of the Sukhumi district into a separate province. "If this is impossible", told delegates, then in any case do not connect it (Sukhum district) to any other province, except Kutaisi. Equally urgent was the demand of the deputation is not separated from the exarchate of Georgia Sukhumi bishoprics, which has always been an inseparable part of the Georgian Church.[ citation needed ]

In the Russian revolution of 1905, most Abkhaz remained largely loyal to the Russian rule, while Georgians tended to oppose it. As a reward for their allegiance, tsar Nicholas II officially forgave the Abkhaz for their opposition in the 19th century and removed their status of a "guilty people" in 1907. This split along political divisions led to the rise of mistrust and tensions between the Georgian and Abkhaz communities which would further deepen in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Abkhazia from 1917 to 1921

Abkhaz delegation in Tbilisi, 1918 Abkhazdelegation.jpg
Abkhaz delegation in Tbilisi, 1918

The Bolshevik coup in October 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War forced the major national forces of South CaucasusArmenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – to unite into fragile federative structures. Abkhaz leaders created, on November 8, 1917, their own post-revolutionary body, Abkhaz People's Council (APC), but Abkhazia became embroiled into a chaos of the civil unrest. It was torn between supporters of the short-lived Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus, a pro-Bolshevik faction, a pro-Turkish nobility, and a pro-Georgian Menshevik group.

In March 1918, local Bolsheviks under the leadership of Nestor Lakoba, a close associate of Joseph Stalin, capitalized on agrarian disturbances and, supported by the revolutionary peasant militias, kiaraz, won power in Sukhumi in April 1918. The Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, which claimed the region as its part, sanctioned the suppression of the revolt and, on May 17, the National Guard of Georgia ousted the Bolshevik commune in Sukhumi.

Meanwhile, a short-lived Transcaucasian federation came to an end and the independence of the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) was proclaimed on May 26, 1918. On June 8, a delegation of the APC negotiated, in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a union with Georgia, which gave autonomy to Abkhazia. All domestic affairs were to be under the jurisdiction of the APC, while the central government established the office of Minister of Abkhazian Affairs and the post of the Governor-General of Abkhazia. Abkhaz deputies gained three of 28 seats preserved for ethnic minorities in Georgia's parliament.

The relations between the central and autonomous authorities were soon clouded by the abortive landing, on June 27, 1918, of a Turkish force supported by the Abkhaz nobles, J. Marghan and A. Shervashidze. Georgia responded with the arrest of several Abkhaz leaders and the limitation of the autonomous powers of the APC that precipitated some sympathies from the Abkhaz to the Russian White forces which engaged in the sporadic fighting with the Georgians in the north of Abkhazia. The reaction was even harsher when the Abkhaz officers of the Georgian army, Commissar Marghania and Colonel Chkhotua, staged a failed coup in October 1918. On October 10, the APC was disbanded and Abkhazia's autonomy was abrogated for six months. A new Abkhaz People's Council, elected in February 1919, adopted an act of Abkhazia's autonomy within the framework of the DRG, which was also supported by the Soviet government. [4] The status was confirmed in the Constitution of Georgia adopted on February 21, 1921, on the eve of the Soviet invasion of Georgia.

Soviet Abkhazia

Nestor Lakoba, an Abkhaz Bolshevik leader who de facto controlled Abkhazia from 1921 until his murder in 1936 Lakoba Nestor.jpg
Nestor Lakoba, an Abkhaz Bolshevik leader who de facto controlled Abkhazia from 1921 until his murder in 1936

Despite the 1920 treaty of non-aggression, Soviet Russia’s 11th Red Army invaded Georgia on February 11, 1921, and marched on Tbilisi. Almost simultaneously, 9th (Kuban) Army entered Abkhazia on February 19. Supported by the local pro-Bolshevik guerillas, the Soviet troops took control of most of Abkhazia in a series of battles from February 23 to March 7, and proceeded into the neighbouring region of Mingrelia.

On March 4, Soviet power was established in Sukhumi, with the formation of the Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic (Abkhazian SSR), subsequently recognized by the newly established Communist regime of the Georgian SSR on May 21. [4] On December 16, however, Abkhazia signed a special "union treaty" delegating some of its sovereign powers to Soviet Georgia. Abkhazia and Georgia together entered the Transcaucasian SFSR on December 13, 1922 and on 30 December joined the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Abkhazia's ambiguous status of Union Republic was written into that republic's April 1, 1925 constitution. Paradoxically, an earlier reference to Abkhazia as an autonomous republic in the 1924 Soviet Constitution [26] remained unratified until 1930 when Abkhazia's status was reduced to an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) within the Georgian SSR. [4] Except for a few nobles, the Abkhaz did not participate in the 1924 August Uprising in Georgia, a last desperate attempt to restore the independence of Georgia from the Soviet Union.

During the Stalin years, a purge was carried out against Communist Party officials and intelligentsia of Abkhaz provenance on the orders of Lavrentiy Beria, then-the Party Secretary in Transcaucasus and himself a native of Abkhazia, in order to break a resistance to forced collectivization of land. The Abkhaz party leader Lakoba suddenly died shortly after his visit to Beria in Tbilisi in December 1936. There was a strong suspicion that he was poisoned by Beria who declared Lakoba an "enemy of the people" posthumously. The purges in Abkhazia were accompanied by the suppression of Abkhaz ethnic culture: the Latin-based Abkhaz alphabet was changed into Georgian and all the native language schools were closed, ethnic Georgians were guaranteed key official positions, many place names were changed to Georgian ones. [27] [28] In the terror of 1937-38, the ruling elite was purged of Abkhaz and by 1952 over 80% of the 228 top party and government officials and enterprise managers were ethnic Georgians; there remained 34 Abkhaz, 7 Russians and 3 Armenians in these positions. [29] Between 1937 and 1953 tens of thousands of peasants from Western Georgia were settled in Abkhazia. In the 1926 Soviet census, the Abkhaz accounted for 26.4% of the region's population. The demographic engineering of the late Stalin period brought this proportion down to 17—18%. Abkhazia is mountainous and has a shortage of arable land, which made it difficult to send in new settlers. This was one of the reasons why in 1949 the Greek and Turkish minorities were deported from Abkhazia to Kazakhstan and other Central Asian republics, and Georgians were settled in the formerly Greek and Turkish villages. [29] [ unreliable source? ] Abkhazia experienced collectivisation in 1936–1938, much later than most of USSR. [30]

Stalin's five-year plans also resulted in the resettlement of many Russians, Armenians and Georgians into the existing Abkhaz, Georgian, Greek and other minority population to work in the growing agricultural sector. The 2,700-year-old Greek population of Abkhazia was completely deported by Stalin in a single night in 1949 to Central Asia with Georgian immigrants taking over their homes. In 1959 the surviving Greeks were allowed to return. During the 1992-93 war, some 15,000 Greeks fled the turmoil in the region to Greece.

The repression of the Abkhaz and other groups ended after Stalin's death and Beria's execution (1953), [31] and Abkhaz were given a greater role in the governance of the republic. As in most of the smaller autonomous republics, the Soviet government encouraged the development of culture and particularly of literature. A new script, based on Cyrillic, was devised for Abkhaz, Abkhaz schools reopened; and administration put largely in the Abkhaz hands. Ethnic quotas were established for certain bureaucratic posts, giving the Abkhaz a degree of political power that was disproportionate to their minority status in the republic. This was interpreted by some[ who? ] as a "divide and rule" policy whereby local elites were given a share in power in exchange for support for the Soviet regime.[ citation needed ] In Abkhazia as elsewhere, it led to other ethnic groups — in this case, the Georgians — resenting what they saw as unfair discrimination and disregard of the rights of majority, thereby stoking ethnic discord in the republic.

The following three decades were marked by attempts of the Abkhaz Communist elite to make the autonomous structures more Abkhaz, but their efforts constantly met resistance from the Georgians. Abkhaz nationalists attempted on several occasions, most notably in 1978, to convince Moscow to transfer the autonomous republic from Georgian SSR to the Russian SFSR. That year, the Abkhaz organised a series of indoor and outdoor rallies (including an all-ethnic meeting of Abkhaz in Lykhny) in response to the mass demonstrations of Georgians who had succeeded in winning for their language a constitutional status of the official language of the Georgian SSR. Although the Abkhaz request of the secession from Georgia was rejected Moscow and Tbilisi responded with serious economic and cultural concessions, appropriating an extra 500 million rubles (or more [30] ) over seven years for the development of infrastructure and cultural projects such as the foundation of the Abkhazian State University (with Abkhaz, Georgian, and Russian sectors), a State Folk Ensemble in Sukhumi, and Abkhaz-language television broadcasting. [27] Substantial quotas were also given to ethnic Abkhaz in educational and official positions. [30] For example, by 1990 most of government ministers and regional Communist party department heads were ethnic Abkhaz. [32] Even though these concessions eased tensions only partially they made Abkhazia prosperous even by the standards of Georgia which was one of the wealthiest Soviet republic of that time. [30] [33] The favourable geographic and climatic conditions were successfully exploited to make Abkhazia a destination for hundreds of thousands of tourists, gaining for the region a reputation of "Soviet Riviera."

The Abkhazian War

As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate at the end of the 1980s, ethnic tension grew between the Abkhaz and Georgians over Georgia's moves towards independence. Many Abkhaz opposed this, fearing that an independent Georgia would lead to the elimination of their autonomy, and argued instead for the establishment of Abkhazia as a separate Soviet republic in its own right. The dispute turned violent on 16 July 1989 in Sukhumi. At least eighteen people were killed and another 137, mostly Georgians, injured when the Soviet Georgian government gave in to Georgian popular demand to transform a Georgian sector of Sukhumi State University into a branch of Tbilisi State University and the Abkhaz nationalists, including armed groups, [34] demonstrated at the building where the entrance examinations were being held. [35] [36] After several days of violence, Soviet troops restored order in the city and blamed rival nationalist paramilitaries for provoking confrontations.

Georgia boycotted the March 17, 1991 all-Union referendum on the renewal of the Soviet Union proposed by Mikhail Gorbachev. However, the referendum was held in Abkhazia and 52.3% of the population of Abkhazia (virtually all the non-Georgians) took part, and participants voted by an overwhelming majority (98.6%) in favour of preserving the Union. [37] [38] Most of the non-Georgian population subsequently declined to participate in the March 31 referendum on Georgia's independence, which was supported by a huge majority of the population of Georgia. Shortly after it Georgia declared independence on 9 April 1991, under the rule of nationalist [39] and former Soviet dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

Gamsakhurdia's rule became unpopular, and that December, the Georgian National Guard, under the command of Tengiz Kitovani, laid siege to the offices of Gamsakhurdia's government in Tbilisi. After weeks of stalemate, he was forced to resign in January 1992. Gamsakhurdia was replaced as president by Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister and architect of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

On 21 February 1992, Georgia's ruling Military Council announced that it was abolishing the Soviet-era constitution and restoring the 1921 Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. Many Abkhaz interpreted this as an abolition of their autonomous status. In response, on 23 July 1992, the Abkhazia government effectively declared secession from Georgia, although this gesture went unrecognized by any other country. The Georgian government accused Gamsakhurdia supporters of kidnapping Georgia's interior minister and holding him captive in Abkhazia. The Georgian government dispatched 3,000 troops to the region, ostensibly to restore order. Heavy fighting between Georgian forces and Abkhazian militia broke out in and around Sukhumi. The Abkhazian authorities rejected the government's claims, claiming that it was merely a pretext for an invasion. After about a week's fighting and many casualties on both sides, Georgian government forces managed to take control of most of Abkhazia, and closed down the regional parliament.

The Abkhazians' military defeat was met with a hostile response by the self-styled Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, an umbrella group uniting a number of pro-Russian movements in the North Caucasus, Russia (Chechens, Cossacks, Ossetians and others). Hundreds of volunteer paramilitaries from Russia (including the then little known Shamil Basayev) joined forces with the Abkhazian separatists to fight the Georgian government forces. Regular Russian forces also reportedly sided with the secessionists. In September, the Abkhaz and Russian paramilitaries mounted a major offensive after breaking a cease-fire, which drove the Georgian forces out of large swathes of the republic. Shevardnadze's government accused Russia of giving covert military support to the rebels with the aim of "detaching from Georgia its native territory and the Georgia-Russian frontier land". The year 1992 ended with the rebels in control of much of Abkhazia northwest of Sukhumi.

The conflict remained stalemated until July 1993, following an agreement in Sochi, when the Abkhaz separatist militias launched an abortive attack on Georgian-held Sukhumi. The capital was surrounded and heavily shelled, with Shevardnadze himself trapped in the city.

Although a truce was declared at the end of July, this collapsed after a renewed Abkhaz attack in mid-September. After ten days of heavy fighting, Sukhumi fell on 27 September 1993. Eduard Shevardnadze narrowly escaped death, having vowed to stay in the city no matter what, but he was eventually forced to flee when separatist snipers fired on the hotel where he was residing. Abkhaz, North Caucasians militants and their allies committed one of the most horrific massacres [40] of this war against remaining Georgian civilians in the city known as Sukhumi Massacre. The mass killings and destruction continued for two weeks, leaving thousands dead and missing.

The separatist forces quickly overran the rest of Abkhazia as the Georgian government faced a second threat: an uprising by the supporters of the deposed Zviad Gamsakhurdia in the region of Mingrelia (Samegrelo). In the chaotic aftermath of defeat almost all ethnic Georgian population fled the region by sea or over the mountains escaping a large-scale ethnic cleansing initiated by the victors. Many thousands died — it is estimated that between 10,000-30,000 ethnic Georgians and 3,000 ethnic Abkhaz may have perished — and some 250,000 people were forced into exile.

During the war, gross human rights violations were reported on the both sides (see Human Rights Watch report), [41] and the ethnic cleansing committed by the Abkhaz forces and their allies is recognised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Summits in Budapest (1994), [42] Lisbon (1996) [43] and Istanbul (1999) [44]

Post-war Abkhazia

Map of modern Abkhazia Abkhazia02.png
Map of modern Abkhazia

The economic situation in the republic after war was very hard and it was aggravated by the sanctions imposed in 1994 by the CIS. During the 1990s a lot of people of all ethnicities left Abkhazia mainly for Russia. Since 1997 Russia effectively dropped these sanctions which tremendously helped republic's economy. In 1999, Abkhazia officially declared their independence, [4] which was recognized by almost no other nations.

The return of Georgians to Gali district of Abkhazia was halted by the fighting which broke out there in 1998. However, from 40,000 to 60,000 refugees have returned to Gali district since 1998, including persons commuting daily across the ceasefire line and those migrating seasonally in accordance with agricultural cycles.

After several peaceful years tourists again began to visit Abkhazia, however their number is only about a half of the pre-war number.

In 2004 presidential elections were held which caused much controversy when the candidate backed by outgoing president Vladislav Ardzinba and by Russia - Raul Khadjimba - was apparently defeated by Sergey Bagapsh. The tense situation in the republic led to the cancellation of the election results by the Supreme Court. After that the deal was struck between former rivals to run jointly — Bagapsh as a presidential candidate and Khajimba as a vice presidential candidate. They received more than 90% of the votes in the new election.

After the 1992-1993 War the Upper Kodori Valley was the only part of the country that was not controlled by the Abkhazian government. It remained under the formal control of Georgian authorities however it was mainly run by a local strongman Emzar Kvitsiani. As a result of the 2006 Kodori crisis Georgia reasserted its power in the valley. [4] Abkhazians claimed that the infiltration of the territory by Georgian armed units was a violation of the Agreement on the Ceasefire and Disengagement of Forces of May 14, 1994, however Georgia maintained that only police and security forces were employed there. Abkhaz forces occupied Kodori Valley in August 2008 as a result of an operation that coincided with the 2008 South Ossetia War.

August 2008 saw another crisis start as South Ossetia in Georgia started hostilities aimed towards secession. This violence spread somewhat into the Abkhazia region again, with added stress created by the Russian forces massing. [4] Georgia and Russia signed a cease-fire soon after requiring Russia to withdraw. [4]

Meanwhile, the efforts of Russia to isolate Georgian population in Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia continued. On 24 October 2008 the railroad bridge of Shamgon-Tagiloni, connecting the city of Zugdidi in Georgia with the Abkhazian Gali district (populated mainly by Georgians) [45] was destroyed. According to Georgian and French sources it was done by Russian army; Abkhazian sources maintained it was a Georgian diversion. [46] [47] Per Georgian sources on 29 October 2008 Russian forces dismantled another bridge - the one situated between the villages of Orsantia (ru) and Otobaia and linking a total of five villages - Otobaia, Pichori (ru), Barghebi, Nabakevi (ru) and Gagida (ru); thus the local population was deprived of the opportunity to move freely in the region. [48] [49]

See also

Related Research Articles

Principality of Abkhazia historical state

The Principality of Abkhazia emerged as a separate feudal entity in the 15th-16th centuries, amid the civil wars in the Kingdom of Georgia that concluded with the dissolution of the unified Georgian monarchy. The principality retained a degree of autonomy under the Ottoman, and then the Russian rule, but was eventually absorbed into the Russian Empire in 1864.

Georgian Civil War 1991–1993 ethnic civil war in Georgia

The Georgian Civil War was a civil war in Georgia consisting of inter-ethnic and intranational conflicts in the regions of South Ossetia (1988–1992) and Abkhazia (1992–1993), as well as the violent military coup d'état of December 22, 1991 – December 31, 1993, against the first democratically elected President of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his subsequent uprising in an attempt to regain power (1993).

Politics in Abkhazia is dominated by its conflict with Georgia. Abkhazia became de facto independent from Georgia after the 1992–1993 war, but its de jure independence has only been recognised by a few other countries. Abkhazia is a presidential representative democratic republic with a multi-party system, wherein the President is both head of state and head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government of the Republic of Abkhazia. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the People's Assembly of Abkhazia.

Abkhazians Northwest Caucasian ethnic group indigenous to Abkhazia

Abkhazians, or Abkhaz, are a Northwest Caucasian ethnic group, mainly living in Abkhazia, a disputed region on the Black Sea coast. A large Abkhaz diaspora population resides in Turkey, the origins of which lie in the population movements from the Caucasus in the late 19th century. Many Abkhaz also live in other parts of the former Soviet Union, particularly in Russia and Ukraine.

Mingrelians Ethnic group

The Mingrelians are an indigenous Kartvelian-speaking ethnic subgroup of Georgians that mostly live in Samegrelo region of Georgia. They also live in considerable numbers in Abkhazia and Tbilisi. In the pre-1930 Soviet census, the Megrelians were afforded their own ethnic group category.

Sukhumi City in Abkhazia, Georgia

Sukhumi or Sokhumi is a city on the Black Sea coast. It is the capital of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, which has controlled it since the 1992-93 war in Abkhazia, although most of the international community considers it legally part of Georgia.

Ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia 1992–1998 removal and flight of Georgians from Abkhazia

The ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia, also known as the massacres of Georgians in Abkhazia and genocide of Georgians in Abkhazia — refers to the ethnic cleansing, massacres and forced mass expulsion of thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia during the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict of 1992–1993 and 1998 at the hands of Abkhaz separatists and their allies. Armenians, Greeks, Russians and opposing Abkhazians were also killed. Roughly 200,000 to 250,000 Georgian civilians became Internally displaced persons (IDPs). The ethnic cleansing and massacres of Georgians has been officially recognized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) conventions in 1994, 1996 and again in 1997 during the Budapest, Lisbon and Istanbul summits and condemned the "perpetrators of war crimes committed during the conflict." On May 15, 2008, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution A/RES/62/249 in which it "Emphasizes the importance of preserving the property rights of refugees and internally displaced persons from Abkhazia, Georgia, including victims of reported "ethnic cleansing", and calls upon all Member States to deter persons under their jurisdiction from obtaining property within the territory of Abkhazia, Georgia in violation of the rights of returnees". The UN Security Council passed a series of resolutions in which it appealed for a cease-fire.

Sefer Ali-Bey Shervashidze was a prince of the Principality of Abkhazia in 1810–21. He was the youngest son of Kelesh Ahmed-Bey Shervashidze.

Kelesh Ahmed-Bey (Kelesh-Bey) Shervashidze (1747–1808) was the head of state of the Principality of Abkhazia from the 1780s to 1808. Kelesh-Bey was the son of Manuchar Shervashidze.

The Sukhumi massacre took place on September 27, 1993, during and after the fall of Sukhumi into separatist hands in the course of the War in Abkhazia. It was perpetrated against Georgian civilians of Sukhumi, mainly by militia forces of Abkhaz separatists, their North Caucasian and Russian allies. It became part of a violent ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by the separatists.

Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia autonomous region in Georgia

The Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia is an administration recognized by Georgia as the legal and only government of Abkhazia. Abkhazia has been de facto independent of Georgia – though with very little international recognition – since the early 1990s. Ruslan Abashidze, elected in May 2019, is the current head of the government-in-exile.

Nestor Lakoba Abkhazian politician

Nestor Apollonovich Lakoba was an Abkhaz Communist leader. Lakoba helped establish Bolshevik power in Abkhazia in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, and served as the head of Abkhazia after its conquest by the Bolshevik Red Army in 1921. While in power, Lakoba saw that Abkhazia was initially given autonomy within the USSR as the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia. Though nominally a part of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic with a special status of "union republic," the Abkhaz SSR was effectively a separate republic, made possible by Lakoba's close relationship with Joseph Stalin. Lakoba successfully opposed the extension of collectivization of Abkhazia, though in return Lakoba was forced to accept a downgrade of Abkhazia's status to that of an autonomous republic within the Georgian SSR.

Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic autonomous soviet socialist republic of a union republic of the Soviet Union

The Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, abbreviated as Abkhaz ASSR, was an autonomous republic of the Soviet Union within the Georgian SSR. It came into existence in February 1931, when the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia, originally created in March 1921, was transformed to the status of Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Georgian SSR.

Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia Soviet republic

The Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia was a short-lived republic within the Caucasus region of the Soviet Union that covered the territory of Abkhazia, and existed from 31 March 1921 to 19 February 1931. Formed in the aftermath of the Red Army invasion of Georgia in 1921, it was independent until 16 December 1921, when it agreed to a treaty uniting it with the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. The SSR Abkhazia was largely similar to an autonomous Soviet republic, though it retained nominal independence from Georgia, being given certain features only full union republics had, like its own military units. Through its status as a "treaty republic" with Georgia, Abkhazia joined the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, which united Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian SSRs into one federal unit, when the latter was formed in 1922. The SSR Abkhazia was abolished in 1931 and replaced with the Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Georgian SSR.

War in Abkhazia (1992–1993) War in Abkhazia from 1992 to 1993

The War in Abkhazia from 1992 to 1993 was fought between Georgian government forces for the most part and Abkhaz separatist forces, Russian government armed forces and North Caucasian militants. Ethnic Georgians who lived in Abkhazia fought largely on the side of Georgian government forces. Ethnic Armenians and Russians within Abkhazia's population largely supported the Abkhazians and many fought on their side. The separatists received support from thousands of North Caucasus and Cossack militants and from the Russian Federation forces stationed in and near Abkhazia.

The Sukhumi riot was a riot in Sukhumi, Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, Soviet Union, in July 1989, triggered by an increasing inter-ethnic tensions between the Abkhaz and Georgian communities and followed by several days of street fighting and civil unrest in Sukhumi and throughout Abkhazia.

This article is about the demographic features of the population of Abkhazia, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health, socioeconomic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

Abkhazia Disputed territory in the South Caucasus

Abkhazia is a de facto sovereign state that is recognized by most countries as an autonomous republic of Georgia. It lies in the South Caucasus on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, south of the Greater Caucasus mountains in northwestern Georgia. It covers 8,660 square kilometres (3,340 sq mi) and has a population of around 240,000. Its capital is Sukhumi.

Gali District, Abkhazia District in Abkhazia, Georgia

Gali District is one of the districts of Abkhazia. Its capital is Gali, the town by the same name. The district is smaller than the eponymous one in the de jure subdivision of Georgia, as some of its former territory is now part of Tkvarcheli District, formed by de facto Abkhaz authorities in 1995.

The War in Abkhazia from 1992 to 1993 was waged chiefly between Georgian government forces on one side, Russian military forces on other side supporting separatist forces demanding independence of Abkhazia from Georgia. http://www.historyorb.com/russia/georgia.php Ethnic Georgians, who lived in Abkhazia fought largely on the side of Georgian government forces. Ethnic Armenians and Russians within Abkhazia's population, largely supported Abkhazians and many fought on their side. The separatists were supported by thousands of the North Caucasus and Cossack militants and by the Russian Federation forces stationed in and near Abkhazia.

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