Abkhazia is situated on the Eastern coast of the Black sea, bordering Russia in the North and North Caucasus along the Caucasus Mountains Range and Georgia in the East. Abkhazia is divided into seven administrative districts: Gagra, Gudauta, Sukhum, Ochamchira, Gulripsh, Tquarchal and Gal. Due to its mountainous nature, Abkhazia has many rivers and lakes, and rich fertile soil. The climate is very mild, averaging around 15 degrees Celsius. Higher elevations experience a more varied climate, with significant snow and even glaciers in some parts. The capital city is Sukhum (Aqua in Abkhaz) which lies on the Black Sea coast.
History Early Development
6th Century B.C.: The Greeks established trading posts in Abkhazia, a Caucasian land, then part of the region known as Colchis at the Eastern end of the Black Sea. Their cities, especially Dioscurias (modern day Sukhum) grew to be a prosperous trade center. In 55 AD Saint Andrew and Simon the Zealot came to Abkhazia to preach Christianity where they were both buried. First Century B.C.: The Romans fortified Sukhum. The peoples' longevity was reported. 523 A.D.: Abkhazia became part of the Byzantine Empire. Christianity was adopted. 780 - 978: The Kingdom of Abkhazia flourished and the Abkhazia Dynasty extended its sway over much of what is now Western Georgia. 1300-1500: A portion of Abkhazia was under Mingrelian Rule 1500 - 1680: The Abkhazian Chachba Dynasty drove the Mingrelians out and established the southern boundary that exists to this day. 1578: Abkhazia was invaded by the Ottoman Empire 18th Century: Abkhazia, in alliance with Georgia, made repeated efforts to drive out the Turks.
Maps: Kingdom of Abkhazia. 800, 900, 1000 (A.C)
1801 - 1804: Various Georgian areas (Kartli and Kakhetia-1801, Mingrelia-1803, Imeretia and Guria-1804) came directly under Russian Rule (voluntarily seeking protection from Ottoman Turks and Iran). 1810: Tzar Alexander the First, issued a Charter to the ruling Prince of Abkhazia acknowledging Abkhazia as an autonomous principality under the protection of Russia. 1864: After prolonged fighting across the entire region of the Caucasus, Abkhazia was the last Caucasian principality to be forcibly annexed to the Russian Empire. Russian oppression was so severe that over the next few decades more than half of the Abkhazian population fled to Turkey and the Middle East. 1917 - 1918: Abkhazia joined the Republic of the North Caucasus. The Mensheviks took over the government of Georgia and annexed Abkhazia by a mixture of political manoeuvring and the application of ‘fire and sword’ by General Mazniashvili’s troops.
March 1921: The Bolsheviks overthrew the Mensheviks in Georgia. The Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic was established independently of Georgia and headed by Nestor Lakoba. 1922: Abkhazia was a signatory to the formation of the USSR acting as a sovereign Abkhazian Republic. 1925: Abkhazia adopted its first Constitution under which it was united by a Special Treaty of Alliance with Georgia. 1931: Stalin (Georgian) and Beria (Mingrelian) reduced Abkhazia to the status of an autonomous Republic within Georgia. 1937 - 1953: Forced mass immigration into Abkhazia was carried out from Western Georgia (Mingrelia) by Stalin and Beria. In Abkhazia, as well as other regions of the USSR, mass oppression was carried out, thousands of intellectuals were persecuted. Before the enforced georgianisation of the 20th century, Abkhazia had a highly diverse demography with many Turks, Armenians, Jews, and Greeks, among others. Abkhazia celebrated its diversity, and the strict homogenization under Georgian rule greatly contrasted with the traditionally tolerant Abkhazian culture. During the period of enforced georgianisation (1937-1953), the Abkhaz were deprived of the right to teach their children in their native language; all Abkhaz schools and institutions were closed from the school-year 1945-46. The Abkhaz were only compelled to study in Georgian schools. The Abkhaz script (originally based on Cyrillic and then on Latin) was altered, against the will of the Abkhaz people, to one based on Georgian characters in 1938. Despite the reintroduction of schooling in Abkhaz and a reformed, Cyrillic-based script following the deaths of Stalin and Beria in 1953, in 1978 Abkhazian intellectuals signed a letter of protest to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR complaining about the status of Abkhazia and blamed the Georgian leaders for pursuing a "Beriaite" policy aimed at the "Georgianization" of the Republic. Major demonstrations at Lykhny (a sacred place in Abkhazian tradition) followed. The Abkhazian campaign, to be incorporated in the Russian Federation, was rejected by Russia and Georgia. Instead, concessions were made to the Abkhaz, including the opening of the Abkhazian State University and TV broadcasting for 15 minutes twice a week in the Abkhaz language. During that year (1978), Moscow allocated millions of roubles to help Abkhazia. The Abkhazian government never received the money. The sum was dispersed to constrain the Abkhazian people's protest at existing conditions.
Post Soviet Period
1988 - 1989: Leaders of the National Movement in Georgia demanded the abolition of the "Autonomies within Georgia together with secession from the USSR. 1988 - 1990: The Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic unilaterally adopted a number of measures which essentially effected the secession of Georgia from the USSR, abrogating in the process all legal acts that united Georgia and Abkhazia under Soviet jurisdiction. 1990: On the eve of the signing of the new Soviet Union Treaty, Abkhazia, like all of the other autonomous republics, declared its sovereignty. On the next day, Georgia declared the abrogation of the Abkhazian Declaration of Sovereignty. Georgia abrogated the autonomy of Ossetia, leading to armed conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia. 1992: Abkhazia declares the sovereignty of its own territory and proposes a federative treaty to Georgia to fill the "legal vacuum" that resulted from Georgia's unilateral abrogation of all Soviet legal documents. On August 14th, exactly 20 days after being accepted by the United Nations, Georgian troops entered the territory of Abkhazia without any notification to the Abkhazian government and launched a land and air attack on the southeast part of Abkhazia and its capital city. Bloody fighting continued for 14 months. 1993: On September 30th, Abkhazian forces - backed by the Confederation of the Peoples of the North Caucasus Organization, finally ousted the Georgian troops from the territory of Abkhazia. 1994: In April, a joint Declaration of the Political Settlement was signed by the parties to the conflict - the UN, Russia and OSCE, in the presence of the UN Secretary General. The Declaration outlined principles for the peaceful settlement of the conflict on the basis of equality between the parties. In May, negotiations under the auspices of the UN sanctioned the deployment of the CIS peace-keeping troops to separate the parties to the conflict.
Recent history of Abkhazia
After Georgia annulled all Soviet legislation, Abkhazia, as a temporary measure,re-enacted its 1925 constitution, and a new constitution was acclaimed by popular referendum on November 26 1994, restating Abkhazia’s national sovereignty, which was not recognized by Georgia or any other state, as were the elections in November 1996; the Constitution was amended in 1999, at which point Abkhazia finally declared its formal independence Later, a regime of economic sanctions was imposed on Abkhazia by Russia, Georgia and the CIS states. This had a severe impact on the economic growth and development of Abkhazia. Until 26th August 2008, when Russia (followed by Nicaragua) recognised both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, Abkhazia continued to as as a de facto sovereign state, constantly making its case for international recognition, having finally declared its full independence from Georgia in 1999.
Politics and Issues in Abkhazia’s Relations with Georgia
After the end of the conflict in 1993, Georgia made several military attempts to take Abkhazia back (e.g. in 1998 and 2001). The introduction of troops (masquerading as police) of the Georgian Army in the upper part of the Kodor Gorge of Abkhazia effectively put an end to the already fragile peace process. Until the troops fled from the Gorge after bombing and prior to a land-attack on 12th August 2008, Georgia continued to claim that part of Abkhazia to be part of Georgia by relocating there the so-called “Government in exile” (The Georgian-recognized Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia never had any actual jurisdiction over, or relevance in, Abkhazia). Georgia and the international community (apart from Russia and Nicaragua) refuse to recognize the Sukhum-based government, despite the fact that it exercises sovereign rule over its territory and people, whilst Georgia has been unable to do so since the end of the war on 30th September 1993. Abkhazia demands reparations from Georgia for destruction during the 1992-93 war as well as for the economic damage suffered due to the sanctions placed on Abkhazia by the CIS states. Within Georgia, there are high numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs, or refugees) from the war, mainly Mingrelians who fled in fear of what the post-war chaos would mean for those who supported the Georgian invasion. Georgian President Saakashvili (like his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze) often uses the IDPs as a bargaining chip for humanitarian assistance from the world-community. Abkhazia argues that the return of ethnic Abkhazians in Turkey, descendants of those who were expelled by the Russians or who left Abkhazian voluntarily at the end of the 19th-century Caucasian War and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, should also be allowed. Abkhazia demands for recognition as a sovereign state both by Georgia and by the international community have been substantially strengthened by Russia’s recognition of 26th August 2008.
Current Abkhazian Politics
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 defeated by Sergey Bagapsh. The tense situation in the republic led to the cancellation of the election results by the Supreme Court. After that, adeal 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.
About 20 kilometres to the north of the Abkhazian-Russian border (along the River Psou) is the resort-city known as Sochi. Sochi achieved international recognition when it won the bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Abkhazia offered support for development projects in preparation for the Sochi Olympics. Given the proximity of such a huge investment project and Abkhazia’s capacity of construction materials, the Winter Olympics will become a significant boost for the Abkhaz economy, especially in the wake of Russia’s recognition and moves to reopen Sukhum’s airport, which boasts the largest runway of any airport in the Caucasus, and which has lain idle since the 1992-93 war. Georgians are outraged. It remains uncertain what role the Sochi games will play for Abkhazia.
According to the 2003 census, there are 215,972 people living in Abkhazia, of which approximately 50% are ethnic Abkhazians, 21% ‘Georgian’ (mostly Mingrelians or Svans), 20% Armenians, 11% Russians, and less than 1% Greeks. Georgia contests the results of the census, and several international sources have claimed the number is too high, putting the population size closer to 175,000. There is also a large Abkhazian Diaspora of over half a million, based in Turkey but with populations in Syria and Jordan.
Abkhazians speak Abkhaz, though Russian is also common and shares co-official status, - whilst Mingrelian and Georgian are widely spoken in the Gal district, where most of the returned ‘Georgian’ refugees live. Written Abkhaz, based on the Cyrillic alphabet, first appeared in 1862.
The majority of Abkhazians within Abkhazia are Orthodox Christians, comprising approximately 75% of the population. Although officially a canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church, the affairs of Orthodox Christians are run by the Eparchy of Abkhazia under Russian Orthodox influence. Another 10% of Abkhazians are Sunni Muslims, and there are small numbers of Jews, Lutherans, Catholics and followers of new religions.
The majority of Abkhazians live in the rural areas, mostly in large family homes where they grow and process their own food. Horses have an important place in Abkhazian culture. Equine sports and equestrian activities are popular with Abkhazians and often play a central role in festivals. Song, music, and dance are also important to Abkhazian culture. There are joyous songs for weddings, ritual songs, cult songs, lullabies, healing songs, and work songs. There are special songs for the gathering of the lineage, for the ill, and songs celebrating the exploits of heroes. All of the arts are represented in Abkhazia. There are drama and dance companies, art museums, music schools, and theatres for the performing arts. Poetry and literature are also held in high regard. It has recently been acknowledged that there is a disproportionately high occurrence of nonagenarians and centenarians in certain areas in the Caucasus, including Abkhazia. These long-lifers are known for continuing their active lifestyles, continuing to work the fields, dance, sing, and walk for miles long past their ninth decade.
Abkhazia is mostly rural and boasts a variety of abundant agricultural natural resources, primarily citrus fruit, tobacco, tea, and timber. It also has some energy resources with coal mines and hydro-electric plants. Abkhazia’s economy is heavily reliant on Russia, using the rouble as its currency, and relying mostly on Russia as export market, a trading partner and investor. Turkey is another big economic partner for Abkhazia. Economic and travel sanctions were imosed on Abkhazia in 1996 by the CIS countries after its declaration of sovereignty and the removal of Georgian troops from the country. The economic blockade following years of military conflict devastated the Abkhazian economy. No foreign direct investment was able to breach the blockades, and international trade is highly restricted. Lifting of the embargo by Russia opened new horizons for the country’s economic growth. Tourism to Abkhazia is on the rise, with the number of tourists reaching almost 2 million visitors in 2007 and the expectation that this number will continue to grow in coming years. Fishing and construction industries are increasing their volume annually.
Nature & Environment
Despite the years of isolation, Abkhazia managed to preserve its unique and virgin natural parks and resources. Abkhazia is rich in fresh water and may become one of its biggest exporters. The fast growing tourism industry is challenging Abkhazia’s environment. Years of isolation, however, deprived Abkhazia of its access to international know-how on environmental protection standards.
Rusudan “Rusa” Goletiani, Chess Woman Grand Master
Gennady Pasko, impressionist painter
Levars Butba, abstractionist painter (died 2007)
Akhra Tsveiba, football player
Vladislav Ardzinba, first president of Abkhazia
Nugzar Ashuba, speaker of the Parliament of Abkhazia
Bagrat Shinkuba, writer, poet, historian, linguist, and politician (died in 2004)
Sergei Bagapsh, current president of Abkhazia
Fazil Iskander, well-known writer
Murat Yagan, Canada-based philosopher
Places of great symbolic importance
New Athos (Novi Afon)
New Athos Monastery
Main national holidays
New Year (December 31-January 1) – Celebrates the end of the year.
Old New Year (January 13-14) – Celebrates the end of the year according to the Julian, or Old Style Calendar, which was followed prior to the Soviet era. It remains primarily a family occasion.
Azhirnihua (January 14) – Day of the world’s creation, renovation.
International Women’s Day (March 8)
Paskha/Easter (set by Orthodox Christian calendar)
Victory Day (May 9)
Saint Simon’s Day (May 23)
Memorial Day of May 31 – Memorial day for the victims of the Caucasian War and forcible deportation of the Mountainous Caucasian Peoples.
Motherland’s Defenders’ Memorial Day (August 14)
Recognition Day (26th August)
Liberation Day (September 30) – Since 1993, this holiday has been held to commemorate the driving out of Georgian forces from Abkhazia. There is a parade of the Abkhazian military forces, as well as dancing and music festivals.
Abkhaz Army Day (October 11)
Kurbannihua (Fall, set by moon) – International religious Muslim holiday. Lykhnashta (Fall, after harvest) – Every year Abkhazians gather in the village of Lykhny where there are horse races, equestrian games, and outdoor exhibits and markets with produce, crafts and other products from across Abkhazia.
Constitution Day (November 26)
Abkhazians also celebrate religious holidays, with many families observing both Orthodox Christian and Muslim festivals, as well as pagan traditions.
Abkhazia is represented at UNPO by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia.
Government Executive power:
President: Sergei Bagapsh (since 12 February 2005) President of the Republic is the head of State and elected for a term of 5 years. Any Abkhaz national who is citizen of Abkhazia aged from 35 - 65 could be elected as the President of the Republic of Abkhazia. The election is based on universal, equal and direct suffrage. The President cannot serve for more than two terms in a period;;
Vice-president: Raul Khajimba;
Prime Minister: Alexander Ankvab. The Prime Minister is the Head of government; Cabinet: Ministers are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the prime minister.
Parliament comprises a Unicameral People’s Assembly or Azhwlar Reilazara (35 seats; members elected by universal, equal and direct suffrage to serve five-year terms); Speaker of Parliament: Nugzar Ashuba Elections: last held March of 2007 (next to be held in March of 2012);
The Supreme Court of Abkhazia is the highest judicial body.
The President of the Republic is the Head of the Council of Justice.
Political parties and leaders:
1. Social-Political Movement 'Aidgilara' –Kvarchia Valeri;
2. Movement of Mothers of Abkhazia for Peace and Social Justice – Kichba Guli;
3. Social-political Movement 'Kavlat' – Kondjaria Garik;
4. Congress of Russian Communities of Compatriots of Russia in Abkhazia – Nikitchenko Gennady;
5. Communist Party of Abkhazia – Shamba Lev;
6. People's Party of Abkhazia – Lakoba Yakub;
7. Republican Social-Political Movement 'Aitaira' (Revival) – Damenia Oleg;
8. Republican Organization of the Social-Political Movement 'Amtsakhara' – Nachach-Ogli Vladimir;
9. Republican Party 'Apsny' – ;
10. Republican Social-Political Movement 'United Abkhazia' – Mikvabia Artur;
11. Social-Democrat Party of Abkhazia – Alamia Gennady;
12. Republican Social-Political Movement 'Ayaira' – ;
13. Party of the Economic Development of Abkhazia 'ERA' – Beslan Butba;
14. Social movement of war veterans 'ARUA' – Vladimir Arshba;
National Unity Forum (composition of several parties)
Interesting/relevant sources to find more information