Geographical Features: Situated in Western Transcaucasia, between the Black Sea and the Caucasian mountains, bordering the Russian Federation and Georgia. The capital is Sukhumi. Area: 8,700 km˛.

Population: 525,000 inhabitants.

Ethnic Diversity: Abkhazians 18%, Georgians (Mingrelians and Svans) 46%, Armenians 15%, Russians and Ukrainians 14%, Greeks 3%. Ca 500,000 Abkhazians live in Turkey and in Middle East countries.

Languages: Abkhaz, belonging to the West Caucasian linguistic group, and Russian. Georgians mainly speak Mingrelian.

Economy: Suffers difficulties because of the destruction inflicted by the war with Georgia of 1992-1993, and the severe economic blockade imposed by the Russian Federation. Agriculture: citrus fruits, tea, tobacco.
Industry: Coal, iron and mining.

Brief History:
The Abkhaz are indigenous to Abkhazia, now part of Georgia. Just like the related ethnic group Adygey, and the other Circassian peoples (Cherkess, Kabards, Abazas), the Abkhaz' ancestors were part of the broad conglomerate of tribes that populated the Eastern shores of the Black Sea more than 2000 years ago.

Christianity was introduced to the population in the 6th c., when they became clients of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian. With the rise of Islam in the 7th c., the fall of Sassanid Persia and the the weakening of Byzantium, Abkhazia was formed as a principality that came to affiliate with the Khazar Khanate from around 800 A.D. as its prince married a Khazar princess. In the 10th c., Abkhazia became part of the Georgian state of the time (the Bagratid dynasty), during a period of anarchy between vassal princes and nobility.

From around year 1000 several Turkish-Mongolian peoples settled in the region, and in the 14th c. the Georgian state fell. Bagratid rule in Abkhazia was replaced by a feudal principality under Ottoman suzerainty. Muslim influence was again strong in the area, especially after 1578, when Abkhazia became a vassal principality under the Ottomans. Islamization of the population culminated much later, however - towards the end of the 18th c. But Christianity was still the faith of a large minority of the Abkhaz.

Russian annexation of the area, starting in 1801, brought Abkhazia increasingly under Russian influence. Russian-Turkish rivalry led to a split in the Abkhaz elite, mainly along religious divisions. The Russo-Turkish war of 1827-28 strongly enhanced the Russians' position. Conflicts between Russians and Abkhaz increased in the 1830s and 40s, when the Russians used Abkhazia as a base for campaigns against the Cherkess, who are ethnically close to the Abkhaz. Colonization of the Abkhaz territory began even before 1810, but Abkhaz self-administration lasted until 1864. Many Abkhaz emigrated in this period, and there was a major uprising in 1866 as a protest against Russian land reforms and taxation system. In the 1870s approx. 200,000 Abkhaz (1/2 of the population) were forced to emigrate, as they were declared to be unfaithful subjects of the tsar. This out-migration had two important consequences: Firstly, most of those who left were Muslims, so that the majority of the Abkhaz in Abkhazia was suddenly Christian. The other main consequence was that the Abkhaz became a minority in their own land as large territoires lay open to immigration by Russians, Georgians and others.

Bolshevik power was established in 1918, to endure only 40 days when the menshevik Georgia, protected by German and British forces, incorporated the area. The Abkhaz supported the bolsheviks in their struggle for more independence. In 1921 Soviet power was re-established, and Abkhazia and Georgia signed a Union treaty. Abkhazia was recognised as a Soviet republic by the Bolshevik leaders of Georgia. In 1922, Abkhazia and Georgia entered the Transcaucasian federation as equal partners. In 1931 however, Abkhazia was once again subordinated to Georgia as an autonomous republic: against the will of the Abkhaz people, the Soviet Union merged Abkhazia into Georgia. Georgian language became compulsory, Abkhazian was prohibited and its cultural institutions were destroyed. Abkhaz resistance to collectivization was considerable, and an Abkhaz ASSR was established to please native and Russian Communist cadres in the area. During the repressions in the late 1930s and early 40's forced assimilation and "georgianization" of Abkhazia took place, led by Beriya, head of the Transcaucasian federation at the time. Many Georgians settled in Abkhazia, Abkhaz language was no longer taught in schools, and many prominent Abkhaz were killed.

After Stalin, Abkhaz culture re-emerged. In the 1970s, a national movement was formed with the goal of seceding from Georgia. In 1978, Abkhaz intellectuals wrote an open letter to Brezhnev, expressing their concern for their ethnic population, and were met by certain economic concessions. An Abkhaz university was established in Sukhumi.

In 1989 on the 9th of April ("the Bloody Sunday"), there were armed clashes between Abkhaz and Georgians. In 1990 the Abkhazian Supreme Soviet proclaimed independence, emphasizing its willingness to negotiate with Georgia to form a federation. Georgia insisted on a united state system. During the summer the conflict between Georgians and Abkhaz culminated, and in August 1990, Abkhazia declared its sovereignty and war broke out. In the beginning of the 1990's, Abkhaziya had a population of 537,000 inhabitants, of which only 17 per cent were Abkhaz. The republic is dominated by Georgians who are in increase because of a high degree of immigration.

1992: The political dispute turned into a military conflict between both countries. During this there were grave human rights violations and large number of refugees. Abkhazia became a full member of UNPO.

1994: An agreement of the political status of Abkhazia was signed by Abkhazia and Georgia under UN auspices, with Russian facilitation and with participation of the UNPO. Economic blockade proclaimed by Russia forcing Abkhazia to sign a federation agreement with Georgia on terms imposed by Georgia and Russia.

Current situation:
In spite of numerous negotiations, questions about territorial integrity, refugees, and the legality of the 1996 elections remain unsettled. There is a cease-fire, but no formal peace has been agreed to.

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO)
Norwegian Institute of International Affairs [NUPI] - Centre for Russian Studies
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