De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty

By Tozun Bahcheli; Barry Bartmann et al. | Go to book overview

7

The Abkhazians

A national minority in their own homeland

Edward Mihalkanin

On 18 March 1989 an Abkhazian national assembly was held in the village of Lykhny under the leadership of a group calling itself the National Forum of Abkhazia - Ajdgylara in the Abkhazian language. 1 The assembly, numbering between 30,000 and 37,000 people, passed a resolution, the Lykhny Declaration, asking the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and Council of Ministers of the USSR to restore Abkhazia's status as a Union Republic. 2 On 24 March 1989 an edited version of the Declaration was printed in all Abkhazian and Russian newspapers.

Sadly, as had happened too many times before, the expression of Abkhazian national sentiments sparked an equally strong Georgian response. Around 12,000 Georgians held their first rally to protest the Declaration on 25 March in Gali, and this was followed by other rallies in Sukhumi, Leselidze and other towns in Abkhazia and Georgia. 3 The increasing tension and competing national demonstration in Abkhaza led to a multi-day rally by 100,000 Georgians in Lenin Square, in front of the Government House, in Tbilisi, the capital of the Georgian SSR. 4 Soviet Interior troops, under the command of General Rudionov, attacked the rally with shovels and poison gas, killing twenty and injuring hundreds. Although Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev disassociated himself from that Politburo decision and the top party and government officials in Georgia were removed from office, the violence was a turning point. 'The April Tragedy fundamentally radicalized political life in the republic' 5 and transformed a movement for civil rights into a demand for Georgian independence. 6 As Fuller observed early on:

One of the factors that gave rise to the demonstrations was indignation over the demand by the minority Abkhaz that their ASSR, currently a part of Georgia, be detached from the republic and given Union republic status - a demand that served to fuel Georgia's nascent chauvinism towards the non-Georgian population of the republic. 7

These events quickly led to a full-scale war between Georgia and Abkhazia in 1992 and 1993, leading to a bitter stalemate ever since, but with a de facto

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