Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Georgia-Abkhazia Conflict: View from Abkhazia

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Georgia-Abkhazia Conflict: View from Abkhazia

Article excerpt

The Abkhazian-Georgian conflict is clearly ethno-political and the main issues of controversy are the following: The Georgian side claims authority over the territory, which was incorporated into Georgia by Stalin's decree in 1931. The Abkhazians are ethnically distinct from the Georgians, and they have a long history in which they had their own state with defined geographical boundaries, and they have a special claim to their territory and statehood. The outbreak of recent hostilities was preceded by years of tensions over political issues that started to develop along ethnic lines as issues of ethnic identity and the origins of the Abkhazians became the subject of political manipulation. The situation became further complicated by the involvement of other non-Georgian groups of Abkhazia in the conflict, who took the Abkhazian side overwhelmingly after the beginning of the war in 1992.

I do not want to overburden you with too much historical detail, but there are some important issues that need to be mentioned. Situated on the Black Sea coast, fertile and picturesque Abkhazia has been an important Transcaucasian crossroads, and historically has always been a dainty dish for conquerors. Abkhazian statehood has existed for over 1,200 years, and Abkhazians have had to defend themselves against invaders on more than one occasion.

For centuries, Georgians and Abkhazians, peoples with very different ethnic origins and languages, lived in neighboring territories. There were periods in their history when Abkhazia, as a separate principality, was under Georgian or Ottoman vassalage. There was also a period when the western and some eastern areas of Georgia were part of the Abkhazian Kingdom.

However, the Russian conquest of the Caucasus brought both countries under the rule of the Russian empire. Thousands of Abkhazians, along with many other peoples of the North Caucasus, were forced to seek refuge in Turkey. Today their descendants (the makhajirs) are scattered all over the world. In Turkey alone, the number of ethnic Abkhazians exceeds 400,000 people. Their lands and homes in Abkhazia were taken over by competing Georgians, Armenians, and Russians. In 1887, a famous Georgian public figure, Jacob Gogebashvili, wrote in one of his articles that Abkhazia would never have her sons back, and therefore, it was time to begin thinking about which people were best fit for the climactic conditions of Abkhazia. In Gogebashvili's opinion, Mingrelians (a West Georgian tribe) were the first and the most suitable candidates to colonize Abkhazia.

At the end of the nineteenth century, a resettling process began in Abkhazia that continued throughout the reign of Soviet power. According to the population census, the Georgian portion in the total population of Abkhazia was 6.0 percent in 1886, 24.4 percent in 1897, and 31.8 percent by 1926.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Abkhazia joined the Republic of Mountain Peoples, thus becoming part of a union of North Caucasian republics. However, it was soon annexed by the Georgian Democratic Republic. When the Bolsheviks came to power in Georgia in 1921, Abkhazia was proclaimed a sovereign republic.

Until 1931, Abkhazia was a full union republic within the USSR, and it had a special treaty-based relationship with Georgia. Under Stalin's dictate in 1931, and over the strong protests of Abkhazians, the union republic was demoted to a mere "autonomous republic" to be incorporated into Georgia. This fact alone is the reason why, sixty years later, the Georgians declare that Abkhazia is an inseparable part of Georgia.

The change in the status of Abkhazia, and the period that followed it, are historically remembered by Abkhazians as the policy of "Georgianization" and persecution. At that time, Abkhazian schools were closed and replaced by Georgian ones. Abkhazians could not speak the Abkhazian language. Similarly, Abkhazian geographic names were replaced with Georgian ones. …

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