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• Papaskiri – Abkhazia till 1993


Zurab V. Papaskiri

Studies in History of the Present-day Abkhazia.

From Ancient Times till 1993



Abkhazia, an Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, is an integral part of Georgia. It is located in the northwestern part of Georgia. Its northwest border goes along the top of the Caucasus chief mountain range. The river Psou, which makes the northwest border of the Georgian State with the Russian Federation, separates Abkhazia from Russia.

In the south and southwest, Abkhazia is washed by the Black Sea. In the east and south, along the Svaneti-Abkhazia range and along the river Enguri (its lower stream) passes the administration border with Samegrelo and Zemo Svaneti (Zugdidi, Tsalendjikha and Mestia) regions.

The yearly human traces on the territory of the present-day Abkhazia appeared in early Paleolithic Age. The archaeological findings at the Yashtkhva Mountain near Sukhumi belong to Achel period. From the Upper Paleolithic (35 000 years ago) a primitive man widely populated the entire territory of Abkhazia. The tribal (matriarchy) system was formed. There was a further advance in the agricultural development in the Aenaeolithic and the Early Bronze Age (4th millennium BC), bronze metallurgy was being developed alongside livestock breeding, and farming. The society passed to the last phase of the tribal-communal system – patriarchy. From about the 22nd century BC there was developing the bronze culture all over the territory of West Georgia. It also spread in Early Iron Age (till the 7th cent. BC). And this is known in science under the name of the Colchian Culture. The territory of the present-day Abkhazia was fully in the area of the Colchian Culture spreading. At the same period (the 11th-8th cc) there existed an ancient Georgian state formation Colcha (Colchis) in Georgia. Just this Colchis, “rich in gold” and ruled by a legendary Aeëtes, was visited by the Argonauts with Jason at the head. They took possession of the Golden Fleece from Colchis.

Despite the devastating raids of the Cimmerians who came from the North and ruined the ancient Colchian State, it was still managed to restore the state life in West Georgia. From about the 6th century BC there still existed the Colchis Kingdom where Aeëtes’ descendants reigned. The northern borders of the Colchis Kingdom reached the present Sochi-Tuapse area and, naturally, involved the entire territory of the present-day Abkhazia. Beside the Colchian population proper (the ancient Kartvelian tribes) there also lived other Kartvelian (Megrel-Chans, Svans) tribes: Cols, Coraxes, Svano-Colchians, Sanig-Heniochs, Lazs, etc in this state. Dioscuria – the present Sukhumi – was a place settled by the Colchis and Svan population. The oldest Georgian name of Sukhumi – “Tskhumi” can be explained only in Georgian (in Svan) and means “hornbeam-wood”. The ancestors of the present Abkhaz people – “Apsils”, “Abazgs” are mentioned in the written sources only beginning from the 1st-2nd cc. A.D. At this period their presumed place of settlement is considered to be the southern part of Abkhazia (from the r. Enguri to the r. Kelasuri). Dioscuria, of the ancient sources – Sebastopolis (Georgian Tskhumi) belonged to the Kartvelian Sanigs tribe. They also settled the north of Dioscuria. A famous ancient Greek author, a Roman official Flavius Arrianus mentions in his documents to the existence of a geographical point – old Lazica in Sochi-Tuapse region in the 2nd century A.D., which directly points to the presence of the Georgian (Megrel-Chan) tribe of the Lazs in this region.

In the 1st-2nd cc. A.D. on the ruins of the Kingdom of Colchis in West Georgia there rose separate state units directly subordinated to the Roman Empire – the so-called “Kingdoms” of Macron- Heniochs, Lazs, Apsils, Abazgs and Sanigs. From the 3rd century A.D., a new Georgian state, the Kingdom of Lazica (Egrisi) advanced, supported by the Roman Empire. By the end of the 4th century the jurisdiction of Lazica-Egrisi Kings spread over the entire territory of the historical Colchis, including the present-day Abkhazia. Hence Apsilia-Apshileti was an administrative unit within Lazica, and Abazgia and Svaneti were ruled by the local principals appointed by the King of Lazica. Lazica-Egrisi Kingdom also included historical Sanigeti and one more Georgian (Svan) ethno- political unit – Misimianeti which existed at this period on the territory of the present-day Abkhazia (in Kodori Canyon). 

 In the mid – 6th century a long war between Iran and Byzantine, going on in West Georgia, weakened the Lazica-Egrisi Kingdom. The latter grew gradually weaker and finally, by the 30s of the 8th century it, in fact, stopped existing as an independent state. On the background of the weakening of the Lazica-Egrisi Kingdom, Abazgia-Abkhazia became much stronger by gaining force through the manifest support of the Byzantine Empire. By the 30s of the 8th c, when Georgia was raided by a well-known Arab Commander Murvan ibn-Muhammad (later he became a caliph), there existed only two political forces in Georgia: the house of Kartli principals leading anti-Arabian front not only in Georgia but also in the Transcaucasus, and the other force – that of Leon appointed as an Abazgia-Abkhazia “Eristavi” by the Byzantine Empire. Leon supported the Kartli principals and intensively fought against the Arabs. After the Arabs had been withdrawn from West Georgia the Byzantine Empire recognized the house of Stepanoz-Archil as a political leader of the entire Georgia and the representatives of this family (Mir and Archil) were acknowledged as the “kings” of Kartli and Egrisi. Abazgia-Abkhazia was given to Leon Eristavi in hereditary ownership. At the same time, by the permission of the Byzantine authorities Leon Eristavi of Abkhazia adopted a far-sighted diplomatic step. He established ties of relationship with the Kartli- Egrisi “royal” dynasty, acknowledged the supremacy of the Kartli- Egrisi King and, in fact, became the second person in the state. In the second half of the 8th century, after Archil returned to East Georgia, Leon Eristavi consolidated his position. He, firstly, extended his power on Apshileti-Misimianeti (a sovereign ruler of Apshileti, Eustaphius is last mentioned in connection with the events that took place at the end of the 40s of the 8th century), and later over the entire West Georgia. By the 80s of the 8th century the formation of a new state unit, the principality of Abkhazia, was completed. Its new ruler, Leon II declared himself the King of “the Abkhazs” (of West Georgia) at the end of the 90s of the 8th century. The Kingdom of “the Abkhazs” was a legatee of the Lazica- Egrisi state. It also covered the entire West Georgia. The major part of the population of “the Abkhaz” Kingdom were the Kartvelian (Megrel-Chans, Svans, Karts, etc) tribes. At this period the Abkhaz tribes populated only the territory of the province of Abkhazia (from Anacopia (the present Akhali Atoni) to the Bzipi– Psou sector to the north).

 The other 7 provinces were entirely Georgian from the ethnic viewpoint. Despite the fact that the new state, due to the Abkhaz origin of the ruling dynasty, was called the kingdom of “the Abkhazs”, it was not an Abkhaz national state unit in the present sense. The kingdom of “the Abkhazs” was a state carrying general Georgian cultural and political mentality like the other Georgian state units that appeared at the turn of the 8th- 9th cc: Kakheti, Hereti, Tao-Klardjeti. It should be also mentioned that the dynasty crisis in the house of Kartli-Egrisi (Archil’s family) assisted Leon Abkhazia’s Principal in occupying the royal throne. He, as one of the representatives of the house of Mir and Archil, the “Kings” of Kartli-Egrisi (Leon was a nephew of Leon I, Mir’s son-in-law), used his relations with the royal dynasty, and after the death of Archil’s heirs – Ioané and Juansher, occupied the Kutaisi throne without any serious problems.

The cardinal phase in the process of the political unification of Georgia under the Kutaisi throne started from the 70s of the 10th century. At this period the progressive forces of the country headed by David Curapalat, an acknowledged leader of Georgia of that time, the ruler of South Tao, put a young prince Bagrat Bagrationi on the throne of the “Abkhaz” King in 978. Bagrat was the son of Gurandukht (the daughter of “the Abkhaz” King Giorgi II).

Thus, the first real step was undertaken on the way of uniting the two royal thrones – “the Abkhazs” (West Georgia) and “the Kartvels” (Tao-Klardjeti). This process ended by forming one single Georgian State at the end of the 11th century. Nothing was changed formally in the “Abkhaz” Kingdom by Bagrat III’s accession to the Kutaisi throne, either from ethno-political or state-legal viewpoint, only the borders of the “Abkhaz” kingdom extended. From that time on “Abkhazia”, which in the 8th-10th cc. meant West Georgia, has become the name of the entire country, i.e. Georgia, naturally, including the territory of the present Abkhazia properly.

Abkhazia proper (in its present meaning) possessed no statehood (nor even an autonomous principality within the united Georgian state, which usually, was mentioned under the name of “Abkhazia” in both Georgian and foreign historical sources. Moreover, the region mentioned above was not united as an administrative unit. Since the reign of Leon II, the founder of the “Abkhaz” Kingdom (the end of the 9th century), it was divided into individual administrative units – principalities of: Abkhazia, Tskhumi and Bedia. Only Abkhazia was generally populated by the Abkhaz-Apsua tribes. As for Tskhumi and, especially, Bedia principalities, ethnically they were Georgian (Megrel-clan) regions.

In the 11th-12th cc. the Abkhazia principality populated by the Abkhaz-Apsua ethnic groups, from the cultural and political viewpoint, was the same administrative unit of the one and indivisible Georgian state as any other regions of Georgia. The principality mentioned above along with the other principalities of Georgia (including those located on the territory of the present Abkhazia) was a support to the Georgian King in their fight against the feudal opposition. And the ethnic Abkhazs were the most devoted subjects of the Georgian Kings.

In the 13th-15th cc. despite the aggravated domestic and foreign political situation (the occupation of Georgia by the Mongols, the raids of Tamerlane, etc) which caused the weakening of the one and indivisible Georgian state and later its fall, the present Abkhazia still remained an integral part of the Georgian statehood; the major part of the territory of the present-day Abkhazia, i.e. the former Tskhumi and Bedia provincies including Anacopia-Akhali Atoni, was completely under the administrative control of the Dadiani – the Principals of the Samegrelo-Odishi. Tskhumi-Sukhumi was a Georgian city. It was a residence of Samegrelo-Odishi prince where he minted coins. As for the Province of Abkhazia particularly populated by the Abkhaz tribes and headed by the Sharvashidze family, the region was subordinated to the Odishi Principals. During the 13th-15th cc, the Sharvashidzes kept being loyal to the central authorities of Georgia. Moreover, in separate cases they displayed more devotion to the Tbilisi authorities and were their supporters in West Georgia.

By the beginning of the 17th century, the Sharvashidzes managed to get free from the Samegrelo Principals’ subjection and directly subordinated themselves (nominally) to the Imereti (West Georgia) King. At the same period the expansion of the Abkhazs started in the direction of the Southeast, but a powerful ruler of Samegrelo Levan II Dadiani (1611-1657) temporarily managed to stop the Abkhaz attacks and even instituted his sovereignty over the Sharvashidze family. The same Levan Dadiani founded a system of fortification to stop the Abkhazs, the so-called “Kelasuri Wall” (from the mouth of the river Kelasuri to Ghalidzga Canyon to North-East, a total length of about 60 km.). In the second half of the 17th century the Sharvashidzes seized the opportunity of Samegrelo being weakening and their raids towards Odishi (from Dioscuria-Sukhumi to the river Tskhenistskali) became more frequent and of regular character. By the beginning of the 18th century the south borders of the Abkhaz Principality shifted to the bank of the river Enguri. Since that period the Sharvashidzes started the ethnic assimilation of the occupied territory. With this object they settled the Abkhazs in this region on a mass scale.

In the 18th century the Principality of Abkhazia was not the unified state formation. Although, nominally, the supreme power was in the hands of the Sharvashidzes of Likhni, in fact, there were formed several independent feudal domains in the territory of Abkhazia. Samurzakano (within the present Gali region) should be especially mentioned among them.

Since the beginning of the 18th century till 1840 when Samurzakano was declared a Russian territorial-administrative unit, Samurzakano was the point of permanent dispute between the representatives of the senior (Likhni) branch of the Sharvashidze and Samegrelo Principals. In this fight the Dadiani (Samegrelo princes) mostly were victorious and Samurzakano was considered to be a part of Samegrelo-Odishi Principality (but some exceptions in the first third of the 18th-19th cc.), and its rulers, the Sharvashidzes were the vassals of the Dadianis. In the 18th both the Sharvashidzes of Samurzakano and the Sharvashidzes of Likhni were actively involved in the current political processes of the West Georgia and were the bearers of the Georgian cultural-political mentality. It is acknowledged that the representatives of the Sharvashidze family (both of Samurzakano and of Likhni), as a rule, had common Georgian names, even those who adopted Islam and served the Ottoman Empire (e.g. Batumi Beg Prince Manuchar Sharvashidze, Sukhumi Beg (Prince) Zurab Sharvashidze).

The common Georgian orientation of the Abkhaz princes was clearly expressed at the turn of the 18th-19th cc. when the Sa murzakano Sharvashidzes expressed their support of the pro-Russian orientation of the Georgian Kings Erekle II and Solomon I. Kelesh-bei Sharvashidze who was considered to be “a true Moslem” (because he came to power directly through the assistance of the Ottoman authorities) decided to review his attitude to the Ottoman Empire and become close to Russia. In February 1810 the Manifesto of Russian Emperor Alexander I was officially declared. According to it the Principality of Abkhazia was incorporated in the Russian Empire. Earlier, in 1805 Russia did the same with Samurzakano – it was annexed by the Russian Empire as part of the Samegrelo Principality.

After Abkhazia had been joined to the Russian Empire (1810), Tsarism considered it worthwhile to preserve the powers of a Principal (similar to Samegrelo). Despite this, in the first half of the 19th century, Russia still faced some difficulties in Abkhazia. The pro-Turkish forces more than once managed to arrange anti-Russian actions in Abkhazia (1821, 1824, 1830, 1840-41). In the 30s of the 19th century the Russian expedition corps after the bloody clashes managed to occupy Dali Canyon (being under the control of the Marshania Prince family). The situation was especially aggravated in Abkhazia during the Russo-Turkish war (the Crimea war of 1853-1855), when the Turkish commander Omar-Pasha succeeded in occupying Abkhazia. Abandoned by the Russians the Principal of Abkhazia Mikheil (Michael) Sharvashidze was forced to declare loyalty to Turkey. Later, in 1864 the Russian authorities accused Mikheil Sharvashidze of the cooperation with Turkey during the Crimea war and he was exiled to Russia. The Russian governance was established in Abkhazia.

The Abkhaz people retaliated with strong protest against the Russian authorities’ action. In 1866 there started a mass uprising which involved, in fact, the entire Abkhazeti. The rebels declared Giorgi Sharvashidze (the son of the last prince) a prince of Abkhazeti. The Russian authorities brutally suppressed the uprising. The suppression was followed by (1867) the mass exile (muhajiroba) of part of the Abkhazs to Turkey. The military rule came to power in Abkhazeti. The Sokhumi military district was formed. However, the anti-Russian attitude still flourished in Abkhazeti. Even the Abolition of Serfdome in 1870 did not improve the situation. The  authorities tried to win the favor of the peasants by the reform and in such a way to stabilize the situation in the region.

In 1877-1878, during another Russo-Turkish war the situation aggravated again in Abkhazeti. The Abkhazs, once again, rose against the Russian authorities. However, the defeat of Turkey in this war determined the fate of Abkhazeti. Russia gave a final blow to the Abkhaz resistance and fundamentally eradicated the anti-Russian tendencies there forever. Thus, this was the end of the devoted fight of the Abkhazs for independence. The fight, although it was for independence, in principle, differed from the anti-tsarist actions arranged in other parts of Georgia. It was an integral part of a great and long “Holy war” (Hazavat) conducted by the moslem population of the North Caucasus and headed by Imam Shamil. This played a tragic role in the life of the Abkhaz people. As a result their major part moved to Turkey. The Russian Empire authorities did not try to prevent the Abkhaz muhajiroba, even declared the Abkhazs “guilty population” and strongly encouraged their exile from the home country.

After the consolidation of the Russian governance (in 1883 the Sokhumi military district was transformed into the Sokhumi region, which was left within the Kutaisi Province), tsarism intensively started to colonize Abkhazeti. Using the false motives of “taking care” of “minor” nations, the Russian officials tried as hard as they could to separate the Abkhazs from the common-Georgian cultural and political organism. The formation of the Abkhaz alphabet on the basis of the Slavic-Russian design (cyrillic script) served this goal. Despite the great efforts of the Abkhaz leading figures, (one should mention here the great contribution of Giorgi Sharvashidze, a great patriot of Georgia, a famous poet, a worthy representative of the Georgian national independence movement, and the son of the last Principal of Abkhazeti Mikheil Sharvashidze.) the Russian power succeeded in splitting the Georgian-Abkhaz historical union. The considerable part of the Abkhaz population served the Russian imperial policy and, in fact, turned out to be separated from the progressive processes occurring in Russia in 1905-1907 and later.

After the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917 the nationalistic representatives of the “Abkhazian popular intelligentsia” tried to cut off Abkhazia from Georgia and to associate it with the so-called “South-Eastern Union”. But nothing came out of this attempt.

On June 11, 1918 the leaders of the Abkhazian Popular Council and the governing body of the Georgian Democratic Republic came to an agreement, according to which Abkhazia joined Georgia on autonomous rights. This decision was confirmed on March 20, 1919 by the newly elected Popular Council of Abkhazia (PCA). On October 16, 1920 PCA approved the draft Constitution of the Abkhazian autonomy which confirmed the autonomous status of Abkhazia within the Democratic Republic of Georgia. This statute was confirmed in the Constitution of the Georgian Democratic Republic, adopted by the Constituent Assembly on February 21, 1921.

After the forcible overthrow of the legitimate government of Georgia by the regular units of the Red Army of the Bolshevist Russia and the establishment of the Soviet power, on March 4, 1921 Abkhazia was claimed Soviet Socialistic Republic. But “the independence” of Abkhazia was only a temporary phenomenon – in accord with the leader of Abkhazian Bolsheviks N. Lakoba, “Only for an instant”. On December 16, 1921 by a special “union agreement” Abkhazian SSR entered into the Georgian SSR as the so-called “Treaty Republic”. Both the declaration of “independent” Abkhazian SSR and its “unification” with the Georgian SSR on “the agreed rights” were formal. As a fact, Abkhazia from the beginning (i.e. from the spring of 1921) was considered an autonomous part of Georgia.

In 1931 the Abkhazian SSR was officially transformed into an Autonomous Soviet Socialistic Republic (ASSR). From the 50’s of the 20-th century there began a separatist movement in Abkhazia that was aimed at tearing away the autonomous republic from Georgia. The separatists were secretly supported by the communist leadership of the USSR. This movement entered its decisive phase at the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s, when the separatists managed to inspire a fratricidal conflict. From the early autumn of 1993 when the Abkhazian separatists, with the support of their North-Caucasian “brothers”, the Cossacks and the most essential support of the regular army of the Russian Federation, managed to “win” “the war against Georgia”, the jurisprudence of Georgia no more extends onto Abkhazia and the latter is regarded as a non-recognized republic.


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С древнейших времен до 1993 г.



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