• Papaskiri- ABKHAZIA – UNFALSIFIED HISTORY
ABKHAZIA – UNFALSIFIED HISTORY
Sixteen years ago the tragic fratricidal war between the Georgians and Abkhazs temporarily deprived Georgia of Abkhazia, one of the republic’s most picturesque sites. Much has been written about the Abkhazian tragedy since, however a comprehensive and exhaustive analysis of the 1992-1993 events is still to come.
The prerequisites of the Abkhaz-Georgian confrontation go back at least one hundred years. In the 1860s, the Russian Empire drew up a so-called state program aimed at breaking up the centuries-old historical and cultural unity of Georgians and Abkhazs. In 1907, a book came out (traditionally ascribed to N. Voronov) under the provocative title of “Abkhazia – ne Gruzia” (“Abkhazia is not Georgia”).
In the 1920s, the separatist-minded groups of the so-called Abkhaz people’s intelligentsia took up the formula to develop it into what was described as program works by S. Basaria and S. Ashkhatsava. Their deliberations about Abkhazia’s past served as historiographic justification of the “state independence” of the Abkhazian SSR set up by the local Bolsheviks in March 1921. The domestic political climate of the 1950s in the USSR revived the separatist ideology in Abkhazia: the “national” history of the Abkhazs, separate from the history of Georgia, reappeared on the agenda. Still, the two volumes of Ocherki istorii Abkhazskoy ASSR (Essays on the History of the Abkhazian ASSR) written by a group of Georgian and Abkhaz historians headed by outstanding Abkhaz scholar, corresponding member of the Georgian Academy of Sciences Prof. G. Dzidzaria, firmly put history of Abkhazia into a common Georgian context.
The separatist sentiments persisted and even accelerated in the latter half of the 1960s when some Abkhaz and Russian historians, archaeologists, and writers distorted the common past of the Georgians and Abkhazians and dwelt on mostly fictitious facts of Georgian pressure on the Abkhazians. They spoke of twelve or even twenty-five centuries of Abkhaz statehood and described the region as the homeland of only the Apsua-Abkhazians invested with the exclusive right to look after the present and future of their native land.
The Georgians were dismissed as newcomers; any attempt to describe them (along with the Abkhazians) as an autochthonous group was rejected as unscientific and pernicious. This had nothing in common with genuine scholarship. For this reason certain zealous historians and writers have failed to upturn the plain facts of history and bury the very memory of the centuries-long historical, cultural, and political unity between the Georgians and Abkhazians.
The science of history has never been and will never be free from disagreements over certain issues; the history of Abkhazia is no exception, but on the whole it has been studied in great detail (thanks to the efforts, in particular, of prominent Abkhaz historians Z. Anchabadze and G. Dzidzaria). This means that a radical revision of Abkhazia’s past is hardly possible, even though historians can and should probe deeper into the individual aspects of history of Abkhazia. Such efforts are especially needed today: in the past, totalitarian ideological pressure made objective discussions of the history of Abkhazia (especially of the 19th and 20th centuries) next to impossible. Recently, Georgian historiography has been demonstrating an ever-growing interest in history Abkhazia discussed in very interesting works by T. Gamkrelidze, M. Lordkipanidze, D. Muskhelishvili, E. Khoshtaria-Brosse, N. Lomouri, G. Tsulaia, G. Gasviani, T. Mubchuani, L. Toidze, A. Menteshashvili, G. Lezhava, G. Zhorzholiani, J. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, Z. Papaskiri, B. Khorava, L. Akhaladze, D. Chitaia, and others. The definitive work Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia stands apart. It brought together the best generalizing works by prominent Georgian historians dealing with the major aspects of the history, archaeology, and ethnography of contemporary Abkhazia.
Ethnic Identity of the Earliest Population of North-Western Colchis
The ethnic and tribal identity of the autochthonous population of what is now Abkhazia is one of the most complicated historiographic problems. Like all other Georgian regions, Abkhazia was populated about half a million years ago, during the Lower Paleolithic. An analysis of the artefacts from the Early Paleolithic monuments of Abkhazia reveals their similarity to the contemporary collections from Central Colchis and the Rioni-Kvirila basin in particular. At the same time, “there is a certain similarity… to the monuments of the North-western Caucasus and the Kuban area”.
In the Late Paleolithic (about 35 thousand years ago), a unified Late Paleolithic culture took shape in Western Georgia, evidence of a certain ethno-cultural and linguistic communality. During the Mesolithic Age, Western Georgia (its northwestern part where Abkhazia is now situated) underwent further development. By that time the Caucasus had been divided into three territorial groups of monuments (Transcaucasian, Gubi, and Chokhi). The local features that had taken shape by that time at all the monuments of material culture are ascribed to the budding changes in the surmised Caucasian ethno-cultural unity.
In the Neolithic Age, the material culture on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia revealed numerous common features with the Neolithic culture of Central and Southwestern Colchis. The distinctive features identified by archaeologists are ascribed to the continued process of ethnic delimitation of the Caucasian population. It is thought that “the local specifics observed in the Late Neolithic culture probably indicate that the process of ethnic and linguistic delimitation was underway” and that “the main kindred groups of the Caucasian languages were being formed”: East Caucasian (so-called Pra-Nakho-Daghestani), West-Caucasian (or Pre-Adighe-Abkhaz), and South Caucasian (or Pra-Kartvelian).
During the Early Bronze Age (approximately starting with the mid-third millennium B.C.), the so-called Dolmen Culture appeared and spread across what is now Abkhazia; it was limited to the northwestern part of Colchis and was never discovered to the south of the Azanta, near Sokhumi. It is believed that this was caused by ethnic shifts; according to some experts the Kaska tribes from the northeastern sector of Asia Minor who spoke the Proto-Hattic language moved to the territory of contemporary Abkhazia at the turn of the second millennium B.C. This led historians to surmise that the Kaska of Asia Minor, as well as the Abeshla tribes, mixed with the local kindred population to form the Abkhaz ethnos. At the same time, there is the opinion that the entire territory of historical Colchis (stretching from the western part of the Northern Caucasus to the northeastern regions of Asia Minor) was the homeland of the Abkhaz-Adighe-Hattic tribes.
Georgian historians (O. Japaridze and others) have never denied that there was an inflow from the south, although they never accepted this as a decisive factor; by the same token they rule out significant ethnic shifts in northwestern Colchis. Indeed, the material culture of the dolmens was obviously local – a direct indication that no serious ethnic changes took place in what is now Abkhazia. Georgian archaeologists, however, do not exclude certain local specifics to the north of the Gumista River and explain them by the arrival of the first wave of Abkhaz-Adighe tribes. The main population was of Kartvelian origin (the Megrelo-Chans, Svans, and others). Academician S. Janashia, whose scholarly authority was never questioned among the Abkhazians, wrote at one time that the Kartvelian (Megrelo-Chan) population predated the Abkhaz-Adighes on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia.
Archaeological finds to the north of the Gumista dated to the so-called Colchian Culture (about the 14th-7th centuries B.C.) reveal certain specific features which identified that area as a local region of the common Colchian Culture of the Late Bronze and Early Iron ages. At the same time, the area to the north of the Gumista largely remained part of the common West Georgian culture. This means that at the turn of the first millennium B.C. no serious ethnic shifts could occur in what is now Abkhazia (to say nothing of historical Colchis as a whole, something that Yu. Voronov suggested in his book). This is confirmed by anthropological data.
It is much harder to decide which language the Bronze population of Abkhazia used. For a long time the academic community (P. Uslar, I. Javakhishvili, S. Janashia, A. Chikobava, K. Lomtatidze, E. Bokarev, and others) remained convinced that the Caucasian languages were “genetically” related. Recently, however, this conviction was shattered: scholars, some of them highly respected (G. Machavariani, T. Gamkrelidze, S. Nikolaev and S. Starostin, H. Faehnrich, and others), reject the “genetic” kinship of the Kartvelian tongues with the North Caucasian languages. The idea of kinship of the North Caucasian languages with the ancient tongues of Asia Minor is gaining recognition among scholars; until quite recently it was generally accepted that the Abkhaz-Adighe and Hattic tongues were close relatives (A. Militarev, S. Starostin, and V. Vs. Ivanov).
Purely linguistic data were studied, as well as the obvious similarity of the ethnonym “Kashki” with the medieval names of the Adighe-Circassians: Kasakhia – Kasakhi of Byzantine authors; Kashak – Kashakia of Arabian sources; Kosogi of the Old Russian chronicles; Kashagni of the Georgian chronicles, etc. On the strength of this it was usually surmised that the Kashkis of the Hittite cuneiform texts were related to the Abkhaz-Adighe tribes. This was seemingly in line with the fact that Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions of the 12th-11th centuries B.C. mention the Abeshla tribe, which, on the one hand, was interpreted as a variant (synonym) of Kashki and, on the other, was identified with the Apsil ethnonym (Apshil – Apsua).
Recently, however, the idea about the kinship between the Kashki and Abeshla tribes and the Proto-Hittite (Hattic) population of Asia Minor was radically revised. According to one of the best experts in the Hattic-Anatolian world, academician G. Giorgadze, the Kashkis and Abeshla were not necessarily related to the Hattians. More likely than not they belonged to the Colchian (Kartvelian) ethnic world. He rejected a possible kinship between the Kashkis and Abeshla and the ancestors of the Adighe-Abkhazians on the strength that the “original place of the Hattians should not be sought in Asia Minor” but in the Northwestern Caucasus, from which “they probably moved to the northern part of Central Anatolia.”
The above suggests that in the primitive age, starting with the Upper Paleolithic, the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was part of the area of a uniform material culture created, in all probability, by ethnically kindred tribes with common Caucasian roots. In the Bronze Age (or even earlier), a certain paleo-Caucasian ethnic communality was differentiated, which gave rise to local specifics inside the uniform material culture. This makes it possible to identify a local region on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia to the north of the Gumista created by the ethnically specific population of the region that differed from the rest of the regions of historical Colchis. The ancestors of the contemporary Abkhazians probably formed part of its ancient population. There are no doubts about the rest of Colchis, including part of Abkhazia to the south of the Gumista: these parts were populated by those who created the Colchian Culture (Megrelo-Chans, Svans, and other Kartvelian tribes). At the same time, Kartvelian tribes probably settled in the northern part of contemporary Abkhazia.
Ethnic Map and State-Political Makeup of North-Western Colchis between the First Millennium B.C. and the 8th Century A.D.
The earliest written information about the tribes of the Northwestern Caucasus was supplied by Hecataeus of Miletus (in the 6th century B.C.) in his Periegesis (Tour Around the World), where he mentioned the “Kols living on the lower slopes of the Caucasian Range and the Koraxes living to the west of them.” In his Ethnica dictionary, Stephanus of Byzantium (the 6th century B.C.), who preserved bits and pieces of Hecataeus’ work, called them the Colchian tribes. Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax of Carianda (4th century B.C.) directly indicated that the territory “to the south of the Koraxes and Kols between Dioscuria (now Sokhumi) and the Apsarosa River (the Chorokhi River) was populated by… the Colchis in early antiquity.”
It has been long established that the Colchis were a West Georgian (Megrelo-Chan) tribe even though some scholars still insist that the Colchis were Abkhazians. It should be said that the term could be described as a blanket one for several (including some of the non-Kartvelian) tribes, yet the original ethnic content of the ethnonym “Colchis” presupposed the West Georgian Megrelo-Chan population and other Kartvelian tribes living within historical Colchis.
The above leaves no doubts about the fact that in the first millennium B.C. the territory of contemporary Abkhazia – its foothills and the coastal area – were populated by Western Kartvelian tribes: Kols, Koraxes, Colchis, and probably Moskhs (Meskhs) Ancient Greek authors (Hellanicos of Mytilene, 5th century B.C.) registered that at the same time the tribes of Heniokhs lived in northwestern Colchis. According to contemporary historians, they lived in the area stretching from the vicinity of Pitiunt (contemporary Bichvinta – Pitsunda) to the Akheunta River (the Shakhe, at what is now Tuapse). Most people believe that the Heniokhs were a Kartvelian (either Megrelo-Chan or Svan) tribe, however the ethnonym could serve as a blanket term for “tribes of various origins.” It seems that those Abkhaz scholars who speak of a genetic kinship between the Heniokhs and ancient Abkhazians are wrong.
In the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., the ethnic map of northeastern Colchis changed under the pressure of new tribes: the Sanigs (who used to live between Sokhumi-Sebastopolis and what is now Gantiadi). Most of the academic community speaks of them as belonging to the Kartvelian ethnic world, even though it is thought that they may be of Abkaz-Adighe origin. The former offer the following argument: (1) The ethnonym “Sanigi” contains the easily identified root “sani” of the Megrelo-Chan origin – the Greek form of the ethnonym “Chani” („ჭანი“); (2) the oldest Georgian name of Dioscuria – Sebastopolis (contemporary Sokhumi) – Tskhumi means “hornbeam” in the Svan language. A Svan toponym could have appeared in the vicinity of Sokhumi-Dioscuria only if the place was populated by Svans. Since after the 8th century (the earliest mention of the “city of Apshileti-Tskhumi” in a Georgian chronicle) Tskhumi was no longer a Svan city (it was a city of the Apshileti-Apsilia) and it is hard to detect traces of Svan tribes in the vicinity of Sokhumi, we can surmise that the Svan toponym of Sokhumi should be dated to the period before the 8th century. There is every reason to say that the Svan name of Sokhumi can be related to the period prior to the 1st century B.C. when, according to ancient Greek geographer Strabo (64 B.C.-20 A.D.), “Svans dominated” the mountain peaks around Sokhumi-Dioscuria; according to the practically documentary evidence of Flavius Arrianus, another Greek author of the 2nd century A.D., “Sebastopolis was situated” on the lands of the Svans (that is, the Sanigs). Well-known information supplied by Claudius Ptolemy (2nd century A.D.) can serve as almost documentary confirmation that “Svano-Colchians,” a mixed Svano-Megrelian tribe of sorts, lived on the northern border of Colchis, to the northwest of Dioscuria, along the Korax River (the Bzyb in contemporary academic writings).
Information about the Apsils and Abazgs, who probably lived on the territory between the rivers Galidzga and Kelasuri, first appeared in the written sources of the 1st-2nd centuries A.D. Later they moved to the northwest and in the 5th-6th centuries A.D. were living somewhere in the Kodori (or the Kelasuri) and Bzyb interfluve. In the 8th century, the city of Tskhumi belongs to Apshileti (Apsilia). Historians ascribe the northward shift of the Abazgs and Apsils by the pressure of the Laz tribes.
It was long believed that the Apsils and Abazgs were ancestors of the contemporary Abkhazians until a prominent Georgian philologist Pavel Ingorokva revised the earlier ideas in the 1950s and argued that the Abazg-Abkhazs and Apsils of the Early Middle Ages were Kartvelian tribes. Official Georgian historiography, however, and particularly its leader of that time, Academician N. Berdzenishvili, treated Pavel Ingorokva’s hypothesis with a lot of caution and preferred the old interpretation. This is amply confirmed by all the definitive works on the history of Georgia-Abkhazia published in the 1950s-1980s starting with Ocherki istorii Abkhazskoy ASSR and ending with textbooks and other teaching aids on the history of Georgia (including History of Georgia, a textbook for students, ed. by Academician N. Berdzenishvili, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 1958, in Georgian) and the main work: eight volumes of a fundamental publication called Essays on the History of Georgia (ed. Academician G. Melikishvili) which never contested the idea that the Abazg-Apsils belonged to the Abkhaz-Adighe ethnic world. Pavel Ingorokva was severely criticized by Abkhaz scholars. Recently some Georgian historians have been carried away by the idea of reviving Pavel Ingorokva’s hypothesis at all costs; so far they have not succeeded.
The problem of the ethnic identity of the Abazg-Apsils requires clarification of the terms “Abazg,” “Abkhaz,” “Abaza,” and “Apsil,” on the one hand, and “Apsar” and “Apsua,” on the other. It was believed for a long time that the ethnonyms “Abazg,” “Abkhaz,” and “Abaza” were identical. The latter was associated with the “Apsua” ethnonym, which is believed to be derived from the phonetically kindred “Abaza.” Recently Academician T. Gamkrelidze voiced his serious doubts about the identity of the terms “Abazg” and “Abaza,” which he believes to be two independent terms. The Greek form “Abazg” is derived from the Georgian “Abkhaz,” by which he means not the ancestors of “Abaza”-“Apsua,” but a Western Kartvelian tribe. Today, the identical nature of the ethnonyms “Apsil,” “Apsar,” and “Apsua” is doubted. According to Academician D. Muskhelishvili, “Apsil” cannot be regarded as an equivalent of “Apsua;” he applies the term “Apsils” to a West Georgian tribe.
The early medieval written sources mention the Misimian tribes living on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia (in the Kodori Gorge, beyond the Tsebelda). They obviously belonged to the Kartvelian (Svan) ethnic world since the Misimian ethnonym goes back to “Mushvan,” the Svans’ self-name. The efforts of certain Abkhaz historians to detach the Misimians, together with the Sanig-Heniokhs, from the Kartvelian ethnic world have nothing to do with strict academic logic. In the early Middle Ages, the Lazs also inhabited the territory of Abkhazia. They probably lived mainly in its southern areas, but we cannot exclude that some of them lived in the north (this is confirmed by the toponym “Old Lazika” that specialists localize at the mouth of the Negopsukho River, to the northwest of Tuapse).
This means that starting around mid-first millennium B.C. (we have specific written Ancient Greek information about the ethnic situation in northwestern Colchis of those times), the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was inhabited only by Kartvelian (Colchian) tribes (Kols, Koraxes, Colchians proper, Heniokhs, and probably Moskhis-Meskhis. At the same time, the ethnonym “Colchians” could have been a blanket term extended to other Kartvelian and non-Kartvelian (the Abkhazo-Adighe tribes included) tribes. Starting in the 1st-2nd centuries, the Apsils and Abazgs (most believe that they were the ancestors of the contemporary Abkhazians) were registered on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia. It should be said that both occupied a limited area (at the first stage – in the 1st-2nd A.D. – somewhere between the rivers of Galidzga and Kelasuri). Later, by the 5th-6th centuries, they moved up north and settled between the rivers of Kodori (or Kelasuri) and Bzyb in the territory of contemporary Abkhazia. The Georgian tribes of Sanigs, Misimians, and Lazs comprised the bulk of the population living both in the south and in the north. It should be pointed out that it is unimportant whether or not the Apsils and Abazgs were ancestors of the contemporary Abkhazians, or whether contemporary Abkhazia was their original homeland. What is important is the fact that the Abkhaz-Adighe and Kartvelian (mainly Megrelo-Chan) tribes contributed to the emergence of the Abkhaz ethnos formed in the territory of contemporary Abkhazia.
It is equally obvious that from early antiquity to the 8th century (with short intervals) northwestern Colchis, or the territory of contemporary Abkhazia, remained part of the West Georgian (first the Colchian and then Laz-Egrisi) political and state structures and that Abkhazians’ political and state activities proceeded within this expanse.
It is thought that the earliest states appeared on Georgian territory in at least the late second millennium B.C. It was at that time that Assyrian cuneiform texts first mentioned the “countries” of Daiaeni (later Diaukhi in the Urartu sources) and Kilkhi identified as Kolkha (Colchis) of the Argonauts period. About the 7th-6th centuries B.C. another state appeared in Western Georgia on the ruins of the Colchian alliance headed, according to Ancient Greek authors, by descendants of the legendary king Ayet; it is surmised that its northwestern border should be sought in the vicinity of contemporary Tuapse, where Old Lazika was situated in the past. This clearly suggests that the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was part of the Colchian kingdom as an “organic ethnical and territorial sector” of the Colchian state. It seems that the opposite opinion (about an independent Abkhaz national state unit) is unfounded.
By the early 1st century B.C. there was no longer a united state in Colchis; it is commonly believed that the tribes united under the Colchian king had regained their independence by that time. It was at that time that Mithridates VI of Pontus had gained control over the territory of historical Colchis; in 65 B.C. Rome arrived in these places to establish its hegemony. In the 1st-2nd centuries A.D. new ethnopolitical units appeared in the territory of historical Colchis – the so-called kingdoms of Makrons and Heniokhs, Lazs, Apsils, Abazgs, and Sanigs. The territory of contemporary Abkhazia was divided among Lazika (approximately up to the River Galidzga), Apsilia and Abazgia (approximately between the rivers of Galidzga and Kelasuri), and Sanigia with the city of Sebastopolis (contemporary Sokhumi), which stretched to Sochi or even to Tuapse. This means that the larger part of contemporary Abkhazia was occupied by the states of the Sanigs and Lazs (the tribes the Kartvelian origin of which is no longer contested). The kingdoms of the Apsils and Abazgs alone can be described as Abkhaz ethno-political units.
These were early class state units headed by dynasts appointed or endorsed by Rome. Around the 3rd century, the Kingdom of Lazika supported by the Roman authorities started its headlong movement into Western Georgia; by the late 4th century it had already spread throughout the entire territory (including contemporary Abkhazia) and become a fairly strong Laz (Egrisi) Kingdom described by contemporary Byzantine authors as a legal heir to the ancient Colchian Kingdom. At that time (6th century A.D.) the territory of what is now Abkhazia remained an organic part of the Lazika-Egrisi state even though the rulers of Abazgia (found at that time within new borders – probably between the Gumista and Bzyb rivers) enjoyed a great share of sovereignty and merely formally accepted the Laz kings as their sovereigns. Apsilia, in turn, remained an administrative part of Lazika and was ruled by officials appointed from the center.
In the 5th-6th centuries, the Byzantine Empire, which was seeking greater loyalty from the Laz kings, encouraged the Abazgian rulers’ desire to shift their subordination from Lazika to the empire. It was probably at that time (first half of the 6th century) that the Byzantine authorities separated Abazgia and Egrisi religiously by setting up a diocese in Abazgia independent of the Laz metropolitan. This and the political tension in Western Georgia caused by the Iranian-Byzantine war that had been going on for twenty years interfered with the political consolidation of the Egrisi state. A period of gradual decline set in. Throughout the second half of the 6th and first half of the 7th centuries, the Byzantine Empire was increasing its pressure on the central power of Lasika-Egrisi in an attempt to cut down its influence in the provinces. In the mid-7th century, however, Apsilia and Misiminia still remained under the direct control of the Lazika rulers; one of their residences was found at Mokvi (now the Ochamchire area).
Such was the political and state makeup of Western Georgia-Abkhazia between the first millennium B.C. and about the early 8th century A.D. The quoted data testify beyond doubt that throughout this long period the territory of contemporary Abkhazia (politically and administratively) was part of the Georgian political and state entity. In the 6th-1st centuries B.C. it was part of the Colchian Kingdom. In the 4th century A.D., after a short interval of independence, small ethno-political units of Sanigs, Abazgs, and Apsils and later of Misimians that had sprung into existence at the turn of the 2nd century A.D. found themselves once more within a united Western Georgian state, the Laz (Egrisi) Kingdom, where they remained almost until the early 8th century. Abazgia, which the Byzantine Empire had earlier (in the 6th century) removed from Lazika jurisdiction, was the only exception.
The Kingdom of the “Abkhazs” was a Georgian State
While the Laz-Egrisi Kingdom was gradually losing its former influence after the twenty-year long (542-562) Iranian-Byzantine confrontation, Abazgia-Abkhazia was gaining strength in Western Georgia with the help of the Byzantine Empire. By the mid-730s, when famous Arabian warlord Mervan ibn-Muhammad burst into Western Georgia with a punitive expedition, there was no local dynast there. Lazika-Egrisi was considered part of the Kartli Saerismtavro. The borders of the state (which the sources for the first time called saqarTvelo (Georgia) ran along the Kelasuri River, beyond which lay Abkhazia, a Byzantine possession ruled by the emperor-appointed eristav.
The old Georgian historical tradition associates the Murvan Kru expedition to Western Georgia and its results with the changes in the country’s political and state structures. The Byzantine Empire, in particular, officially recognized Mihr and Archil, members of the ruling House of Kartli, as leaders of Georgia and kings of Kartli-Egrisi and made Leon, eristav of Abkhazia, a hereditary ruler of Abkhazia. It was at the same time that Caesar’s Eristav Leon married one of Mihr’s daughters, thus bringing the two ruling houses closer; he also became an equal member of the ruling House of Kartli-Egrisi. The Abkhazian ruler went even further: he declined Archil’s offer of territorial possessions, who became the only official ruler of Kartli-Egrisi upon the death of Mihr, the elder of the two brothers, and announced himself a vassal of the Kartli erismtavar and his possessions, part of the state of King Archil. He was lavishly recompensed in the political respect with a royal crown the Byzantine emperor sent to his father-in-law Mihr. This pushed the Abkhazian ruler to the forefront of Georgian politics and made him de facto the second important person in the state after King Archil. His political career received a fresh impetus.
In this way, in the 730s Georgia received a new political and state context. Eastern and Western Georgia, including the territory to the north of the Kelasuri (that is, Abkhazia of that time), was legally united into one state headed by erismtavar Archil of the House of Kartli.
By the late 8th century, another member of the House of Leon, Leon II, nephew of Leon, skillfully used the growing weakness of the Byzantine Empire to detach his state from it with the help of the Khazars; he usurped power in the Egrisi-Abkhazeti state unified by his predecessor and announced himself the king of the Abkhazs. This was how the so-called kingdom of the “Abkhazs” came into being. It should be said that the early Georgian historical tradition unequivocally associated this act with a dynastic crisis in the royal House of Archil. According to the anonymous author of Matiane Kartlisa (an 11th-century chronicle), Leon II succeeded merely because “Iovan was dead, and Juansher had grown old. (Soon) after that he also died.” Since Leon II, the eristav of Abkhazia, called himself king of the Abkhazs (mepe apkhazta) both inside and outside Georgia, the new state became known as the country of the king of the “Abkhazs,” that is, the Kingdom of the “Abkhazs,” or simply Abkhazia. The changed name did not mean that the country also changed it national-political makeup or that an absolutely new Abkhaz national state proper appeared within the limits of Western Georgia, claimed by the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia of our days as its legal predecessor. In fact it is the contemporary Georgian state that is the legal heir to it.
There are any number of countries whose names do not correspond to their content: Bulgaria, for example, got its name from its founder Bulgarian Khan Asparukh who moved from Volga Bulgaria to the Balkans. Kievan Rus is another example: it has been recognized that the country’s name is of Scandinavian origin, which it acquired from founders Oleg, Riurik, and others, who were Normans. Even the most zealous supporters of the so-called Norman theory would agree that from the very beginning Kievan Rus was a purely Slavic not a Norman-Scandinavian state. The same can be said about the Spanish precedent: when in 1700 Duke of Anjou, grandson of the French King Louis XIV, was put on the Spanish throne as Philip V, the Spanish state did not become France.
For the same reason separatist historiography is wrong when it insists that the Kingdom of Abkhazs, the national state of the Apsua-Abkhazians, appeared as a result of the military victories of the ruler of Abkhazia in Western Georgia. If the “Abkhaz” dynasty came to power in the former Laz-Egrisi Kingdom as a foreign force that occupied the neighboring territory and imposed an alien Abkhazian statehood on the local Georgian population, one would be left wondering why the medieval Georgian public and political mentality accepted the act of aggression peacefully and painlessly. Even a superficial reader of the monuments of Old Georgian historical literature cannot fail to note that all medieval Georgian authors and chroniclers described the kings of the “Abkhazs” and their activities in the most favorable terms. Indeed, could the patriotically minded author of the Chronicle of Kartli, the only more or less exhaustive source on the history of the Kingdom of the “Abkhazs” that fully reflects the Georgian (let me repeat – Georgian) rather than the imaginary Abkhaz-Apsua national-state reality, flatter and praise the frightening “Abkhaz” kings who had allegedly conquered Georgia?
An explanation suggests itself: the Georgian society looked at the king of the “Abkhazs” not as aliens or conquerors, but as their own leaders like, for example, members of the Bagration dynasty. This was one common Georgian cultural, political, and state expanse ruled for a while by a new “Abkhaz” dynasty. No matter who Leon II and his descendants were in the ethnic and tribal respect (they might even have been ethnic Abkhazians), this means nothing since in the political and state respect the dynasty of the Leonids represented a common Georgian state, cultural, and political world.
Leon II and his descendants were building up a Georgian not an Abkhaz-Apsua state; this is confirmed by their policy in the religious sphere. After gaining state independence, the Leonids spared no effort to leave the ideological and confessional sphere of Byzantium and set up a national state ideology, a task that could not be accomplished without severing church ties with the empire. They finally gained independence from Byzantium in the religious sphere and set up a so-called Catholicosate of “Abkhazia”. After acquiring Church independence, the kings of the “Abkhazs” plunged into hectic activities: they founded new church centers and encouraged Georgian written culture and Georgian Christian literacy across Western Georgia, and on the territory of contemporary Abkhazia, among other things. Simultaneously they replaced the old Greek dioceses with newly established Georgian eparchies.
It was thanks to this obviously Georgian national policy of the kings of the “Abkhazs” in the religious sphere that by the 10th century (not the 11th or 12th centuries) Western Georgia as a whole (complete with the territory of contemporary Abkhazia) became a country of Georgian written culture and literacy. If the “Abkhaz” kings intended to build an Abkhaz-Apsua national state they would have looked after the Abkhaz-Apsua national ideology, which would have required Abkhaz written tradition and literature. They never posed themselves this task; for some reason, they opposed the Greco-Byzantine ideology with the Georgian national ideology represented by the Georgian Church.
This suggests the only explanation: Leon II and his ancestors, to say nothing of his descendants (despite their possible Abkhaz-Apsua ethnic origins), considered themselves to be part of the common Georgian state, cultural, and political world even before Leon II came to power. They treated the Georgian language used by the Eastern Kart-Georgians that formed the foundation of the Georgian literary tongue as well as Georgian Christian culture as their own in the same way as they were treated by the rest of the Kartvelian population of Western Georgia, including the Megrelo-Chans and Svans who spoke (and are still using now) their own dialects.
Even if we admit, for the sake of argument, that the kings of the “Abkhazs” did have a limited Abkhaz national and state mentality, at least at the early stages of the history of their state, their obvious political ambitions would have forced them to take into account the national and state interests of the population’s absolute majority and to steer toward a Georgian (not an Abkhaz-Apsua) state. No reasonable-minded person would contest the fact that the Kartvelian tribes were in the majority in the “Abkhaz” state. Indeed, of the eight saeristavos of kingdom of the “Abkhazs” set up (according to the old historical tradition created by Prince Vakhushti) by Leon II, only the lands to the north of the Gumista were populated by ethnic Abkhazians. Their area stretched to Nikopsia (to the north of the city of Tuapse of our times); small numbers of them might have lived in the Tskhumi eristav. All the other ersitavs, the Tskhumi Eristav included, were the home of the Kartvelian tribes (the Meglero-Chans, Svans, and Karts).
According to Z. Anchabadze, one of the best specialists on history of Abkhazia, the Kartvelian ethnic element, especially the Karts (the numerical strength of whom had considerably increased in Western Georgia by the 8th century), turned out to be more advanced in the socioeconomic and especially cultural respect. This made the language of the Karts (that is, the Georgian literary language) with a writing tradition of its own used for a long time as the state tongue and the language of church services in Eastern and Southern Georgia the state language of the Kingdom of the “Abkhazs.”
More than that, the kings of the “Abkhazs” made Kutaisi, not Tsikhe-Goji, the residence of the Laz-Egrisi kings, the capital of their state. This testifies to the outstanding role of the Kart (East Georgian) element in Western Georgia. In the general Georgian context this fact was associated by the Old Georgian tradition with the emergence of the Kartli erismtavars in the 730s. The Leonids obviously regarded themselves as the legal heirs to the royal House of Stepanos-Archil; by moving the capital from Anakopia (the residence of the eristavs of Abkhazia) to Kutaisi, Leon II obviously intended to confirm his legal position as a member of the House of Archil.
This means that the Kingdom of the “Abkhazs” was a new West Georgian state that appeared on the ruins of the Lasika-Egrisi state. Moreover, the appearance of the “Abkhaz” kingdom opened a qualitatively new stage in the history of Georgian statehood. As distinct from its immediate predecessor (to say nothing of ancient Colchis), the national-state development of which stopped halfway (the Greek language was used for official papers and church services), the “Abkhaz” Kingdom can be described as the first genuinely Georgian national state with a Georgian Christian ideology and Georgian state language in Western Georgia. Its political course was likewise Georgian: the state was firm when it came to common Georgian political and state interests. The consistent efforts of the Kutaisi rulers who painstakingly extended and strengthened their kingdom finally led, in the early 11th century, to a united Georgian state under the aegis of the kings of the “Abkhazians.”
The Territory of Contemporary Abkhazia as a Part of the United Georgian Monarchy in the 11th-15th Centuries
The long process of unification of the Georgian lands was finally completed at the turn of the 11th century when a single state headed by King of the “Abkhazs” and “Kartvelians” Bagrat III Bagrationi was formed. This means that the two states – the kingdom of the “Abkhazs” (Western Georgian) and the kingdom of the “Kartvels” (Tao-Klarjeti, a South Georgian state going back to the early 9th century) – were united. The title of the king of the unified Georgian state started with “King of the Abkhazs” to emphasize the leading role of the West Georgian state – the Kingdom of the “Abkhazs” – in the unification process. It was the Kutaisi throne that gathered all the Georgian lands and created a common Georgian statehood; this had nothing to do with the change of dynasties, since Prince Bagrat ascended the West Georgian throne not as a Bagrationi, but as a legitimate member (on his mother’s side) of the Leonid dynasty. He was grandson (son of a daughter) of Giorgi II (922-957), the most outstanding among the kings of the “Abkhazs.”
Under Bagrat III the Kingdom of the “Abkhazs” remained practically the same in the ethnopolitical and state-legal respect; it merely expanded to the rest of the Georgian territory (with the exception of the Tbilisi Emirate and the southern part of Tao that belonged to David Kuropalate) and became a Georgian state. In the 11th and 12th centuries, all the Georgian chroniclers called their country (Georgia) Abkhazia, usually giving no comments. The same can be said of foreign sources, which when dealing with the events of the 11th-12th centuries used the term “Abkhazia” (Abazgia, Obezi, etc.) to describe Georgia and the united Georgian state.
No matter how hard certain researchers are looking for elements of national Abkhaz statehood and a sort of autonomy inside the common Georgian state of the 11th-12th century, the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was not a single national unit. Since the time of Leon II, founder of the “Abkhaz” kingdom, it was divided into eristavs: Abkhazian (the northern part approximately from the River Gumista or Anakopia (New Athon) to Nikopsia (to the north of Tuapse), Tskhumi (part of what is now the Gudauta District up to Anakopia, the Sokhumi and Gulripsh districts and part of the Ochamchire District), and Bedia (part of the Ochamchire and Gali districts). Throughout the 11th-12th centuries, the Abkhazians proper were involved in the military-political acts of the Georgian state; they fought all the battles and were not different from the rest of the population of the single Georgian state.
According to prominent Abkhaz historian and ethnographer Sh. Inal-ipa, the territory of contemporary Abkhazia within the single Georgian state “was anything but a forgotten province.” In the 11th-12th centuries, the Georgian kings could always rely on the eristavs on the territory of what is now Abkhazia in their struggle against the feudal opposition. It stands to reason that the first king of united Georgia Bagrat III selected Bedia (in the Ochamchire District) as one (or even the main) of his residences where he built a impressive temple where he was buried later on. There are no facts to support the allegations of certain historians about the anti-governmental or even separatist-minded Abkhaz feudal lords who resented the liquidation of the “Abkhaz” kingdom. The opposite looks more plausible: they were the most loyal subjects of the kings of united Georgia, who called themselves kings of the “Abkhazs.” At all times the Abkhaz nobility played an important role at the royal court in Kutaisi and Tbilisi (where David IV the Builder moved his capital). The eristavs in the Abkhazian territory (the Tskhumi Eristav in particular) became even more important. The city of Tskhumi-Sokhumi became the summer residence of the Georgian kings. According to well-known Russian scholar V. Sizov, it became an important “cultural and administrative center of the Georgian state.”
In the 11th-12th centuries, the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was an area of Georgian Christian culture. By that time numerous Christian churches had been built. The Bedia Cathedral erected by King Bagrat III, who united Georgia, and the temple of Bagrat in Kutaisi were symbols of the united Georgian state. The Lykhni (built at the edge of the 10th-11th century) and the Bichvintha (12th century) cathedrals are outstanding monuments of Georgian Christian architecture. The Christian churches in the territory of contemporary Abkhazia were centers of Georgian literacy and enlightenment. At that time, the region’s written culture was exclusively Georgian; nearly all surviving inscriptions dated to the 11th and 12th centuries carved in stone are in Georgian which means that in the 11th-12th centuries Abkhazia was still a country of the Georgian medieval Christian culture.
In the 13th century, Georgia’s military-political might was undermined first by the devastating inroads of Khorezm Shah Jalal ad-Din and then by the Mongol conquerors who disrupted the unified Georgian state. In the 1240s, Mongols divided Georgia into eight military-administrative sectors (dumans), two of them were found in Western Georgia. The territory of contemporary Abkhazia formed part of the duman administered by Tsotne Dadiani, while the local population (including the ethnic Abkhazs) was still actively involved in the common Georgian processes. It was with their support that “David, son of Rusudan, was proclaimed the king of the Abkhazs up to the Likh Range.” From that time on (the latter half of the 13th century), the united Georgian state continued de facto as two kingdoms: Eastern Georgia was ruled by David Ulu, son of Georgi Lasha, while David Narin set up an independent state in Western Georgia (Likht Imereti) that survived until the late 1320s. The territory of contemporary Abkhazia belonged to the latter.
The death of David Narin in 1293 triggered squabbles in Western Georgia that allowed Eristav of Odishi (Megrelia) Giorgi Dadiani to “gain control over the Tskhomi Saeristavo and take possession of the entire territory of Odishi up to Anakopia, while Sharvashidze established himself in Abkhazia…” This is especially interesting because it confirms beyond doubt that the entire territory of the Tskhumi Saeristavo up to Anakopia (now called New Athon) belonged to Odishi-Megrelia.
The West Georgian eristavs obviously wanted to tighten grip on their possessions, and the Likht-Imereti kings being an obvious obstacle. This explains the relative enthusiasm with which the West Georgian eristavs hailed Giorgi V the Magnificent (1314-1346) in Kutaisi where he removed Bagrat, grandson of David Narin, from power. The enthusiasm of the eristavs of Odishi, Guria, Svaneti, and Abkhazia was probably not quite sincere – they were merely too weak to stand opposed to the Georgian king and had to meet him “with great gifts and welcome his rule in Imereti and the whole of Georgia.” In this way they probably preserved their status as hereditary rulers. This allowed Giorgi V to proceed further without many problems to finally gain control over the whole of Western Georgia. Prince Vakhushti wrote that the king “entered Odishi and moved from it to Abkhazia, where he dealt with the local problems and established his control over the fortresses.” The fact that for some reason Giorgi V reserved the Abkhazian fortresses for himself deserves mention; he returned the Tskhumi Saeristavo to the eristav of Odishi (“Bedieli”).
Throughout the 14th century the West Georgian eristavs, including the eristavs of Abkhazia, Sharvashidze, remained loyal to the central authorities, that is, to the Tbilisi throne, thus contributing to the continued unity of the common Georgian state. At the same time, the Dadiani, the rulers of Odishi (Megrelia) supported by the central authorities, were gradually gaining might to spite the Imereti Bagrationis and became the actual leaders of Western Georgia. Throughout the 14th century they owned the Tskhumi Saeristavo and extended their influence to the eristavs of Abkhazia – Sharvashidze. According to Arabic (al-Muhibbi and al-Kalkashandi) and West European (Iosaphat Barbaro) sources, in the 14th-15th centuries Megrelia “stretched to Circassia,” which means that Abkhazia up to Circassia was within Odishi, while “Dadimani (Dadiani) ruled Sokhumi and Abkhaz.” Tskhumi-Sokhumi was the capital of the Odishi-Megrelian rulers, it was in this city that Vamek I (1384-1396), the most influential of the Dadianis, minted his coins.
Early in the 15th century, Georgian King Giorgi VII (1393-1407) confirmed the rights of Mamia, who ruled after Vamek I Dadiani, to the Tskhumi possessions. According to foreign authors, in the mid-15th century Dadiani, the rulers of Odishi were recognized as the “kings of Megrelia and Abkhazia.” The fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the much more noticeable presence of the Ottoman Turks in the northern and eastern Black Sea areas largely changed the geopolitical configuration in the region and worsened the situation in contemporary Abkhazian territory. In 1454, the Turks landed the first of their armed groups in Sokhumi and plundered the city and the Abkhazian coast. Georgian King Giorgi VIII (1446-1466) immediately entered Abkhazia and “returned the local people to their homes, restored the fortifications and, after coping with the task, went back to Geguti” (one of the royal residences close to contemporary Kutaisi).
In the 1460s, the Abkhazian Saeristavo remained part of Georgian political universe. Prince Sharvashidze supported Bagrat Bagrationi who “proclaimed himself king of Likht-Imereti” (Western Georgia) and received “power over the Abkhazs and Jicks” from the Kutaisi king. In the latter half of the 15th century, the Abkhazian Saeristavo recognized the ruler of Odishi-Megrelia as its suzerain. “Upper Abkhazia” was part of the Odishi Principality, while “the Sharvashidzes ruled Abkhazia up to Jiqeti” and “did not always obey Dadiani.”_ _____ _0__ ____
Ethnical, Political, Social and Cultural Makeup of Abkhazia in the 16th Century and up to 1864
In the 16th century the territory of contemporary Abkhazia witnessed dramatic changes: it gradually turned from a highly developed feudal region with a Christian culture and literacy into a backward country with a primitive patriarchal economy and revived pagan beliefs. The changes that took place during the 16th and 17th centuries were brought about by the onslaught of North Caucasian ethnically close Jicko-Abkhaz tribes that first invaded the Abkhazian Saeristavo and later spread across the rest of contemporary Abkhazian territory. Historians, including Abkhaz historians, never doubted that the Adighe legends about “conquering Abkhazia” in the first quarter of the 15th century by Adighe leader Inal and Abazin princes Ashe and Shahe, his two allies, tell the real story of “how one after another tribes and people came to Abkhazia from somewhere in the North, from beyond the mountains.”
Mountain dwellers trickled down to the valleys at all times; it was probably a never-ending process, however the strong Georgian feudal state and society and their equally strong legal order coped with the onslaught of primitive tribes. The newcomers gradually adjusted to the state’s social and economic system to become an inalienable part of Georgian feudal society. Everything changed when state power proved unable to ensure law and order across the entire territory. The slackened grip allowed the vast mountain regions in particular to revive their primitive past. The first indications of this appeared in the 13th century when initial signs of the “Ossetian threat” appeared in Eastern Georgia. In the first quarter of the 14th century Giorgi V the Magnificent blocked the drive of the Ossets and restored law and order in Shida Kartli.
Western Georgia felt pressure from the mountains in the late 14th century where the Jicko-Abkhaz tribes presented the greatest threat to the Abkhazian Saeristavo. The House of Sharvashidze, which for many centuries had been associated with Georgian law and order in the region, not merely remained passive in the face of the tribal onslaught. It served as the main instrument for further infiltration of these mountain tribes in the southeastern direction in an effort to defeat the Odishi potentates.
Throughout the 16th century, however, a large part of what today is Abkhazia “as far as Sukhum” remained the “land of the Dadianis.” Early in the 17th century members of the House of Sharvashidze, aware of the weakened Odishi-Megrelia rulers, moved against the Dadiani House. It is commonly believed that this was when an Abkhazian principality independent from Odishi-Megrelia appeared. The Odishi potentate still owned his residence in Merkula (contemporary Ochamchire District) where Levan II Dadiani signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1615.
In the 1630s Levan II Dadiani (1611-1637) moved into Abkhazia; his troops reached the River Kapoetistskali (the Bzyb) and remained for some time in control of the Sharvashidze House. Later, the Abkhazians resumed their devastating inroads into the Odishi domains, thus forcing Levan II Dadiani to build fortifications along the Kelasuri, the so-called Kelasuri Wall, “sixty thousand steps long.” According to Italian missionary Archangelo Lamberti who lived for a long time in Megrelia, the wall was built in the middle of the 17th century to put a halt to the Abkhaz raids.
In the latter half of the 17th century the Abkhazians penetrated beyond the Kelasuri Wall and pushed their border with Odishi to the Kodori River; later they conquered the territory between the Kodori and Inguri rivers. By the early 18th century the Abkhazians acquired their contemporary territory. From the very beginning they had no strong central power; early in the 18th century it fell apart into three essentially independent parts: the northern part between the Bzyb and Kodori rivers under Rostom, the elder son of Zegnak Sharvashidze; the land between the Kodori and Galidzga (Abjua, Abkhazian for the midland) was transferred to Jikeshia, the second son, while Kvapu, the younger son, inherited the Galidzga-Inguri interfluve, which upon his death was ruled by his son Murzakan (hence the name of the region, Samurzakano).______________________
Despite the general cultural decline caused by the revived primitive order, Abkhazia still remained part of the area of the Georgian written culture and literacy. Judging by deeds, oath books, and other documents of the Abkhazian princes’ chancelleries Georgian remained the official language. As late as the latter half of the 18th century when the Ottoman Empire put more pressure on Abkhazia and forced the princes of the Sharvashidze House to confess Islam Abkhazia still partly remained within the Georgian state, political, cultural, and linguistic space.
This means that the Jicko-Abkhaz expansion to the southeast organized by the Abkhazian House of Sharvashidze and the fact that it managed to remain on the territories that earlier belonged
to Odishi-Megrelian rulers can be described, despite certain specifics, as typical feudal strife. When moving into the Odishi territory the Sharvashidze House had no intention of setting up an Apsua-Abkhaz state totally independent of the Georgian state and political system. The rulers of Abkhazia merely tried, very much as Dadiani of Megrelia and Guriely of Guria, to move higher in the Georgian state and political structure.
By the early 19th century the geopolitical situation in the Caucasus changed: in the latter half of the 18th century the Russian Empire actively built up its presence along its southern borders topush Turkey out of the Northern and Eastern Black Sea area. The Georgian states (Kartli-Kakheti and Imereti) were openly supporting and encouraging Russia’s military-political activity. Members of the Sharvashidze House, its Samurzakano branch in particular, marched together with the Georgian leaders and supported their anti-Turkish sentiments. In 1771 Samurzakano Prince Levan Sharvashidze took part in the siege of the Poti fortress (together with the Odishi detachment) carried out by the Russian expeditionary corps under General A. Sukhotin during the Russo-Turkish
War of 1768-1774. Potentate of Abkhazia Zurab Sharvashidze joined the anti-Ottoman drive: supported by Levan Sharvashidze he rebelled against the Turks and drove them out of the Sukhum fortress.
In 1801 the Russian Empire liquidated the Kartli-Kakheti Kingdom to establish its direct rule in Eastern Georgia and move into Western Georgia. On 2 December, 1803 Grigol Dadiani signed a treaty with Russia in the village of Chaladidi. He recognized the Russian emperor as his sovereign. On 9 July, 1805 Levan V Dadiani took the throne of Odishi-Megrelia in the village of Bandza. The ceremony, which brought together all the members of the Odishi aristocracy, was also attended by Levan and Manuchar of the Sharvashidze House who, having officially confirmed that Samurzakano “belonged to the autocrat of Megrelia Dadiani,” took an oath of allegiance to the Russian emperor. This meant that Samurzakano, as an inalienable part of the Megrelian Principality, became part of the Russian Empire.
Soon after another Russo-Turkish war (1806-1812) began Russian diplomacy concentrated on Abkhazia. Under a corresponding diplomatic procedure, the centerpiece of which was an official request from Safar-bey (Giorgi) Sharvashidze drawn up in St. Petersburg in Georgian, Abkhazia was joined to Russia. It should be said that at that point not only the Georgian and Abkhaz leaders (in particular, Ruler of Megrelia Nino Bagrationi-Dadiani wrote to Emperor Alexander I in this connection: “Today is the right time to take [Abkhazia] under Your wing since it (the House of Abkhazian rulers. – Z.P.) belongs to our House and is our neighbor; earlier we acted as its patron.”), but also the top Russians stationed in the Caucasus looked at Abkhazia as part of a common Georgian political and state structure. It served as the main argument in favor of joining Abkhazia to the Russian Empire along with the otherGeorgian territories. Here is what P. Tsitsianov wrote on this score: “Kelesh-bek was known as Sharvashidze; his domains were one of the Iberian provinces”. Another commander-in-chief of the Caucasus, General Gudovich, wrote: “Since ancient times the princes of Abkhazia belonged to the Sharvashidze family; their ancestors were Christians yet Sefer Ali bek’s grandfather, after moving away from Imereti and becoming a subject of the Ottoman Porte, embraced the Muslim faith”. Giorgi Sharvashidze, who sent his request to the Russian emperor, was very open about his country being part of the common Georgian cultural and political expanse. By writing the document in the Georgian language the Abkhazian ruler clearly indicated to Russia and the world community as a whole that in international relations the Abkhazian principality was representing the Georgian national-state, cultural, and political world.
Members of the Sharvashidze House (not merely those who belonged to Samurzakano) remained within the common Georgian social and political system and Georgian linguistic culture and literacy. The promissory note Kelesh-bey Sharvashidze gave to his nephew Sosran-bek Sharvashidze on 20 May, 1806 confirms the above. It was written in Georgian according to the contemporary Georgian legal norms. It should be said that the document was not drawn up in Samurzakano, a region that had stronger ties than the others with the rest of Georgia, but at the court of the Abkhazian ruler, commonly believed to be a true Muslim. More than that, Abkhazia was part of the feudal system of serfdom that existed in all other parts of Georgia. This means that despite the changes that had taken place in Abkhazia in the Later Middle Ages under pressure from the mountain tribes, their primitive tribal order notwithstanding, it remained part of the Georgian feudal state.
Under the last ruler of Abkhazia, Mikhail Sharvashidze, the Abkhazians also regarded themselves as part of the common Georgian political, state, and cultural expanse, which is best illustrated by the fact that Georgian remained the state language of Abkhazia. According to one of the top Caucasian administrators, “the princely family of Sharvashidze used the Georgian written language”. The Chancellery of the Abkhazian ruler used it in its official documents. The fact that many of the top Abkhaz nobles had Georgian names is evidence that the ties with the common Georgian social and cultural world were very much alive. In fact, even Sadzy-Ubykhs sometimes used Georgian names. Two prominent political figures of the early half of the 19th century can serve as an example: the surname of Levan Tsanubaia (the Georgian-Megrelian form of the Tsanba family name) and the Georgian name Zurab of prince of the Ubykhs Zurab Khamish. Not infrequently, documents in Russian use the Georgian term “aznaurs” for the Abkhaz nobles rather than the Abkhaz term “aamsta.” Finally, and most important, the Abkhazian ruling house regarded itself as an inalienable part of the common Georgian Christian world: the last Abkhazian ruler and his son Giorgi Sharvashidze were buried in the Mokvi Cathedral; the inscriptions on their tombstones are in the ancient Georgian writing, Asomtavruli.
Abkhazia – the Sokhumi District in 1864-1917
When the rule of princes in Abkhazia was abolished the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was transformed into the Sokhumi military district “with three districts (Bzyb, Sokhumi, and Abju) and two pristavstvos (Tsebelda and Samurzakano)” under the Kutaisi Governor-General. The Russian administration immediately set about establishing “state rule and order” on the new lands (of which Abkhazia was part), which meant their continuous colonization. Enraged by the new state order the Abkhazians rebelled in 1866.
Ignited by the local peasants’ refusal to obey the peasant reform, the revolt, according to a very apt comment by prominent Abkhaz scholar S. Lakoba, was of an “anti-colonial, national-liberation nature.” The rebels declared Giorgi Sharvashidze their ruler and demanded that he lead them in their struggle. The government, which urgently dispatched considerable military forces under the Kutaisi Governor-General, suppressed the uprising and punished the leaders and instigators. Some of the active fighters were publicly executed in Sokhumi; many were exiled to Siberia and other parts of Russia. Giorgi Sharvashidze was exiled to the Orenburg Military District for military service. This was not all: the empire encouraged emigration to Turkey, which produced about 20 thousand mahajirs.
This did not calm the region down: in the spring of 1877, when another war with Russia had already begun, the Turkish government tried to capitalize on the wave of anti-Russian sentiments to open a second front in Abkhazia. The revolt, the largest one in Abkhazia, caused much more severe retribution than in 1866. Nearly all of those who lived in the Gudauta and Kodori regions were declared guilty. It was deemed expedient to “resettle them in Turkey” to get rid of the guilty and to “prevent any other threats from the Sokhumi Department.”
Having freed a large chunk of what today is Abkhazia, the Russian Empire set about colonizing the area on a large scale and “bringing Russian statehood there.” It was considered advisable to bring “a purely Russian population” to Abkhazia as a way of carrying out this highly important task. At the same time, the colonial authorities went out of their way to “bring closer the autochthonous population of Abkhazia and Samurzakano and Russians and plant the fundamentals of Russian civil awareness among them.” Simultaneously, much was done to protect the Abkhazians “in the most reliable manner against … the Georgian influence to ensure, some time in the future, their merging with the Russians.”
This was what the government was doing much later, in the 1860s-1890s: it spared no effort to wrench Abkhazia from the common Georgian cultural and historical entity and push the Georgian language and literature aside. This is best illustrated by the fact that the Abkhazians were given their own written language. It was a historic event for the Abkhazians hailed by Georgian intellectuals. Iakob Gogebashvili was one of those who were especially clear about this. Some Abkhaz scholars accuse him, without reason, of ideological preparation of the notorious “Hundred Years’ War of Georgia against Abkhazia.” “Certain newspaper correspondents,” wrote Iakob Gogebashvili, “are hostile to the idea of translating the theological books into Abkhaz and of serving in this language. This is puzzling. Even though for many years Abkhazia has remained part of the Georgian political body where church services were conducted in Georgian and where Georgian was the written language, Abkhaz is undoubtedly not a vernacular of the Georgian but a language, albeit kindred, in its own right. It is undoubtedly entitled to be the language of the church, have its own written form and its folk literature”. Bishop Cyrion (today tagged as an enemy
of the Abkhazians) was one of those who hailed the idea of the Abkhaz written language. He intended “to contribute to the national textbook of the Abkhaz language” and called on the Sokhumi Georgians “to help the Abkhazians in all ways in this cultural initiative”. They did even more than merely hail it – D. Purtseladze, I. Gegia, G. Kurtsikidze, and K. Machavariani were actively involved in the process.
They helped the Abkhazians to acquire their own written language with the best of intentions, which had nothing to do with what the so-called Russian patrons who allegedly looked after the interests of the “smaller peoples” had in mind. P. Uslar, who created the Abkhaz alphabet, had the following to say about the true intentions of Russia’s “language policy:” he described the Georgian alphabet as “essentially the best alphabet in the world,” which could be taken as “the starting point of a common alphabet for all Caucasian languages that had no written word,” yet, he added: “If we borrow not only the alphabet but also letters from the Georgians, we shall unwittingly create problems when the Russian written language spreads across the Caucasus.” “The autochthonous languages,” he concluded, “should make it easier to learn Russian.”
Evgeny Veidenbaum, another prominent Russian figure, was even more outspoken: “The Abkhaz language with no written language and no literature is doomed. It will disappear sooner or later. The question is: What language will replace it? Russian rather than Georgian should become the vehicle of cultural ideas and conceptions. This means that the Abkhaz written language cannot be an aim in itself: it should undermine, through the Church and schools, the need for the Georgian language. It should be gradually replaced with the state language. Failure to do this might create an Abkhaz autonomy on top of the Georgian and other autonomies.”
Similar aims were pursued in the religious sphere. On 3 September, 1898 the Holy Synod ruled that “the services and the other Christian rites in the Abkhazian parishes should be conducted in Slavonic.” Aware of the great role of the Georgian clergy, who remained in control of “such strong institutions as the Church and the schools,” the Russian authorities regarded them as the main obstacle to Russification. This was an “evil” to “be uprooted once and for all.” The “only way to do this” was to “remove the Georgian clergy from the schools and the local churches” and to appoint “Russian and, if possible, Abkhaz priests to the predominantly Abkhaz parishes of the Sokhumi eparchy.” The Russian authorities were still dissatisfied – they wanted to remove Abkhazia from the common Georgian Christian entity once and for all. Head of the Civilian Administration of the Caucasus Prince Golitsyn and Exarch of Georgia Alexiy wrote to the Chief Procurator of the Synod: “It is highly advisable to protect the Sokhumi Eparchy from the highly undesirable Georgian influence. This can be done if the Sokhumi Eparchy becomes part of the Kuban with its 1,716,245 purely Russian Orthodox population, which will absorb the multi-language 100,000 strong population of the Black Sea coast.”
In 1904, on the suggestion of Prince of Oldenburg, the imperial authorities intended to make Gagra and its environs part of the Black Sea Gubernia by separating them from the rest of Georgia. The attempt was cut short by the Abkhaz nobility who were dead set against those who wanted to disrupt the Georgian-Abkhaz historical and cultural entity. The Abkhaz delegation, which arrived in Tiflis on 26 April, 1916, to meet the Caucasian viceroy was the best confirmation of the prevailing sentiments.
Nevertheless, the constant political and ideological pressure on the Abkhazians barely camouflaged by hypocritical statements about the concern over the local people’s cultural and national awareness bore fruit. “Abkhaz resurrection” was obviously anti-Georgian; the so-called new Abkhazians came to the forefront to capture the political initiative after the February 1917 revolution in Russia.
Abkhazia as Part of the Georgian Democratik Republic
Starting in February 1918 when the Russian Empire was crumbling the new Abkhaz leaders who usurped power moved ahead to rupture all ties with the rest of Georgia. In October 1917 the Abkhaz delegation headed by Al. Sharvashidze signed, together with others, the so-called Allied Agreement of the Southeastern Union of Cossack Detachments, Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, and Free Peoples of the Steppe. It was not Abkhazia as a whole but the “mountain people of the Sokhumi District (Abkhazians) who were the subjects of the Southeastern Union.” On 8 November, 1917 the nationalist forces, in disregard of the sentiments of the autochthonous Georgians and other population groups living in Abkhazia, convened a congress of the Abkhaz people in Sokhumi that set up the Abkhaz People’s Council and adopted the Declaration of the Congress of the Abkhaz People and the Constitution of the Abkhaz People’s Council. The Congress officially confirmed that the Abkhaz people (not Abkhazia) had joined “the Alliance of the United Mountain Peoples.”
The decisions of the so-called 1st Congress of the Abkhaz People stirred up Abkhazia and Samurzakano in particular, which wanted to reunite Abkhazia and Georgia. Abkhazia was facing a split; the danger became even more obvious when tension rose in the Northern Caucasus in January 1918. Deprived of support of the Southeastern Union and the Alliance of the United Mountain Peoples, the Abkhaz People’s Council had to seek understanding with Tbilisi. On 9 February, 1918 the delegation of the Abkhaz People’s Council and members of the National Council of Georgia met in the Georgian capital. The Abkhaz delegation had to agree that “it was necessary for Abkhazia to join Georgia with the rights of an autonomy.” Tbilisi, in turn, agreed to “help restore Abkhazia’s historical borders between the Mzymta and the Inguri rivers.”
The agreement of 9 February, 1918 was not an interstate document of sorts: at that time, neither Georgia nor Abkhazia were sovereign states, while the two sides – the National Council of Georgia and the Abkhaz People’s Council – were not state structures. The document’s historic importance, however, cannot be contested: it relieved tension between Tbilisi and Sokhumi and made their relations more constructive.
When the Transcaucasian Federative Republic fell apart on 26 May, 1918 and the Georgian Democratic Republic was formed, the Abkhaz People’s Council elected by the Abkhaz population (and therefore not representing the autochthonous Georgian or other population) “ruled … to assume full power within Abkhazia,” which meant separation from the rest of Georgia. Not quite sure of its position the Abkhaz People’s Council had to ask the National Council of Georgia (the de facto ruling structure in Georgia) for “friendly support in organizing state power in Abkhazia;” it also asked Tbilisi “to leave a detachment of the Georgian Red Guard at the Council’s disposal.” The same document entrusted R. Kakubava, V. Gurjua, G. Adjamov, and G. Tumanov with the rights to negotiate with the Georgian political leaders.
The talks were successfully completed in Tbilisi with a Treaty between the Government of the Georgian Democratic Republic and the Abkhaz People’s Council signed on 11 June, under which the post of minister for Abkhazia was set up under the government of the Georgian Democratic Republic filled on “the recommendation of the Abkhaz People’s Council.” The Council, in turn, was entrusted with “domestic administration and self-administration in Abkhazia;” the Georgian Democratic Republic pledged to fund administration of Abkhazia and, most important, “in order to promptly establish revolutionary law and order and organize strong power, the government of the Georgian Democratic Republic” pledged to dispatch “a detachment of the Red Guard to support the Abkhaz People’s Council” to Abkhazia. This means that according to Minister for Abkhazia R. Chkhotua, under the treaty of 11 June “the Abkhaz people tied their future to the fates of the Georgian people according to autonomous principles.”
On 13 February, 1919 Abkhazia held the first universal democratic elections to the People’s Council – the highest state power structure in Abkhazia. The ruling Social-Democratic Party of Georgia won with 27 seats out of 40. 12 deputies out of 27 were Abkhazians and 10 were Georgians, while five deputies represented other nationalities. On the whole, out of 40 deputies 18 were Abkhazians; 16 were Georgians, while six represented other nationalities. Simultaneously, Abkhazia elected deputies to the Constituent Assembly of Georgia: V. Sharvashidze, D. Emukhvari, V. Gurdzhua, D. Zakharov, and I. Pashalidi were elected according to the party list of the Social- Democratic Party of Georgia (out of the five deputies elected to represent Abkhazia in the supreme power structure of Georgia, three were Abkhazians, one was Russian and one Greek; there were no Georgians among them).
On 20 March, 1919 the newly elected People’s Council of Abkhazia adopted the Act of Abkhazian Autonomy, Point 1 of which said: “Abkhazia is part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia as its autonomy.” Point 2 envisaged electing a joint commission “with equal representation of the Constituent Assembly of Georgia and the People’s Council of Abkhazia to draw the Constitution of Autonomous Abkhazia and determine the relations between the Central and Autonomous powers.”
Sokhumi had three drafts of the Constitution of Autonomous Abkhazia: the draft submitted by the Social-Democratic faction of the People’s Council of Abkhazia; the draft of the Commissariat (government) of Abkhazia; and the draft submitted by the Council’s separatist-minded deputies, all of them clearly described Abkhazia as an autonomy within the Georgian Democratic Republic. In the fall of 1919 the final version was ready; it was approved by the People’s Council of Abkhazia on 16 October, 1919 and submitted to the Georgia’s Constituent Assembly where its smaller constitutional commission adopted an interim document, Provisions on the Administration of Autonomous Abkhazia, to be later included into the Constitution of Georgia approved by its Constituent Assembly on 21 February, 1921.
Article 1 of the document read: “Abkhazia between the rivers Mekhadyr and Inguri and between the Black Sea coast and the Caucasian Range is an inalienable part of the Republic of Georgia and within these boundaries is administering its domestic affairs autonomously.” In this way the state and legal relations between Sokhumi and Tbilisi were finally regulated; and Abkhazia became an autonomy within a single Georgian state, something that the Abkhaz political elite had wanted and toward which it had been consistently moving. This meant that those who deny this irrefutable historical fact and argue that the Constitution of Georgia “cannot be applied to Abkhazia” are wrong.
The ardent desire to restore Georgian-Abkhazian statehood was probably not universal, but not a single Abkhaz (including opposition) leader of the time openly objected to the Abkhazian autonomy in a Georgian state. More than that, it was Abkhazia that insisted on Georgia promptly endorsing the Constitution of Autonomous Abkhazia adopted by the People’s Council of Abkhazia on 16 October, 1920 to make the legal and state relations between the Center and the Autonomy legally binding.
The State Status of Abkhazia in 1921-1931
The state and legal relations between the Georgian Democratic Republic and Autonomous Abkhazia, which stemmed from the progress achieved in 1918-1921, were completely destroyed when the Red Army of Bolshevik Russia brought down the legal government of sovereign Georgia. E. Eshba and N. Lakoba, two Bolshevik leaders of Abkhazia brought to power by the Soviets, based their anti-Georgian propaganda on the notorious slogan about the rights of nations to self-determination and moved forward with the idea of Abkhazia’s independence from Georgia to become a Soviet socialist republic. On 31 March, 1921 the Revolutionary Committee of Abkhazia, encouraged by the higher Communist Party structures, proclaimed Abkhazia a Soviet socialist republic; the same day it officially informed Lenin and did not fail to refer to the great liberation mission of the valiant Red Army.
On 21 May, 1921 the Revolutionary Committee of Georgia, in turn, officially recognized and hailed the new independent Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia with the reservation that “the question about the relations between the Georgian and Abkhazian SSR will be settled by the first congress of the Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies of both republics.” In fact, the Kremlin leaders, the Georgian Communists, and the Abkhaz Bolsheviks knew in their heart of hearts that there could be no genuinely independent Abkhazian state. According to the Georgian and Abkhaz Bolshevik leaders Abkhazian independence was temporary: “for no longer than one minute” as Nestor Lakoba put it.
The fact that the Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia had not been an independent state even before 16 December, 1921 when it was united with the Georgian SSR under an agreement is confirmed by communist party and state documents of that period in which Abkhazia was treated as an autonomous part of “independent Georgia” (as Stalin put it). On 24 November, 1921 the Caucasian Bureau of the C.C. Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) transferred the Abkhazian Organizational Bureau of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) under the supervision of the CC RCP(b) of Georgia. On 16 December, 1921 Abkhazia became part of the Georgian SSR as a so-called republic on a contractual basis according to the Union Treaty between the Socialist Soviet Republic of Georgia and the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia signed with great pomp in Tbilisi.
All the official documents of the congresses of Soviets of Abkhazia and Georgia confirm that the Abkhazian SSR was incorporated into Georgia; the Constitution of Georgia of 1922 directly stated: “The Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic of Adjaria, the South Ossetian Autonomous Region, and the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia are parts of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Georgia, which they joined voluntarily on the basis of self-determination. The Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia joined the Socialist Soviet Republic of Georgia on the basis of a union treaty between them.”50 The first Constitution of the Soviet Union clarified that the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (TSFSR) as a subject of the USSR consisted of three socialist republics – Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Abkhazia never was an independent subject of the Soviet Union (in the same way as Georgia never had this status within the USSR) – it was listed as an autonomous republic. More than that, under Article 15 (Chapter IV) of the Union Treaty, which was part of the USSR Constitution of 1924, “the autonomous republics of Adjaria and Abkhazia were not similar de facto to the autonomous regions of the RSFSR since, unlike the autonomous republics of the RSFSR, which had five deputies each in the Soviet of Nationalities, the supreme legislative body of the Soviet Union, Adjaria and Abkhazia could send only one representative each, that is as many as the autonomous regions of South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Nakhchyvan.”
As an autonomous republic Abkhazia figures in the Soviet Constitution of 1924, which confirmed the article of the Union Treaty quoted above and pointed out: “The autonomous republics of Adjaria and Abkhazia and the autonomous regions of South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Nakhchyvan send one representative each to the Soviet of Nationalities.” The autonomous status of Abkhazia within the Georgian S.S.R. was also confirmed by the fact that its budget was part of the budget of Georgia while the government and party structures were accountable to the legislative and executive branches of Georgia and its CC of the CP. It should be said in this connection that at its first regional conference of 7-12 January, 1922 the Abkhazian organization of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) passed a decision to change the name to the Abkhazian Organization of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Georgia and elected deputies to the 1st Congress of the Communist Party of Georgia. Later, on 12-18 February, 1922 the 1st Congress of the Soviets of Abkhazia elected deputies to the 1stm Congress of the Soviets of Georgia.
This means that the Abkhazian SSR, which was declared in March 1921, and its so-called unification with the Georgian SSR were mere formalities: from the very beginning Abkhazia was regarded as an autonomous part of Georgia. This troubled those who in the past promised the separatist-minded groups of Abkhaz society that Soviet power would make Abkhazia an independent state. They went as far as trying to revise the state and legal context that had taken shape in 1921-1925 within which Abkhazia was part of the Georgian SSR. They drafted the first Constitution of Soviet Abkhazia approved by the 3rd Congress of the Soviets of Abkhazia in March 1925.
This document could hardly stand up to legal and political tests; in fact, its articles contradicted one another: while Article 4 of Chapter I stated: “Having united on the basis of a special union treaty with the Georgian SSR, the Abkhazian SSR, through Georgia, is part of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic and, through the latter, of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” Article 5 of Chapter II of the same “Constitution” did not mention Abkhazia’s membership in the TSFSR and the USSR through the Georgian SSR. It merely stated: “Sovereignty of the Abkhazian SSR in view of its voluntary joining the TSFSR and the Union of SSR is limited to and by the matters identified by the constitutions of these ‘Unions’.” The same article said further: “The citizens of the Abkhazian SSR, while preserving their republican citizenship, are also citizens of the TSFSR and the Union of the SSR.” And finally: “The Abkhazian SSR preserves the right of free withdrawal both from the TSFSR and the Union of the SSR.”
In this way, these and some other articles of the Abkhazian “Constitution” withdrew Abkhazia from the state and legal field of the Georgian SSR. The higher Communist Party instances of Georgia and the Transcaucasus could not ignore these faults of the Abkhazian Constitution. The reprimand Nestor Lakoba and other Abkhaz leaders received from the higher party structures forced them to admit that the “Constitution was written in the stupidest manner.” The 3rd Session of the All-Georgia Central Executive Committee convened in Sokhumi on 13 June, 1926 instructed the supreme legislature of the Abkhazian SSR to revise the Constitution to bring it in line with the Constitution of the Georgian SSR. This was done by the 3rd Session of the Central Executive Committee of the Abkhazian SSR on 27 October, 1926. The revised document was finally endorsed by the 4th Congress of the Soviet of Abkhazia in March 1927.
The new version of the Abkhazian Constitution said: “Abkhazia is a socialist state (not a sovereign state as the Constitution of 1925 described it. – Z.P.), which by the force of a special treaty is part of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Georgia” and “the citizens of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia, while preserving their republican citizenship, are, by the same token, citizens of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Georgia.” The Constitution of 1927 retained Abkhazia within the common Georgian state and legal expanse: “The codes, decrees, and decisions of the All-Georgia Central Executive Committee” were “binding in the territory of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia” and “the State budget of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia” was “a component of the common budget of the Georgian SSR.”
The articles of the 1927 Constitution of the Abkhazian SSR quoted above disprove everything that was said about Abkhazian sovereignty as a Soviet republic that entered into equal federative state relations with Georgia. From the very beginning (since 1921), the Abkhazian SSR was regarded as an autonomous unit of a single Georgian state.
By the late 1920s it had become abundantly clear that “the treaty of 16 December, 1921 has lost its real significance” and that “the formula of the contractual Abkhazian SSR has no real meaning.” This explains why in April 1930 the 3rd Session of the Central Executive Committee of Abkhazia passed a decision, on the strength of Nestor Lakoba’s report, to replace the words “contractual republic” with the words “autonomous republic.” In February 1931 the 6th Congress of the Soviets of Abkhazia amended the Constitution on the strength of the decision of the 3rd Session. In this way Abkhazia became the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia within the Georgian SSR.
The Abkhazian ASSR between 1931 and 1993
The new 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union amended the country’s federative structure: the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic was abolished, while its subjects (the Georgian SSR, the Azerbaijanian SSR, and the Armenian SSR) directly joined the Soviet Union. There is a fairly well-justified opinion that in 1935-1936, when the new Soviet Constitution was drafted Nestor Lakoba tried to make the Abkhazian SSR. a direct subject of the Soviet Union and failed.
In the 1950s (in 1957 to be more exact) certain separatist forces tried to exploit the thaw to stage the first “all-Abkhaz revolt” in order to detach the Abkhazian ASSR from the Georgian SSR. The Georgian Communist leaders used one-sided repressions to pacify the “excitable Abkhazians”: only the Georgians involved in the events were subjected to the Communist Party’s punishment while the leaders of the Abkhaz revolt moved even higher up the party ladder to fill in the top posts in the power structures. Ten years later, in 1967, Georgia reaped the bitter fruits of the capitulatory policy of the previous Communist Party leadership when Abkhazia became the scene of another anti-Georgian “revolt.” Once more separatists insisted on making Abkhazia a Soviet Socialist Republic.
Again the Georgian leaders resorted to one-side measures that inspired the ideologists of national separatism and increased their popularity among the separatist-minded population groups. In 1977-1977 when the new 1977 Constitution of the USSR was drafted and approved members of the Abkhaz intelligentsia and the party and economic nomenklatura organized another demarche: they demanded that the state status of Abkhazia be changed. The new leadership of the Georgian Communist Party headed by Eduard Shevardnadze at first demonstrated a certain amount of boldness when dealing with the Abkhazian ASSR (1973-1977). However, later, in the fall of 1978, when the crisis reached its highest point, it agreed on concessions and, in fact, capitulated.
A new wave of separatism in Abkhazia rose in 1988 against the background of Mikhail Gorbachev’s “perestroika” and “glasnost” policy. It reached its height in the spring and summer of 1989 when, on 18 March, a “universal meeting” of the Abkhazs was held in the village of Lykhny (the Gudauta District) endorsed and attended by the highest party leaders together with First Secretary of the Abkhazian Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia B. V. Adleiba. It adopted a new appeal demanding that the status of the Abkhazian SSR should be restored to make it a direct member of the Soviet Union as a Soviet Socialist Republic.
The first blood was shed on 15-16 July, 1989 in Sokhumi costing 9 Georgians and 5 Abkhazians their lives, however the worst was avoided. In the fall of 1990 Georgia received a new president. After coming to power, the new top people and their leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia came face to face with trouble in the autonomies, in the so-called South Ossetian autonomous region in particular. To avoid a second front of sorts in Abkhazia President Gamsakhurdia had to accept Vladislav Ardzinba, the most odious figure among the separatists, as the elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Abkhazian ASSR (the autonomous republic’s highest post). The new Georgian president tried to ease the tension in the autonomous republic and frustrate the plans of the Soviet Union’s leaders to use the Abkhaz card against Georgia, but he failed. Throughout 1991 (until 19 August) Vladislav Ardzinba disobeyed the Georgian president: he was actively involved in the Kremlin’s efforts to sign a new Union Treaty under which the autonomous republics were expected to become Union republics.
Despite the failed 19 August putsch and the idea of a “refurbished Union,” President Gamsakhurdia gave Vladislav Ardzinba another chance. He agreed to an “apartheid” election law under which the Ab-khazs acquired the priority right to be elected to the Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia. As a result, the Abkhazs, who comprised 17 percent of the republic’s total population, acquired 28 seats; the Georgians (45 percent of the total population) took 26 seats; and the rest (11 seats) went to other ethnic groups (Russians, Armenians, etc.).
Having won the simple majority in the republic’s parliament Ardzinba and his retinue pushed
aside everything they had promised and passed several far-reaching decisions that contradicted the interests of the state to which they belonged. The coup d’état that removed Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the period of turmoil that followed helped the separatists to realize their far-reaching plans. The crisis in the relations between Tbilisi and Sokhumi reached its apogee when, on 23 July, 1992, the Supreme Council of Abkhazia, having flagrantly violated its own rules and in the absence of the necessary number of deputies, “restored” the so-called Constitution of the Abkhazian SSR of 1925 that de facto removed Abkhazia from the Republic of Georgia.
This fateful step proved to be the last straw for the Georgian leaders, who still were reluctant to use power. Later, however, bloodshed became inevitable. On 14 August, 1992 Vladislav Ardzinba and his cronies ordered their illegal military units to open fire on the internal troops of the Republic of Georgia moving across the territory of Abkhazia according to an earlier agreement between the Abkhaz and Georgian leaders. This started the confrontation which ended on 27 September, 1993 in what the separatists call their victory. Nearly 300 thousand Georgians were thrown out of their homes. From that time on the jurisdiction of Georgia is not applied in Abkhazia, which is described as an unrecognized republic.
The above confirms beyond a doubt that contrary to the unfounded statements of separatist “historiography” and its patrons the territory now occupied by Abkhazia was, at all times, part of the common Georgian ethnic, cultural, political, and state expanse. The Abkhazs, who developed into an ethnic group in the territory they now occupy, essentially never developed outside common Georgian history and, along with their Georgian brothers, have been building a common Georgian statehood and Georgian Christian civilization.
This material represents the summary of Zurab Papaskiri’s book “Abkhazia – Unfalsified History” (Tbilisi, 2009, in Russian).
You can also find this article with references in:
• Zurab Papaskiri. Abkhazia and the Abkhazians in the common Georgian ethno-cultural, political, and state expanse. Part I. – The Caucasus & Globalization. Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies. Institute of studies of the Caucasus. Vol. 2. Issue 2, CA&CC Press®. Sveden, 2008;
• Zurab Papaskiri. Abkhazia and the Abkhazians in the common Georgian ethno-cultural, political, and state expanse. Part II. The Caucasus & Globalization. Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies. Institute of studies of the Caucasus. Vol. 2. Issue 4, CA&CC Press®. Sveden, 2008.