The Autonomous Republic of Abkhazeti
Abkhazeti is a historical part of Georgia and is situated in the Northwest of the country. The present-day picture of the regional borders look as follows: the northern borderline follows the top of the main Caucasian watershed range, the Black Sea makes its southern and South-West – and the Psou-river – its North-West borders, as for the eastern borderline – it follows the Svaneti-Abkhazeti range and the lower part of the Enguri-river.
The territory of Abkhazeti covers 8,6 thousand sq.km. Its capital is the city of Sokhumi. Abkhazeti consists of 5 administrative regions: Gali, Gudauta, Ochamchiri, Sokhumi and the territory subordinated to the Gagra-town Council. Its seven main cities and towns are: Sokhumi, Gagra, Tkvarcheli, Akhali Atoni, Gali, Gudauta, Ochamchiri, and three minor towns: Bichvinta, Gantiadi, Gulripshi.
According to the 1989 data, the population of Abkhazeti equaled 537 thousand people, and 121 thousand among them made the population of Sokhumi. The most part – 47% of the multinational population of Abkhazeti Autonomous Republic – were Georgians. The growth of the population there during the Soviet period (4%) – was twice as much as the general index for the entire republic of Georgia, and this was caused by the migration of people from various parts of the USSR. (153)
The geographical location of Abkhazeti is perfect. Its climate and its wonderful seacoast with excellent beaches make it the major tourist and resort region. The territory is mostly hillsides, mountains and foothills make 74% of the region, and valleys and low-lying areas constitute the remaining part. The climate types are defined according to the altitude zones, with rich precipitation. Equally rich is the territory with rivers, fauna and flora. The natural resources of Abkhazeti are also remarkable, and there are deposits of coal, mercury, zinc and copper, etc. Abkhazeti is also rich with curative mineral and thermal waters.
The ancient monuments of culture found on the territory of Abkhazeti are attributed to the Lower Paleolithic period. The remnants of the Neolithic era show the growth of settlements, with evidences of human productive activities. The origins of the Bronze Age, attributed to the III millennium, are presented in the excavation materials found in Esheri, Achandari and Otkhari dolmens. The Bronze Age culture of the later period, i.e. II-I millennia, displays its highest level, with the first samples of the Iron Age weapons and tools. That period shows that the whole territory belonged to the area of Kolkheti culture.
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The first instances of using “Abkhazeti” as a term are traced in the Georgian chronicles of VIII century. Historical sources present three meanings of the term: first – as the name of Abkhazeti, a historical part of Georgia, second – as the name implying and covering the entire western Georgia, and third – as the name of entire Georgia in XI-XIV centuries, after establishing the united Georgian monarchy.
The territory of Abkhazeti in the I millennium belonged to the kingdom of Kolkheti, both politically and culturally. Historical sources prove that that territory was occupied by Kartvelian tribes in the I millennium B.C. Beginning from the first century A.D., they also mention the tribes of Abazgies, Apshilis and Sanigis, that made minor entities which later became a part of Egrisi –
Lazika kingdom. In the following period, till VII c., Abkhazeti consisted of two vassal minor unites - Abazgia and Apshileti, but the former gained certain power under the protection of the Byzantine Empire. In the 30-ies of the VIII c., the Eristavi of Abkhazeti acknowledged his vassal statute towards the Kartli Eristavi, and that step was followed by the unification of the entire western Georgia under the rule of King Leon II (first half of the VIII c.), who established the Georgian state that he named “the kingdom of Abkhazes”, and made Kutaisi its center. At that period, eight Saeristavos were created in western Georgia, and two among them were on the territory of Abkhazeti: Saeristavos of Abkhazeti and Tskhumi. In the XII c., these two were united into a major administrative unity of Tskhumi Saeristavteristavo that was governed by a representative of a Georgian feudal family of Sharvashidze. (152)
After the disintegration of the united Georgia, Sharvashidze became a subject of the Odishi lord. In the XVII c., the Kelasuri-river became a border dividing Abkhazeti and Odishi. The period was characterized with significant decline in social, economic and cultural spheres. The governing system became destroyed, the major part of the population became victims of bloodshed and wars – with internal enemies as well as foreign invaders. That period was marked by a gradual penetration of north Caucasian tribes and the process embraced a significant amount of population that settled on the territory of Abkhazeti. The process negatively affected social and economic conditions, and cultural sphere; the same can be said the destructive influence it had on the political situation. The end of the XVIII c. must be identified as the state of outrageous feudal anarchy that spread throughout western Georgia. (150)
The clan of Sharvashidze promptly reacted to the established situation and annexed a part of Samegrelo – first, the territory up to the river of Ghalidzga, and then, at the end of XVIII c. the lands up to the Enguri-river. The clan of Sharvashidze resettled the Abkhazes from inner territories on newly invaded lands and demolished villages which had become poorly inhabited because of a great number of authentic Georgian population having been eliminated or sold as captives to the Turks. After the clan of Sharvashidze extended its territory to the Enguri river, the name of Abkhazeti was attributed to the entire territory which on its part, was formed from its tiny lands and estates (Jiketi, Bzipi, Shuasopeli, Samurzakano, Tsebelda-Dali, Sikhu), and each of them, in fact was an independent unit ruled by some feudal clan or family.
Beginning from the XVIII c., western Georgia became an object and victim of intensive Ottoman aggression. The incessant demolition that seemed endless, led Samegrelo and Abkhazeti to practical destruction of its economy and social system. Internal wars resulted in the terrible process of selling “the captives”.
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At the end of the XVIII c., Russia gained a foothold in the Caucasia. It gradually occupied Georgia which was split and divided into small kingdoms and lordships. The territory of Samurzakano appeared under the protection of Russia in the process of invading western Georgia and was returned to Odishi Samtavro in 1805. In 1810 Russia succeeded in annexing the remaining territories of Abkhazia as well, although it had to fight against the Turks for this purpose. On Russia’s initiative, Abkhazian Samtavro was established – and abolished later in 1864; after that the territory was named the Sokhumi military region, then – the okrug of Sokhumi that included Samurzakano, and the said okrug was a member of the Kutaisi gubernia.
With the declaration of independence of Georgia, a delegation from Abkhazeti came to Tbilisi in 1918, and informed the government that among the Abkhazs – along with the category of Georgian orientation, there were also groups of either Turkish or north Caucasian orientation, and the delegation insisted on the presence of Georgian Guards in Abkhazeti. The July 8, 1918
Agreement stated that the Delegation of Abkhazeti confirmed its indivisibility from Georgia, and the government promised Abkhazeti autonomy and membership in the Georgian Republic. In 1919, the Abkhazeti People’s Council submitted the Act of Autonomy to the constituent Assembly, stating “Abkhazeti is a member of Georgian Democratic Republic as an autonomous unit.”
In February, 1918, the Russian Red Army started its invasion of Georgia from all sides. On February 19, the 8th Army started its attack from Sochi, and in spite of violent battles on the rivers of Bzipi and Psou and in Akhali Atoni, Russian Bolsheviks won and the Red Army entered Sokhumi on the 4th of March 1921. On March 21, a resolution was adopted recognizing the Abkhazian Socialist Republic. On December 19, 1921, Georgia and Abkhazeti stating the membership of Abkhazeti in the Georgian SSR signed a relevant agreement in Tbilisi.
Historically, Christianity had spread in Abkhazeti in ancient times. According to legends, Andrew the First-Called who prayed Christianity in the I c visited the land. It is also known that Simon Canaanite died and was buried there. The Episcopate in Bichvinta existed as early as in the IV c. Among the participants of he first Ecumenical Council in Nikkei (325 A.D.), the Episcope of Bichvinta is mentioned. The Abazgies were officially Christianized in the VI c. Beginning from the IX c., the Georgian language completely and finally substituted the Greek in the Church and the services and prayers were conducted in Georgian.
After the dismantling of the unified Georgia, this part of the country underwent serious ethnic changes, that affected the religion as well, and that resulted from the Ottoman Turks invasions and the north Caucasian tribes settling in the region. Correspondingly, Christianity and the Georgian language became discriminated and abused. Eventually, the old pagan religion reappeared to the surface, and the ruling Turks introduced the Sunni Islam. Russia banished the whole masses of Mohammedan Abkhazes behind its borders (Muhajirs).
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We have to underline the fact that two great powers and states, fighting for their supremacy in the region – Russia and Turkey, led the same type of active policy, aimed at dividing and separating – and invading and occupying. The influence of the Ottoman Turks was apparent in the gradual spread of Islam in western Georgia. After the Russians came to the rule, they introduced their anti-Georgian policy, changing the Christian service in the churches of Abkhazeti from Georgian into Slavic language, in order to achieve their goal of russification. To that should be added also that after banishing the Mohammedan Abkhazes, Russia started bringing Russians and Armenians in the country, and making them the basic population and hindering the rights of thr Georgians to resettle in Abkhazeti.
The said policy played negative role in the tragedy that is called “The Abkhazeti Conflict”. Trying to harm the Georgian interests, Russia destroyed the ethnic balance on the territory of Abkhazeti; nevertheless, recent authentic Georgian population there still made a majority with its 47%, while the Abkhazes amounted to 17%, and the representatives of other nations – 36%.
From 1989, i.e. from the beginning of the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the Caucasus became a simultaneous battleground for ethnic conflicts in Karabakh, Abkhazeti and Samachablo.
On December 4, 1990, V.Ardzinba was nominated to the post of the chairman of the Supreme Council of Abkhazian Autonomous Republic. He activated an anti-Georgian policy there, in order to become the leader of an independent state (151). On August 14, 1992, with the help of other forces, wide-scope military operations started there with the support of other forces – resulting in great losses of the local population. Apart from the Georgian and Abkhaz civil population, other people also became the victims of the war. The great majority of them moved to
other regions of Georgia and Russia. Once the most beautiful region of resorts was demolished and nothing was left except ruins. These events were considered by International organizations to be the facts of ethnic cleansing in Abkhazeti that had been aimed against Georgians.
At present, the state of affaires in Abkhazeti looks as follows: peace-keeping forces are located on the river of Enguri, most of the population is waiting for the day to return home, and the Georgian territorial integrity is violated.
The authentic population cannot be blamed for the created situation. The Abkhazian conflict must be settled and solved peacefully. The restoration of the territorial integrity of Georgia is justified from the point of view of history and legislation. The conditions of independence and democracy require the necessity of perfecting social coexistence and tolerance, in order to restore the demolished country and revive the destroyed unity. We must get rid of the effect of the plague that started in another country and use our own force to overcome all obstacles in order to restore the territorial integrity of Georgia.