Научная статья на тему 'Abkhazia and the Abkhazians in the common Georgian ethno-cultural, political, and state expanse'

Abkhazia and the Abkhazians in the common Georgian ethno-cultural, political, and state expanse Текст научной статьи по специальности «История и археология»

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Аннотация научной статьи по истории и археологии, автор научной работы — Papaskiri Zurab

The author offers a scientifically generalized review of the past of Abkhazia and the Abkhazians based on his in-depth analysis of historical sources and the available historiographic heritage to present the region’s ethno-cultural and national-state makeup from ancient times to 1993. He pays special attention to those issues of Abkhazian (Georgian) history that still ignite heated debates in contemporary historiography.

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Текст научной работы на тему «Abkhazia and the Abkhazians in the common Georgian ethno-cultural, political, and state expanse»



D.Sc. (Hist.), professor at Sukhumi University

(Tbilisi, Georgia).


Ethnopolitical and Sociocultural 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 Jiko-Abkhazian tribes that first invaded the Abkhazian Eristavstvo and later spread across the rest of contemporary Abkhazian territory. Historians, including Abkhazian 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,1 his two allies, tell the real story2 of “how one after another tribes and people came to Abkhazia from somewhere in the North, from beyond the mountains.”3

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

1 See: Sh.B. Nogmov, Istoria adygeyskogo naroda. Po Kabardinskim predaniam, Nalchik, 1982, pp. 76-78.

2 See: D.L. Muskhelishvili, “Istoricheskii status Abkhazii v Gruzinskoi gosudarstvennosti,” in: Razyskaniia po is-torii Abkhazii/Gruzia, Metzniereba Publishers, Tbilisi, 1999, p. 133.

3 Sh.D. Inal-ipa, Stranitsy istoricheskoy etnografii abkhazov, Sukhumi, 1971, p. 141.


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 13 th century when initial signs of the “Osset threat” appeared in Eastern Georgia. In the first quarter of the 14th century Giorgi V 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 Jiko-Ab-khazian tribes presented the greatest threat to the Abkhazian Eristavstvo. The House of Sharvash-idze, 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.”4 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.5 The Odishi potentate still owned his residence in Merkula (contemporary Ochamchiri District) where Levan II Dadiani signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1615.6

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.7 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 Abkhazian inroads.8

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 Murzakan9 (hence the name of the region, Samurzakano).

4 Turkish Sources on the History of Samtskhe-Saatabago of the First Half of the 16th Century. Turkish documents with Georgian translations, research findings and commentaries published by Ts. Abuladze, Tbilisi, 1983, p. 57; B.K. Kho-rava, The Relationships between Odishi and Abkhazia in the 15th-18th Centuries, Tbilisi, 1996, p. 60 (in Georgian).

5 See: I.G. Antelava, Ocherki po istorii Abkhazii XVII-XVIII vekov, Sukhumi, 1951, p. 25; Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii srednevekovoy Abkhazii (VI-XVII vv.), Sukhumi, 1959, pp. 262, 289. Other opinions were recently offered (see: A. Tugushi, “About the History of the Abkhazian Princedom,” Sakartvelo, 12-18 June, 1993, p. 6, in Georgian; D.L. Muskhelishvili, op. cit.; N.V. Jikia, “On the Question of the Emergence of the Abkhazian Princedom,” in: Historical Studies. An Annual of Scientific Studies of the Abkhazian Organization of the All-Georgia Ekvtime Takaishvili Historical Society, Vol. IV, Tbilisi, 2001, pp. 120-141, available at [http://saistoriodziebani.googlepages.com/dziebani2001], in Georgian).

6 See: B.K. Khorava, op. cit., p. 72.

7 See: Ibid., p. 77.

8 See: A. Lamberti, Description of Megrelia, translated from Italian by A. Chkonia, Tbilisi, 1938, p. 192 (in Georgian).

9 See: I.G. Antelava, “Politicheskaia zhizn Abkhazii v XVI-XVIII vv.,” in: Ocherki istorii Abkhazskoi ASSR, Vol. I, Sukhumi, 1960, p. 122.


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 expanse.

This means that the Jiko-Abkhazian extension 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 strife typical of feudalism. When moving into the Odishi territory the Sharvashidze House had no intention of setting up an Apsua-Abkhazian state totally independent of the Georgian state and political system. The Abkhazian rulers 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 to push Turkey out of the Northern and Eastern Black Sea area. The Georgian states (Kartli-Kakhetia and Imeretia) 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 1768-1774.10 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.11

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.12 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.13 It should be said that at that point not only the Georgian and Abkhazian leaders (Nino Bagrationi-Dadiani14 in particular) 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 argu-

10 See: G.A. Dzidzaria, “Prisoedinenie Abkhazii k Rossii,” in: Ocherki istorii Abkhazskoi ASSR, Vol. I, p. 130.

11 See: G.A. Dzidzaria, “Prisoedinenie Abkhazii k Rossii,” in: G.A. Dzidzaria, Trudy, Vol. I, Sukhumi, 1988, pp. 16-17.

12 See: Akty, sobrannye Kavkazskoy arkheograficheskoy komissiey (further AKAK), ed. by A. Berge, Vol. II, Tiflis, 1868, p. 527.

13 For the text of the document, see: Z.V. Papaskiri, Essays on the History of Contemporary Abkhazia, Part I, From Antiquity to 1917, Tbilisi, 2007, pp. 126-127, available at [http://zpapaskiri.googlepages.com/publications-georgian] (in Georgian).

14 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,” AKAK, Vol. III, Tiflis, 1869, p. 201.


ment in favor ofjoining Abkhazia to the Russian Empire along with the other Georgian territories .15 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 sociopolitical system and Georgian linguistic culture and literacy. The promissory note Kelesh-bey Sharvashidze gave to his nephew Sosran-bek Sharvashidze on 20 May, 180616 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.11 The Chancellery of the Abkhazian ruler used it in its official documents. The fact that many of the top Abkhazian nobles had Georgian names is evidence that 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 Abkhazian nobles rather than the Abkhazian 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 Mokva Cathedral; the inscriptions on their tombstones are in the ancient Georgian writing, Asomtavruli.18

Abkhazia-the Sukhumi Department (District) in 1864-1917

When the rule of princes in Abkhazia was abolished the territory of contemporary Abkhazia was transformed into the Sukhumi military department “with three districts (Bzyb, Sukhumi, and Abju)

15 Here is what P. Tsitsianov wrote on this score: “Kelesh-bek was known as Sharvashidze; his domains were one of the Iberian provinces” (AKAK, Vol. II, p. 463). 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 Imeretia and becoming a subject of the Ottoman Porte, embraced the Muslim faith” (AKAK, Vol. III, pp. 208-209, italics mine.—Z.P.).

16 See: AKAK, Vol. III, p. 190.

17 According to one of the top Caucasian administrators, “the princely family of Sharvashidze used the Georgian written language” (Sh. Chkhetia, “K istorii Abkhazskogo kniazhestva. 1853-1855,” in: Istoricheskiy vestnik, Tbilisi, No. 15-16, 1963, p. 154).

18 The so-called memorandum of the deputies of the Abkhazian and Samurzakano nobility of 23 March, 1870 is quite interesting. It was submitted to General-Adjutant Prince Sviatopolk-Mirskiy, Chairman of the Tiflis Committee for Estate and Land Questions (for the text see: A. Menteshashvili, Istoricheskie predposylki sovremennogo separatizma v Gruzii, Tbilisi, 1998, pp. 28-30; Z.V. Papaskiri, op. cit., pp. 187-189).


and two pristavstvos (Tsebeldin and Samurzakano)” under the Kutaisi Governor-General.19 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 Abkhazian academic S. Lakoba, was of an “anti-colonial, national-liberation nature.”20 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 Sukhumi; 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 Sukhumi Department.”21

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”22 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.”23 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.”24

This was what the government was doing much later, in the 1960s-1990s: 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.25 They did even more than merely hail it—D. Purtseladze, I. Gegia, G. Kurtsikidze, and K. Machavariani were actively involved in the process.

19 See: G.A. Dzidzaria, “Abkhazia v gody Krymskoy voyny. Uprazdnenie vladetelnogo kniazhestva,” in: Ocherki istorii Abkhazskoi ASSR, Vol. I, pp. 199-200.

20 S.Z. Lakoba, Ocherki politicheskoy istorii Abkhazii, Sukhumi, 1990, p. 26.

21 G.A. Dzidzaria, Makhajirstvo i problemy istorii Abkhazii XIX stoletia, Sukhumi, 1982, p. 282.

22 “Doklad Kutaisskogo voennogo gubernatora po voenno-narodnomu upravleniu, 2 sentiabria 1900 goda,” in:

A. Silagadze, V. Guruli, Historical Political Essays, Tbilisi, 2001, p. 309 (in Georgian).

23 “Kutaisskiy voenny gubernator po voenno-narodnomu upravleniu No. 54. 3 avgust 1900,” in: A. Silagadze, V. Guruli, op. cit., p. 300.

24 “Doklad Kutaisskogo voennogo gubernatora...,” p. 313.

25 Iakov Gogebashvili was one of those who were especially clear about this. Some Abkhazian academics accuse him, without reason, of ideological preparation of the notorious Hundred Years’ War of Georgia against Abkhazia (S.Z. Lakoba, one of the ideologists of Abkhazian separatism demonstrated special zeal) (see: S.Z. Lakoba, Stoletniaia voyna Gruzii protiv Abkhazii, Gagry, 1993). “Certain newspaper correspondents,” wrote Iakov Gogebashvili, “are hostile to the idea of translating the theological books into Abkhazian 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, Abkhazian 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” (quoted from: O.G. Churgulia, “Mahajirism and Georgian Intelligentsia (Latter Half of


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 Abkhazian 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.”26

Evgeny Veidenbaum, another prominent Russian figure, was even more outspoken: “The Abkhazian 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 Abkhazian 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 Abkhazian autonomy on top of the Georgian and other autonomies.”27

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.”28 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.”29 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, Abkhazian priests to the predominantly Abkhazian parishes of the Sukhumi eparchy.”30 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 Sukhumi Eparchy from the highly undesirable Georgian influence. This can be done if the Sukhumi 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.”31

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 Abkhazian nobility who were dead set against those who wanted to disrupt the Georgian-Abkhazian historical and cultural entity. The Abkhazian delegation, which arrived in Tiflis on 26 April, 1916, to meet the Caucasian viceroy was the best confirmation of the prevailing sentiments.32

the 19th Century),” in: Studies of the History of Abkhazia/Georgia, pp. 401-402). Bishop Cyrion (today tagged as an enemy of the Abkhazians) was one of those who hailed the idea of the Abkhazian written language. He intended “to contribute to the national textbook of the Abkhazian language” and called on the Sukhumi Georgians “to help the Abkhazians in all ways in this cultural initiative” (ibid., p. 401).

26 G.V. Zhorzholiani, Historical and Political Roots of the Conflict in Abkhazia/Georgia, Tbilisi, 2000, p. 35 (in Georgian) (italics mine.—Z.P.).

27 Z.V. Anchabadze, Ocherk etnicheskoy istorii abkhazkogo naroda, Sukhumi, 1976, p. 96.

28 “Doklad Kutaisskogo voennogo gubernatora.,” p. 312.

29 Ibidem.

30 Ibid., pp. 312-313.

31 Z.V. Papaskiri, op. cit., p. 229.

32 “The Abkhazian delegation” handed in a petition to the Caucasian viceroy. For the text see: D. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, Abkhazia—istoricheskaia oblast Gruzii, Tbilisi, 1996, pp. 385-386.


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. “Abkhazian 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 Democratic Republic

Starting in February i9i8 when the Russian Empire was crumbling the new Abkhazian leaders who usurped power moved ahead to rupture all ties with the rest of Georgia. In October І9І7 the Abkhazian 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 Sukhumi District (Abkhazians) who were the subjects of the Southeastern Union.”33 On 8 November, І9І7 the nationalist forces, in disregard of the sentiments of the autochthonous Georgians and other population groups living in Abkhazia, convened a congress of the Abkhazian people in Sukhumi that set up the Abkhazian People’s Soviet and adopted the Declaration of the Congress of the Abkhazian People and the Constitution of the Abkhazian People’s Soviet. The Congress officially confirmed that the Abkhazian people (not Abkhazia) had joined “the Alliance of the United Mountain Peoples.”

The decisions of the so-called ist Congress of the Abkhazian 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 І9І8. Deprived of support of the Southeastern Union and the Alliance of the United Mountain Peoples, the Abkhazian People’s Soviet had to seek understanding with Tbilisi. On 9 February, І9І8 the delegation of the Abkhazian People’s Soviet and members of the National Council of Georgia met in the Georgian capital. The Abkhazian 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.”34

The agreement of 9 February, І9І8 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 Abkhazian People’s Soviet—were not state structures. The document’s historic importance, however, cannot be contested: it relieved tension between Tbilisi and Sukhumi and made their relations more constructive.

When the Transcaucasian Federative Republic fell apart on 2б May, І9І8 and the Georgian Democratic Republic was formed, the Abkhazian People’s Soviet elected by the Abkhazian population (and therefore not representing the autochthonous Georgian or other population) “ruled ... to assume full power within Abkhazia,”35 which meant separation from the rest of Georgia. Not quite sure of its position the Abkhazian People’s Soviet 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

33 Ibid., p. 389. The Status of the Autonomous Regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia (1917-1988), Collection of Political-Legal Acts in Georgian and Russian, Compiled and edited by Tamaz Diasamidze, Tbilisi, 2004, p. 212, available at [http://www.rrc.ge/admn/books.php?lng_3=ge] (italics mine.—Z.P.).

34 A. Menteshashvili, op. cit., pp. 16-17.

35 D. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, op. cit., p. 413.


asked Tbilisi “to leave a detachment of the Georgian Red Guard at the Soviet’s disposal.”36 The same document entrusted R. Kakubava, V. Gurjua, G. Ajamov, 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 Abkhazian People’s Soviet 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 Abkhazian People’s Soviet.” The Soviet, 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 Abkhazian People’s Soviet” to Abkhazia.37 This means that according to Minister for Abkhazia R. Chkhotua, under the treaty of 11 June “the Abkhazian people tied their future to the fates of the Georgian people according to autonomous principles.”38

On 13 February, 1919 Abkhazia held the first universal democratic elections to the People’s Soviet—the highest state power structure in Abkhazia. The ruling Social-Democratic Party of Georgia won with 27 seats out of 40. Eleven deputies out of 27 were Abkhazians and 11 were Georgians, while 5 deputies represented other nationalities. On the whole, out of 40 deputies 18 were Abkhazians; 16 were Georgians, while 6 represented other nationalities.39 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).40

On 20 March, 1919 the newly elected People’s Soviet 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.”41 Point 2 envisaged electing a joint commission “with equal representation of the Constituent Assembly of Georgia and the People’s Soviet of Abkhazia to draw the Constitution of Autonomous Abkhazia and determine the relations between the Central and Autonomous powers.”42

Sukhumi had three drafts of the Constitution of Autonomous Abkhazia: the draft submitted by the Social-Democratic faction of the People’s Soviet of Abkhazia; the draft of the Commissariat (government) of Abkhazia; and the draft submitted by the Soviet’s separatist-minded deputies, all of them clearly described Abkhazia as an autonomy within the Georgian Democratic Republic.43 In the fall of 1919 the final version was ready; it was approved by the People’s Soviet 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.

Art 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

36 D. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, op. cit., p. 4i3.

37 A. Menteshashvili, op. cit., p. 22.

38 D. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, op. cit., p. 753.

39 For more detail, see: Z.V. Papaskiri, Essays on the History of Contemporary Abkhazia, Part II, l9l7-l993, Tbili-

si, 2007, pp. 32-34 (in Georgian).

40 See: Ibid., p. 35.

41 D. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, op. cit., p. 435 (italics mine.—Z.P.).

42 Ibidem (italics mine.—Z.P.).

43 For more detail, see: A. Menteshashvili, op. cit., pp. 80-94.


within these boundaries is administering its domestic affairs autonomously.”44 In this way the state and legal relations between Sukhumi and Tbilisi were finally regulated; and Abkhazia became an autonomy within a single Georgian state, something that the Abkhazian 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”45 are wrong.

The ardent desire to restore Georgian-Abkhazian statehood was probably not universal, but not one Abkhazian (including opposition) leader of the time openly objected to Abkhazian autonomy in a single Georgian state. More than that, it was Abkhazia that insisted on Georgia promptly endorsing the Constitution of Autonomous Abkhazia adopted by the People’s Soviet 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

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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 Bolshevist Russia brought down the legal government of sovereign Georgia. E. Eshba and N. Lakoba, two Bolshevist 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.46

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 S.S.R. will be settled by the first congress of the Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies of both republics.”47 In fact, the Kremlin leaders, the Georgian Communists, and the Abkhazian Bolsheviks knew in their heart of hearts that there could be no genuinely independent Abkhazian state. According to the Georgian and Abkhazian Bolshevist leaders Abkhazian independence was temporary: “for no longer than one minute” as Nestor Lakoba put it.48

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 S.S.R. 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).49 On 24 November,

44 D. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, op. cit., p. 4бб (italics mine.—Z.P.).

45 S.Z. Lakoba, Otvet istorikam iz Tbilisi.Dokumenty i fakty, Sukhumi, 200i, p. 78.

46 See: B.E. Sagaria, “Sozdanie i uprochenie organov gosudartvennoy vlasti. Obrazovanie SSR Abkhazii,” in: Isto-ria Abkhazskoy ASSR. l9l7-l937, Sukhumi, І983, p. І02.

47 Ibidem.

48 N.A. Lakoba, Statii i rechi, Sukhumi, І987, p. 24 (italics mine.—Z.P.); L. Toidze, “K voprosu o politicheskom statuse Abkhazii (i92i-i93i),” in: Razyskaniia po istorii Abkhazii/Gruzia, p. 302, available at [http://b.sisauri. tripod.com/lit/politic/abkhazia.html].

49 A. Menteshashvili, op. cit., p. б7.


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 C.C. R.C.P. (B.) of Georgia. On 16 December, 1921 Abkhazia became part of the Georgian S.S.R. as a so-called republic under a treaty 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 S.S.R. was incorporated into Georgia; the Constitution of Georgia of 1922 directly stated: “The Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic of Ajaria, the South Ossetia 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 (T.S.F.S.R.) as a subject of the U.S.S.R. consisted of three socialist republics—Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.51 Abkhazia never was an independent subject of the Soviet Union (in the same way as Georgia never had this status within the U.S.S.R.)—it was listed as an autonomous republic. More than that, under Art 15 (Chapter IV) of the Union Treaty, which was part of the Constitution of the U.S.S.R. of 1924, “the autonomous republics of Ajaria and Abkhazia were not similar de facto to the autonomous regions of the R.S.F.S.R. since, as distinct from the autonomous republics of the R.S.F.S.R. which had 5 deputies each in the Supreme Legislature of the Soviet Union, the Soviet of Nationalities, Ajaria and Abkhazia could send only one representative each, that is as many as the autonomous regions of South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Nakhchyvan.”52

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 Ajaria 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 C.C. C.P. 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 1st Congress of the Soviets of Georgia.

This means that the Abkhazian S.S.R., which was declared in March 1921, and its so-called unification with the Georgian S.S.R. 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 Abkhazian 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 S.S.R. They drafted the first Constitution of Soviet Abkhazia approved by the 3rd Congress of the Soviets of Abkhazia in March 1925.

50 G. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, op. cit., p. 485.

51 See: Istoria Sovetskoy konstitutsii. Sbornik dokumentov. 1917-1957, Moscow, І957, p. 227; G. Gamakharia,

B. Gogia, op. cit., p. 488.

52 Istoria Sovetskoy., p. 229; G. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, op. cit., p. 489 (italics mine.—Z.P.)


This document could hardly stand up to legal and political tests; in fact, its articles contradicted one another: while Art 4 of Chapter I stated: “Having united on the basis of a special union treaty with the Georgian S.S.R., the Abkhazia S.S.R., through Georgia, is part of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic and, through the latter, of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,”53 Art 5 of Chapter II of the same “Constitution” did not mention Abkhazia’s membership in the T.S.F.S.R. and the U.S.S.R. through the Georgian S.S.R. It merely stated: “Sovereignty of the Abkhazian S.S.R. in view of its voluntary joining the T.S.F.S.R. and the Union of S.S.R. is limited to and by the matters identified by the constitutions of these ‘Unions’.”54 The same article said further: “The citizens of the Abkhazian S.S.R., while preserving their republican citizenship, are also citizens of the T.S.F.S.R. and the Union of the S.S.R.” And finally: “The Abkhazian S.S.R. preserves the right of free withdrawal both from the T.S.F.S.R. and the Union of the S.S.R.”

In this way, these and some other articles of the Abkhazian “Constitution” withdrew Abkhazia from the state and legal field of the Georgian S.S.R. The higher Communist Party instances of Georgia and the Transcaucasus could not ignore these faults of the Abkhazian Constitution. The dressing-down Nestor Lakoba and other Abkhazian leaders received from the higher party structures forced them to admit that the “Constitution was written in the stupidest manner.”55 The 3rd Session of the All-Georgia Central Executive Committee convened in Sukhumi on 13 June, 1926 instructed the supreme legislature of the Abkhazian S.S.R. to revise the Constitution to bring it in line with the Constitution of the Georgian S.S.R. This was done by the 3rd Session of the Central Executive Committee of the Abkhazian S.S.R. 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.”56 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”57 and “the State budget of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia” was “a component of the common budget of the Georgian S.S.R.”58

The articles of the 1927 Constitution of the Abkhazian S.S.R. 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 S.S.R. 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 united Abkhazian S.S.R. has no real meaning.”59 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 “united republic” with the words “autonomous republic.” In February 1931 the 6th Congress of the Soviets

53 G. Gamakharia, B. Gogia, op. cit., p. 490.

54 Ibidem.

55 Ibid., p. 49i.

56 Ibid., p. 497 (italics mine.—Z.P.).

57 Ibid., p. 500.

58 Ibid., p. 502.

59 B.E. Sagaria, “Preobrazovanie dogovornoy SSR Abkhazia v avtonomnuiu respubliku,” in: Istoria Abkhazskoy ASSR (1917-1937), p. 250.


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


The Abkhazian A.S.S.R. 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 S.S.R., the Azerbaijanian S.S.R., and the Armenian S.S.R.) 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 S.S.R. a direct subject of the Soviet Un-ion60 and failed.

In the 1950s (in 1957 to be more exact) certain separatist forces tried to exploit the thaw to stage the first “all-Abkhazian revolt” in order to detach the Abkhazian A.S.S.R. from the Georgian

S.S.R. 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 Abkhazian 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 Union 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 U.S.S.R. was drafted and approved members of the Abkhazian 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 A.S.S.R. (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 openness policy. It reached its height in the spring and summer of 1989 when, on 18 March, a “universal meeting” of Abkhazians 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 S.S.R. should be restored to make it a Soviet subject in its own right.

The first blood was shed on 15-16 July, 1989 in Sukhumi 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 partic-

' See: S.Z. Lakoba, Ocherki politicheskoy istorii Abkhazii, p. І23.


ular. 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 A.S.S.R. (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 Abkhazian 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 Abkhazians acquired the priority right to be elected to the Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia. As a result, the Abkhazians, 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’etat 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 the two capitals reached its apogee when, on 23 July, 1992, the Supreme Soviet 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 S.S.R. 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 Abkhazian 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.

C o n c l u s i o n

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 Abkhazians, 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.

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