Научная статья на тему 'Abkhazia"s status as part of Georgia: historical perspective'

Abkhazia"s status as part of Georgia: historical perspective Текст научной статьи по специальности «История и археология»

i Надоели баннеры? Вы всегда можете отключить рекламу.
The Caucasus & Globalization
Область наук
Ключевые слова

Аннотация научной статьи по истории и археологии, автор научной работы — Lordkipanidze Mariam, Otkhmezuri Georgi

This article looks at Abkhazia's status as part of Georgia and the establishment of the Abkhazian nation, which moved in the 15th-18th centuries from the Northern Caucasus to Western Georgia (Abkhazia); this ethnic group calls itself "Apsua," while the Georgians call them "Abkhazians."

i Надоели баннеры? Вы всегда можете отключить рекламу.
iНе можете найти то, что вам нужно? Попробуйте сервис подбора литературы.
i Надоели баннеры? Вы всегда можете отключить рекламу.

Текст научной работы на тему «Abkhazia"s status as part of Georgia: historical perspective»

tions to separate Azerbaijan from the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to make it a union republic or, better still, to separate Azerbaijanian State University from the state.”25

He also pointed out that the NKVD officials of that time were backward “politically and culturally”; the people in power preferred obedient instruments to high professionals. The ability and willingness to extract confessions and mainly false evidence were appreciated more than professionalism, excellent knowledge, and investigatory skills. However, the strategic aim—that of browbeating people into accepting the idea of the perfect nature of the Soviet socialist system—remained unattained. This means that state terror as a method failed. On the other hand, we must admit that it crippled the spiritual and moral potential of all the Soviet peoples, the Azeris being no exception in this respect. Fear of the totalitarian state deformed, to a certain extent, their mentality.

! GAPPOD, Record group 1, Inventory 41, File 100, pp. 2-3.


D.Sc. (Hist.), Professor at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi University, Academician of the Georgian National Academy of Sciences

(Tbilisi, Georgia).


D.Sc. (Hist.), Professor at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi University

(Tbilisi, Georgia).



This article looks at Abkhazia’s status as part of Georgia and the establishment of the Abkhazian nation, which moved in the 15th-18th centuries from the

Northern Caucasus to Western Georgia (Abkhazia); this ethnic group calls itself “Apsua,” while the Georgians call them “Abkhazians.”

I n t r o d u c t i o n

The history of the so-called Georgian-Abkhazian conflict goes back into the distant past. In the 16th-18th centuries, in order to assert its supremacy, the Ottoman Empire tried to spread Islam in Western Georgia (particularly in Abkhazia) and foment hostility between Christians and Muslims,

that is, between the Georgians and Abkhazians (Apsua). At the beginning of the 19th century, after it annexed Georgia, czarist Russia pursued the same policy.

Relying on historical sources and scientific research, we will try to answer several problematic questions in the history of Abkhazia and the Abkhazians (Apsny and Apsua).

Abkhazia from Antiquity to Russia’s Annexation of Georgia

Archeological findings uncovered during digs on the Black Sea coast of Georgia and dating to the 3rd-2nd millennia BC give reason to believe that the Western Transcaucasus was mainly populated by the Kartvelian (Georgian) ethnic group (from the years indicated until the Classical times). Historical sources point to the existence of a single Colchian (West Georgian) culture there, within which individual regional and local types can be singled out, but, on the whole, it is the Colchian culture.1

In the 2nd-1st millennia BC, the Kartvelian ethnic element was prevalent both in the highland and lowland parts of Western Georgia, to which the Georgian toponyms and hydronyms, as well as the proliferation of Georgian last names since ancient times testify.2

These conclusions are confirmed in the Greek myths about the travels of the Argonauts to Colchis and are based on linguistic studies that prove the existence of the Kartvelian language there in the 2nd millennium BC, that is, during the time of the oldest Greek-Colchian contacts.3

There are also Greek works by Hecataeus of Miletus, 6th century BC, Herodotus, 5th century BC, Scylax of Caryanda, 4th century BC, Strabo, 64/63 BC—ca. 24/23 AD, and others, which show that at that time the Kingdom of Colchis covered the entire lowland part of Western Georgia.

In so doing, the territory that stretched as far as Dioskuria (Sukhumi) was largely populated by Colchians, while an analysis of the ethnic composition of the population of the country’s northern part also mentions members of North Caucasian ethnic groups (for example, the Cercetae, who were considered to be Circassians).

When studying the ethnic map of Western Georgia, it is important to remember that 2nd century authors Flavius Arrianus (Arrian) and Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy) write about the settlement of Lazica, situated near Nikopsia (Tuapse), which Arrian calls “old Lazica.” This is indisputable proof that a Laz, i.e. Colchian (Georgian) population, lived there since ancient times.4

1 See: O. Japaridze, “Zapadnogruzinskaia kultura,” in: Ocherki istorii Gruzii, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 1988, pp. 119-140; idem, “K etnokul’turnoy situatsii severo-zapadnogo Zakavkazia v epokhu kamnia i rannego zheleza,” in: Razyskania po istorii Abkhazii/Gruzia, Tbilisi, 1999, pp. 7-25 (abstract in English); M. Baramidze, G. Pkhakadze, “Archeological Research of the Pre-Ancient Period in the Territory of Present-Day Abkhazia. The Ancient Bronze-Early Iron Ages (16th-7th centuries BC),” in: Essays from Georgian History. Abkhazia from Ancient Times to the Present, Tbilisi, 2007, p. 21 (in Georgian).

2 See: G. Melikishvili, “K voprosu ob etnicheskoy prinadlezhnosti naselenia drevney Gruzii,” in: Ocherki istorii Gruzii, Vol. I, pp. 182-183; T. Gvantseladze, “Lingvisticheskie osnovy etnicheskoy istorii Abkhazii,” in: Ocherki iz istorii Gruzii, Abkhazia..., pp. 178-196.

3 See: T. Gamkrelidze, V. Ivanov, Indoevropeiskiy iazyk i indoevropeitsy, Tbilisi, 1984, pp. 907-909.

4 There are many academic works on this topic, including: P. Ingorokva, Georgi Merchule, Tbilisi, 1954, pp. 130146 (in Georgian); M. Inadze, “On the Ethnic Composition of the Population of Northeast Black Sea Region in Ancient Times,” Bulletin of the Department of Social Sciences, Georgian S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, 1960, Iss. 2, pp. 145-162 (in Georgian, abstract in Russian); G. Melikishvili, “Kolkhida v VI-IV vv. do n.e.,” in: Ocherki istorii Gruzii, Vol. I, p. 223; Z. Anchabadze, Ocherki etnicheskoy istorii abkhazskogo naroda, Sukhumi, 1976, p. 27; D. Muskhelishvili, Basic Questions of the Historical Geography of Georgia, Vol. I, Tbilisi, 1977, p. 46 (in Georgian); O. Lordkipanidze, Nasledie drevney Gruzii, Tbilisi, 1989 (see also: Razyskania po istorii Abkhazii/Gruzia; Ocherki iz istorii Gruzii. Abkhazia...).


It becomes entirely clear from the information in the ancient sources that in the 6th-1st centuries BC, the territory of present-day Abkhazia lay entirely within the boundaries of the Kingdom of Colchis; whereby Colchians proper populated the area from Apsarus (not far from Batumi) to Dioscurias (Sukhumi). Kartvelian tribes of Svans also lived to the north of the Colchians, in the mountains.5

In the 1st-2nd centuries AD, the ancient written sources in Abkhazia begin mentioning Apsils and Abazgs.6

“Apsilia,” as the authors of antiquity call it, corresponds to “Abshileti” in the Georgian sources. From the mid-8th century, they no longer mention it, since part of this region was assimilated by the Abazgs and a large part by the Laz.7

After the Kingdom of Colchis weakened and then collapsed in the 1st century, ethno-adminis-trative units subordinate to Rome formed on the Black Sea coast of Georgia—Lazica, Apsilia, Abaz-gia, and Sanigia.8

In the 3rd century, Lazica began to gain strength, and in the 4th century, the Kingdom of Lazica (Egrisi) emerged in Western Georgia.9 In the Greek sources, Lazica was described as the direct successor of Colchis. For example, Procopius of Caesarea wrote: “‘Colchis,’ which is now called ‘Lazica.’”10

In the 6th century, the Kingdom of Lazica weakened as the result of the Iranian-Byzantine wars, and Byzantium established its power over Abazgia. Its rulers were appointed by the imperial administration, while also being subjects of the King of Lazica.

Abazgia brought the neighboring ethno-administrative units under its jurisdiction, thus expanding its territory as far as the River Ghalidzga. In the mid-8th century, Abkhazia and Egrisi (Lazica) united and the territory of Abazgia (Abkhazeti) encompassed the whole of Western Georgia. The ruler of the state, who was subordinate to Byzantium, was called a “mtavar” (prince).11

According to Georgian writings, the last representative of the Kartli rulers, childless Archil, gave the hand of his niece (the daughter of deceased king Mir) in marriage to Leon I, prince of Abkhazians, and handed over the crown of Egrisi (meaning the crown of the king of Lazica) to him.12 This gives reason to believe that the unification of Egrisi and Abkhazia, that is, the creation of a united West Georgian state, was a voluntary, dynastical act.13

Taking advantage of the difficult domestic political situation that had developed at the end of the 8th century in Byzantium, Leon II freed the empire of its vassalage, declared himself king, “and possessed Abkhazia and Egrisi as far as Likhi Ridge.”14

Abkhazia and Egrisi were Leon II’s inherited property (inherited from his mother), and he “possessed” both of these countries equally and was called “king.”15

! See: G. Melikishvili, op. cit., p. 283; M. Inadze, op. cit., p. 151

p. 156

5 |

6 See: Pliny, Natural History, VI, SC, II, pp. 178, 179; Flavius Arrianus, Periplus, SC, I, p. 222; M. Inadze, op. cit.,

7 See: D. Muskhelishvili,’Tstoricheskaia geograpfia Gruzii IV-X vv,” in: Ocherki istorii Gruzii, Vol. II, Tbilisi, 1989, pp. 383-386; M. Lordkipanidze, Abkhazians and Abkhazia, Tbilisi, 1990, p. 42 (in Georgian, Russian, and English).

8 See: Flavius Arrianus, Journey around the Black Sea. Georgian translation, research, comments, and maps by N. Kechagmadze, Tbilisi, 1961, pp. 42-43.

9 See: N. Lomouri, Egrisi Kingdom, Tbilisi, 1968 (in Georgian).

10 Georgica. Information of Greek historians on Georgia. Greek text and Georgian translation by S. Kaukhchishvi-li, Vol. II, 1936, p. 47.

11 See: I. Sabanisdze, The Martyrdom of Abo Tbileli, Monuments of Ancient Georgian Hagiographic Literature, I, 1963, p. 59 (in Georgian); Russian translation by K. Kekelidze; Sketches from the History of Ancient Georgian Literature, XII, Tbilisi, 1974, p. 120.

12 See: Juansher Juansheriani, “The Life of Vakhtang Gorgasal,” Kartlis tskhovreba (History of Georgia), Vol. I, 1955, pp. 242-243 (in Georgian) (History of Georgia [Kartlis tskhovreba], Tbilisi, 2008, p. 111, in Russian).

13 See: P. Ingorokva, op. cit., pp. 189-218; Z. Anchabadze, Iz istorii srednevekovoy Abkhazii, Sukhumi, 1959, pp. 100-105.

14 Matiane Kartlisa. Kartlis tskhovreba, Vol. I, p. 251 (History of Georgia [Kartlis tskhovreba], p. 140, in Russian).

15 See: M. Lordkipanidze, op. cit, p. 43.

There are no direct indications in the writings about the ethnic affiliation of the country’s population. Some researchers believe they were Abkhazians proper , that is, not Kartvelians, others said they were Greek, and still others called them Georgians. It should also be kept in mind that Armenian historian of the 10th century Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi (Catholicos of Armenia) called this state “Ashkhar egaratsuts,” that is, the country of the Egrisis, and their kings, the kings of Egrisi,16 that is, our closest neighbors consider it to be a Georgian state (Egrisi), and its kings are Georgians.

Titular issues are directly associated with this problem.17 In the 9th-10th centuries, the kings of the West Georgian state called themselves only “kings” in their documents, not believing it necessary to specify where they were from. For example, “King Constantine III” (893-922), “King Georgi II” (922-957), and “King Leon III” (957-967) were considered kings of the entire state.

After the coronation of the first king of the united Georgian feudal state, Bagrat Bagrationi (975/8-1014), held in 978 in Kutaisi, they began to be called the “Kings of the Abkhazians” in Georgian written works.

Not one of the well-known written sources of the 9th-10th centuries calls this West Georgian state the “Abkhazian Kingdom.” Even an anonymous Persian historian of the 10th century, the author of “Ketabes Khudud al-Alem” (“Book of the Borders of Countries”) calls the Black Sea “the Sea of the Georgians” (“Gordzhi Daria”).18

The state that formed after the unification of Western Georgia was called “Abkhazia,” since its rulers were from the Georgian historical-geographical region of Abkhazia.

For example, Georgian writer I. Sabanisdze, who was in Western Georgia in the 780s, calls this country “Abkhazia,” and its supreme ruler “mtavar” (prince), without giving any definition.19

Of course, it would be interesting to know where they came from, but it is impossible to say for sure. Here, national self-consciousness rather than genetics is the main thing. In terms of their state activity, they were Georgian kings of the Georgian state.

Not only Georgian, but also well-known Abkhazian historians G. Dzidzaria and Z. Anchabadze believed the Abkhazian kingdom to be a West Georgian state.20

It should also be noted that one of the oldest centers of Georgian culture—the town of Kutaisi, was the kingdom’s capital, and not Anacopia (a city fortress of Abkhazia), which was the residence of the Abkhazian eristavi (dukes).

In keeping with the administrative reform carried out by King Leon (end of 8th-beginning of 9th centuries), eight administrative units (saeristavo) were created in the state, one of which was the Abkhazian eristavate, and the other seven were Georgian: Tskhum, Egrisi (center in Bedia), Guria, Racha-Lechkhumi, Svaneti, Agrveti (center in Shorapani) and the lowland of Imereti (center in Kutaisi).21

Even if we presume that the population living in the Abkhazian eristavate was not Georgian (which is highly unlikely), all the others were indeed Georgian, so this kingdom, both in terms of territory and population, was a Georgian state.22

16 See: Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi, History of Armenia, Armenian text, Georgian translation, and comments by E. Tsagareishvili, Tbilisi, 1965, pp. 38, 44, 109, 111, 119, 257.

17 See: L. Akhaladze, “Georgian and Armenian Historians on the Titulary of the Kings of the “Abkhazians,” in:

Historical Research. Annual, VII, Tbilisi, 2004, pp. 24-33 (in Georgian, abstract in Russian).

18 See: T. Gvantseladze, op. cit., p. 185.

19 See: I. Sabanisdze, op. cit, p. 59; Russian translation by K.S. Kekelidze, p. 120.

20 See: Georgian Soviet Encyclopedia. Volume—Georgian S.S.R., 1981, article “Abkhazian A.S.S.R.”—historical essay, author G. Dzidzaria, p. 324; Z. Anchabadze, “Abkhazian Kingdom,” Georgian Soviet Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, 1977, p. 32 (in Georgian).

21 See: Vakhushti, “History of Georgia,” in: Kartlis tskhovreba, Vol. IV, Tbilisi, 1979, p. 796 (in Georgian). This report by Vakhushti is also confirmed by other sources.

22 As we know, there is no such thing as a monoethnic state, and it is possible that representatives of other ethnic

groups also lived in this kingdom, but this does not change the overall picture.


The kings of Western Georgia were instrumental in withdrawing this region from the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchy in the 10th-9th centuries and making it subordinate on the Georgian Mtskhetan See.23

There can be no doubt that it was very difficult for the region to free itself from the political influence of Byzantium, but it was much more difficult to shake off the religious and cultural influence of Constantinople. For this purpose, the West Georgian kings abolished the Greek episcopal sees (mainly on the Black Sea coast and contiguous territories), which were Constantinople’s strongholds, and instead established new Georgian sees within the country which later became centers of Georgian culture.

If the Abkhazian Kingdom and its kings had not been Georgian, it is unlikely that the Abkhazian church would have been withdrawn from Constantinople’s subordination and transferred to the Georgian Catholicosate of Mtskheta. The Georgian church opposed the Greek church; and the Georgian language ultimately occupied its legitimate position throughout Western Georgia, becoming the state language and language of church service.24

Georgian hagiographic and hymnographic works, chronicles of the kings, and monuments of Georgian architecture were created in the kingdom. The Georgian lands were united after an unrelenting struggle and the unified Georgian medieval state of Sakartvelo (the country of the Kartvelians) was established.

This entire complicated process was described in the Greek (particularly in the lists of ecclesiastical sees subordinated to Constantinople) and Georgian written sources and studied in the works of several historians.25

From the beginning of the 9th century until the 18th century, only Georgian epigraphy was seen in Abkhazia,26 not counting two Arabic inscriptions.

It is extremely important that the West Georgian (Abkhazian), Kakhetian, Tao-Klarjetian, and Kartlian architectural schools that existed in Georgian medieval architecture and had some local characteristics are of a general Georgian nature.27

It should be stressed that the general characteristics inherent in the art memorials of certain independent Georgian states were manifested before a united feudal monarchy appeared there, which confirms the presence of common historical roots and affiliation with the oldest Georgian culture.

The chronicles of the eristavi and kings of Western Georgia provide evidence of the fact that the title “King of the Abkhazians” appeared from the 11th century (after the coronation of Bagrat III in 978). These eristavi and kings were called the “Divan of kings” until the reign of Konstantin III (893-912), and after Bagrat Bagrationi ascended to the throne, they were known as the “Divan of kings of the Abkhazians.”28

It should also be kept in mind that Armenian historian of the 11th century Aristakes Lastivertsi (in contrast to his predecessor, historian of the 10th century Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi) does not call them Egrisi kings, but kings of the “Abkhazians.”29

23 For a closer look at this issue with a review of sources and literature, see: M. Lordkipanidze, “Abkhazskoe tsarstvo,” in: Ocherki istorii Gruzii, Vol. II, pp. 287-298; idem, “Abkhazskoe tsarstvo,” in: Razyskania po istorii Abkhazii/Gruzia, pp. 158-161.

24 See: S.N. Janashia, “Iz istorii Abkhazskogo tsarstva,” Trudy, II, 1952, p. 306.

25 See: N.A. Berdzenishvili, “Vazirat in Feudal Georgia,” in: Questions of Georgian History, Vol. III, Tbilisi, 1996, pp. 47-57 (in Georgian); M.D. Lordkipanidze, Political Unification of Feudal Georgia, 1963, pp. 188-194 (in Georgian); Z.V. Anchabadze, Iz istorii srednevekovoy Abkhazii, pp. 144-154; M.D. Lordkipanidze, “Abkhazskoe tsartsvo,” in: Ocherki istorii Gruzii, Vol. II, pp. 286-292, and others.

26 See: Kh.S. Bgazhba, Iz istorii pis'mennosti v Abkhazii, Tbilisi, 1967, p. 13; L. Akhaladze, “Epigraphicheskie pa-miatniki Abkhazii,” in: Razyskania istorii Abkhazii / Gruzia, pp. 363-374. The Greek inscriptions seen on frescoes in churches and monasteries were due to the adherence to Greek use.

27 See: V. Beridze, Mesto pamiatnikov Tao-Klardzheti v istorii gruzinskoy arkhitektury, Tbilisi, 1981, p. 132; D. Tumanishvili, “Srednevekovaia tserkovnaia arkhitektura v Abkhazii,” in: Razyskanii po istorii Abkhazii / Gruzia, pp. 375-390.

28 E. Takaishvili, Ancient Georgia, Vol. II, Tiflis, 1913, pp. 46-47 (in Georgian).

29 See: Aristakes Lastivertsi, History. Georgian translation with research and comments by E. Tsagareishvili, Tbilisi, 1971, p. 42.

The abovementioned facts confirm that the kings of the West Georgian state of the 9th-10th centuries belonged to the Georgian ethnocultural world; the kingdom of the “Abkhazians” was a Georgian state and was an integral part of the Georgian historical world.30

It is very clear that Bagrat Bagrationi, the first king who was officially called the “King of the Abkhazians,” was the only legitimate successor to the West Georgian throne (on his mother’s side), and his title is legal confirmation of his rights to the West Georgian, that is, Abkhazian throne. After the death of his ancestor, he, as the legal heir, acquired another title—“King of the Kartvelians,” and after the reunion of Kakhetia and Hereti, he also becomes “King of the Rans (that is, Hers) and Ka-khis.”31 It is important that this title remained unchanged in the list of titles of the Georgian kings, which all in all underwent several changes over the centuries, right up until Russia abolished the power of the kings in Georgia.

Precisely because “King of the Abkhazians” holds first place in the list of titles of the Georgian kings, in several foreign and Georgian written sources, the concept of “Abkhazian” implies “Georgian” in general (Kartvelians and Iberians), while “Abkhazia” means “Georgia” (Sakartvelo). In so doing, foreign authors (Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Armenians, and Russians) are well aware that these are synonyms, and this is precisely what one of the Russian medieval sources writes: “Averians (that is, Iverians) are Obezi (Abkhazians).”32

The ancient Abkhazians (Apsil-Abshily, Aabazg-Abkhazy) mentioned in the sources were the same Georgians (Kartvelians) in the historical and cultural respect as the Egrs, Svans, and all the Kartvelian ethnic groups and played the same role in building the Georgian state and Georgian culture as all the Kartvelian ethnic groups.33

After the meaning of the terms “Abkhazia” and “Abkhazian” expanded as far as they could, the reverse process began.

At the end of the 15th-beginning of the 16th century, aggravation of internal contradictions and development of an unfavorable foreign political situation resulted in the united Georgian state falling apart into three kingdoms: Kartli, Kakhetia, and Imereti. A separate princedom also emerged—Sam-tskhe-Saatabago (historically Meskheti).

During the 16th-18th centuries, wars were waged almost continuously between Sefevid Persia and Ottoman Turkey for greater influence on the Middle East; one of the main objectives of the fighting sides was to conquer Georgia.

The Georgian states tried to put up as much resistance as they could to the aggressors, trying to get them to clash with each other. The hostilities resulted in a significant decrease in the number of residents in the country’s lowlands (the main area of the hostilities). Georgians whose territory had in turn been occupied by migrants from the northern slopes fleeing from Russia’s rapacious policy gradually began to descend to these parts from the southern slopes of the Caucasus.

In the 15th-16th centuries, tribes migrated from the Northern Caucasus, as a result of which Lezghians (representatives of the Daghestani ethnic groups) settled in Kakheti, Ossetians (Alans) in the northern part of Shida of (Inner) Kartli, and representatives of the Circassian-Adighe ethnic groups in Western Georgia. The latter, evidently, called themselves “Apsua.” However, they did not have neither script nor literature and this self-designation has not been registered anywhere.

Since then, Abkhazia has undergone certain changes due to the undermined position of Christianity. Pagan rites and confessions were brought in by migrants from the Northern Caucasus, and the Ottoman Empire, which established its supremacy in the region, implanted Islam there.

30 See: M.D. Lordkipanidze, “Abkhazskoe tsarstvo,” in: Ocherki istorii Gruzii, Vol. II, pp. 283-284; L. V. Akha-

iНе можете найти то, что вам нужно? Попробуйте сервис подбора литературы.

ladze, “Gruzinskie i armianskie istochniki o titulature tsarei ‘abkhazov,’” Istoricheskie razyskania,. Ezhegodnik, Vol. VII,

2004, p. 33.

31 M.D. Lordkipanidze, Abkhazy i Abkhazia, p. 46; L. Akhaladze, op. cit., p. 29.

32 M.D. Lordkipanidze, Abkhazy i Abkhazia, p. 47; Povest’ vremennykh let, Part II, Moscow, 1950, p. 213.

33 See: N. Berdzenishvili, “On Abkhazia,” in: Questions of Georgian History, Vol. III, p. 288 (in Georgian); idem, Questions of Georgian History, Tbilisi, 1990, p. 608 (in Georgian).


Since the 16th century, large seigniories (samtavro, princedoms) of Guria, Svanetia, and Samegrelo (Odishi) gradually formed in the West Georgian state. They were legally considered part of the kingdom of Imereti, but they tried to carry out an independent policy. There was feudal strife and, in the second half of the 17th century, the Abkhazian princedom (ruled by the Shervashidze princes) separated from Samegrelo (Megrelia, Odishi) and they began to fight for territory. This resulted in Samegrelo losing some of its domains and subsequently being called Samurzakano (now the Gali District).

Since that time, the meaning of the term “Abkhazia” became narrowed down, only the Abkhazian princedom was called by that name.

In the meantime, immigration of the population from the Northern Caucasus became even more intense. Abkhaz-ization, that is, “Apsu-ization,” of the territory began, which was reflected in the narrative Georgian and foreign sources and documents, as well as highlighted in the special lit-erature.34

In the 15th century, the documents began reporting that the Abkhazians had moved away from Christianity.35 The Georgians knew that the Abkhazians, like all other Georgians, were Christians, whereas the Circassian-Adighe tribes that migrated there from the north and settled in the highland areas had moved away from religion and made attacks on neighboring regions.

Since that time, the size of the non-Georgian population, which the Georgians called Abkhazians (since they lived and are living in Abkhazia), has been gradually growing. According to medieval customs, a foreigner who settles in Georgia is called a “khizani,” and his descendants of the third generation are considered indigenous residents (but not natives).

In the foreign sources, these people are usually called “Abaza.” A document of the first half of the 18th century witnessed that the Abkhazians profaned Christianity and rejected religion.36

So in the 16th-17th centuries, the boundaries of the West Georgian eparchy contracted, since Georgians (Christians) were gradually ousted from the land located beyond the Inguri River. It became increasingly difficult to rebuff the attacks of the migrants.

It is also very important to keep in mind that until around the 17th century, the Abkhazians did not differ socially, culturally, or confessionally from the other residents of Georgia (strictly speaking, Western Georgia).

According to foreign authors (for example, Giovanni Giuliano da Lucca, who was in Western Georgia in 1630), they did not live in towns, their living standards were similar to the Circassians, their language differed from that of their neighbors, they did not have neither script nor written laws, they lived in the woods, although they appeared to be Christians, but without any customs, and so on.37

The works of missionary of the Roman Catholic Church A. Lamberti, who lived in Western Georgia in 1633-1649, contain extremely valuable information about how the Abkhazians did not live in towns and fortresses ... they lived in the forests, on the tops of mountains ... others do not attack them, they attack each other.38

In the 1640s, a well-known Turkish geographer and historian Evliya Celebi was in Georgia and provided information about a way of life and culture in Abkhazia that differed from that of the neighboring Georgians. By that time Islam predominated in the country, but, according to him, the people were

34 See: I.G. Antelava, Ocherki po istorii Abkhazii XVII-XVIII vv., Sukhumi, 1951; T. Beridze,”Etnopoliticheskie protsessy na territorii sovremennoy Abkhazii v XV-XVIII vv.,” in: Razyskania po istorii Abkhazii/Gruzia, pp. 205-214.

35 See: Memorials of Georgian Law. Texts published and provided with comments and indexes by I.S. Dolidze, Vol. III, Tbilisi, 1970, p. 222 (in Georgian).

36 See: Ibid., Vol. II, 1965, p. 209.

37 See: I. Tabagua, Georgia in the Archives and Book Depositories of Europe, Tbilisi, 1987, pp. 169-171 (in Georgian).

38 See: A. Lamberti, Description of Samegrelo, ed. by L. Asatiani, Tbilisi, 1938, p. 168 (in Georgian).

not familiar with the Koran and did not have any religion at all.39 This information does not relate to the Georgian Abkhazians, but to the North Caucasian migrants, who, as mentioned above, were called (are called) “Abkhazians,” the self-designation of whom is “Apsua.” From Evliya Celebi’s evidence, it is clear that these people differed from the neighboring Abkhazians (i.e. Georgians).

The above information fully confirms the data of Georgian historiography on the social-cultural-religious appearance of the Abkhazian population after the 15th-16th centuries (particularly since the 17th century), which could be due to the partial change in the ethnic composition of the population.40

The subject of migration from distant countries comes up repeatedly in the historical legends.41 The folk poem about Aigr, the god of war in Abkhazian mythology, who kept guard over the mountains and only descended to the shore in order to rob, gives evidence of living in the mountains.42

Historical information on the origin of the migrants and migration processes is presented in eth-nogenetic and genealogical oral legends,43 according to which their distant ancestors from Arabia, Egypt, Abyssinia, and Greece first settled in the steppes on the banks of the River Kuban, and later some of them moved to the south through the mountain passes of the Greater Caucasus Range to Georgia and settled down near Mount Pskhu. They left their pagan shrines there, the grave of Ipal-Kub, a Circassian chief, whom today’s population still remembers. These holy places are the protectors of those family names whose origin is related to the north.44

The Adighe legend about the invasion of the Adighes into Abkhazia under the command of Inal and his brothers-in-arms Ashe and Shashe also provides insight into the actual state of affairs.45

These legends are only an oral history of a nation that did not have a written language, and they cannot provide an answer to the question of when it migrated. However, they may describe processes that took place at different times and, along with written sources, deserve due attention. After settling on Georgian land, some of the Georgian population merged with local people,46 and instances of the Abkhaz-ization of Georgians during the time of Russian supremacy became more frequent, which is shown by the Georgian (mainly Megrelian) names of the Apsua representatives.47

The theory that the Abkhazians (Apsua) are not of South Caucasian (Central Caucasian) origin is not only based on the conclusions of Georgian scientists. Some Russian researchers wrote about this as early as the 19th century: “The Abkhazians did not always live where they live today; their legends and many historical data and customs indicate that they came from the north and squeezed out the Kartvelian tribes until they came to settle on the Inguri.”48

39 See: E. Qelebi, Book of Travels, Vol. II, translation from the Turkish, research and comments by G.V. Puturidze, Iss. 1, Tbilisi, 1971, p. 106 (in Georgian). Evliya Qelebi, like Lamberti, repeatedly pointed out that they attacked each other (Ibid., pp. 102, 105 ff.).

40 See: P. Ingorokva, op. cit., pp. 114-295.

41 See: Sh. Inal-Ipa, Abkhazy, Sukhumi, 1960, pp. 36-38.

42 See: Song of Aigr. Abkhazian Folk Poetry, Tbilisi, 1984; N. Bartaia, “Aigr, you only rob the coast,” Sakhalo ga-natleba, 10 October, 1989, No. 46, p. 12 (in Georgian).

43 See: Abkhazskie skazki, Sukhumi, 1935, pp. 165-173; Prikliuchenia narta Sasrykvy i ego devianosto deviati bra-

tiev, Moscow, 1962; Sh. Inal-Ipa, Stranitsy istoricheskoy etnografii abkhazov, Sukhumi, 1971, pp. 212-245;

Sh. Salakaia, Abkhazskiy narodnyy geroicheskiy epos, Tbilisi, 1966; A. Apshba, Abkhazskiy fol’klor i deistvitelnost’, Tbilisi, 1982, and others.

44 See: Sh. B. Nogmov, Istoria adygskogo naroda, Tiflis, 1861, pp. 70-71; G.F. Chursin, Materialy po etnografii Abkhazii, Sukhumi, 1957, p. 37; Sh. D. Inal-Ipa, Voprosy etnokul’turnoy istorii abkhazov, Sukhumi, 1976, p. 175, and others.

45 See: Sh. Inal-Ipa, Abkhazy.

46 See: D. Muskhelishvili, “Istoricheskiy status Abkhazii v gruzinskoy gosudarstvennosti,” in: Razyskania po istorii Abkhazii/Gruzia, p. 141; S. Bakhia-Okruashvili, “K voprosu etnogeneza abkhazov (Famil’nye sviatilishcha),” Klio, Tbilisi, 2000, No. 7, pp. 11-13.

47 See: T. Mibchuani, On the Bloody Trail of Abkhazian Separatism, Tbilisi, 1994, pp. 15-16 (in Georgian); A. Songulashvili, Apkhaz or Apsua, Tbilisi, 2007, p. 60 (in Georgian).

48 A.N. Diachkov-Tarasov, “Bzybskaia Abkhazia,” Bulletin of the Caucasian Branch of the Imperial Russian Geographic Society, Vol. XVIII, Tiflis, 1905, p. 65.


The name “Apsua” in Russian was witnessed in the 1830s,49 and well-known Russian scholar P.K. Uslar wrote directly that Apsua was Abkhazian.50

In medieval Georgia, the Georgian, a resident of the Georgian historical-geographical region of Abkhazia, was considered Abkhazian. According to L. Mroveli’s ethnocultural conception, Western Georgia is Egrisi.51

Abkhazia is not shown at all on the maps compiled by foreigners in the 16th century. The entire eastern coast of the Black Sea (approximately as far as present-day Tuapse) is designated as “Mengrelia” (by Italians Batista Agnezi, 1542, and Jacobo Gastaldi, 1561, and Portuguese Diego Homeni, 1559).52

The Apsua are mentioned for the first time in the works of Pliny, a Roman historian of the 1st century,53 according to whom they were concentrated in the Northern Caucasus. The Apsua country (ABCVAS REGI) is shown on an Italian map of 1561 compiled by Jacobo Gastaldi as located in the Northern Caucasus, to the north of Samegrelo (Megrelia Regi), on the middle reaches of the River Kuban. And in the same place, i.e. on the same map, in the same Apsua region, on the middle reaches of the River Kuban, the settlement of Acua—the Apsua fortress—is shown.54 The Acua fortress is shown on a map of 1738 on the Black Sea coast near the ancient Georgian town of Tskhumi (Sukhumi). This testifies to the fact that by that time, migrants from North Caucasian Apsua were already living there (on the Black Sea coast) and had built their fortress, Acua, there. In their Apsuan language, they call Sukhumi “Acua.” 55

It should be noted that the Georgian socioeconomic and social structure had a certain influence on the customs of the Abkhazians (Apsua), who have largely preserved the character of their North Caucasian relatives, the Circassian-Adighe ethnic groups.56 Linguistic data also indicate that there is affiliation with these groups: the language of the Abkhazians (Apsua) belongs to the group of Abkhazian- Adighe languages.57 A linguistic analysis makes it possible to presume that the territory of present-day Abkhazia was not the original place of residence of the Abkhazians (Apsua).58 In this sense, the statement is worth noting that the “there are so many vibrant Abkhazian- Adighe etiquette parallels, in the broadest sense of this word, that a book about Adighe etiquette could very well be called a work on Abkhazian behavior models, and vice versa.”59 Present-day Abkhazians mainly emerged “as a result of the Apsua-Abazinians from the Northern Caucasus merging with the local native population, Abkhazians and Megrelians.”

Even if we agree with the opinion that the Abazgs and Apsils mentioned in the sources of the 1st-2nd centuries (as well as later) were genetically distant ancestors of the Abkhazians (which is very

49 In a document of Baron V. Rozen, Commander-in-Chief of the Caucasus in 1831-1837 (see: N. Popkhadze, “Everyone Should Know the Truth about Abkhazia,” Seeker of Truth, 2000, No. 2 (in Georgian).

50 See: P.K. Uslar, Etnografiia Kavkaza. Abkhazskiy iazyk, Tiflis, 1882, p. 121.

51 See: L. Mroveli, “Zhizn’ tsarei,” in: Kartlis tskhovreba, Vol. I, p. 5 (History of Georgia [Kartlis tskhovreba]), p. 14, in Russian).

52 See: A.B. Gogia, “Severo-zapadnaia Gruzia na inoiazychnykh kartakh,” in: Ocherki iz istorii Gruzii. Abkhazia..., maps Nos. 6, 7, 11.

53 See: M. Inadze, op. cit., p. 85.

54 See: Ocherki iz istorii Gruzii. Abkhazia. , map No.11; T. Gvantseladze, “Neizvestnaia italianskaia karta i ee znachenie dlia lokalizatsii istoricheskoy rodiny abkhazov,” Svobodnaia Gruzia, 23 July, 1997.

55 The original of the map is kept in Moscow—Central State Military-Historical Archives, Military Accounts Archive; a copy is kept in Tbilisi at the National Center of Manuscripts—RT IV, No. 1.

56 See: S. Bakhia-Okruashvili, “Abkhazy. Etnographicheskiy ocherk,” in: Razyskania po istorii Abkhazii/Gruzia, pp. 342-343.

57 See: T. Gvantseladze, “Lingvisticheskie osnovy etnicheskoy istorii abkhazov,” in: Ocherki iz istorii Gruzii. Abkhazia... pp. 178-196.

58 See: Ibid., p. 196.

59 Sh. Inal-Ipa, Ocherki ob abkhazskom i adygskom etikete, Sukhumi, 1984, p. 172; B. Kh. Bgazhenokov, Ocherki etnografii obshchenia adygov, Nalchik, 1983, pp. 22-52.

unlikely), they cannot be regarded as their actual ancestors. This is explained by the fact that they lived in the Georgian historical-cultural-political environment and over the centuries, without doubt, were assimilated by the local population.

From the 15th-17th centuries, the situation dramatically changed; there appeared a compact settlement of a new ethnic group. The Georgians called and still call these migrants “Abkhazians,” foreigners (Europeans, Ottoman Turks) call them “Abaza,” Russians say they are “Obez,” “Abkhaz” (from the Georgian “Abkhazi”), while they call themselves “Apsua,” and their ethnic community, “Apsny.”

Abkhazia after Russia’s Annexation of Georgia

At the beginning of the 19th century, Georgia was annexed by Russia, and abolishment of the princedoms on its territory began. The Abkhazian princedom was one of the last to be abolished—in 1864. In keeping with the administrative reform carried out in czarist Russia, Georgia was divided into two gubernias—the Tiflis and the Kutaisi, that is, the names “Georgia” (Sakartvelo) and “Abkhazia” disappeared from the geographic maps.

Abkhazia was renamed the “Sukhumi Military Department,” (after 1883, the “Sukhumi District”), which was under the subordination of the Kutaisi governor-general.60

Czarist Russia began an onslaught on the Georgian language, which was the only official written language, the language of state administration, and the language of church service. It also tried to drive a wedge among the Georgian population, using the “Abkhazians” (that is, Apsua) to this end.

In the mid-19th century, in order to completely eradicate the Georgian language in Abkhazia, the first attempts were made to compile a written language for the Apsua (Abkhazians). It was created in 1862 by well-known scholar P.K. Uslar on the basis of Russian (ancient Slavic) script.61

The resolution on performing church services in Russian (“the Slavonic dialect”) served the same purpose, “in order to safeguard the Abkhazians in the most reliable way.. .from Georgian influence” and ensure a merging of “the indigenous population with the Russian” in the future.62

The first book in the language of the Apsua (a collection of poems by a classic of Abkhazian literature Dmitri Gulia) was published in 1912 in Tiflis. After a whole series of changes and revisions, the Abkhazian alphabet was created in 1954 (based on the Russian script), which is still used to this day.

The government of czarist Russia also used the tragic events associated with Muhajirstvo (forced migration of Muslims from the Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire during the second half of the 19th century) to its own ends. First, Abkhazian Muslims (that is, Apsua) were forced to emigrate to Turkey, then those who wanted to were prevented from returning to their homeland (they were known as muhajirs).

The czarist government did not allow Georgians to settle in Abkhazia; at the same time, the territory was settled with Russians, Armenians, and representatives of other nationalities. The Georgian press of that time ran reports about the efforts exerted by the Georgian intelligentsia headed by I. Chavchavadze (a well-known writer and public figure) aimed at preventing Abkhazian Muslims from being evicted to Turkey.63

60 See: G. Paichadze, Abkhazia v sostave Rossiyskoy imperii (1810-1917),” in: Razyskania po istorii Abkhazii/ Gruzia, pp. 226-228.

61 See: P.K. Uslar, Etnografia Kavkaza, Abkhazskiy iazyk, Tiflis, 1882.

62 See: Z. Papaskiri, Abkhazia. Istoria bezfal’sifikatsii, Tbilisi, 2009, pp. 164-165.

63 These tragic processes were widely covered in a work by well-known Abkhazian historian G. Dzidzaria— Mukhadzhirstvo i problemy istorii Abkhazii XIX stoletia, Sukhumi, 1982; O. Churgulia, “Makhadzhirstvo i gruzinskaia intelligentsia (vtoraia polovina XIX v.),” in: Razyskania po istorii Abkhazii/Gruzia, pp. 391-408 (abstract in English); Z. Papaskiri, op. cit., pp. 150-161.


It should also be pointed out that the government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia (19181921) brought up the question of muhajirs in 1920 for consideration by the Supreme Council of the Entente.

The settlement of Abkhazia with Russians, Armenians, and other nationalities also actively continued in the Soviet period, which is eloquently shown by the data of the population censuses of the 1920s-1980s. At that time, the size of the Russian population in the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic grew from 1.8% to 14.3%, the Armenian from 1.6% to 14.6%, and the Georgian from 35.8% to 45.7%.64

The name “Abkhazia” abolished by the czarist government of Russia was restored by the Constitution of the Georgian Democratic Republic, and Abkhazia became part of the republic with the rights of an autonomy.65 However, the local Bolsheviks, with the support of the R.S.F.S.R., tried to undermine the independent Georgian Democratic Republic. The enemies of the Georgian state acted most vigorously in the outlying regions, particularly in Abkhazia, where demonstrations were held, which were suppressed.66

The processes that took place in Abkhazia after the annexation of Georgia by Bolshevik Russia in February 1921 are covered in a book by leader of the Abkhazian (Apsua) Bolsheviks Nestor Lakoba.67

In March 1921, at an assembly of the executives of the Transcaucasus, in which Georgian Bolsheviks S. Ordzhonikidze, S. Kavtaradze, M. Toroshelidze, and Sh. Eliava took part, a decision was made to establish the Abkhazian S.S.R. The leaders of the Abkhazian Bolsheviks, Lakoba and Eshba, while demanding Abkhazia’s independence, entirely ignored the interests of the overwhelming majority of the Georgian population. The Abkhazian leaders asked that they be given temporary independence, as a cover, “in the interests of creating genuine Soviet power in Abkhazia,” to which the Georgian Bolsheviks replied that “if independence is needed in Abkhazia in the interests of creating genuine Soviet power there, it should be taken not only as a cover, but also as genuine independence.”68

The Georgian Bolsheviks did not make this compromise by accident: although talks were held after the annexation of Georgia, they needed the support of their Abkhazian colleagues, not thinking that in so doing they were encroaching on Georgia’s unity and its historical borders, for the inviolability of which the Georgian people had been fighting for centuries.

In March 1921, the Abkhazian S.S.R. (Apsny S.S.R.) was established. It was obvious that it was created artificially and that its separate existence did not meet its own political and cultural-economic interests. This was something the Abkhazian leaders repeatedly stated themselves. In November

1921, it became part of the Georgian S.S.R. as a “contractual (associated) republic.” In so doing, it should be kept in mind that in all the official documents (in the Constitution of the Georgian S.S.R. of

1922, the U.S.S.R. Constitution of 1924, and government resolutions), Abkhazia was designated as an autonomous republic that was part of the G.S.S.R. (like the Ajar Autonomous Republic and the South Ossetian Autonomous Region).

Some Abkhazian officials tried to present the situation in a different way, trying to create the impression that in 1921-1931, Abkhazia was an independent republic, while state officials of Georgian origin (Stalin and Beria) deprived it of its independence.

64 See: A. Tomadze, Population of Abkhazia. Past and Present, Tbilisi, 1995, p. 105 (in Georgian); this same work gives information about the composition of the population between 1926 and 1989.

65 See: A. Toidze, “K voprosu o politicheskom statuse Abkhazii (1921-1931),” in: Razyskania po istorii Abkhazii/ Gruzia, pp. 292-293; J. Gamakharia, “Abkhazia v sostave Gruzinskoy Demokraticheskoy Respubliki,” in: Ocherki iz is-torii Gruzii. Abkhazia... pp. 285-299.

66 See: A. Toidze, op. cit., pp. 292-293; J. Gamakharia, Abkhazia—avtonomia, June 1918-March 1919, in: Ocherki iz istorii Gruzii. Abkhazia... pp. 290-299.

67 See: N.A. Lakoba, Statyi i rechi, Sukhumi, 1987.

68 N.A. Lakoba, op. cit., p. 92; Congresses of Soviets of Abkhazia. Collection of Documents and Texts (1922-1923), Sukhumi, 1959, p. 92, doc. No. 29; A.Toidze, op. cit., p. 295.

Abkhazia’s final status, as an autonomous republic, was approved at the 6th Congress of Soviets of Abkhazia in 1931.69 It was with this status that it reached the tragic events of the 1990s.

As of today, the situation has become even more aggravated. After Russia’s open intervention in August 2008, the Kodori Gorge was “torn away” from Georgia and given to Abkhazia. This is territory that has been populated only by Georgians (Svans) since time immemorial and on which Abkhazians have never lived.

C o n c l u s i o n

The representatives of the almost 80 different nationalities and ethnic groups living in Georgia have never experienced oppression. Even in the conditions of anti-Semitism that existed in Russia, in Georgia, which was its integral part, Jews were never repressed (for which prominent political figure of the state of Israel Golda Meir expressed her gratitude to the Georgian people). Despite the fact that during the war in Abkhazia (beginning of the 1990s), Russians, Armenians, and the confederants (the detachments of the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus) fought against Georgians, there was not one instance of oppression of the representatives of these nationalities. Some time later, the republic even gave shelter to refugees from Chechnia. During the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, when Russian tanks and airplanes attacked Georgian territory, not one anti-Russian campaign was carried out there.

Today the indigenous Georgian population and Abkhazians proper (Apsua) are being expelled from their native land. The territories of the self-declared state of Apsny (Abkhazia) are being settled by Russians and Armenians, Russian passports are being given out, and so on. Similar and other measures are placing the future of the Abkhazians (Apsua) themselves in doubt. Perhaps it is worth thinking about the position of the neighboring North Caucasian nationalities, about the fate of their closest relatives, the Ubykhs, for example.

Abkhazia is time-honored Georgian land which has always been part of the Georgian state. Today’s Apsua (Abkhazians), which have always constituted the minority of the Abkhazian population, are making claims to all of the territory of the former autonomous republic. The Apsua (Abkhazians) are a nation with a very clear national self-consciousness which has every right to live in Georgia (as it has lived), enjoy administrative self-government within the boundaries of its compact residential area, and develop its culture, written language, oral language, education, science, and art.

The Abkhazians (Apsua) and Georgians should find a common language and live together, as they have always lived, while the necessary conditions should be created for the exiled to return to their homes. The conflict must be settled peacefully, and active efforts from international organizations are needed to resolve this issue.

69 See: A. Toidze, op. cit., pp. 303-308; J. Gamakharia, “Politicheskiy status Abkhazii v sostave Sovetskoy Gruzii,” in: Ocherki istorii Gruzii, Vol. II, pp. 310-322. Maybe it should also be kept in mind that in the conditions of the totalitarian Soviet regime, the republic did not enjoy any independence.

i Надоели баннеры? Вы всегда можете отключить рекламу.