Monday, August 6, 2012

A very brief history of Modern Abkhazia

The next few weeks of Podcasts (which I think I said would start on Sunday, but our episode days will be Fridays not Sundays, that way every one will have something to look forward to) will be focusing on the end of the Prehistoric period and moving into a bit more of the historical period. Of course, it's not the historical period per se, but we'll be entering into the Bronze Age and have a much better trove of information to draw on. However, this week on the Blog we're going to be focusing on some of the "states" of Europe that are either not fully recognized internationally or are dependencies of other nations with enough amounts of autonomy to warrant a Label by this humble Blog. We'll start with Abkhazia.

Abkhazia is located in the Northwestern corner of Georgia. I say this because Georgia feels that Abkhazia is part of its territory, not because I am backing up Georgia's claim to the territory. I'm neither backing it or denying it. But, Abkhazia is only recognized by a number of nations as being its own state, three tiny island nations in the Pacific, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Russia. Russia's recognition of Abkhazia caused Georgia to claim that Abkhazia is a "Russian occupied territory". Tensions between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia have been at a boiling point since the break up of the Soviet Union. In a war from 1992-93 after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Abkhazia went to war with Georgia. The result of the war was a victory to the Russian and Armenian backed Abkhazia over Georgia. During and after the war 200,000 - 250,000 ethnic Georgians living within the territory of Abkhazia were either killed or forced into mass exodus in what has been labeled an ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia. In 1998 some ethnic Georgians within Abkhazia started a guerrilla war against Abkhazia that officially lasted for about six days, but continued into the early 2000's.

I wondered if this conflict was limited to Modern European History or if it had deeper roots. I researched to find more information on this breakaway region and scantly recognized state. The origin of the Abkhaz people is somewhat disputed, as could be guessed because of the ongoing conflict. The 1st Century Greek writer Strabo labeled the primary group living in the current region of Abkhazia as the Zygii. But in the late 8th century a kingdom popped up on the map known as the Kingdom of the Abkhazes when it gained independence from the Byzantine Empire. It lasted for a little over a 120 years before being married into and absorbed by the larger medieval Kingdom of Georgia. The Georgians and Abkhaz people seemed to get along well enough in the early medieval period because they teamed up against the Seljuk Turks and expelled them from the Georgian lands. However, by the 15th century, when the Kingdom of Georgia erupted into the civil war that would be its eventual downfall, the Principality of Abkhazia, a Georgian feudal entity, sided against Georgia. Abkhazia would go on to become a relatively autonomous part of the Ottoman and the Russian empires before becoming a full fledged part of the Russian Empire in 1864.

But it was under the Soviets when things flared up again to take a turn for the worst. During the Soviet era Abkahzia was under the dominion of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. Many of the Abkhazia elite became dismayed at the "Georgianization" of Abkhazia and demanded to be transfered from Georgian dominion to Russian dominion as many as three times, in 1957, 1967 and again in 1978. This seems to be a continuing strife that ripples through the Northern Caucus regions as both South Ossetia (another Georgian breakaway region) and Abkhazia continue to look toward Russia as Georgia begins to look increasingly westward. So, there you have it, a very brief history of the modern Abkhazia and its historical reference points.

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