Eurasia Critic, June 2008
By George HEWITT (Professor; London School Of Oriental and African Studies)
Historical BackgroundBagrat' III (d. 7th May 1014) was the first ruler of the united feudal kingdom of Georgia, having inherited the 200 year-old 'Kingdom of Abkhazia' (which encompassed not only today's Abkhazia but western Georgia too) from his mother. In the Georgian chronicles he (and his successors) carried the title /mepe apxazta da kartvelta/ 'King of the Abkhazians and Kartvelians' in recognition of the role played by the Abkhazians in creating this union. The arrival of the Mongols in the 13th century dissolved it into smaller statelets, of which Abkhazia (under the Chachba ruling family) was one. The political border with neighbouring Mingrelia (under the Dadiani ruling family) was set along the River Ingur in the 1680s. It has remained here ever since, serving today as the front line between de facto independent Abkhazia and post-Soviet Georgia. In the north, Abkhazian speakers traditionally occupied the coastal strip up to the River Mzymta, where settlements belonging to their Ubykh cousins began; further north (up to the River Kuban and in land) lived the various communities of their other cousins, the Circassians . Since the Mzymta lies north of Abkhazia's current border with Russia (River Psou), any Abkhazian irredentist claims would be lodged in Moscow (not Tbilisi)!
Over the centuries the littoral attracted Genoese, Ottoman and Catholic missionary interest, but little altered the population-distribution until the tsars moved south, having gained a foothold in Transcaucasia with the 1783 Treaty of Georgievsk between Catherine the Great and Erek'le II, King of the Central and Eastern Georgian Kingdoms of Kartli and K'akheti. At the end of the Great Caucasian War (1864), all Ubykhs plus most Circassians and Abkhazians migrated to Ottoman territory — a further outflow followed the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. As of 1878, then, the Abkhazians would have regarded the Russians as their worst nightmare. This is what the Georgians think their attitude should still be. But history moved on...
Origins and Evolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict
By Stephen SHENFIELD (JRL Research & Analytical Supplement)
1) The period before the Russian occupation of Abkhazia (up to 1810);
2) The tsarist period (1810—1917);
3) The period of independent Georgia (1917—1921);
4) The early Soviet period (1921—1936);
5) The period of the Stalin--Beria terror (December 1936—1953);
6) The post-Stalin period (1953—1985);
7) The period of perestroika and post-Soviet transition (1986—August 1992).
Section II is devoted to the decision taken in summer 1992 by the State Council of Georgia, headed by Shevardnadze, to intervene militarily in Abkhazia: the likely motives and goals of the Georgian leadership, the direct trigger of the decision (if any), and whether and how the decision might have been averted by preventive diplomacy. Also considered is the related question of why the intervention occurred during the presidency of Shevardnadze rather than during that of Gamsakhurdia.
In Section III I share some general reflections concerning the failures of perception and calculation on both sides that contributed to the escalation of the conflict to large-scale violence.
- Related Issues
- Conflict In The Caucasus: A Catastrophe In Waiting? by George Hewitt, EurAsiacritic
- Georgian Apologists (at home and abroad) by George Hewitt
- Soviet Abkhazia 1989, Facts and Thoughts by Viktor A. Popkov
- November 1992 - Report of a UNPO Mission to Abkhazia UNPO Abkhazia Reports, (PDF)
- Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law by E. K. Adzhindzhal, Sukhum, 2007
- Abkhazia is Abkhazia by Stanislav Lakoba
- The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide? by Stephen D. Shenfield, (PDF)