Monday, 4 August 2008

Demographic change in Abkhazia

Demographic change in Abkhazia 1897–1989 Click here to see graph enlarged

These census figures are disputed on a number of grounds including the way in which ethnic groups have been defined. Source: Russian, Soviet and Georgian population censuses .

Source: Conciliation Resources

- Ethno-demographic history of Abkhazia, 1886 - 1989, by Daniel Müller

When most of Abkhazia was denuded of its native population in the wake of (a) the end of the Great Caucasian War in 1864 and (b) the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the question arose as to who would make the most appropriate substitute-population. One of the leading Georgian intellectuals of the time, the educationalist Iakob Gogebashvili, wrote an interesting article in Tiflisskij Vestnik in 1877 entitled /vin unda iknes dasaxlebuli apxazetshi?/ (Who should be settled in Abkhazia?). In this article he argued that the neighbouring Mingrelians would make the best /kolonizatorebi/ (colonisers)... And this is precisely what they subsequently became.

It was no accident that the Georgian newspaper ‘Shroma’ considered Georgian acquisition of the land in Abkhazia and Circassia as ‘one of the most wonderful events’ in the life of the Georgian nation ['Shroma', 1882, №15 (in Georgian)]. On 4 February 1879 another newspaper, the ‘Droeba’, urged its readers: ‘Let us expand while there is still time to do it, before other peoples come and settle the empty spaces of our Caucasus.’ While the aforementioned issue of ‘Shroma’ pleaded with its readers: ‘Send us lots of Rachintsy, Lechkhumtsians, Upper Imeretians and Mingrelians from our mountainous regions!’ ['Shroma', 1882, №15 (in Georgian)].

The mass-immigration of Kartvelians (mostly Mingrelians) goes back to the late 1930s. Abkhaz's script was then altered from a roman to a Georgian base. Abkhaz-language schools were summarily closed in 1945-6, following by a ban on broadcasting and publications. The Abkhazians as a nation were due to face transportation (like the numerous other peoples transported by Stalin from the Koreans in the late 1930s through to Abkhazia's Greeks in the late 1940s), and, as a 'scholarly' justification for that, the literary-historian Pavle Ingoroqva was commissioned to argue in print that the Abkhazians only arrived in Abkhazia in the 17th century, conquering the 'original' Abkhazians of history, who were thus a 'Georgian' tribe. This calumny was revived in the heady days of Georgian nationalism from 1988 AND IS WIDELY BELIEVED BY MANY ORDINARY KARTVELIANS, who for this reason still regard the Abkhazians as unentitled to be living in Abkhazia.


''Abkhazia suffered considerably under Stalin during the 1930s. In February 1931 the status of Abkhazia was reduced to that of an autonomous republic within Georgia. In 1937, the head of the Georgian Communist Party, Lavrenti Beria undertook his 'anti-Abkhazian drive', involving the forced immigration of thousands of non-Abkhazians (especially Mingrelians) into Abkhazia. After Beria's transfer to Moscow in 1938, anti-Abkhazian measures continued under his successor, Kandida Charkviani. The Abkhaz alphabet was changed to a Georgian base. During 1944-45 all Abkhazian schools were closed, replacing them with Georgian schools, and the Abkhaz language was banned from administration and publication. [Potier, Tim. Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A legal Appraisal. Kluwer Law International. The Hague. 2001. p.9.]


In the mid-1950s, in line with the ideological goals of the resettlement policy, a theaory was fabricated declaring the true Abkhaz to be 'an ancient cultural Georgian tribe living on the territory of Abkhazia' and describing the modern Abkhaz as descendants of backward highlanders, Apsuaers[*], who ostensibly moved into Abkhazia from the north in the 17th century[**]. The thesis of the 'resettlement of the Apsuaers' became part of a racist theory asserting a supposed primordial superiority of the 'civilized' Georgians over their neighbours- a theory which dominated in Georgian science and public consciousness.

[*] From the Abkhaz’ own name for themselves, ‘Apsua’.

[**] Zorzoliani., G., Lekishvili, S. And Toidze, L., Istoricheskiye i Politiko-Pravovye Aspekty Konflikta v Abhazii [Historical and politico-legal aspects of the conflict in Abkhazia] (Metsniereba: Tbilisi, 1995), pp.12-13; and Pipia, B. And Chikviladze, Z., Raspyataya Gruziya [Crucufied Georgia] (Pechbatny Dvor: St. Petersburg, 1995), p.9.

[Krylov, Alexander The Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict. The Security of the Caspian Sea region. SIPRI. Oxford University Press. 2001. p. 283).]''


''The Circassians fought against Russian conquest for over a century, from 1763 to 1864 – longer than any other people of the Caucasus, even the Chechens. Their final defeat in the 1860s led to massacre and forced deportation, mainly across the Black Sea to Turkey, in the course of which a large proportion of them perished. Many Circassians were also utilized by the Ottomans in the Balkans to suppress the rebellious Serbs, but almost all of these were later relocated to the interior of Anatolia.

Since that time, the great majority – about 90 percent – of people of Circassian descent have lived in exile, mostly in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Only isolated remnants, currently about three to four hundred thousand people altogether, remain in Russia and other parts of the post-Soviet region. During the last decades of the tsarist regime, the emptied and devastated Circassian lands were resettled by Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian and other colonists. Later many Georgians also settled in Abkhazia, feeding resentments that culminated in the recent Abkhaz-Georgian war - a conflict which can only be understood against the background of the Circassian trauma of the last century.'' [The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide?, by Stephen D. Shenfield. ‘The Massacre in History’, edited by Mark Levene and Penny Roberts, 1999]


In 1921, Abkhazia and Georgia became Sovietized. On 31 March 1921, an independent Soviet Republic of Abkhazia was proclaimed. On 21 May 1921, the Georgian Bolshevik government officially recognized the independence of Abkhazia. But the same year, under pressure from Stalin and other influential Georgian Bolsheviks, Abkhazia was forced to conclude a union (i.e., confederative) treaty with Georgia. Abkhazia still remained a full union republic until 1931, when its status was downgraded, under Stalin's orders, from that of Union Republic to that of an Autonomous Republic within Georgia.

See: Declaration of the Revolutionary Committee of the SSR of Georgia on Independence of the SSR of Abkhazia - 21 May 1921


The Georgian general leading the invading forces in the autumn of 1992, Gia Qarqarashvili, stated on TV that he would sacrifice 100,000 Georgians to kill all 97,000 Abkhazians, if that is what it took to keep Georgia's borders inviolate', and a similar threat came from the head of Georgia's wartime administration, Giorgi Khaindrava, on the pages of Le Monde Diplomatique in April 1993. Goga (Giorgi) Khaindrava, told the correspondent from Le Monde Diplomatique that "there are only 80,000 Abkhazians, which means that we can easily and completely destroy the genetic stock of their nation by killing 15,000 of their youth. And we are perfectly capable of doing this."

If you were an Abkhazian, would you welcome back your former Kartvelian neighbours, knowing how many of them think Abkhazians should not be in Abkhazia?

And it was no accident that the Abkhazian research-institute and archives were torched (after cherry-picking) in Nov 1992 -- it was done to try to erase documentary proof of the Abkhazians' presence over the centuries (not to say millennia) on Abkhazian soil. See related article: Abkhazia's archive: fire of war, ashes of history & Related Video (YouTube)

Also, when it comes to the fate of refugees and their right to return home, what is to be said of those Abkhazian descendants (over 300,000) of those more or less forced to leave Abkhazia, when it was populated virtually exclusively by Abkhazians, in 1864?

For some 60 years Abkhazia was forced to accept the unwelcome status of being a mere autonomous republic with Soviet Georgia (thanks to the ruling of the Georgian dictator Stalin – ‘Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili’). For daring to defend our interests in the face of Georgian nationalist aggression, we were subjected to 14 months of savagery. In alliance with our allies from the Abkhazian diaspora or Abkhazians’ cousins in the North Caucasus, we succeeded in ejecting the invader and winning the war. All that Georgia under its various leaders/governments has been willing to offer us by way of a settlement is a return to the ‘status quo ante’— the sudden offer by Misha Saakashvili of asymmetric federation produced on the eve of the recent NATO summit in Bucharest was clearly aimed more at impressing the Western alliance than at appealing to Sukhum.

How many examples are there in history where a people after being invaded, losing 4% of their population, and yet finally winning the war have meekly resigned themselves to accepting the selfsame subordinate status they had before the tragedy of a war inflicted upon them? This is something that the Georgian side and their international backers (who have no interest in the fate of minorities but think solely of the ‘big picture’ of preserving territorial integrity, of finding allies in an unstable part of the world, and of securing the flow of oil) would do well to remember. The Georgians lost Abkhazia in 1993. They should be told by their EU, NATO and US ‘friends’ to accept this fact, find a ‘modus vivendi’ with their neighbours (big and small alike), and then contribute to the creation of stability and prosperity for the Caucasus region as whole. We can all then get on with our lives in the peace that we all deserve.

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