A major outburst of Abkhazian separatism occurred in 1989, touched off by the Georgian government's efforts to establish a branch of the Georgian State University in Sukhumi further exacerbated the situation (this branch was to replace the Georgian department of the Abkhazian university).
As a result, Georgian and Abkhazian students clashed in the first round of what became ongoing hostilities between the different nationalist groups. A large-scale conflict was avoided at that time thanks only to the introduction of a "state of emergency" (a special regime for the `citizens' behavior) in Abkhazia.
The ouster of Georgian President Gamsakhurdia in early 1992 directly fueled the Abkhazian separatist cause. Abkhazian Supreme Soviet Chairman Vladislav Ardzinba capitalized on the confusion in Tbilisi to promote the republic's de factoindependence.
Numerous Georgian laws were nullified in Abkhazia; all local enterprises and organizations, including military and police units, were placed under regional jurisdiction; and a special regiment of internal troops was created and placed under the command of the Presidium of the Abkhazian Supreme Soviet.
Finally, in July 1992, the 1978 Constitution was repealed and replaced by the long-dormant 1925 Constitution that declared Abkhazia a sovereign republic with only alliance commitments Georgia.
In response to this declaration of independence, the Georgian government deployed troops in Abkhazia. The Georgian military occupied all of the major cities of Abkhazia, including the capital, Sukhumi, forcing the Abkhazian leadership, headed by Ardzinba, to retreat to the regional center of Gudauta.
After these initial advances, however, the Georgian assault on Abkhazia bogged down. Over the next year, the Abkhazians, who received substantial political and military assistance from volunteers from the Confederation of the Mountain People of the Caucasus (CMPC) and at least some assistance from local Russian military units, were able to launch a counteroffensive and gradually re-establish control over "their" republic up to the Russian-Georgian border.
Russian policy in the region is really what has allowed the Republic of Abkhazia to gain de facto independence and sovereignty over its border. Russian policy has not necessarily been shaped by historical ties or reasons however.
Generally, Russian policy on Abkhazia can be understood through the lens of Russian interests at any given time and how much each decision will benefit the country domestically.
Geography of Abkhazia
Abkhazia is diverse geographically with lowlands stretching to the extremely mountainous north. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range runs along the region's northern border, with its spurs – the Gagra, Bzyb and Kodori ranges – dividing the area into a number of deep, well-watered valleys.
The highest peaks of Abkhazia are in the northeast and east and several exceed 4,000 meters (13,123 ft) above sea level. Abkhazia's landscape ranges from coastal forests and citrus plantations to permanent snows and glaciers in the north of the region.
Although Abkhazia's complex topographic setting has spared most of the territory from significant human development, its cultivated fertile lands produce tea, tobacco, wine and fruits, a mainstay of the local agricultural sector.
Abkhazia is richly irrigated by small rivers originating in the Caucasus Mountains. Chief of these are: Kodori, Bzyb, Ghalidzga, and Gumista. The Psou Riverseparates the region from Russia, and the Inguri serves as a boundary between Abkhazia and Georgia proper. There are several periglacial and craterlakes in mountainous Abkhazia. Lake Ritsa is the most important of them.
The world's deepest known cave, Veryovkina Cave, is located in Abkhazia's western Caucasus mountains. The latest survey (as of March 2018) has measured the vertical extent of this cave system as 2,212 meters (7,257 ft) between its highest and lowest explored points.
Because of Abkhazia's proximity to the Black Sea and the shield of the Caucasus Mountains, the region's climate is very mild. The coastal areas of the republic have a subtropical climate, where the average annual temperature in most regions is around 15 °C (59 °F), and the average January temperature remains above freezing.
The climate at higher elevations varies from maritime mountainous to cold and summerless. Also, due to its position on the windward slopes of the Caucasus, Abkhazia receives high amounts of precipitation, though humidity decreases further inland. The annual precipitation vacillates from 1,200–1,400 mm (47.2–55.1 in) along the coast 1,700–3,500 mm (66.9–137.8 in) in the higher mountainous areas. The mountains of Abkhazia receive significant amounts of snow.
The lowland regions used to be covered by swaths of oak, beech, and hornbeam, which have since been cleared.
There are two main entrances into Abkhazia. The southern entrance is at the Inguri bridge, a short distance from the city of Zugdidi. The northern entrance ("Psou") is in the town of Leselidze.
Abkhazia in the Soviet Union
The Russian Revolution of 1917 led to the creation of an independent Georgia, which included Abkhazia. In 1918, German support enabled the Georgians to repel the Bolshevik threat from Abkhazia. However, the region of Abkhazia did not obtain independence and the 1921 constitution granted Abkhazia autonomy within Georgia.
In 1921, the Bolshevik Red Army invaded Georgia and ended its short-lived independence. Abkhazia was made a Socialist Soviet Republic (SSR Abkhazia) with the ambiguous status of a treaty republic associated with the Georgian SSR.
In 1931, Joseph Stalin made it an autonomous republic (Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic or in short Abkhaz ASSR) within the Georgian SSR. Despite its nominal autonomy, it was subjected to strong direct rule from central Soviet authorities.
Under the rule of Stalin, himself an ethnic Georgian, Abkhaz schools were closed, requiring Abkhaz children to study in the Georgian language. The publishing of materials in Abkhazian dwindled and was eventually stopped altogether; Abkhazian schools were closed in 1945 and 46.
The Abkhazian SSR was the only autonomous republic in the USSR in which the language of the minority ethnic group within a Soviet Socialist Republic (Abkhazian) was confirmed in its constitution as one of its official languages.
Situated in the north-western corner of internationally recognized Georgia with the Black Sea to the south-west and the Caucasus mountains and Russia to the north-east, Abkhazia was a well-visited holiday destination and once known as a prime holiday destination for the Soviet elite.
Abkhazians themselves, call their country 'Apsny.' The name is popularily translated as 'a land of soul' or 'a country of mortals.' Abkhazians are a proud people, with a history of religious tolerance and speak their own language - Abkhazian.
The status of the unrecognized country is a direct result of policy regarding the region during the Soviet Union - similar to other unrecognized countries and disputed regions in the area.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Western policy was to recognize the declarations of independence by Soviet Socialist Republics and not autonomous regions within those republics or other ethnic minority groups who were seeking independence.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the region fought and won a war of secession with Georgia in 1992-93 and formally declared independence in 1999.
In August 2008, hostilities erupted in another Georgian separatist region, South Ossetia, as Georgian forces engaged with local separatist fighters as well as with Russian troops who had crossed the border there.
Violence spread rapidly to other parts of the country, including Abkhazia, where Russia massed additional forces in the days following the initial outbreak of warfare in South Ossetia. Georgia and Russia signed a French-brokered cease-fire that called for the withdrawal of Russian forces, but tensions continued.
Russia’s subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was condemned by Georgia and met with criticism from other members of the international community.
After the Georgian-Russian war in 2008, Moscow recognized the region as an independent state. Georgia responded by declaring Abkhazia "occupied" by Russia.
In recent years, Abkhazia has drifted closer and closer to Russia. In 2009 Moscow signed a five-year agreement with Abkhazia to take formal control of its frontiers with Georgia proper.
In 2014, Russia and the breakaway region signed a "strategic partnership" agreement, angering Tbilisi, which accused Moscow of seeking to annex Abkhazia.
Today, Abkhazia is a post-Soviet 'frozen conflict zone' and an unrecognized country - actually partially recognized. The status of the country is a main source of friction in Russia's conflict with Georgia, with South Ossetia another main source. The country is home to its own government, legal system and military, and independently from Georgia - the country it is internationally recognized as part of.
Russia has successfully used Abkhazia as a form of leverage against Georgia and its Western allies. It has been able to expand its influence over the region, gain greater access to the Black Sea and even been able to station troops in the territory.
Although the country has all the characteristics of a state, it would be difficult for it to operate without the support and aid of its main trading partner and ally - Russia.
Recent tensions between Russia and Georgia have caused the border with Georgia to be closed - a main path to the outside world for this unrecognized country. At the time of writing, the only way to enter and exit Abkhazia is through Russia.
Tourism in Abkhazia
Tourism in Abkhazia is rapidly growing. The country is home to a unique sub-tropical climate (where snow can be seen on palm trees), a beautiful Black Sea coastline, and forested mountainous regions all in one small area. However, its unrecognized status has made it difficult for international tourists to enjoy this pristine region.
In addition, the only way to enter the country is through Russia, making it is easy to understand why the vast majority of tourists in Abkhazia are Russian citizens and others from former Soviet Union states.
The country is drastically trying to attract more foreign tourists from western countries in an attempt to balance is budget and raise awareness of its struggle for independence.
Along with three other unrecognized countries (post-Soviet 'frozen conflict' states), Abkhazia is part of the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations - an international organization made up of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) to further their quest for recognized statehood..
Religion in Abkhazia
Abkhazia is a country with a long history of religious tolerance. Orthodox Christrians, Muslims, the Abkhazian folk religion, and other religious minority groups have lived in harmony for centuries. In fact, the colors of the Abkhazian flag, green and white, represent the tradition of harmony between Christians and Muslims in the country (Green represents Islam and White represents Christianity).
The Abkhaz were vassals of the Byzantine Empire when they became Christian under Justinian I (c. 550). In the 8th century the independent kingdom of Abkhazia was formed. Later a part of Georgia, it secured its independence in 1463 only to come under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Islam subsequently replaced Christianity in parts of the region.
Today, the majority of Abkhazia's inhabitants however are Orthodox Christians, comprising approximately 75% of the population. Although officially a canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church, the affairs of Orthodox Christians are run by the Eparchy of Abkhazia under Russian Orthodox influence.
Another 10% of Abkhazians are Sunni Muslims, and there are small numbers of Jews, Lutherans, Catholics and followers of newer introduced religions such as; Jehovah's Witnesses.
New Athos or Akhali Atoni is a town and Monastary in the Gudauta raion of Abkhazia, situated about 22 km from Sukhum by the shores of the Black Sea. The town was previously known under the names Nikopol, Acheisos, Anakopia, Nikopia, Nikofia, Nikopsis, Absara, and Psyrtskha.
A large ancient Greek port town of Anacopia was recorded there in the 3rd century. Its ruins are still visible. In the 5th century, Georgians built a fortress on the top of the Iverian Mountain.
Anacopia was the capital of the Abkhazian princedom in the orbit of the Byzantine Empire and then of the Abkhazian Kingdom after the archon Leon IIdeclared himself a king in the late 8th century. Later, the capital was moved to Kutaisi.
Anacopia was ceded to Byzantine Empire by Demetre in 1033 but was retaken by Georgians in 1072 among the other territories Georgia gained as a result of the Empire's defeat at Manzikert at the hands of Seljuks.
Culture of Abkhazia
The majority of Abkhazians live in the rural areas, mostly in large family homes where they grow and process their own food. Horses have an important place in Abkhazian culture.
Equine sports and equestrian activities are popular with Abkhazians and often play a central role in festivals. Song, music, and dance are also important to Abkhazian culture. There are joyous songs for weddings, ritual songs, cult songs, lullabies, healing songs, and work songs.
There are special songs for the gathering of the lineage, for the ill, and songs celebrating the exploits of heroes. All of the arts are represented in Abkhazia. There are drama and dance companies, art museums, music schools, and theatres for the performing arts. Poetry and literature are also held in high regard.
Although the region of Nagorno-Karabakh is most famous for their life expenctancy, it has recently been acknowledged that there is a disproportionately high occurrence of nonagenarians and centenarians in certain other areas in the Caucasus, including Abkhazia. These long-lifers are known for continuing their active lifestyles, continuing to work the fields, dance, sing, and walk for miles long past their ninth decade.
Abkhazian cuisine was shaped by the agricultural, climatic and economical factors of the area. Because the Abkhaz were mainly farmers and cattle-breeders, their basic dietary staples were corn, millet, and dairy products. In the past, wild game and edible plants growing in the wild were a significant part of the diet, but today they are rarely on the table.
One Abkhazian staple dish is mamalyga (abysta), or corn meal boiled in water with no salt added. Its high starch, vitamin B1, and fiber content makes it a very healthy food. There is a number of variations on mamalyga, such as mamalyga with soft fresh cheese (ayladzh), or mamalyga with milk and cheese (achamykva).
Corn meal is also used to make amgyal flatbread and a type of sweet called atsvyrtsma. Freshly gathered corn on the cob is another staple, boiled, fried or roasted over an open fire. Wheat flour is less widely used, mainly for cheese pies (achash, or khachapur) and cheese dumplings.
Fresh cheese (ashvlaguan) and a local type of yogurt (ahartsvy, or matsoni) make up the dairy diet staples.
Major Cities in Abkhazia
Sukhum or Sukhumi is a city on the Black Sea coast. It is the capital of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, which has controlled it since the 1992-93 war in Abkhazia, although most of the international community considers it legally part of Georgia.
Sukhumi's history can be traced back to the 6th century BC, when it was settled by Greeks, who named it Dioscurias. During this time and the subsequent Roman period, much of the city disappeared under the Black Sea. The city was named Tskhumi when it became part of the Kingdom of Abkhazia and then the Kingdom of Georgia.
Contested by local princes, it became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 1570s, where it remained until it was conquered by the Russian Empire in 1810. Following a period of conflict during the Russian Civil War, it became part of the independent Georgia, which included Abkhazia, in 1918.
In 1921, the Democratic Republic of Georgia was occupied by the Soviet Bolshevikforces from Russia. Within the Soviet Union, it was regarded as a holiday resort. As the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990s, the city suffered significant damage during the Abkhaz–Georgian conflict. The present-day population of 60,000 is only half of the population living there towards the end of Soviet rule.
Sukhumi is located on a wide bay of the eastern coast of the Black Sea and serves as a port, rail junction and a holiday resort. It is known for its beaches, sanatoriums, mineral-water spas and semitropical climate. Sukhumi is also an important air link for Abkhazia as the Sukhumi Dranda Airport is located nearby the city.
Sukhumi contains a number of small-to-medium size hotels serving chiefly the Russian tourists. Sukhumi botanical garden was established in 1840, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the Caucasus.
The city has a number of research institutes, the Abkhazian State University and the Sukhumi Open Institute. From 1945 to 1954 the city's electron physics laboratory was involved in the Soviet program to develop nuclear weapons.
The history of the city began in the mid-6th century BC when an earlier settlement of the second and early first millennia BC, frequented by local Colchian tribes, was replaced by the Milesian Greek colony of Dioscurias. The city is said to have been so named for the Dioscuri, the twins Castor and Pollux of classical mythology.
It became busily engaged in the commerce between Greece and the indigenous tribes, importing wares from many parts of Greece, and exporting local salt and Caucasian timber, linen, and hemp. It was also a prime center of slave trade in Colchis. The city and its surroundings were remarkable for the multitude of languages spoken in its bazaars.
Beginning with the 1989 riots, Sukhumi was a centre of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, and the city was severely damaged during the 1992–1993 War. During the war, the city and its environs suffered almost daily air strikes and artillery shelling, with heavy civilian casualties. On 27 September 1993 the battle for Sukhumi was concluded by a full-scale campaign
Gagra is a town in Abkhazia, on the Black Sea, at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains. Its subtropical climate made Gagra a popular health resort in Imperial Russian and Soviet times.
It had a population of 26,636 in 1989, but this has fallen considerably due to the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia and other demographic shifts during and after the War in Abkhazia (1992–93).
Gagra is the centre of the district of the same name. It is located in the western part of Region of Abkhazia, and river Psou serves as a border with Krasnodar Krai of Russia.
The town was established as a Greek colony in the kingdom of Colchis, called Triglite, inhabited by Greeks and Colchians. Colchis came under the control of the kingdom of Pontus in the 1st century BC before being absorbed by the Roman Empire, which renamed the town as Nitica.
Its geographical position led the Romans to fortify the town, which was repeatedly attacked by Goths and other invaders. After the fall of Rome, its successor, the Byzantine Empire, took control of the town and whole Colchis.
It became a major trading settlement in which Genoan and Venetian merchants were prominent, trading in the town's main exports - wood, honey, wax and slaves.
The name "Gagra" appeared for the first time on a map in 1308, on a map of the caucasus made by the Italian Pietro Visconti, which is now in the Library of Saint Mark in Venice.
Along with Sukhum, Gagra was at the center of the Abkhazian war with Georgia in the early 1990s and was amongst the heaviest damaged in the entire country.
Quick Facts About Abkhazia
Status: Break-away region of Georgia. Declared independence 1999. Not recognized internationally
Population: (1991) 550,000 (2011) approximately 250,000
Major languages: Abkhaz, Russian
Major religions: Christianity, Islam
Natural resources: Agricultural, primarily citrus fruit, hazelnuts, tea, timber; some coal, hydro-electric power
Leader of Abkhazia
President: Raul Khadzhimba
KGB training graduate Raul Khadzhimba is considered strongly pro-Moscow. He was voted in as president in August 2014, in an election denounced as illegal by the European Union and Georgia.
He replaced Alexander Ankvab who was forced to resign over allegations of corruption and misrule. Protesters broke into the presidential administration building in the main city, Sukhumi, in May 2014.
Khadzhimba is a graduate of the Soviet KGB secret service training school in Moscow, and supports closer ties with Russia.
Media in Abkhazia
Russian TV and Abkhazian state TV are the main sources of news. Major Russian stations are relayed in the territory. The only private TV, Abaza TV, is licensed to cover the entire region.
There is little or no access to Georgian TV, other than by satellite. The Abkhaz government publishes newspapers in Abkhaz and Russian. Several private papers publish alongside official titles. Internet usage is growing fast.
Broadcast media are largely controlled by the government, which operates the Abkhaz State Television and Radio Company (AGTRK). Abkhaz journalists have criticized AGTRK for failing to air material that could be perceived as unflattering to the government. Two state-owned newspapers compete with privately owned papers.
The internet and social media have become increasingly popular sources of information. Major Russian television stations broadcast into Abkhazia, and residents of the Gali district have access to Georgian channels. Local outlets have difficulty competing with Russian media.
Some legal restrictions apply to both traditional and online media, including criminal libel statutes. In September 2018, a court sided with lawmaker and former interior minister Raul Lolua in his defamation suit against the editor of Nuzhnaya Gazeta, Izida Chania, after she criticized him in a number of articles, including an entry in her Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) blog.
The Supreme Court began considering Chania’s appeal in December, and it rejected an attempt by the plaintiff to prevent a journalist with RFE/RL from covering the trial on the grounds that it was not an accredited news outlet in Abkhazia.
Timeline of Abkhaz History
Some key dates in Abkhazia's history:
756 - Independent kingdom of Abkhazia formed
985 - Abkhazia becomes part of Georgia, later regaining independence
1578 - Abkhazia comes under Turkish rule
1810 - Russia declares Abkhazia a protectorate
1864 - Russia annexes Abkhazia
1931 - Soviet authorities incorporate Abkhazia into Georgia
1991 - Georgia declares independence
1992 - Georgia sends troops to stop Abkhazia breaking away
1993 - Fierce fighting ends with Georgian forces being expelled from Abkhazia
1994 - Ceasefire agreed, peacekeepers arrive, nearly all Russian
1999 - Abkhazia declares independence
2004 - New Georgian president Saakashvili vows to restore Georgia's territorial integrity and return Abkhazia, South Ossetia to the fold
2008 - Russia formally recognises Abkhazia's independence, following the Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia
Our 3-Day tours to Abkhazia will give you a taste of some of the best things this unrecognized country has to offer.
Check out Abkhazia's more prestigious Soviet past, relax on the beautiful shores of the Black Sea, get lost in Tkvarchal (Abkhazia's abandoned ghost city), or just try some (or lots!) of the local wine.
10-Day Budget Tour
Our 10-Day Abkhazia tours can take you around to all of the hidden and unique places this unrecognized country has to offer.
You can decide if you want to tour for all ten days, or maybe you want some free days to just tour the city on your own!
Abkhazia is an incredible and diverse mix of history and cultures, and all can be tasted through the local cuisine.
Contact us with any questions you have about Abkhazia!