Oct 14, 2011


While trying to enter Abkhazia, I was stopped by Russian military, who seem to be guarding the border of this tiny "independent nation". My camera was studied intensively and I was told not to take any pictures. I kept wondering what the Russian border guards are doing there. Here's what I found. By Robert Moore

What is Abkhazia historically?
Abkhazia is a small region on the East Coast of the Black Sea, in the Caucasus Region. The historical name of the region is Apkhazeti, Abkhazia is the name Russia gave it. Long before the Russian Empire ever set foot in the Caucasus region, Apkhazeti was part of Georgian culture and sphere of influence. For centuries it was part of a Georgian Kingdom, at other times Georgian noblemen ruled the region more or less independently. The inhabitants of Apkhazeti were ethnically mixed: many were Georgian (i.e. Kartvelian, this includes several ethnic subgroups), Greek, or of other origins such as Armenian or North Caucasian.

Who are 'Abkhazians' historically?
Historically, any inhabitant of the region of Apkhazeti was an Apkhazetian, or Abkhazian if you will. The people who call themselves Abkhazians today, are called Apsua in their own language. This ethnic group has its home in the North Caucasus (Russian Federation), but has been driven South by war and conflict in Russia from the nineteenth century.

There are no archeological finds, historic monuments or literature connecting the Apsua with present-day Abkhazia. However there are many archeological finds, writings and historic monuments of Georgian origin and in the Georgian alphabet in Apkhazeti. (Be aware of recent changes, where Georgian inscriptions on monuments are being erased or replaced and history writing is being falsified. In fact, a lot of material created or reprinted from the nineteenth century until today is manipulated in some way.)

Who are 'Abkhazians' today?
In the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire occupied the Caucasus region. To establish its power ans sphere of influence, a movement of 'divide and rule' and russification was started. This was in part politics, in part nationalism-chauvinism of the Russian intelligensia, also found in many European countries in the nineteenth century. Under this movement, the label "Abkhazian" was put exclusively on an ethnic group called the Apsua. Since the Apsua (unlike the Georgians, Armenians and Caucasian Albanians) did not have an alphabet for their language, an 'Abkhazian' one was created for them on the basis of the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet. With this, an 'Abkhazian' literature could be created. It also effectively prepared the road to russification for the Apsua.

In the Soviet Union, this operation continued. Every soviet citizen had their nationality stated in their passport. Ethnic Apsua were registered as 'Abkhazians'. In addition - because the number of Apsua was too low - the Soviets offered the title "Abkhazian" to numbers of Megrelians (a Kartvelian subgroup, historically Georgian) in exchange for privileges such as priority access to a home or car (which was a major thing in the Soviet-Union). Other ethnic groups living in Abkhazia were designated as 'Georgian', 'Russian', 'Armenian' etcetera, thus giving the impression that they were somehow foreign there. As an extra safety precaution, the Russian authorities and intelligensia made huge efforts to prove that Megrelians (the added artificial 'Abkhazians') are ethnically entirely different from Georgians.

Why is this significant?
Through the powerful soviet system of propaganda and censorship in a closed society, this was just one element of a general policy of maintaining power and ultimately russification through creating differences and potential conflict between 'nationalities'. Divide and rule, for short. In this way, the 'great Russia' is always needed as a 'peace keeper' over those crazy Caucasian peoples who cannot take care of themselves. Stalin (being Georgian himself) knew and feared the Georgian independence movement. The Georgian intelligensia (although decimated in the early days of the soviet occupation) and Georgian national identity were strong, too strong to russify. Stalin and Beria (a Georgian / Megrelian) and their successors therefore paid particular attention to keeping Georgia weak and divided. Besides the operation in Abkhazia they also created South Ossetia out of the historically Georgian province of Samachablo.

You could argue that this is negative speculation of anti-Russian nature. But little interpretation is necessary. Russian sources literally describe these goals and policies. Take for example this text from a 1961 Report of the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Michael Suslov: "Some day the Georgians will start to fight communism in order to regain their independence. How can we counter this? We should start the fight against the Georgians through Abkhazia. We have to convince the Abkhazians that the Georgians have moved to Abkhazia to occupy the land. Megrelia and Svanetia should be offered the status of Autonomous Republics. And their nationalist feelings should be raised to the same level as the Georgian feelings. Western Georgia should be set against Eastern Georgia. And then make sure that we Russians have the role of mediators." Or this quote from Nikita Khrushchev in the early 1960s: "Beware, Georgians, or I will send the Abkhazians at you!". Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, little has changed in Russian thinking about the Caucasus region, except for the 'human rights'-vocabulary that the Kremlin sometimes uses.

The Russian version of 'Abkhazia' has been particularly succesful so far. Most ordinary Russians believe in it and are convinced to the core that Georgians are primitive and dangerous. Particularly worrying is that some Western scholars and Western media seem to serve Russian puposes on this subject. The Russian view on the situation in the Caucasus is presented as the objective truth. The British linguist George Hewitt is a good example of this. He is a specialist of Caucasian languages, but puts most of his effort into proving that Georgians are evil and that Megrelian is not Georgian. Did anyone bother to ask the Megrelians themselves if they need such a fuss about their origins? Why do they need a Brit to fight this battle for them? In the German media it is remarkable how often this Russian propaganda is written as if it were objective fact. One can only speculate as to why this is: don't these journalists research their subjects well enough? Or is this part of the information war? There is ample evidence of Russian secret services paying Russlandsdeutsche or native Westerners to work as propagandists in the Internet and other media, preferably under the most common Western names.

The civil war in 1992-1993
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the declaration of independence of Georgia, Russian forces were able to capitalize on two centuries of investment into the division of the Caucasus region. It took little to create a huge fear with the Apsua of the 'evil' Georgians - who were at the time in a state of nationalistic euphoria and internal power struggle over their newly found independence). Then a little support for the 'Abkhaz' army by the Russian army and out went the ethnic Georgian population. About 300,000 Georgians had to flee their homes to avoid marauding Abkhaz (as well as Russian and Armenian) troops. Until today they have not had the right to return.

THE ETHNIC CLEANSING OF GEORGIANS IN ABKHAZIA has been officially recognized by the OSCE conventions in 1994, 1996 and again in 1997 during the Budapest, Lisbon and Istanbul summits and condemned the “perpetrators of war crimes committed during the conflict.” On May 15, 2008, the UN General Assembly adopted (by 14 votes to 11, with 105 abstentions) a resolution A/RES/62/249 in which it “Emphasizes the importance of preserving the property rights of refugees and internally displaced persons from Abkhazia, Georgia, including victims of reported “ethnic cleansing”, and calls upon all Member States to deter persons under their jurisdiction from obtaining property within the territory of Abkhazia, Georgia in violation of the rights of returnees”.

Recent events
The present-day inhabitants of Abkhazia - except the ones that are somehow related to the regime and have special privileges - are in distress. The Abkhazian government is a puppet regime that is instructed by Moscow. During the 2008 war with Georgia (which by the way had the familiar characterics of a Russian-provoked conflict), the Russian leaders seized the opportunity to enter Abkhazia with large numbers of tanks and weapons and reinforce the Russian military bases in Abkhazia.

Present situation in Abkhazia
Abkhazia is a dangerous place, where people (including the few tourists that dare to enter) are robbed and murdered over small amounts of valuables. There is no trade, no renovation of the war-torn (1992-1993) buildings, no adequate education, no health-care for the people. International organizations such as the OSCE are denied access. Those who can, flee the region, many to Russia and some also to other parts of Georgia.

The Georgian language and Georgian currency are strictly forbidden, but the Apsua language is also under threat of extinction. The population of Abkhazia has dropped from 525.000 population in 1989 (soviet census) to an estimated 100.000 to 150.000 today. The situation is ready for Russian annexation and repopulation. This has already started: the families of the many Russian military stationed in Abkhazia are being invited to settle there. Victims of all this are the many honest and innocent people who committed no crime other than living in Abkhazia.

Here are quantitative indices (in percentage) of ethnic Georgian population based on the statistic data of 1989:

Here are the latest data of Georgian population by percentage index in the occupied Abkhazia according the municipalities:

Abkhazia's declaration of independence
After its actions in 2008(the August 2008 war), Russia effectively lost its status as a peace-keeper in the region.

It has become a party in the conflict, the enemy of the republic of Georgia. The Russian Federation troups lost any right to be in Abkhazia and the South Caucasus.

So to solve this problem, Moscow instructed the Abkhazian government to declare independence shortly after the war with Georgia. And to hold a referendum about this independence, in which only 14% of the population - the ones in favour of independence - could take part. The remaining group of ethnic Georgians in the district of Gali are excluded. An independent state can invite Russians if they want to, right? The next step will be for Abkhazia to join the Russian Federation and to sell off Georgian and Abkhazian property to Russian citizens.

Only certain residents of Abkhazia are allowed to take part in the vote. The ethnic Georgians who bravely remain in situ on their own land in their own country are forbidden to take part. The thousands of residents expelled from Upper Abkhazia during the August 2008 war are not allowed a say. Nor are the almost four hundred thousand removed in previous conflicts. During the 2009 vote, the EU rightly argued that “elections in this region of Georgia can only be valid after all refugees and internally displaced persons are given the right to a safe, secure and dignified return to their homes in Abkhazia”.

Why Abkhazia's independence is fake?
Abkhazia's independence is a fake by the simplest norms of human rights and democracy.
1. The majority of the population was excluded from the referendum. Many are not even allowed to return to their own homes.
2. De facto there is no independent Abkhazia: the region is under Russian miltary rule.
3. The present government is not chosen by the people, it is a puppet regime that receives instructions from Moscow.
4.  There is no democracy and no basic rights for the people remaining in Abkhazia. They are in poverty and under threat.

How to help the Abkhaz people to gain back their freedom and human rights
1. Acknowledge and explain the manipulation of people that has happened over the last two centuries. Do this actively through school curricula and the media;
2. Stop talking about it as an ethnic conflict or a conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia;
3. Send Russian troops and military bases out of Abkhazia. Place an international mission of truly neutral parties in charge of this transition;
4. Organize the return of the refugees to their homes;
5. Let all the people of Abkhazia (including the refugees) decide on their future. With all options objectively open.