Abkhazia History

By | May 21, 2022

Abkhaziais a territory located in the southwestern slope of the Caucasus mountain range, with coasts in the Black Sea, and whose capital is the city of Sukhumi. It is a de facto independent republic since 1992 ; however Georgia considers it an autonomous republic belonging to that country, as does a large part of the international community.

The first settlements in Abkhazia date back to the 4th millennium (BC). These first tribes of Aryan origin (known to archaeologists as Proto-Kartvelians), would have arrived in the region during the Neolithic period, settling on the shores of the Black Sea. They were established along with other lineages, which later evolved into the Apsuas, Chechens, Dagestanis, Armenians and Arameans.

Since the second millennium (BC), Abkhazia was ravaged by invasions of peoples from the steppes of Central Asia, such as the Hittites, Celts, Medes and Persians. During those years, the Proto-Kartvelians formed three distinct ethnic groups: the Svans, the Zans, and the Eastern Kartvelians. While the svans remained in Abkhazia, the Kartvelians settled in the center of present-day Georgia, and the zans were distributed in Samegrelo province and along the shores of the Black Sea, as far as Turkey.

Kingdom of Colchis

Between the 9th and 6th centuries (BC), the kingdom of Colchis was established, annexing a large part of the areas inhabited by svans and zans. Under Colchian rule, Abkhazia received large numbers of Greek immigrants, who settled in colonies in the coastal area. Some cities founded were Pitiys, Dioscurias and Phasis, corresponding to the current Pitsunda, Sukhumi and Poti.

Since 653 (BC), the Caucasian kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia had to face several invasion attempts by the Persian Empire. The Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great exerted an important influence on the Caucasus area, although it was never incorporated into it. Quickly, there was an emergence of Hellenistic culture in Abkhaz territory, even being considered the official language of Greek.

As Alexander’s Hellenistic Empire fell, a long period of chaos and confusion ensued. An example of this was the founding in 302 (BC), by Mithridates I, of the Kingdom of Pontus, on the Turkish shores of the Black Sea. At the beginning of the year 120 (BC), King Mithridates VI Eupator began the conquest of Colchis. During those years, Mithridates allied with the kingdom of Greater Armenia to fight the invading Roman Empire led by Pompey. The lands of Abkhazia would be the scene of bloody battles until the fall of Pontus, in 63 BC.

Kingdom of Abkhazia

In 767, an achrontos (governor of the [[Byzantine Empire | Byzantine Empire) drove out the established Byzantine troops and proclaimed the independence of the Kingdom of Egrisi-Abkhazia, assuming as king under the name of Leo I of Abkhazia. The capital was established in Kutaisi and although at first it mixed local and Byzantine characteristics, over the years, Abkhazia was destroying the reminiscences of the old Empire, replacing them with Georgian customs. An example of this was the break between King Leo I and the Patriarch of Constantinople, which led to the conversion of Abkhazia to the Georgian Orthodox Church by the Patriarch of Mtshketa.

The defeats suffered by the Arabs allowed the formation of new states in the Caucasus. At the end of the 10th century, the King of David of Tao-Klarjeti conquered the Principality of Kartli. In the year 975, David left his adopted son as king of Kartli under the name of Bagrat III. After the death of Theodosius III, the Blind in 978, the Abkhaz throne was handed over to Bagrat, in his capacity as successor and nephew of the late king. With the death of David in 1001, Bagrat III assumed as king in Tao-Klarjeti and, finally, in the year 1008, he annexed Kakheti and Ereti, crowning himself as king of unified Georgia. Only the lands of Tiflis under Arab rule and part of southern Tao ruled by Constantinople were not part of this new kingdom.

Kingdom of Georgia

From the middle of the 11th century, the Kingdom of Georgia was devastated by the invasions of the Seljuk Turks. The combined forces of Armenians, Byzantines, and Georgians were crushed by Islamic invaders at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, allowing most of the Kingdom of Georgia in 1081 to be conquered and devastated by the Seljuks. Only Abkhazia remained free from the invasion and served as a refuge for Georgians fleeing the disaster. At the same time, the chaos in the country caused the emergence of secessionist ideals in Svania that led to attacks against Abkhazia. Although King George II succeeded in quelling the rebellion, pressure from trying to keep the country unified led to his abdication in 1089.

His successor, David IV, managed to handle the invasions of the Arabs. During the First Crusade and using Abkhazia as his center of operations, David the Restorer managed to recapture part of Georgia, until he finally defeated the Seljuks at the Battle of Didgori on August 12, 1121. During his reign, David IV succeeded establish Georgia as a regional power and began the Golden Age of the kingdom. This period of splendor had its climax during the rule of Queen Tamar. Between the years 1194 and 1204, File: Georgia expanded southward, conquering lands in Armenia and present-day Iran, such as the city of Tabriz, and founded the Empire of Trebizond.

Literature and art were fully developed during these years and Abkhazia became a prosperous province of the great Kingdom of Georgia. However, the Golden Age ended with the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

Under Mongol rule, Georgia fell into crisis, and her kingdom was fractured into various states. In 1260, under the reign of David VI Narin, the Kingdom of Imereti was founded, which still remained part of Georgia. Imereti concentrated the western part of Georgia, encompassing Abkhazia, Mingrelia and Guria. In 1455 its independence was officially declared, when Georgia was divided into three states, the remaining ones being: Kartli and Kakheti. From that date, Abkhazia was the battlefield of the struggles between the Georgians, Persia, Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Between 1478 and 1483, a domination of Kakheti was established on Abkhazia, but it would soon be expelled. In 1578, the Ottomans entered the region and a vassal principality was established in Abkhazia. Although major attempts at Islamization were made in the region, Christianity continued to dominate, partly thanks to strong Russian influence from the 18th century onwards. During those years, the process of Islamization was strengthened, causing a division in the Abkhaz elites between the followers of Christianity and the converted Muslims.

Russian and Soviet domination

After dominating much of the surrounding territory (Kartl-Kakheti had been incorporated in 1801), the Russian Empire annexed Abkhazia in 1810. However, it did not fully control the territory until 1842, and only managed to subdue it in 1865, when it ended the Principality existing.

Russian rule was widely condemned by the local population, especially because of the strong religious persecution, underway at that time, against Muslims. The outbreak of the Russo-Ottoman War, which lasted between 1827 and 1828, led to the establishment of a harsh regime in Abkhazia, adjacent to the conflict zone. The rejection of the Russians was exacerbated when they used Abkhazia as a base to attack the Circassians, a people related to the Abkhaz. Finally, the Russian Empire imposed a massive exodus of Abkhaz Muslims to the Ottoman Empire. Thus, between 1864 and 1878, more than 60% of the population of Abkhazia (approximately 200,000 people) fled south. To make up for this loss, the government encouraged Georgian, Armenian, and Russian immigration.

After the Russian Revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks promised autonomy to the people of Abkhazia. In 1931, Joseph Stalin carried out an administrative reorganization, turning Abkhazia into the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazeti. However, it was incorporated into the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. Despite having, nominally, some autonomy, it never came into force, and the central government of Tbilisi carried out a strong campaign to georgize Abkhazia. The Georgian language became mandatory, and Abkhaz was banned. Meanwhile, thousands of Abkhazians were killed as part of Soviet operations against resistance to the regime.

With the death of Stalin and the execution of Lavrenty Beria, the main leader of the repression, Abkhazia regained its autonomy. The development of Abkhaz culture and literature was promoted. Preferential quotas for the population of Abkhaz origin were also established in bureaucratic posts. However, this represented a minority within the country, so such measures generated discontent among the residents of Georgian extraction, who saw in these privileges a discrimination against their ethnic group.


During the 1980s, the tension between the two ethnic groups began to escalate rapidly, due to Georgia’s wishes for independence from the Soviet Union. Fearing that a probable emancipation of the Tbilisi government could lead to a complete georgization of Abkhazia, the Abkhaz gathered more than 30,000 signatures for the Moscow government to declare Abkhazeti’s RSSA a full member of the Union.

The tension exploded 16 of July of 1989, when he tried to install a branch of the Tbilisi State University in Sukhumi. Violence against Georgians, unleashed by apsuas extremists, ended with 16 dead and 137 wounded. After several days of violence, the Red Army intervened to restore order in the city.

The 23 of August of 1990, before the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, the Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia SSR and its inclusion as a full member of the USSR. Legislators of Georgian origin, who had been ordered from Tbilisi to boycott this declaration, were prevented from entering the session.

Finally, Georgia declared its independence on April 9, 1991. However, the government of Zviad Gamsakhurdia won the rejection of the Georgians, and was deposed in January 1992, by General Tengiz Kitovani. The successor in the presidency would be Eduard Shevardnadze, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union. Although Shevardnadze was not a nationalist, the government he inherited from Gamsakhurdia was riddled with politicians who were, so he had to act under his criteria to avoid a fall of his newly assumed government.

The 22 of February of 1992 was abolished the Constitution of the Georgian SSR, and reinstated the former Republic of Georgia in 1921. For the Abkhazians, it invalidates the level of autonomy, so in response thereto declared their independence, on July 23, 1992. Taking advantage of this situation, many Gamsakhurdia supporters (Zviadists) took refuge in Abkhazia.

Under the pretext that the Zviadists had kidnapped the Georgian Minister of the Interior and held him captive in Abkhazia, the government of Tbilisi sent more than 3,000 soldiers to the rebel province to restore order, starting the war on August 14.. Heavy fighting broke out between the Georgian army and the Abkhaz militias in the vicinity of Sukhumi, which did not prevent the Georgian Army from entering the capital on the 18th, controlling much of the territory and causing the Abkhaz government to flee to Gudauta.

The defeat of the rebels caused, in the first instance, the formation of a Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus: a paramilitary group of different pro-Russian peoples (Ossetians, Cossacks, Chechens, etc.) in the area. Hundreds of volunteers from Russia, like Shamil Basayev, joined the Abkhaz separatist cause. Although a cessation of hostilities plan was negotiated in Moscow on 3 September, during the first days of October Gagra was attacked by Abkhazians and CPMC troops. After their victory many Georgians were killed, while others fled the city or were evacuated by the Russian Navy.

Although Russia declared itself neutral in the conflict, there are many testimonies of bombing of Georgian troops by Russian planes. Shevardnadze accused Russia of waging an undeclared war against Georgia, a theory that was reinforced when Russian soldiers were captured among the separatists, prompting that on March 11, 1993, Georgian troops shot down a Russian military plane that was flying over Abkhaz territory.

The paramilitaries gave a strong offensive to capture Sukhumi, but were repelled. At that time, an ethnic genocide began against Georgians by rebels and Abkhazians in Army-controlled territories. It is estimated that more than 6,000 people perished as part of these ethnic cleansing methods.

On July 2, the fighting resumed after the rebels, with Russian air support, reached the village of Tamishi and approached Sukhumi, being repelled again after a violent battle. However, Sukhumi was surrounded by rebels. On the 27th a ceasefire agreement was signed in Sochi, which was again broken in a couple of months. During a visit by President Shevardnadze to Sukhumi, secessionist troops launched a definitive attack on the city on September 16. Faced with the imminent fall of Sukhumi and the arson attack on the hotel where he was residing and from which he was almost miraculously saved, Shevardnadze had to flee the city on a Russian ship.

Sukhumi fell on September 27 and with this fact, the separatist forces quickly managed to control the rest of the territory of Abkhazia and expelled most of the communities of Georgian origin. It is estimated that more than 10,000 died during the conflict and that between 250 and 300,000 had to flee Abkhazia. These exiles went mainly to the Samegrelo area, the epicenter of the Civil War against the Zviadists.

In December 1993, Georgian and Abkhaz leaders signed a peace agreement after mediation by the United Nations and Russia. The 4 of April of 1994 was signed in Moscow the “Declaration of Policies for Conflict Georgian-Abkhaz”. In turn, in June 1994, the peacekeepers of the Commonwealth of Independent States composed only of Russian soldiers entered Abkhazia and months later the United Nations Observation Mission in Georgia did.

However, the atrocities against ethnic Georgians did not end. An estimated 1,500 Georgians were exterminated after the peace agreement. The 14 of September of 1994, through television, the leaders of Abkhazia ordered the expulsion of all Georgians before the 27th anniversary of the fall of Sukhumi. On November 30 A new Constitution was signed reaffirming the independence of Abkhazia, which even so was not recognized by any other nation and was even repudiated by the United States, on December 15. On March 21, 1995, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees charged Abkhaz militias with the murder and torture of dozens of refugees in the Gali area. Meanwhile, and despite the embargo that weighed on the region, Russia supported the new Abkhaz government militarily and economically.

In April 1998, hundreds of Abkhaz forces entered the Gali district, killing several Georgians who were still in the area. Eduard Shevardnadze, however, refused to send troops to the conflict zone and signed a new ceasefire on May 20. This new escalation ended with hundreds of deaths and more than 20,000 new Georgian refugees.


Despite peaceful proposals for a solution, the idea of subduing Abkhazia by military methods remained in Georgia, especially after the fall of Aslan Abashidze, leader of the also rebel Ajaria, in 2004. Mikhail Saakashvili, President of Georgia after the Rose Revolution, proposed to reintegrate both Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the same way, although he later retracted his sayings. Saakashvili stated that the problem over Abkhazia was actually a conflict between Georgia and Russia, suggesting that the current autonomous government would be a puppet government of the Russian Federation. After strong pressure, the Russian government accepted the withdrawal of its military bases in Abkhazia during 2003, leaving only its peacekeepers.

In July 2006, the paramilitary chief of the Kodori Valley, located in the northwest of the country and the only part of the country not under Abkhaz rule, announced the rearmament of his guerrilla groups, which was rejected by the Georgian government. On the 25th of that month, the Georgian army entered Abkhazia and in less than two days, controlled the Kodori area. On September 27 of that year, with the presence of Saakashvili and the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, the area controlled by the army was renamed “Upper Abkhazia” and was officially established as the seat of the Georgian administration in the territory.

The ideas of subduing Abkhazia and South Ossetia by military means would resurface after a series of conflicts between Georgia and Russia, and on August 8, 2008, Georgian troops invaded the Ossetian secessionist areas. This fact caused the outbreak of the Second South Ossetia War after the entry of the Russian Army into South Ossetia and its advance towards Georgian territory. Abkhaz volunteers traveled to Ossetia to support the separatist troops in that country, while Russian military forces entered Abkhazia to support the attacks against Georgia. On August 9, the Abkhaz separatist government established a new war front by attacking Georgian forces located in the Kodori Valley. After the battle of the Kodori valley, the Abkhaz army took complete control of the valley.

After the end of hostilities, which resulted in an important part of Georgian territory under Russian occupation and Abkhazia completely under the control of the independentists, the procedures for the recognition of its independence by Russia began. The 25 of August of 2008, the two chambers of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation asked President Dmitry Medvedev recognize the independence of Abkhazia and Ossetia South, which in turn has been strongly rejected by the United States and NATO member countries, straining Russia’s relations with the West. Finally, the next day, the Russian president recognized the independence of both regions.

Economic development

Traditionally, agriculture has been the most important economic activity in Abkhazia, having as its most representative products: citrus fruits, tobacco, tea and grapes. However, the meager area of land suitable for agricultural work imposed a prohibitive limit on the development of the sector. Industrial production is concentrated in meat packaging, and in the lumber industry.

In times of peace, the service area invigorates the economy with income derived from tourism, highlighting the activity of recreational enterprises installed on the coast. Abkhazia communicates with Russia and the rest of Caucasia by road and rail; the capital also has an important airport.

The economy of this republic is in a difficult situation. In recent years, with the support of Russia, it has tried to improve the quality of life of its residents. During its years of de facto independence, Abkhazia has had to cope with the economic chaos left by the collapse of the Soviet Union and, later, the bloody war against Georgia, and the subsequent humanitarian crisis.

Added to this is the embargo to which it is subjected, and which is broken only by the Russian Federation. As a way to overcome the crisis, the Abkhaz government has tried to encourage foreign investment, promoting neoliberalism and requesting various loans from Russian banks. According to a report by the United Nations Development Program, carried out in April 2004, Abkhazia’s GDP had fallen between 80% and 90% in the last fifteen years, and the unemployment rate reached 90%..

The currency used is the Russian ruble ; The US dollar can be exchanged at the Sukhumi, Gagra, Gali and Gudauta banks. The lari, a Georgian currency, is prohibited.

Abkhazia History