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Abkhazia ( Apsny, Apkhazeti, Abkhazia) is a political entity on the eastern coast of the Black Seamarker and the south-western flank of the Caucasus whose status is disputed. It considers itself independent (as the Republic of Abkhazia), but this is recognised only by Russiamarker, Nicaraguamarker and Venezuelamarker, and by South Ossetiamarker and Transnistriamarker, which are themselves in a similar situation as Abkhazia..

Georgia considers Abkhazia part of its territory, bordering the region of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti to the east. In Georgia's official subdivision it is an autonomous republic ( , apkhazetis avt'onomiuri resp'ublik'a, Abkhaz: , Apsnitei Avtonomtei Respublika) whose government sits in exile in Tblisimarker. On 28 August 2008, the Parliament of Georgia passed a resolution declaring Abkhazia a "Russian-occupied territory".

The status of Abkhazia is a central issue of the Georgian–Abkhazian conflict. The wider region formed part of the Soviet Unionmarker until 1991. As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate towards the end of the 1980s, ethnic tensions grew between Abkhaz and Georgians over Georgia's moves towards independence. This led to the 1992–1993 War in Abkhazia that resulted in a Georgian military defeat, de facto independence of Abkhazia and the mass exodus and ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population from Abkhazia. In spite of the 1994 ceasefire agreement, and years of negotiations the status dispute has not been resolved, and despite the long-time presence of a United Nations monitoring force and a Russian-dominated CIS peacekeeping operation, the conflict has flared up again on several occasions. In August 2008, the sides again fought during the South Ossetia war, which was followed by the formal recognition of Abkhazia by Russia, the annulment of the 1994 cease fire agreement and the termination of the UN and CIS missions.

History

Early history

In the 9th–6th centuries BC, the territory of modern Abkhazia was the part of the ancient Georgianmarker kingdom of Colchis ("Kolkha"), which was absorbed in 63 BC into another Georgian Kingdom of Egrisi, known to the Byzantine authors as "Lazica" and to Persians as "Lazistan" after the Laz tribe.

Between 1000 and 550 B.C Greeks established the trade colonies at the Black Seamarker coastal areas, e.g. Pitiuntmarker or Dioscuriasmarker which then became the capital of the modern day Abkhazia. They encountered local warlike and piratical tribes who they called Heniochi. Classical authors described various peoples living in the region and the great multitude of languages they spoke. Arrian, Pliny and Strabo locate Abazgoi (usually considered ancestors of modern Abkhazians) and Moschoi people somewhere in modern Abkhazia on the eastern shore of the Black Sea.

The Roman Empire conquered Egrisi in the 1st century AD and ruled it until the 4th century, following which it regained a measure of independence, but remained within the Byzantine Empire's sphere of influence. Although the exact time when the population of Abkhazia was converted to Christianity is not determined, it is known that the Metropolitan of Pitius participated in the First Oecumenical Council in 325 in Nicea.

Abkhazia, or Abasgia of classic sources, formerly part of Colchis and later of Egrisi (Lazica) until the late 690s, was a princedom under the Byzantine authority. Anacopiamarker was the princedom's capital. The country was mostly Christian with the archbishop's seat in Pityus. Arab incursion in Abkhazia was repelled by Leon I jointly with his Egrisian and Kartlian allies in 736.

After acquiring Egrisi via a dynastic union in 780s Abkhazia became the dominant power in the region and the Kingdom of Abkhazia also known as Kingdom of Apkhazeti-Egrisi or the Kingdom of the Abkhazs was established. Then the Georgian language replaced Greek as the language of literacy and culture. The kingdom flourished between 850 and 950 when it annexed significant part of Eastern Georgia including Tbilisi. The period of unrest ensued which ended as Abkhazia and eastern Georgian states were unified into a Georgian monarchy under the King Bagrat III in the end of 10th-beginning of 11th century.

In the 16th century, after the break-up of the Georgian Kingdom, an autonomous Principality of Abkhazia (abxazetis samtavro in Georgian) emerged, ruled by the Shervashidze dynasty (aka Sharvashidze, or Chachba). Since the 1570s, when the Ottoman navy occupied the fort of Tskhumimarker, Abkhazia came under the influence of Ottoman Empire and Islam. Under Ottoman rule, the majority of Abkhazians were converted to Islam, and the Abkhazian ruling dynasty Shervashidze lost their ties with the Christian Georgian nobility.

Abkhazia within the Russian Empire and Soviet Union

In the beginning of 19th century when Russians and Ottomans struggled for control of the region, the rulers of Abkhazia shifted back and forth across the religious divide.The first attempt to enter into relation with Russia was made by Keilash Beyin 1803, shortly after the incorporation of eastern Georgia into the expanding Tsarist empire (1801). However, the pro-Ottoman orientation prevailed for a short time after his assassination by his son Aslan-Bey in 2 May 1808. On 2 July 1810, the Russian Marines stormed Suhum-Kale and had Aslan-Bey replaced with his rival brother, Sefer-Bey (1810-1821), who had converted to Christianity and assumed the name of George. Abkhazia joined the Russian empire as an autonomous principality. However, George’s rule, as well of his successors, was limited to the neighbourhood of Suhum-Kale and the Bzyb area. The next Russo-Turkish war strongly enhanced the Russian positions, leading to a further split in the Abkhaz elite, mainly along religious divisions. During the Crimean War (1853 - 1856), Russian forces had to evacuate Abkhazia and Prince Michael (1822-1864) seemingly switched to the Ottomans. Later on, the Russian presence strengthened and the highlanders of Western Caucasia were finally subjugated by Russia in 1864. The autonomy of Abkhazia, which had functioned as a pro-Russian "buffer zone" in this troublesome region, was no more needed to the Tsarist government and the rule of the Shervashidze came to an end; in November 1864, Prince Michael was forced to renounce his rights and resettle in Voronezhmarker. Abkhazia was incorporated in the Russian Empiremarker as a special military province of Suhum-Kale which was transformed, in 1883, into an okrug as part of the Kutaismarker Guberniya. Large numbers of Muslim Abkhazians — said to have constituted as much as 40% of the Abkhazian population, although contemporary census reports were not very trustworthy — emigrated to the Ottoman Empire between 1864 and 1878 together with other Muslim population of Caucasus in the process known as Muhajirism.

Large areas of the region were left uninhabited and many Armenians, Georgians, Russians and others subsequently migrated to Abkhazia, resettling much of the vacated territory. According to Georgian historians Georgian tribes (Mingrelians and Svans) had populated Abkhazia since the time of the Colchis kingdom. Some Georgian scholars even claim that the Abkhaz are the descendants of North Caucasian tribes, who migrated to Abkhazia from the north of the Caucasus Mountainsmarker and merged there with the existing Georgian population. However, this theory has little support among most Georgian academics.



The Russian Revolution of 1917 led to the creation of an independent Georgia (which included Abkhazia) in 1918. Georgia's Menshevik government had problems with the area through most of its existence despite a limited autonomy being granted to the region. 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, 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 and Beria many Georgians (especially Mingrelians) were encouraged to settle in Abkhazia; Abkhaz schools were closed. Russians also moved into Abkhazia in great numbers. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, Vazgen I and the Armenian church encouraged and funded the migration of Armenians to Abkhazia. Currently, Armenians are the second largest minority group in Abkhazia (closely matching the Georgians), although their numbers decreased dramatically from 77,000 in the 1989 census to 45,000 in the 2003 census (see the Demographics).

The oppression of the Abkhaz was ended after Stalin's death and Beria's execution, and Abkhaz were given a greater role in the governance of the republic. As in most of the smaller autonomous republics, the Soviet government encouraged the development of culture and particularly of literature. Ethnic quotas were established for certain bureaucratic posts, giving the Abkhaz a degree of political power that was disproportionate to their minority status in the republic. This was interpreted by some as a "divide and rule" policy whereby local elites were given a share in power in exchange for support for the Soviet regime. In Abkhazia as elsewhere, it led to other ethnic groups - in this case, the Georgians - resenting what they saw as unfair discrimination, thereby stoking ethnic discord in the republic.

Abkhazia in Post-Soviet Georgia

Flag of the SSR Abkhazia in 1989


As the Soviet Unionmarker began to disintegrate at the end of the 1980s, ethnic tensions grew between the Abkhaz and Georgians over Georgia's moves towards independence. Many Abkhaz opposed this, fearing that an independent Georgia would lead to the elimination of their autonomy, and argued instead for the establishment of Abkhazia as a separate Soviet republic in its own right. The dispute turned violent on 16 July 1989 in Sukhumi. Sixteen Georgians are said to have been killed and another 137 injured when they tried to enroll in a Georgian University instead of an Abkhaz one. After several days of violence, Soviet troops restored order in the city and blamed rival nationalist paramilitaries for provoking confrontations.

The Republic of Georgia boycotted the 17 March 1991 all-Union referendum on the renewal of the Soviet Union called by Mikhail Gorbachev - but 52.3% of the Abkhazia's population (virtually all the ethnic non-Georgians) took part in the referendum and voted by an overwhelming majority (98.6%) to preserve the Union. Most ethnic non-Georgians later boycotted a 31 March referendum on Georgia’s independence, which was supported by a huge majority of Georgia's population. Within weeks, Georgia declared independence on 9 April 1991, under former Soviet dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Under Gamsakhurdia, the situation was relatively calm in Abkhazia and a power-sharing agreement was soon reached between the Abkhaz and Georgian factions, granting to the Abkhaz a certain overrepresentation in the local legislature.

Gamsakhurdia's rule was soon challenged by the armed opposition groups which, under the command of Tengiz Kitovani, forced him to flee the country in a military coup in January 1992. Former Sovietmarker foreign minister and architect of the disintegration of the USSR Eduard Shevardnadze replaced Gamsakhurdia as president, inheriting a government dominated by hardline Georgian nationalists. He was not an ethnic nationalist but did little to avoid being seen as supporting his administration's dominant figures and the leaders of the coup that swept him to power.

On 21 February 1992, Georgia's ruling Military Council announced that it was abolishing the Soviet-era constitution and restoring the 1921 Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Georgiamarker. Many Abkhaz interpreted this as an abolition of their autonomous status, although the 1921 constitution contained a provision for the region's autonomy. On 23 July 1992, the Abkhaz faction in the republic's Supreme Council declared effective independence from Georgia, although the session was boycotted by ethnic Georgian deputies and the gesture went unrecognised by any other country. The Abkhaz leadership launched a campaign of ousting Georgian officials from their offices, a process which was accompanied by violence. In the meantime, the Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba intensified his ties with the hardliner Russian politicians and military elite and declared he was ready for a war with Georgia.

The Abkhazian War

In August 1992, the Georgian government accused Gamsakhurdia's supporters of kidnapping Georgia's interior minister and holding him captive in Abkhazia. The Georgian government dispatched 3,000 troops to the region, ostensibly to restore order. The Abkhaz were relatively unarmed at this time and the Georgian troops were able to march into Sukhumi with relatively little resistance and subsequently engaged in ethnically based pillage and looting. The Abkhaz units were forced to retreat to Gudautamarker and Tkvarchelimarker.

The Abkhaz military defeat was met with a hostile response by the self-styled Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, an umbrella group uniting a number of pro-Russian movements in the North Caucasus, including Circassian, Abazas, Chechens, Cossacks, Ossetians and hundreds of volunteer paramilitaries from Russia, including the then little-known Shamil Basayev, later a leader of the anti-Moscow Chechen secession, sided with the Abkhaz separatists to fight the Georgian government. Regular Russian forces also reportedly sided with the secessionists. In September, the Abkhaz and Russian paramilitaries mounted a major offensive against Gagra after breaking a cease-fire, which drove the Georgian forces out of large swathes of the republic. Shevardnadze's government accused Russia of giving covert military support to the rebels with the aim of "detaching from Georgia its native territory and the Georgia-Russian frontier land". The year 1992 ended with the rebels in control of much of Abkhazia northwest of Sukhumi.

The conflict stalemated until July 1993, when Abkhaz separatist militias launched an abortive attack on Georgian-held Sukhumi. They surrounded and heavily shelled the capital, where Shevardnadze was trapped. The warring sides agreed to a Russian brokered truce in Sochi at the end of July, but it collapsed in mid-September 1993 after a renewed Abkhaz attack. After ten days of heavy fighting, Sukhumi was taken over by the Abkhazian forces on 27 September 1993. Shevardnadze narrowly escaped death, after vowing to stay in the city no matter what. He was forced to flee when separatist snipers fired on the hotel where he was staying. Abkhaz, North Caucasian militants and their allies committed numerous atrocities against the city's remaining ethnic Georgians, in what has been dubbed the Sukhumi Massacre. The mass killings and destruction continued for two weeks, leaving thousands dead and missing.

The Abkhaz forces quickly overran the rest of Abkhazia as the Georgian government faced a second threat: an uprising by the supporters of the deposed Zviad Gamsakhurdia in the region of Mingrelia (Samegrelo). Only a small region of eastern Abkhazia, the upper Kodori gorge remained under Georgian control (until 2008). In the chaotic aftermath of defeat almost all ethnic Georgians fled the region, escaping an ethnic cleansing initiated by the victors. Many thousands died—it is estimated that on each side there were about 4,000 casualties (both military and civilian).

During the war, gross human rights violations were reported on the both sides (see Human Rights Watch report). In the first phase of the war, Georgian troops have been accused of looting while Georgia blames the Abkhaz forces and their allies for an intentional ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia, which has also been recognized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Summits in Budapestmarker (1994), Lisbonmarker (1996) and Istanbulmarker (1999). UN Security Council passed series of resolutions in which is appeals for a cease-fire and condemned the Abkhazian policy of ethnic-cleansing.

Of about 200,000-240,000 Georgian refugees, some 60,000 Georgian refugees spontaneously returned to Abkhazia's Gali district between 1994 and 1998, but tens of thousands were displaced again when fighting resumed in the Gali district in 1998. Nevertheless from 40,000 to 60,000 refugees have returned to the Gali district since 1998, including persons commuting daily across the ceasefire line and those migrating seasonally in accordance with agricultural cycles. The human rights situation remained precarious for a while in the Georgian-populated areas of the Gali district. The United Nations and other international organizations have been fruitlessly urging the Abkhaz de facto authorities "to refrain from adopting measures incompatible with the right to return and with international human rights standards, such as discriminatory legislation... [and] to cooperate in the establishment of a permanent international human rights office in Gali and to admit United Nations civilian police without further delay." Key officials of the Gali district are virtually all ethnic Abkhaz, though their support staff are ethnic Georgian.

Post-war Abkhazia

On 3 October 2004 presidential elections were held in Abkhazia. In the elections, Russia evidently supported Raul Khadjimba, the prime minister backed by the ailing outgoing separatist President Vladislav Ardzinba. Posters of Russia's President Vladimir Putin together with Khadjimba, who like Putin had worked as a KGBmarker official, were everywhere in Sukhumi. Deputies of Russia's parliament and Russian singers, led by Joseph Kobzon, a deputy and a popular singer, came to Abkhazia campaigning for Khadjimba.

However Raul Khadjimba lost the elections to Sergei Bagapsh. The tense situation in the republic led to the cancellation of the election results by the Supreme Court. After that a deal was struck between former rivals to run jointly — Bagapsh as a presidential candidate and Khadjimba as a vice presidential candidate. They received more than 90% of the votes in the new election.

In July 2006, Georgian forces launched a successful police operation against the rebelled administrator of the Georgian populated Kodori Gorgemarker, Emzar Kvitsiani. Kvitsiani had been appointed by the previous president of Georgia Edvard Shevardnadze and refused to recognize the authority of president Mikheil Saakashvili, who succeeded Shevardnadze after the Rose Revolution. Although Kvitsiani escaped capture by Georgian police, the Kodori Gorgemarker was brought back under the control of the central government in Tbilisimarker.

Sporadic acts of violence continued throughout the postwar years. Despite the peacekeeping status of the Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia, Georgian officials routinely claimed that Russian peacekeepers were inciting violence by supplying Abkhaz rebels with arms and financial support. Russian support of Abkhazia became pronounced when the Russian ruble became the de facto currency and Russia began issuing passports to the population of Abkhazia. Georgia has also accused Russia of violating its airspace by sending helicopters to attack Georgian-controlled towns in the Kodori Gorge. In April 2008, a Russian MiG - prohibited from Georgian airspace, including Abkhazia - shot down a Georgian UAV.

On 9 August 2008, Abkhazian forces fired on Georgian forces in Kodori Gorgemarker. This coincided with the 2008 South Ossetia war where Russia decided to back up Ossetian separatists who had been attacked by Georgia. The conflict escalated into a full-scale war between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Georgia. On 10 August 2008 an estimated 9,000 Russian troops entered Abkhazia ostensibly to reinforce the Russian peacekeepers in the republic. About 1,000 Abkhazian troops moved to expel the residual Georgian forces within Abkhazia in the Upper Kodori Gorge. By 12 August the Georgian forces and civilians had evacuated the last part of Abkhazia under Georgian government control. Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia on 26 August 2008. Moreover, on 17 November 2008, the Abkhaz parliament ratified a bill which authorizes the construction of a Russian military base in Abkhazia in 2009.

Since independence was recognised by Russia a series of controversial agreements were made between the Abkhazian government and the Russian Federation that leased or sold a number of key state assets and relinquished control over the borders. In May 2009 several opposition parties and war veteran groups protested against these deals complaining that they undermined state sovereignty and risked exchanging one colonial power (Georgia) with another (Russia). The Vice President, Raul Khadjimba, resigned on 28 May saying he agreed with the criticism the opposition had made. Subsequently, a conference of opposition parties in July 2009 nominated Raul Khadjimba as their candidate in the Abkhazian presidential election, 2009 scheduled for December.

International status

Map of Georgia highlighting Abkhazia (green) and South Ossetia (purple)
The Russian Federation and Nicaragua officially recognized Abkhazia after the 2008 South Ossetia War. Venezuela recognized Abkhazia in September 2009. The unrecognized republic of Transnistria and the partially recognized republic of South Ossetia have recognized Abkhazia since 2006. Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria all belong to the Community for Democracy and Human Rights, a group that attempts to further the cause of unrecognized states that came from the former Soviet Union. Abkhazia is also a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). All other sovereign states recognise Abkhazia as an integral part of Georgia and support its territorial integrity according to the principles of international law, although Belarusmarker has expressed sympathy toward the recognition of Abkhazia. The United Nations has been urging both sides to settle the dispute through diplomatic dialogue and ratifying the final status of Abkhazia in the Georgian constitution. However, the Abkhaz de facto government considers Abkhazia a sovereign country, even though it is recognised by a few other countries. In early 2000, then-UN Special Representative of the Secretary General Dieter Boden and the Group of Friends of Georgia, consisting of the representatives of Russia, the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, drafted and informally presented a document to the parties outlining a possible distribution of competencies between the Abkhaz and Georgian authorities, based on a core respect for Georgian territorial integrity. The Abkhaz side, however, has never accepted the paper as a basis for negotiations. Eventually, Russia also withdrew its approval of the document. In 2005 and 2008, the Georgian government offered Abkhazia a high degree of autonomy and possible federal structure within the borders and jurisdiction of Georgia.

On 18 October 2006, the People's Assembly of Abkhazia passed a resolution, calling upon Russia, international organizations, and the rest of the international community to recognize Abkhaz independence on the basis that Abkhazia possesses all the properties of an independent state. The United Nations has reaffirmed "the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders" and outlined the basic principles of conflict resolution which call for immediate return of all displaced persons and for non-resumption of hostilities.

Georgia accuses the Abkhaz secessionists of having conducted a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing of 200,000-240,000 Georgians, a claim supported by the OSCE (Budapest, Lisbon and Istanbul declaration), the United Nations General Assembly ( Resolution 10708) and many Western governments. The UN Security Council has avoided use of the term "ethnic cleansing" but has affirmed "the unacceptability of the demographic changes resulting from the conflict". On 15 May 2008 United Nations General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution recognising the right of all refugees (including victims of reported “ethnic cleansing”) to return to Abkhazia and their property rights. It "regretted" the attempts to alter pre-war demographic composition and called for the "rapid development of a timetable to ensure the prompt voluntary return of all refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes."

On 28 March 2008, the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili unveiled his government's new proposals to Abkhazia: the broadest possible autonomy within the framework of a Georgian state, a joint free economic zone, representation in the central authorities including the post of vice-president with the right to veto Abkhaz-related decisions. The Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh rejected these new initiatives as "propaganda", leading to Georgia's complaints that this skepticism was "triggered by Russia, rather than by real mood of the Abkhaz people."

On 3 July 2008, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly passed a resolution at its annual session in Astanamarker, expressing concern over Russia’s recent moves in breakaway Abkhazia. The resolution calls on the Russian authorities to refrain from maintaining ties with the breakaway regions “in any manner that would constitute a challenge to the sovereignty of Georgia” and also urges Russia “to abide by OSCE standards and generally accepted international norms with respect to the threat or use of force to resolve conflicts in relations with other participating States.”

Russian involvement

During the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, Russian authorities and military supplied logistical and military aid to the separatist side.Today, Russia still maintains a strong political and military influence over separatist rule in Abkhazia. Russia has also issued passports for the citizens of Abkhazia since 2000 (as the Abkhazian passports cannot be used for international travel) and subsequently paid retirement pensions and other monetary benefits. More than 80% of the Abkhazian population received Russian passports by 2006. As Russian citizens living abroad, Abkhazians do not pay Russian taxes or serve in the Russian Army. About 53,000 Abkhazian passports have been issued as of May 2007.

Moscow, at certain times, had hinted that it might recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetiamarker when the Western countries recognized the independence of Kosovomarker suggesting it created a precedent. Following Kosovo's declaration of independence the Russian parliament released a joint statement reading: "Now that the situation in Kosovo has become an international precedent, Russia should take into account the Kosovo scenario...when considering ongoing territorial conflicts." Initially Russia continued to delay recognition of both of these republics. However, on 16 April 2008, the outgoing Russian president Vladimir Putin instructed his government to establish official ties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, leading to Georgia's condemnation of what it described an attempt at "de facto annexation" and criticism from the European Union, NATOmarker, and several Western governments.
Later in April 2008, Russia accused Georgia of trying to exploit the NATO support in order to control Abkhazia by force, and announced it would increase its military in the region, pledging to retaliate militarily to Georgia’s efforts. The Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze had said Georgia will treat any additional troops in Abkhazia as "aggressors".

In response to the invasion of South Ossetia, the Federal Assembly of Russia called an extraordinary session for 25 August 2008 to discuss recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Following a unanimous resolution that was passed by both houses of the parliament, calling on the Russian president to recognize independence of the breakaway republics,

Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, officially recognized both on 26 August 2008. Russian recognition was condemned by NATOmarker nations , OSCE chairman, European Council nations due to "violation of territorial integrity and international law". UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated that sovereign states have to decide upon the recognition of independence.

Russia has started work on the establishment of a naval base in Ochamchire by dredging the coast to allow the passage of their larger naval vessels. As a response to the Georgian sea blockade of Abkhazia–in which Georgian coast guard had been detaining ships heading to and from Abkhazia–Russia began patrolling the Black Sea to protect ships and detaining ships from Georgia trespassing in Abkhazian waters.

International involvement

The UN has played various roles during the conflict and peace process: a military role through its observer mission (UNOMIG); dual diplomatic roles through the Security Council and the appointment of a Special Envoy, succeeded by a Special Representative to the Secretary-General; a humanitarian role (UNHCR and UNOCHA); a development role (UNDP); a human rights role (UNCHR); and a low-key capacity and confidence-building role (UNV). The UN’s position has been that there will be no forcible change in international borders. Any settlement must be freely negotiated and based on autonomy for Abkhazia legitimized by referendum under international observation once the multi-ethnic population has returned. According to Western interpretations the intervention did not contravene international law since Georgia, as a sovereign state, had the right to secure order on its territory and protect its territorial integrity.

OSCE has increasingly engaged in dialogue with officials and civil society representatives in Abkhazia, especially from NGOs and the media, regarding human dimension standards and is considering a presence in Gali. OSCE expressed concern and condemnation over ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia during the 1994 Budapestmarker Summit Decision and later at the Lisbon Summit Declaration in 1996.

The USA rejects the unilateral secession of Abkhazia and urges its integration into Georgia as an autonomous unit. In 1998 the USA announced its readiness to allocate up to $15 million for rehabilitation of infrastructure in the Gali region if substantial progress is made in the peace process. USAID has already funded some humanitarian initiatives for Abkhazia. The USA has in recent years significantly increased its military support to the Georgian armed forces but has stated that it would not condone any moves towards peace enforcement in Abkhazia.

On 22 August 2006, Senator Richard Lugar, then visiting Georgia's capital Tbilisi, joined the Georgian politicians in criticism of the Russian peacekeeping mission, stating that "the U.S. administration supports the Georgian government’s insistence on the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the conflict zones in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali district."

On 5 October 2006, Javier Solana, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union, ruled out the possibility of replacing the Russian peacekeepers with the EU force." On 10 October 2006, EU South Caucasus envoy Peter Semneby noted that "Russia's actions in the Georgia spy row have damaged its credibility as a neutral peacekeeper in the EU's Black Sea neighbourhood."

On 13 October 2006, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution, based on a Group of Friends of the Secretary-General draft, extending the UNOMIG mission until 15 April 2007. Acknowledging that the "new and tense situation" resulted, at least in part, from the Georgian special forces operation in the upper Kodori Valley, the resolution urged the country to ensure that no troops unauthorized by the Moscow ceasefire agreement were present in that area. It urged the leadership of the Abkhaz side to address seriously the need for a dignified, secure return of refugees and internally displaced persons and to reassure the local population in the Gali district that their residency rights and identity will be respected. The Georgian side is "once again urged to address seriously legitimate Abkhaz security concerns, to avoid steps which could be seen as threatening and to refrain from militant rhetoric and provocative actions, especially in upper Kodori Valley". Calling on both parties to follow up on dialogue initiatives, it further urged them to comply fully with all previous agreements regarding non-violence and confidence-building, in particular those concerning the separation of forces. Regarding the disputed role of the peacekeepers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Council stressed the importance of close, effective cooperation between UNOMIG and that force and looked to all sides to continue to extend the necessary cooperation to them. At the same time, the document reaffirmed the "commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders."

The HALO Trust, an international non-profit organisation that specialises in the removal of the debris of war, has been active in Abkhazia since 1999 and has completed the removal of land-mines in Sukhumi and Gali districts. It plans to finish its operations in 2007/2008 and to declare Abkhazia a "mine impact free" territory.

The main NGO working in Abkhazia is the France-based international NGO Première-Urgence (PU): PU has been implementing rehabilitation and economical revival programmes to support the vulnerable populations affected by the frozen conflict for almost 10 years.

International recognition

Abkhazia was an unrecognized state for most of its history. The following is a list of political entities that formally recognize Abkhazia.

Unrecognized or largely unrecognized states


UN member states


Geography and climate

Abkhazia covers an area of about 8,600 km² at the western end of Georgia. The Caucasus Mountainsmarker to the north and the northeast divide Abkhazia and the Russian Federationmarker. To the east and southeast, Abkhazia is bounded by the Georgian region of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti; and on the south and southwest by the Black Sea.

Abkhazia is extremely mountainous. 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 above sea level. The landscapes of Abkhazia range from coastal forests and citrus plantations, to eternal snows and glaciers to 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 River separates the region from Russia, and the Inguri serves as a boundary between Abkhazia and Georgia proper. There are several periglacial and crater lakes in mountainous Abkhazia. Lake Ritsamarker is the most important of them.

The world's deepest known cave, Krubera Cavemarker ("The Crows' Cave", in English), is located in Abkhazia's western Caucasus mountains. The latest survey (as of September 2006) has measured the vertical extend of this cave system as 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. The climate at higher elevations varies from maritime mountainous to cold and summerless. Abkhazia receives high amounts of precipitation, but its unique micro-climate (transitional from subtropical to mountain) along most of its coast causes lower levels of humidity. The annual precipitation vacillates from along the coast in the higher mountainous areas. The mountains of Abkhazia receive significant amounts of snow.

There are two border crossings into Abkhazia. The southern border crossing is at the Inguri bridge, a short distance from the Georgian city of Zugdidimarker. The northern crossing ("Psou") is in the town of Gyachrypshmarker. Owing to the ongoing security situation, many foreign governments advise their citizens against travelling to Abkhazia.

Government and administration

Government of the Republic of Abkhazia

Abkhazia is a presidential republic - the current President of Abkhazia is Sergei Bagapsh. Bagapsh came to power following the deeply divisive October 2004 presidential election. The next election will be held on 12 December 2009.

Legislative powers are vested in the People's Assembly, which consists of 35 elected members. The last parliamentary elections were held on 4 March 2007. Ethnicities other than Abkhaz (Armenians, Russians and Georgians) are believed to be under-represented in the Assembly.

Most refugees from the 1992-1993 war (mainly ethnic Georgians) have not been able to return and have thus been excluded from the political process.

Abkhazian officials have stated that they have given the Russian Federation the responsibility of representing their interests abroad.

Government in exile: Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia

The Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia is a government in exile that Georgiamarker recognises as the legal government of Abkhazia. This pro-Georgian government maintained a foothold on Abkhazian territory, in the upper Kodori Valleymarker from July 2006 until it was forced out by fighting in August 2008. This government is also partly responsible for the affairs of some 250,000 IDPs who were forced to leave Abkhazia following the War in Abkhazia and ethnic cleansing that followed. The current Head of the Government is Malkhaz Akishbaia.

During the War in Abkhazia, the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia (at the time the Georgian faction of the "Council of Ministers of Abkhazia") left Abkhazia after the Abkhaz separatist forces took control of the region’s capital Sukhumimarker and relocated to Georgia’s capital Tbilisimarker where it operated as the Government of Abkhazia in exile for almost 13 years. During this period, the Government of Abkhazia in exile, led by Tamaz Nadareishvili, was known for a hard-line stance towards the Abkhaz problem and frequently voiced their opinion that the solution to the conflict can only be attained through Georgia's military response to secessionism. Later, Nadareishvili's administration was implicated in some internal controversies and had not taken an active part in the politics of Abkhazia until a new chairman, Irakli Alasania, was appointed by President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, his envoy in the peace talks over Abkhazia.

Administrative divisions of Abkhazia

The Republic of Abkhazia is divided into 7 raions named after their centers: Gagra, Gudauta, Sukhumi, Ochamchira, Gulripsh, Tkvarcheli and Galimarker. These districts are the same as under the Soviet Union, except that the Tkvarcheli district was created only in 1995, from parts of the Ochamchira and Gali districts.

The President of the Republic appoints districts' heads from those elected to the districts' assemblies. There are elected village assemblies whose heads are appointed by the districts' heads.

The Administrative subdivision of Abkhazia used by Georgia is identical to the one outlined above, except for the new Tkvarcheli district.

Military

The Abkhazian Armed Forces are the military of the Republic of Abkhazia. The basis of the Abkhazian armed forces was formed by the ethnically Abkhaz National Guard formed early in 1992. Most of the weapons come from the former Russian airborne division base in Gudautamarker. The Abkhazian military is primarily a ground force but includes small sea and air units.Russia has at present around 1,600 troops stationed in Abkhazia.

The Abkhazian Armed Forces are composed of:

Economy

The economy of Abkhazia is heavily integrated with Russia and uses the Russian ruble as its currency. Tourism is a key industry and, according to the Abkhaz de facto authorities, almost a million tourists (mainly from Russia) came to Abkhazia in 2007. Although Russia has established a visa regime with Georgia, Russian passport-holders do not require a visa to enter Abkhazia. Holders of European Union passports require an Entry Permit Letter issued by the de facto Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sukhumi, against which a visa will be issued upon presentation of the Letter to the MFA.

Abkhazia's fertile land and abundance of agricultural products, including tea, tobacco, wine and fruits (especially tangerines), have secured a relative stability in the sector. Electricity is largely supplied by the Inguri hydroelectric power stationmarker located on the Inguri River between Abkhazia and Georgia proper and operated jointly by Abkhaz and Georgians.

The exports and imports in 2006 were 627.2 and 3270.2 mln. rubles respectively (appx. 22 and 117 mln. US dollars) according to the Abkhazian authorities.

Many Russian entrepreneurs and some Russian municipalities have invested or plan to invest in Abkhazia. This includes the Moscowmarker municipality after the Mayor of Moscowmarker, Yury Luzhkov, signed an agreement on economic cooperation between Moscow and Abkhazia. Both Abkhaz and Russian officials have announced their intentions to exploit Abkhazia's facilities and resources for the Olympic construction projects in Sochimarker, as the city will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Government of Georgia has warned against such actions, however, and has threatened to ask foreign banks to close accounts of Russian companies and individuals that buy assets in Abkhazia.

According to the U.S.-based organisation Freedom House, the region continues to suffer considerable economic problems owing to widespread corruption, the control by criminal organizations of large segments of the economy, and the continuing effects of the war.

The CIS economic sanctions imposed on Abkhazia in 1996 are still formally in force although Russia announced on 6 March 2008 that it would no longer participate in them, declaring them "outdated, impeding the socio-economic development of the region, and causing unjustified hardship for the people of Abkhazia". Russia also called on other CIS members to undertake similar steps, but met with protests from Tbilisi and lack of support from the other CIS countries.

The European Union has allocated more than €20 mln. to Abkhazia since 1997 for various humanitarian projects, including the support of civil society, economic rehabilitation, help to the most vulnerable households and confidence building measures. The single largest EU's project is the repair and reconstruction of the Inguri power stationmarker.

Demographics

The exact present size of Abkhazia's population is unclear. According to the census carried out in 2003 it measured 215,972 people, but this is contested by Georgian authorities. The Department of Statistics of Georgia estimated Abkhazia's population to be approximately 179,000 in 2003, and 178,000 in 2005 (the last year when such estimates were published in Georgia). Encyclopædia Britannica estimates the population in 2007 at 180,000 and the International Crisis Group estimates Abkhazia's total population in 2006 to be between 157,000 and 190,000 (or between 180,000 and 220,000 as estimated by UNDP in 1998).

Ethnicity

The ethnic composition of Abkhazia has played a central role in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict and is equally contested. The demographics of Abkhazia were very strongly affected by the 1992-1993 War with Georgia, which saw the expulsion and flight of over half of the republic's population, measuring 525,061 in the 1989 census.

The population of Abkhazia remains ethnically very diverse, even after the 1992-1993 War. At present the population of Abkhazia is mainly made up of ethnic Abkhaz, Georgians (mostly Mingrelians), Hamshemin Armenians, and Russians. Prior to the war, ethnic Georgians made up 45.7% of Abkhazia's population, however, by 1993, most Georgians and some Russians and Armenians had fled Abkhazia or had been ethnically cleansed.

During the Soviet Union, the Russian, Armenian and Georgian population grew faster than the Abkhaz, due to the large-scale migration enforced especially under the rule of Stalin and Lavrenty Beria.

Religion

Most inhabitants of Abkhazia are nominally Christian (Eastern Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox), Sunni Muslim or irreligious, but most people who declare themselves Christian or Muslim do not attend religious service. The influence of traditional Abkhaz religion also remains strong among Christians, Muslims and non-believers. There is a very small number of adherents of Judaism, Jehovah's Witnesses and New religious movement.http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/print.php?act=fresh&id=188 Александр Крылов. ЕДИНАЯ ВЕРА АБХАЗСКИХ "ХРИСТИАН" И "МУСУЛЬМАН". Особенности религиозного сознания в современной Абхазии. The Jehovah's Witnesses organization has officially been banned since 1995, though the decree is not currently enforced.

According to the constitutions of both Abkhazia and Georgia, the adherents of all religions (as well as atheists) have equal rights before the law.

According to a survey held in 2003, 60% of respondents identified themselves as Christian, 16% as Muslim, 8% as atheist or irreligious and 8% as adhering to the traditional Abkhazian religion or as Pagan.

Culture

The written Abkhaz literature appeared relatively recently, in the beginning of the 20th century. However, Abkhaz share with other Caucasian peoples the Nart sagas — series of tales about mythical heroes. The Abkhaz alphabet was created in the 19th century. The first newspaper in Abkhaz, called Abkhazia and edited by Dmitry Gulia, appeared in 1917.

Arguably the most famous Abkhaz writers are Fazil Iskander, who wrote mostly in Russian and Bagrat Shinkuba a poet.

Football remains the most popular sport in Abkhazia. Other popular sports include basketball, boxing, wrestling.

Abkhazia has its own amateur Abkhazian football league since 1994. The league is not a part of any international football union.

Gallery of Abkhazia

File: Novoafonsky monastyr.jpg| New Athos (Novyy Afon) orthodox monasteryFile: GagraColonnade.jpg| GagraFile: Gegsky1.jpg| Geg waterfallFile: Sukhum1.jpg| View of Sukhumi 1File: Aloisi_villa_Sukhumi.jpg| View of Sukhumi 2File:On_quay._Sukhum.jpg|Sukhumi quayFile:Botanical garden.Sukhum.jpg|Sukhumi botanical garden front entranceFile:Dramatic theatre Chanba.jpg|Chanba Dramatic theatre in Sukhumi


See also



References

External links




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