Metin Sönmez
Independent Researcher. Founder of, founder and administrator of - 

Reflections on Abkhazia: 1992-2022

Today, 14 August 2022, is the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the war between the Georgians and the Abkhazians in the decades-long dispute over ownership of the small territory known to the autochthonous Abkhazians as Apsny, to the Georgians as apxazeti, and to most of the world as Abkhazia. A place remains for much of the world either a thoroughly unknown or, at best, poorly known country, or for many, a disputed region…

First of all I would like to point out some basic facts about Abkhazia and the Abkhazians, which will help to understand the origin of the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict.

  • Abkhazians are one of the autochthonous peoples of the Western Caucasus. Abkhazia is their unique homeland.
  • They have a language, distinct from that of the Georgians, which belongs to the North-West Caucasian language-family group, and they are ethnically related to Circassians.
  • Between 780 and 978: The Kingdom of Abkhazia flourished and the Abkhazian Dynasty extended its sway over much of what is now Western Georgia.
  • After the Russian-Caucasus wars, Abkhazia was the last Caucasian principality to be forcibly annexed to the Russian Empire. Russian oppression was so severe that over the next few decades more than half of the Abkhazian population fled to Turkey and the Middle East.
  • After 1864 (when the Russian-Caucasus wars ended) and the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877/78, the question arose as to who would make the most appropriate substitute-population. One of the leading Georgian intellectuals of the time, the educationalist Iakob Gogebashvili, wrote an interesting article in Tiflisskij Vestnik in 1877 entitled (in Georgian) vin unda iknes dasaxlebuli apxazetshi? (Who should be settled in Abkhazia?). In this article he argued that the neighbouring Mingrelians would make the best k’olonizatorebi (colonisers)... And this is precisely what they subsequently became.
  • In 1917 Abkhazia joined The Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus. In 1918 the Mensheviks came to power in Georgia and succeeded in annexing Abkhazia.
  • In 1921 the Bolsheviks overthrew the Mensheviks in Georgia. The Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic was established, separate from Georgia, and headed by Nestor Lakoba
  • In 1931 Stalin (Georgian) and Beria (Mingrelian) reduced Abkhazia to the status of an autonomous Republic within Georgia.
  • Between 1937 - 1953  mass-immigration of Kartvelians (mostly Mingrelians) into Abkhazia was carried out from Western Georgia (Mingrelia) by Stalin and Beria. This period is called the ‘Stalin-Beria Terror in Abkhazia’. During this period Abkhaz's script was then altered from a roman to a Georgian base. Abkhazian intellectuals were killed. The Abkhaz alphabet was changed to a Georgian base. Abkhaz place-names changed to Georgian ones. Abkhaz-language schools were summarily closed in 1945-6, followed by a ban on broadcasting and publications.

These are some of the important points that we should know in order to understand the origin of the conflict.

14 August 1992

On 14 August 1992, Georgian troops entered Abkhazia with tanks and combat helicopters. Thus began the Georgian-Abkhazian war, which would last 13 months. Today Abkhazians are deeply grateful to the inhabitants of the North Caucasus, who arrived in Abkhazia in the first days of the war and fought on the Abkhazian side. Many Armenians, Russians and other nationalities who lived in Abkhazia also took part in the war on the Abkhazian side. Of course we should not forget the Confederation of the Peoples of the North Caucasus, members of the Abkhaz-Adyghe diaspora who came to fight (principally from Turkey) to defend their ancestral lands.

The war ended on 30 September 1993 with victory for the Abkhazians. As with all wars, tragedy was experienced by thousands of people on both sides. Thousands died on both sides. Abkhazians lost 4% of their population; each Abkhazian family lost at least one member during the conflagration. About 200,000 Georgians became refugees by fleeing to Georgia. Аlso many volunteers from the North Caucasus and diaspora died in the fighting.

Immediately after the war, Abkhazia was subject to a CIS embargo led by Georgia and, be it noted, Russia. In the following years, Georgia tried several times to reconquer Abkhazia by force, but without success. At the same time, direct talks with Abkhazia continued. That is until 2008.

On the night of 7/8 August 2008, when President Mikheil Saakashvili issued the order for Georgian troops to attack South Ossetia. This was Georgia’s “final” mistake. After Georgia’s defeat and the recognition (on 26 August) of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by the Russian Federation, the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict entered a new phase. Direct talks between Georgia and Abkhazia ended, and, following the recognition by Russia, the Georgian Parliament adopted a law on Abkhazia as a territory occupied by Russia.

Since 2008, both in Georgia and the international arena, attempts have been made to resolve the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict without the Abkhazians, thereby ignoring one of the two parties to the conflict. The West, in particular, has chosen to be a party instead of a mediator. This naturally results in no progress being made in the resolution of the conflict.

In recent years, we see that many experts and journalists have written articles as if everything started in 2008. So, one might imagine from what they wrote that Abkhazia was a part of Georgia before 2008. While I hope this is due to a lack of information, it can surely be interpreted as part of some black propaganda.

Georgia completely lost its control over Abkhazia after the 1992-93 war. By the way, it should be noted that even in the period of 1931 to 1991, when Abkhazia was (a notionally autonomous) part of the Georgian SSR, they both together were parts of the administrative structure of the USSR. Abkhazia was, thus, not at this time part of an independent Georgian polity.

Another misconception is that Abkhazia declared independence before the war. In fact, just before the Georgian invasion, the Abkhazian side proposed a confederate state-structure to Georgia. Even after the war, the Abkhazian side still discussed this proposal, but the Georgian side ignored this; finally Abkhazia officially declared its independence in 1999.

Abkhazia and Georgia in the Battle of International Powers

It is very clear that, after all their many experiences over long years, Abkhazians do not trust the Georgians, who have only themselves to blame for their woes in the disputed regions of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But the Mingrelians, who (following Georgian practice) are widely viewed as a ‘sub-ethnic’ Georgian group, still live in the border Gal District of Abkhazia.

Abkhazians are also suspicious of the West, which has tended from the very start to ignore them completely and to offer blind support to the Georgian side.

Currently, Georgia is a country used by the West against Russia. Likewise, Abkhazia is a country used by Russia against the West, and at the same time Russia uses both contested territories as pressure on Tbilisi. It is clear that both the West and Russia are acting only in their own interests, and both Abkhazia and Georgia use these powers in their own interests too.

As Sergey Shamba, one-time Foreign Minister of Abkhazia, has said to Der Spiegel: “The true battle is between the large international powers. On the one hand, Abkhazia and Georgia are levers in this fight, and on the other, Abkhazia and Georgia also use these powers for their own gain. The exploitation is mutual.

When the late Andrei Sakharov described the relationship between Abkhazia and Georgia, he wrote: "I tend to justify the Abkhazian position. I think we should regard with special attention the problems of small peoples: freedom and rights of big nations should not be exercised at the expense of small ones" (Znamya, 1991, No.10, p.69). Unfortunately, both Sakharov's own country and the western / EU states that created the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in his memory ignore the problems of small peoples and prefer to use them for their own ends.

Indeed Abkhazia is certainly a fine piece of territory, not least because it is especially important strategically. Russia always wanted to be in the Caucasus, in the Black Sea. Russia will not happily relinquish its influence in the Caucasus and Black Sea, whilst the West would prefer to see that influence lost at the expense of the small nations.

So, how will the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, in which the interests of the great powers  seem to come first, be resolved? No progress has been made by the methods that have been tried for the past 30 years. Attempting to solve a problem by essaying the same means while waiting for a different result is (as has been often observed) the mark of insanity.

First of all, it should be understood that under no circumstances will either Abkhazia or South Ossetia agree to be placed once again within the former Soviet borders of Georgia, which were after all created by the Georgian Stalin (Dzhughashvili). Difficult and painful as it must be for some to accept this simple fact, such is the REALITY.

Despite what we have heard recently from Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili, what the vast majority of Georgians, whether among the political and intellectual élite or in wider social circles, seek is not to repair relations with the Ossetians and Abkhazians but (and this is their exclusive concern) the restoration of their lost “territorial integrity” (as understood in Soviet terms).

What do Georgia and its supporters demand of Abkhazia?

1. Give up independence and become again part of Georgia.

There is not a single example in history where a people after being invaded, losing 4% of their population, and yet finally winning the war have meekly resigned themselves to returning to the status quo ante. Abkhazia will not be the country to set this precedent.

Also, the question of territorial integrity is actually associated not with Georgia proper but with the former minor Soviet Empire, i.e. with the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, into which on 19 February 1931 the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia (1921-1931) was included as an autonomy by Stalin’s dictat. So, regrettably, we have to say that the UN and certain circles in the West are actually attempting to preserve the Stalinist pattern of dividing peoples into ranks. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand why the former union-republics are recognised while the autonomous ones are not. Is this not a clear manifestation of double standards?

2. Allow all Georgians (including the ones who fought against Abkhazia) who fled to Georgia after the war to return to Abkhazia, which in 1999 did actually accept more than 40,000 largely Mingrelian refugees.

Those refugees are not living in a third country but in their own country. Let’s assume the entire former ‘Georgian’ population are allowed to return. Who will guarantee that this mass-return will not cause severe consequences and a new war? Do we need another experiment? Because the whole non-Georgian population perfectly remembers from past history how Abkhazia was when part of Soviet Georgia.

For Georgians there is a country called Georgia, their motherland, where they may live freely, but the Abkhazians have no other home.

Before the 1992-93 war, despite everything that had happened in the past, there was still a chance to live together, but right now we cannot talk about this option any longer, after the war, after both sides lost their loved ones and after the hatred instilled toward each other. As a war-veteran Esmeralda Arshba said in the Finnish documentary film “Ei-toivottu valtio”: “How could a woman who has lost four children tolerate it, if the killers of her children would move to become her neighbours? How could one understand that”

Another example is Nagorno-Karabakh. Let’s remember what the Azerbaijani government and their Western friends were saying before and during the 2020 war.

"Both Armenians and Azerbaijanis can live in peace and harmony": 

Armenians can live in Azerbaijan as citizens of our country, just as they did before the conflict. They can live in our country just as they live in all other countries of the world — in Russia, France, America”  — Rovshan Rzaev, Chairman of the State Committee for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons.

We all have to be realistic. This will not be possible either in Karabakh, or in South Ossetia, or in Abkhazia. Even in Chechnya… Soon or later we shall see it. As long as we insist on the so-called ‘resolutions’ while ignoring the people who suffered from the conflict, from the war, there will be no peace. I know this is hard to accept for some people, but this is the reality.

What does the West want? A solution or to please Georgia?

When I listen to the EU and US officials, once again some questions arise in my mind: Why do all the solutions offered by Western powers focus on, and respect, only Georgia’s interests?

How many western ambassadors have visited Abkhazia to listen, to learn what the Abkhazian side is saying? Perhaps we should ask another question before that: are they really  brave enough to pay such a visit, despite Georgian objections?

Why are no Abkhazian officials ever invited to present their views at international fora, at the United Nations, at the EU Parliament? Aren't these people part of the conflict? How will one solve this problem by ignoring them and not listening to them?

We always hear about Georgia's losses, sufferings and solutions to please only one side of the conflict. Why does no-one talk about compensation to Abkhazia(ns) for the losses they suffered in the war that Georgia imposed upon them? In 2010, Vice-President Aleksandr Ankvab estimated the damage done to Abkhazia’s agriculture, industrial base and resorts in the 1992–93 war to be no less than US $13–14 billion. And, of course, this does not take into account the human losses, which must not be forgotten. As mentioned above, every Abkhazian family lost at least one member. If justice is what is being sought, how can there be talk of justice when one side in the conflict is totally sidelined?

Russia: Abkhazia's Only Gate to the World

Many commentators, while accusing Abkhazia of being more and more dependent on Russia, for some reason, do not talk about the circumstances that led to this.

In 2008, Sergey Shamba, Abkhazia’s one-time Foreign Minister, asked about Russia's influence over Abkhazia and whether he is concerned about this or not.

Shamba was said: “It is difficult for us, but the European states don't provide us with any alternative. They have closed all the doors to us. What should we do? Our ties with Russia solve practically all of our problems. For small Abkhazia, the large Russian market, Russian tourists or the security guarantee is enough. We have the right to dual citizenship. In order to travel to different countries outside of Russia, our citizens also have Russian passports.”

Indeed, Russia is happy with this situation. For instance, I do not think that Moscow would be happy to see Abkhazia recognised by the international community, since that would negatively affect its influence not only in Abkhazia but the North Caucasus too. Imagine that the USA recognises Abkhazia. I am sure that Russia would indirectly resist this recognition, simple because this does not suit the national interests of Russia…

If one wants to go on complaining about Russian influence in Abkhazia, they had better engage with Abkhazia to open another door to integrate it with the rest of the world. This does not necessarily entail recognition of their independence but a policy of ‘engagement without recognition’. 

Otherwise, the Abkhazians and Ossetians will continue having to rely mainly on Russia and its military strength as the main factor in their stability and security.

Seeking a new war: The Second Front

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, there have been repeated appeals to Georgia to open a “second front” against “Russia” by launching a war against Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Such advocates are manifestly so devoid of conscience that they are ready to sacrifice these two small nations for their own gain.

After 30 years this is where we are: freedom and independence for their own people and oppression and injustice towards others. Can this be called modern democracy?

As Liz Fuller said: The international community may have forgotten (or chosen to overlook) Georgia's earlier attempts to reconquer Abkhazia by force in May 1998 and September-October 2001, and South Ossetia in the summer of 2004, and the Georgian incursion into the upper reaches of the Kodor Gorge in the summer of 2006. The Abkhazians and South Ossetians have not forgotten. 

The concern of these people is neither to solve the problems of Georgia with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, nor to provide peace to the Caucasus. Their sole purpose is to weaken their great enemy to their own benefit. All else can easily be sacrificed for this goal.

A new war will not only affect South Ossetia and Abkhazia but will involve the entire North Caucasus and all the countries where the North Caucasus diaspora lives. This new front, which some seem to view as desirable, may also bring the end of Georgia, contrary to expectations. These are realities that need to be understood.

ABKHAZIA: 1992-2022

This project is the continuation of the earlier 'Reflections on Abkhazia: [14 August] 1992-2012', which I completed 10 years ago. It aims to bring together different points of view on Abkhazia and the Georgian - Abkhazian Conflict. 

The authors were given complete freedom regarding the content of their texts. The views they express in their contributions for this project do not necessarily reflect the views of the AbkhazWorld website. The texts have been listed alphabetically according to the names of the authors.

This project will be published later this year as a book with the same name and some new content.

In fact, this project, which was supposed to have 50 authors, did not manage to reach this number due to the fact that some of the authors could not complete their writings As a result (in same cases) of their busy schedule. Some of the authors missing here will submit their articles for inclusion in the book.

I hope that the published material will help to bring a new perspective on the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, which has not been resolved for 30 years.

I would like wholeheartedly to thank all of the following who have contributed to this project by allowing their valuable thoughts to be included on this site. 

Also, for his endless help in editing all the texts and making any necessary translations many thanks to Prof. Emeritus George Hewitt. This project could not have been completed without his help.

Finally, I would like to thank Mr. Beslan Agrba, head of the Moscow Abkhazian Diaspora and trustee of the Amshra Charitable Foundation, who sponsored the publication of this project both online and as a book.

Let us hope there will never be another war between the peoples discussed in what follows. 

Metin Sönmez

audi alteram partem.


Note on editorial practice

Whilst AbkhazWorld normally uses the forms of toponyms approved in Abkhazia, whatever forms were used by contributing authors have been left as written in their submitted texts. So, whereas AbkhazWorld would typically write: Sukhum, Ochamchira, Gal, Kodor, readers will here see such versions as: Sukhum/i, Sukhum(i), Sokhumi, Ochamchire, Gal/i, Gal(i), Kodor/i, Kodor(i), etc… However, if an article was submitted in Russian, toponyms appear in the translations that are standard on AbkhazWorld.

As an Englishman, I have used UK (and not US) spellings and dates (e.g. 14 August 1992, and NOT August 14, 1992) in translated articles. Also, my preference is for ‘s’ over ‘z’ in such words as: organise, organisation. I also have a strong liking for the hyphen, and readers might notice that it appears far more frequently in my edits than they will have encountered (or willl encounter) elsewhere. If any of these (what some might see as) idiosyncracies have made their appearance in non-translated articles, I apologise to relevant authors and hope they will happily accept my occasional tinkering with their submissions.

George Hewitt & Metin Sönmez