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Сайт : / ARTICLES ABOUT ABKHAZIA / Regions and territories: Abkhazia /

Regions and territories: Abkhazia

Situated in the north-western corner of Georgia with the Black Sea to the south-west and the Caucasus mountains and Russia to the north-east, Abkhazia was once known as a prime holiday destination for the Soviet elite.

 

It was also an important tea, citrus fruit and tobacco growing area.

 

Abkhazia»s battle for independence from Georgia since the collapse of the USSR has reduced the economy to ruins. The only things to thrive are the atmosphere of instability and Russo-Georgian rivalry for influence, although Russian tourists are beginning to return.

 

OVERVIEW 

 

 

OVERVIEW | FACTS | LEADERS | MEDIA 

 

 

Once part of the ancient Greek and Roman empires, Abkhazia adopted Christianity in the sixth century. With the rise of the Ottoman empire 500 years later, Islam gained increasing influence.

 

The ethnic Abkhaz people have close historical, linguistic and cultural ties with the peoples of the Russian North Caucasus which put up fierce resistance to Moscow»s expansionism in the first half of the 19th century.

 

 

Abkhazia was incorporated into the Russian empire in 1810 as a protectorate and finally annexed in 1864. Many Abkhaz fled and many Russians and Georgians arrived in the years which followed.

 

After the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, Abkhazia gained a measure of autonomy until Stalin, who liked to holiday there, incorporated it into Georgia in 1931.

 

It was still called an autonomous republic but there was very little sign of genuine autonomy while Stalin was alive. Georgian became the official language and the Abkhaz language and cultural rights were repressed. Many Georgians were resettled there. The repression eased substantially after Khrushchev came to power in the Kremlin.

 Abkhazia has beautiful coastline and mountains

 

 KEY DATES

1810 - Russia declares Abkhazia a protectorate

1864 - Russia annexes Abkhazia

1921 - Abkhazia declared Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic

1931 - Soviet authorities incorporate Abkhazia into Georgia

1991 - Georgia declares independence

1992 - Georgia sends troops to quell calls in Abkhazia for break with Georgia and closer ties with Russia

1993 - Fierce fighting ends with Georgian forces being expelled from Abkhazia

1994 - Independence declared, ceasefire agreed, CIS peacekeepers arrive, nearly all Russian. Vladislav Ardzinba becomes president

2005 - Sergei Bagapsh becomes president 

 

At the time of the collapse of the USSR in 1991, less than a fifth of the people of Abkhazia were ethnic Abkhaz while the rest of the population was made up largely of Georgians.

 

When Georgia became independent, supporters of a break with Tbilisi in favour of independence and closer ties with Russia became more vociferous. Tension rose and in 1992 Georgia sent troops to enforce the status quo.

 

In late 1993, they were driven out amidst fierce fighting. Several thousand people were killed. About 250,000 Georgians became refugees and are still unable to return. Most of those who remained have since left too.

 

Abkhazia declared independence early in 1994. It has never been recognised by a single country and the price has been high indeed. An economic embargo remains in force and Abkhazia is isolated in just about every sense of the word except from Russia which maintains a border crossing and has re-opened the railway line to Sukhumi.

 

Moscow has further infuriated Tbilisi by making it easy for people in Abkhazia to gain Russian citizenship. Most now hold Russian passports.

 

Georgia insists, and many observers tend not to disagree, that Russia supported the campaign to expel Georgian forces in 1993. Incongruously, the Abkhaz forces also had help from Chechen fighters, their traditional Caucasus allies and at the same time the sworn enemies of Moscow.

 

 

The rivalries became still more complex in 2001 when the Kremlin accused Tbilisi of allowing Chechen fighters to take refuge from Russian forces in the Pankisi Gorge, home of their kinspeople, the Kists. Anyone criticised by Russia is likely to rise in Chechen estimation. The accusation forged a new Chechen bond with Georgia.

 Street fighting

There were fears of renewed fighting and perhaps wider conflagration across the Caucasus in the autumn of 2001 when Georgian partisans and new allies from among the Chechen fighters were reported to have fought their way through Abkhaz lines.

 

Moscow agreed in 1999 to the closure of its base at Gudauta in the conflict zone, pledging that henceforth it would be for the sole use of peacekeepers. Georgia still alleges that it is used to offer military support to pro-independence forces and, because it says it has been unable to gain access to inspect it, still expresses doubts about whether the base is genuinely used purely for peacekeeping purposes.

 

The fragile peace is maintained by UN military observers and CIS, in effect Russian, peacekeepers. The UN patrols the buffer zone which keeps the Abkhaz and Georgian sides apart. There are sporadic shootings and kidnappings with the potential for violent explosion never far beneath the surface.

 

UN efforts to mediate have got nowhere. Abkhazia, turning increasingly towards Moscow, insists there can be no settlement until Georgia recognises its independence, something which Tbilisi has sworn it will never do. There is no sign that a way out of this volatile impasse will soon be found.

 

FACTS 

 

 

OVERVIEW | FACTS | LEADERS | MEDIA 

 

 

 

Status: Republic within Georgia

Population: (1991) 550,000 (2003) approximately 250,000

Capital: Sukhumi

Major languages: Russian, Georgian, Abkhaz

Currency: Rouble

Major religions: Christianity, Islam

Natural resources: Agricultural, primarily citrus fruit, tobacco, tea, timber; some coal, hydro-electric power

LEADERS 

 

 

OVERVIEW | FACTS | LEADERS | MEDIA 

 

 

 

President: Sergei Bagapsh

 

Sergei Bagapsh was elected president in January 2005.

 Sergei Bagapsh

 

The vote was a rerun of the previous October»s election which was surrounded by controversy, with allegations of widespread irregularities.

 

At that time, a divided Abkhaz electoral commission declared Mr Bagapsh the winner over the Kremlin-backed candidate, Raul Khadzhimba. This brought turmoil, with the Supreme Court first upholding Mr Bagapsh but changing its mind after supporters of Mr Khadzhimba rampaged through the court building.

 

In the end, Mr Bagapsh and Mr Khadzhimba, both strong supporters of Abkhaz independence, agreed to campaign on a joint ticket in the January 2005 rerun, with Mr Bagapsh standing as president and Mr Khadzhimba as vice president.

 

Mr Bagapsh has said that relations with Tbilisi must be sorted out through negotiations between "two sovereign states". He pledges to build integration with Russia and rules out compromise with the Georgian authorities on sovereignty.

 

Mr Bagapsh was Abkhaz prime minister between 1997 and 2001. He has a Georgian wife.

 

Vice President Khadzhimba was prime minister until immediately after the October 2004 elections

 

MEDIA 

 

 

OVERVIEW | FACTS | LEADERS | MEDIA 

 

 

The government operates radio and TV networks and publishes the main newspapers. The broadcasting infrastructure is poor; much of it was destroyed during the civil war.

 

Private radio and TV stations are not permitted to broadcast news and political programmes. Newspaper and magazine publishing is hindered by a lack of money and the scarcity of paper and printing facilities.

 

Georgian and Russian TV and radio stations can be received across much of Abkhazia.

 

The press

 

Respublika Abkhazia

Apsny

Ekho Abikhazii - weekly

Nuzhnaya Gazeta - weekly

 

Television

 

Abkhaz State TV and Radio Company

 

Radio

 

Abkhaz State TV and Radio Company

 

News agency

 

Apsnypress - official



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