ABKHAZIA Or, Abhasia, Abhazia (nearer to the pronunciation).
Region on the eastern shores of the Black Sea and the southern slopes of the Great Caucasus Mountains. Sometimes it has been the northwestern region of greater Georgia, sometimes autonomous within Georgia, sometimes completely independent. Its language is quite separate from Georgian, forming with Abazinian and Circassian, the Northwestern Caucasus language group.. Abasgia is an older name, used by the Ancient Greeks for the region, and derived from the Abazinians, who later emigrated across the Caucasus Mountains to Karachai-Cherkessia.
Abkhazia came under Byzantine influence and converted to Orthodox Christianity in the mid-6th century, and was for some time a recruiting ground for the Byzantine army. It was conquered by the Arabs in 711, but recovered its independence c.735, and in 788 extended southwards to take in Lazica, the ancient Colchis. This Kingdom of Abkhazia included all later western Georgia. The son of the King of Iberia (eastern Georgia) succeeded his uncle in Abkhazia in 978 and his father in Iberia in 1008: the combined Kingdom was called Georgia. In the late 15th century Georgia broke up, when the Sharvashidze family became Princes of Abkhazia until 1864.
In the 1570s, after a long struggle with Iran, the Ottoman Empire gained suzerainty over Abkhazia. The coastal zone around Sukhumi came under direct Ottoman control. In 1810 Russia seized the fortress of Sukhumi, though it was not until 1829 that the Sultan acknowledged the fact. Russia struggled long to bring the rest of Abhazia under control. In 1864 it was annexed and became part of the Russian province of Kutais. The long struggle reduced Abkhazia’s population through death and flight (it is estimated that there are about 50,000 Abkazians in modern Turkey).
In 1918 Abkhazia became part of independent Georgia, but in March 1921 Soviet troops entered it and a Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed. After the Communist victory in Georgia the SSR was allied by treaty with the new Georgian SSR and thereby entered the Transcaucasian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, one of the founding members of the Soviet Union in 1922/3. In 1931 the Republic became the Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Georgian SSR, which itself became a full member of the Soviet Union in 1936 when the Transcaucasian SFSR was abolished. The Soviet period saw the number of Georgians and Russians in Abkhazia grow, so that in the 1989 census only just over a sixth of the population was Abkhazian (more than 45% Georgian).
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Abkhazian nationalists proclaimed independence, and a war was fought 1992-3, ending in Abkazian victory in the autumn of 1993. Negotiations were opened, with Russia using its good offices. In 1994 Russian troops were placed on the border between Abkhazia and Georgia proper. Later in the year the Abkhaz Parliament reaffirmed independence. In 1995 the new Georgian Constitution declared Abkhazia to be an autonomous Republic within Georgia, a status rejected by Abkhazia. In 1998 refugees who had returned into southern Abkhazia were expelled and fighting broke out within Abkhazia, followed by a ceasefire. Refugees began returning in March 1999, under guarantees given by the Abkhazian President.
Abkhazia is in a state of limbo, independent in its own eyes but unrecognised by the outside world. Georgia will not let Abkhazia go but is for the time being too feeble to do anything to bring the secession to an end.