Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Demographic change in Abkhazia

Demographic change in Abkhazia 1897–1989 Click here to see graph enlarged

These census figures are disputed on a number of grounds including the way in which ethnic groups have been defined. Source: Russian, Soviet and Georgian population censuses.

When most of Abkhazia was denuded of its native population in the wake of (a) the end of the Great Caucasian War in 1864 and (b) the Russo-Turkish 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 /vin unda iknes dasaxlebuli apxazetshi?/ (Who should be settled in Abkhazia?). In this article he argued that the neighbouring Mingrelians would make the best /kolonizatorebi/ (colonisers)... And this is precisely what they subsequently became.

It was no accident that the Georgian newspaper ‘Shroma’ considered Georgian acquisition of the land in Abkhazia and Circassia as ‘one of the most wonderful events’ in the life of the Georgian nation ['Shroma', 1882, №15 (in Georgian)]. On 4 February 1879 another newspaper, the ‘Droeba’, urged its readers: ‘Let us expand while there is still time to do it, before other peoples come and settle the empty spaces of our Caucasus.’ While the aforementioned issue of ‘Shroma’ pleaded with its readers: ‘Send us lots of Rachintsy, Lechkhumtsians, Upper Imeretians and Mingrelians from our mountainous regions!’ ['Shroma', 1882, №15 (in Georgian)].

The mass-immigration of Kartvelians (mostly Mingrelians) goes back to the late 1930s. Abkhaz's script was then altered from a roman to a Georgian base. Abkhaz-language schools were summarily closed in 1945-6, following by a ban on broadcasting and publications. The Abkhazians as a nation were due to face transportation (like the numerous other peoples transported by Stalin from the Koreans in the late 1930s through to Abkhazia's Greeks in the late 1940s), and, as a 'scholarly' justification for that, the literary-historian Pavle Ingoroqva was commissioned to argue in print that the Abkhazians only arrived in Abkhazia in the 17th century, conquering the 'original' Abkhazians of history, who were thus a 'Georgian' tribe. This calumny was revived in the heady days of Georgian nationalism from 1988 AND IS WIDELY BELIEVED BY MANY ORDINARY KARTVELIANS, who for this reason still regard the Abkhazians as unentitled to be living in Abkhazia.


''Abkhazia suffered considerably under Stalin during the 1930s. In February 1931 the status of Abkhazia was reduced to that of an autonomous republic within Georgia. In 1937, the head of the Georgian Communist Party, Lavrenti Beria undertook his 'anti-Abkhazian drive', involving the forced immigration of thousands of non-Abkhazians (especially Mingrelians) into Abkhazia. After Beria's transfer to Moscow in 1938, anti-Abkhazian measures continued under his successor, Kandida Charkviani. The Abkhaz alphabet was changed to a Georgian base. During 1944-45 all Abkhazian schools were closed, replacing them with Georgian schools, and the Abkhaz language was banned from administration and publication.
[Potier, Tim. Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A legal Appraisal. Kluwer Law International. The Hague. 2001. p.9.] ''


''In the mid 1950s, in line with the ideological goals of the resettlement policy, a theory was fabricated declaring the true Abkhaz to be an ancient cultural Georgians living on the territory of Abkhazia and describing the modern Abkhazians as those who moved into Abkhazia from the north in the 17th century. The thesis of the resettlement of Abkhazians became part of a racist theory asserting a supposed primordial superiority of the ‘civilized’ Georgians over their neighbours- a theory which dominated in Georgian science and public consciousness. (Krylov, Alexander. [The Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict. The Security of the Caspian Sea region. SIPRI. Oxford University Press. 2001. p. 283).]''


''The Circassians fought against Russian conquest for over a century, from 1763 to 1864 – longer than any other people of the Caucasus, even the Chechens. Their final defeat in the 1860s led to massacre and forced deportation, mainly across the Black Sea to Turkey, in the course of which a large proportion of them perished. Many Circassians were also utilized by the Ottomans in the Balkans to suppress the rebellious Serbs, but almost all of these were later relocated to the interior of Anatolia.Since that time, the great majority – about 90 percent – of people of Circassian descent have lived in exile, mostly in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Only isolated remnants, currently about three to four hundred thousand people altogether, remain in Russia and other parts of the post-Soviet region. During the last decades of the tsarist regime, the emptied and devastated Circassian lands were resettled by Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian and other colonists. Later many Georgians also settled in Abkhazia, feeding resentments that culminated in the recent Abkhaz-Georgian war - a conflict which can only be understood against the background of the Circassian trauma of the last century.'' [Shenfield, Stephen. The Circassians: A Forgotten Genocide?, ‘The Massacre in History’, edited by Mark Levene and Penny Roberts, 1999]
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