Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Regions and territories: Abkhazia

Map of Abkhazia

Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia in 1999, but Tbilisi continues to regard it as a breakaway region

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.

Abkhazia's battle for independence from Georgia since the collapse of the USSR reduced the economy to ruins. More recent times have seen major Russian investment in the territory, as Moscow seeks to consolidate its influence.


Abkhazia's long history was always closely intertwined with that of Georgia, although its language is unrelated, and is closer to several spoken in the North Caucasus.

Sukhumi on the Black Sea
Broke away from Georgia in 1992-1993 war
De-facto independence recognised by Moscow but not internationally
Ceasefire in force, Russian peacekeepers in place
Georgia says Russian troops propping up separatist state
Georgian offer of autonomy within federal state rejected by Abkhazia

From the 9th century BC onwards, it was part of the Georgian-dominated kingdom of Colchis. The area adopted Christianity in the sixth century.

In the 8th century AD, Abkhazia became an independent state, before being united with the medieval kingdom of Georgia in 1008. In the 19th century, the wider region came under Russian domination, and in 1864 Abkhazia was annexed to the Russian Empire.

After the Bolshevik revolution, Abkhazia gained a measure of autonomy, before Stalin incorporated it into the Soviet union republic of Georgia in 1931.

Despite formally remaining an autonomous republic of the USSR, there was very little sign of genuine autonomy, and Abkhaz ethnic culture was suppressed in favour of Georgian. The policy of repression was eased soon after Stalin's death in 1953.

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 grew, and in 1992 Georgia sent troops to enforce the status quo.

756 - Independent kingdom formed
985 - Becomes part of Georgia, later regaining independence
1578 - Comes under Turkish rule
1810 - Russia declares Abkhazia a protectorate
1864 - Russia annexes Abkhazia
1931 - Soviet authorities incorporate Abkhazia into Georgia
1991 - Georgia declares independence
1992 - Georgia sends troops to stop Abkhazia breaking away
1993 - Fierce fighting ends with Georgian forces being expelled from Abkhazia
1994 - Ceasefire agreed, peacekeepers arrive, nearly all Russian
1999 - Abkhazia declares independence
2004 - New Georgian president Saakashvili vows to restore Georgia's territorial integrity and return Abkhazia, South Ossetia to the fold
2008 - Russia formally recognises Abkhazia's independence, following the Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia
2009 - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits

In late 1993, they were driven out in fierce fighting. Several thousand people were killed, and nearly the entire Georgian-speaking population fled the republic in what Georgia describes as a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Abkhazia formally declared independence in 1999, resulting in an international economic embargo that is still in force. It has left Abkhazia's economy highly dependent on Russia, which maintains a border crossing and railway line to Sukhumi.

Moscow infuriated Tbilisi by making it easy for people in Abkhazia to gain Russian citizenship, and most now hold Russian passports.

For nearly 15 years, UN peacekeepers - mainly composed of Russians - patrolled a buffer zone on the border between the two sides.

However, in August 2008, during the war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, Russian army troops moved through Abkhazia and pushed into Georgia proper, effectively using the region to open another front with Tbilisi.

Meanwhile, Abkhaz forces drove Georgian troops out of the only area of Abkhazia still under Tbilisi's control - the Kodori gorge.

After the 2008 conflict, Moscow declared that it would formally recognise the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As of the end of 2009, only Nicaragua and Venezuela had followed suit.

In October 2008, Russia pulled its troops back to the Abkhaz-Georgian border, but stationed a large force in the breakaway republic, with the agreement of the Sukhumi government.

The next year, Moscow also vetoed an extension of the UN peacekeeping mission, and signed a five-year agreement with Abkhazia to take formal control of its frontiers with Georgia proper.


  • Territory: Abkhazia

  • Status: Break-away region of Georgia. Declared independence 1999. Not recognized internationally.
  • 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


President: Sergei Bagapsh

Sergei Bagapsh was elected president in January 2005. The vote was a rerun of the previous October's election which was surrounded by controversy, with allegations of widespread irregularities.

Sergei Bagapsh
Mr Bagapsh is a staunch advocate of Abkhaz independence

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.

In December 2009 the president was re-elected for a second term with almost 60% of the vote, again defeating Raul Khadzhimba, who had resigned has vice-president to stand against his old adversary. He accused the president of over-reliance on Russia.

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


Russian TV and Abkhazian state TV are the main sources of news and information. The Abkhaz authorities operate AGTRK, a TV and radio network, and publish newspapers in both Abkhaz and Russian.

Georgian TV and radio stations can be received across much of Abkhazia and the main Russian TV networks are rebroadcast in the territory.

Newspaper and magazine publishing is hindered by a lack of money and the scarcity of paper and printing facilities.

The press

  • Respublika Abkhazia - official Russian-language paper, thrice weekly
  • Apsny - official Abkhaz-language weekly
  • Ekho Abkhazii - private Russian-language weekly
  • Nuzhnaya Gazeta - private Russian-language weekly
  • Chegemskaya Pravda - private Russian-language weekly
  • Forum - opposition-backed


  • Abkhaz State TV and Radio Company (AGTRK) - Abkhaz government-run
  • Abaza TV - private


  • Abkhaz State TV and Radio Company (AGTRK) - Abkhaz government-run, operates Apsua Radio
  • Radio Soma - private FM station (with English-language pages)

News agency

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Compiled by BBC Monitoring

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13 Oct 06 |  Europe
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Analysis: Georgia's separatism woes
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