autonomous republic located in northwestern Georgia. Bordering the eastern shores of the Black Sea, Abkhazia consists of a narrow coastal lowland broken by mountain spurs, followed by a hilly foreland zone of eroded marine and river terraces that merge into the steep slopes of the Caucasus Mountains located to the north. Area 3,343 square miles (8,660 square km). Pop. (2002) 215,972; (2007 est.) 180,000.
The sharp relief in close proximity to the sea gives Abkhazia a wet climate. Near-subtropical conditions prevail in the lowland, where the average January temperature remains above the freezing point and annual rainfall is 47 to 55 inches (1,200 to 1,400 mm). On the mountain slopes, climatic conditions are more severe and rainfall is heavier. Wide areas of the lowland and foreland zones have been cleared of the forests of oak, beech, and hornbeam that once covered Abkhazia.
The majority of the population is concentrated in the coastal lowland, where the larger settlements are located—the capital, Sokhumi, Ochʾamchʾire, and the resort centres of Gagra and Novy Afon. Prior to a separatist rebellion in the early 1990s led by ethnic Abkhaz, ethnic Georgians had made up almost half of Abkhazia’s population, while ethnic Abkhaz had accounted for less than one-fifth; Armenians and Russians made up the remainder. In 1993, however, most Georgians and some Russians and Armenians fled Abkhazia for other parts of Georgia.
Although the amount of arable land is small, agriculture constitutes the predominant economic activity in Abkhazia. In the foreland zone an excellent tobacco is grown. The coastal zone is noted for its tea, silk, and fruits. Oil is extracted from the nut of the tung tree, which is widely grown together with eucalyptus and bamboo. Grapes have been cultivated in the area since ancient times. Inland, on the higher slopes, timber production is the major occupation. Coal mining centres on Tqvarchʾeli, the largest inland city. Power is supplied by several hydroelectric plants. The coastal resorts and Lake Ritsa are popular holiday and convalescent centres. The main line of communication in Abkhazia is the electrified railway along the coast, with a branch to Tqvarchʾeli. Roads also parallel the coast and lead inland.
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