Abkhazia's Historical Struggles: A Historical Letter by Arkhip Labakhua and Ivan Tarba

Ivan Tarba (left) (1921-1994) - Arkhip Labakhua (1910 - 1992)

Ivan Tarba (left) (1921-1994) - Arkhip Labakhua (1910 - 1992)

One of the most distasteful aspects of the charges laid against the Abkhazians was that they were not the ‘true’ Abkhazians of history.

Recent years have seen the resurgence of an old claim, suggesting that the Abkhazians are not the true historical inhabitants of Abkhazia. This claim, deeply entrenched in some perspectives, rests on arguments advanced by Pavle Ingorokva, a Georgian auto-didact who wrote on literature and history.

As two Abkhazian politicians Arkhip Labakhua and Ivan Tarba noted in a letter sent to the Presidium of the Communist Party on 19 April 1957, ‘Ingorokva strives “to lay a foundation” for his anti-scholarly thesis by means of the falsification of historical documents and pseudo-scholarly linguistic exercises on toponyms’, positing that today's Abkhazians migrated to Transcaucasia only in the 17th century, displacing and subsequently adopting the name of the 'true' Abkhazians, who, according to him, were originally a Georgian tribe.

This letter of Labakhua and Tarba, which counters Ingorokva's arguments, is documented in detail in the book "Abkhaziya: dokumenty svidetel´stvujut 1937-1953" (Abkhazia: Documents Bear Witness 1937-1953), pages 556-562.


As is well-known, from 1937 to 1953 in the Abkhazian ASSR, there were gross violations of Leninist national policy, manifested in discrimination against the Abkhazian people with the aim of their forced assimilation. The instigators and executors of these violations were the sworn enemy of the Party and the Soviet people, Beria, and his accomplices from the former leaders of the Central Committee and the Abkhazian Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia. 

The CPSU Central Committee strongly condemned all these distortions of national policy and took decisive measures for their correction. 

Indeed, in the last three to three and a half years in the Abkhazian ASSR, significant work has been done to implement the directives of the CPSU Central Committee. 

However, the work to correct the specified violations and distortions is not always carried out decisively and consistently. Sometimes there are even attempts to revive elements of the condemned bourgeois-nationalist policy, especially in the field of ideology. 

In this regard, the recent hullabaloo raised by individual Georgian chauvinists about the ethnic identity of the Abkhazians and their autochthony in Abkhazia is very characteristic. 

The most striking example of this is the fuss around the book of the falsifier P[avle]. Ingorokva "Giorgi Merchule", imbued with its spirit of blatant nationalism. 

In this book, published in Tbilisi in the Georgian language in 1954 in an edition of 10,000 copies, a significant section is devoted to the history of Abkhazia. The author, not being a specialist in history or linguistics, clearly aimed to distort the historical past of the Abkhazian people at its core. The main thesis in P. Ingorokva's book is the unscientific statement that the territory of Abkhazia and the Black Sea coast up to Gelendzhik was supposedly an indigenous Georgian land, inhabited by Georgians up to the late Middle Ages. 

As for the Abkhazians, the real natives of Abkhazia, they, according to Ingorokva, came here as invaders from beyond the Caucasus mountains only in the 17th century. Ingorokva tries to "justify" his unscientific thesis by falsifying historical documents and pseudo-scholarly linguistic exercises over geographical names. 

P. Ingorokva's pseudo-scholarly fabrications on the history of Abkhazia were already published in the Georgian magazine "Mnatobi" in 1950 (No. 1-3). These fabrications were immediately picked up by Beria's assimilationists, who were operating in Abkhazia at the time. They promoted these fabrications, relying on them as alleged scholarly justification for their anti-Party policies. 

This so-called scholarly writing was not only reissued, surprisingly, in 1954 but also hailed as a truly remarkable work, representing a significant development in Georgian scholarship. It claimed to contain irrefutable evidence that Georgians are the indigenous, original inhabitants of the territory of Abkhazia. 

The unrestrained praise of Ingorokva's flawed work began with a panegyrical article by G.S. Akhvlediani, an academician of the Georgian SSR, titled "A Valuable Work on the History of Georgian Culture". It was published in the newspaper "Zarya Vostoka", the organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia, on 9 July 1955. The release of Ingorokva's book and Akhvlediani's review aroused the justifiable dissatisfaction of wide sections of the Abkhazian public. In Party-organisations, at district-, city-, and regional plenums and conferences, the writings of Ingorokva and Akhvlediani were repeatedly subjected to justified and sharp criticism. 

Volume 27 of the works of the "Abkhazian Institute of Language, Literature, and History named after D.I. Gulia of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR" includes detailed reviews revealing the pseudo-scholarly nature of Ingorokva's book on the history and toponymy of Abkhazia. 

In the regional newspaper "Sovetskaja Abkhazia", an article by Professor Soselia was published, criticising Ingorokva's book as unscholarly and erroneous, interpreting history from the perspective of bourgeois nationalism. 

Expressing public opinion, the Abkhazian Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia and the Council of Ministers of the Abkhazian ASSR, in 1955, sent a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia with a firm demand to condemn Ingorokva's book as politically harmful. Moreover, at the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of Georgia in January 1956, the book by Ingorokva was sharply criticised by an Abkhazian delegate. However, it should be noted that in the report to the 17th Congress, the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia, comrade V.P. Mzhavanadze, gave a rather liberal assessment of Ingorokva's book, reducing the author's anti-Marxist nationalist concept to the point that some of Ingorokva's positions are controversial. 

From our side, we never missed a single opportune moment to remind the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia about the need to condemn the said book, as it offends the national feelings of the Abkhazian people and our public is greatly outraged by it. 

Instead of the deserved condemnation of Ingorokva's book, the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia declared the issue of the ethnic identity of the Abkhazian people and their autonomous territory, Abkhazia, as a matter for discussion, contrary to historical truth and its political harm. We strongly oppose any discussion, as we consider this issue to be not open to dispute. 

Now, under the guise of a "scholarly" discussion, clearly unhealthy and harmful views and sentiments are being pushed through, which not only don't contribute to the resolution of the issue but are clearly aimed at undermining the foundations of friendship between the Georgian and Abkhazian peoples. It's quite understandable that this discussion has caused a great deal of harm. 

As soon as objective and scholarly well-founded articles by the director of the Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR, Academician of the GSSR N. A. Berdzenishvili, and the director of the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences of the GSSR, Abkhazologist K. V. Lomtatidze, appeared in issue 12 of the "Mnatobi" journal in 1956, which convincingly refute Ingorkova's pseudo-scholarly constructions on the history and toponymy of Abkhazia (by the way, Academician Berdzenishvili made errors about Mingrelians and Svans), nationalistic elements stirred up false patriotic uproar. 

Thus, the poet Alio Mirtskhulava, in the Georgian youth newspaper "Akhalgazrda Communist" on 2 March 1957, lashed out at scholars Berdzenishvili and Lomtatidze, accusing them of "denying the Georgian identity of the Georgian people and the reality of its indigenous habitat", while the author of the article asserts that "the issues raised in the articles by Berdzenishvili and Lomtatidze are not disputed." In his article, Alio Mirtskhulava criticises the "Mnatobi" magazine's editorial office for publishing the articles of these researchers, and called the falsifier Ingorkova an "outstanding writer". 

Some poets and writers, like D. Shengelaja, G. Leonidze, K. Gamsakhurdia, B. Zhghenti, and others, never miss opportunities to publicly defend Ingorokva, expressing their solidarity with his "ideas". 

In issue 2 of the "Mnatobi" journal for 1957, apologetic articles by Academician of the GSSR G. S. Akhvlediani, as well as professors S. G. Kaukhchishvili and L. Kobakhidze, were published, in which Ingorkova's book is described as "priceless for its positive results". These authors declared Ingorkova's views, expressed in the book "Georgi Merchule" on the history and historical geography of Abkhazia, as a "great scholarly discovery" made in the best and only correct way". 

It is important to underline that the authors of the afore-mentioned, highly biased articles are not historians. As a result, they display a certain ignorance on a range of basic topics in the field of historical science in general, and on specific questions of Georgian and Abkhazian history in particular. As philologists, they have no direct relation to the Abkhazian language. Therefore, the total inconsistency of most of their interpretations of Abkhazian toponymy is understandable. 

It is particularly infuriating that the second issue of the journal "Mnatobi" begins with an article by the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia, Comrade D. Mchedlishvili, titled "New Soviet Socialist Georgia", dedicated to the 36th anniversary of Soviet rule in Georgia. The author of this article does not mention, even in a single word, the two autonomous republics and the autonomous region that are part of the Georgian SSR, or their achievements during the years of Soviet rule. While in his article, Comrade D. Mchedlishvili rightly states that history cannot be distorted, he immediately, though implicitly and without naming names, takes issue with scholars who have spoken out against Ingorokva. Comrade Mchedlishvili writes: "But we will not tolerate researchers who, in the name of scholarship, encroach (!?) on the historical truth of our nation's unity and cast a shadow on the history of our people." Following this, the author describes writers – essentially referring to apologists for Ingorokva in this context – as "the barometer, eye, ear, and heart of their country and the sentiments of their people, the tribune of their era." 

+ Questions of Abkhazian history in the book by P. Ingorokva ‘Georgi Merchule - Georgian writer of the 10th century’, by Zurab V. Anchabadze
+ The Ibero-Caucasian hypothesis and the historiography of Abkhazia, by Kevin Tuite
+ The value of the past: myths, identity and politics in Transcaucasia, by Victor A. Shnirelman
+ In Defence of the Homeland: Intellectuals and the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict, by Bruno Coppieters

Comrade Mchedlishvili's statements not only resonate with the bourgeois-nationalistic statements published in this journal by individual scholars and writers of Georgia but serve as the leading article of the journal, setting the tone for the entire "discussion". 

All this is happening in the lead up to the decadal celebration of Abkhazian literature and art, which was supposed to take place in the middle of April of the current year in the capital of Georgia — Tbilisi. 

The publication of articles by Academician Akhvlediani, Professors Kaukhchishvili and Kobakhidze in the journal "Mnatobi" caused a very strong and justified outrage from the Abkhazian community. 

Indeed, the matter was settled without exceeding the permitted boundaries of expressing indignation (complaints, a larger number of telegrams and appeals to higher authorities, sending delegations to the Party's Regional Committee, attempting to convene a meeting of collective farm workers, refusal of some artists to participate in the upcoming decade of Abkhazian literature and art in Tbilisi). 

Such strong indignation among the Abkhazian people is not caused by the discussion alone. Added to this is the fact that much has not yet been done, and decisions on a number of vital issues regarding the correction of distortions in national policy in Abkhazia are unduly delayed. 

As a result of the perversion of Leninist national policy, upto July 1953, not only was there a lack of attention to nurturing and educating Abkhazian national personnel for the economy and culture, but their development was deliberately held back and hindered. 

As a result, upto the present time in Abkhazia, there are almost no or very few native local specialists with higher and middle qualifications: mining engineers, transport engineers, architects, doctors, and to date, not a single professional composer, artist, art historian, musician, choir conductor, and others. 

To rectify such an unacceptable personnel situation, our republic needed help in their training, but such assistance from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia was not provided to us to a sufficient degree. 

Due to the fault of the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia, the renaming of populated areas, rivers, and railway stations in the territory of the Abkhazian ASSR, maliciously renamed from Abkhaz and Russian to Georgian names, has not yet been completed. How else can it be explained that for more than six months, the representation on this from the Abkhazian Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia and the Council of Ministers of the Abkhazian SSR in the Central Committee of Georgia lay unresolved. The Party's Central Committee was repeatedly reminded to expedite its decision on this matter, but to no avail. 

To date, crucial issues remain unresolved: the construction of a boarding school in Sukhum, the opening of an institute for teacher advancement, the establishment of an art school in Sukhum with a dormitory, the organisation of a dormitory for students, the resolution of the issue of building a radio station in Sukhum, which is essential for both Abkhazia and Georgia. 

Unfortunately, all these facts indicate that within the leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia there are still individuals whose goal is to hinder, in one form or another, the correction of the wrongs committed by the Beria gang against the Abkhazian people. 

Strangely enough, all this is done after the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with its well-known resolution of 10 July 1956, "On Errors and Shortcomings in the Work of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia", obliged the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia to resolutely and fully correct the distortions of national policy, particularly on the Abkhazian issue. 

There are also other critically important issues regarding the directions for the development of the national economy of Abkhazia, as well as specific issues of economic development in construction, which, despite their significance, are not being addressed as they should be. 

As is well-known, in Abkhazia, valuable technical and subtropical crops are cultivated, which are quite labour-intensive. For instance, the cultivation of one hectare of tobacco requires 600–800 man-days. A large amount of manual labour is spent on the maintenance of tea plantations, especially on tea-leaf collection. However, the question of agricultural work mechanisation remains unresolved. The lack of mechanisation creates difficulties in field- and plantation-work. 

The issue of introducing machinery into fields and plantations remains unresolved. The level of agricultural mechanisation in Abkhazia comprises 8–12% of all work. Yet, appropriate measures are not being taken to equip Abkhazia's MTS (Machine Tractor Stations) with machinery. Despite the repeatedly raised issue of establishing two mechanised irrigation stations in Abkhazia, it has not witnessed any development. 

In Abkhazia, there are unused lands and certain economically weak collective farms, on the basis of which it would be possible to organise vineyard and other state-farms. This would dramatically increase the production of the most valuable technical and subtropical crops. 

But this issue has yet to be resolved. Given that technical and subtropical crops have significantly developed in Abkhazia's collective farms, the base for livestock farming has been narrowed, and this creates major difficulties in procuring the necessary feed for communal livestock farming. 

The annual growth of large and small cattle does not cover the expenditure-needs for fulfilling the plans for product deliveries and livestock-product purchases, let alone ensuring the needs of the local market. 

Despite all this, for the year 1957, the volume of livestock-product deliveries and purchases was not only not reduced but even increased for some products, particularly for milk. 

As a result, the collective farms of Abkhazia are forced to purchase and import a large amount of fodder from other regions of the country, which significantly increases the cost of production. Moreover, some collective farms have to buy livestock-products on the market to fulfil their obligations to the state or hand over to the state alternative agricultural products instead of meat and milk. 

Thus, these and many other unresolved issues have a highly negative impact on the development of agricultural production and the accomplishment of essential tasks for increasing the production of crops and livestock. 

Concerned by the reaction caused by the aforementioned discussion among the Abkhazian people, the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia was forced to specially consider this issue. With its resolution of 12 April 1957, "On the Erroneous Discussion Organised by the Journal 'Mnatobi' on the Book 'Georgiy Merchule' by Ingorokva", the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia mainly gave the correct assessment of Ingorokva's concepts concerning the history of the Abkhazian people and condemned the initiated discussion as erroneous and harmful. 

However, the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia did not show Bolshevik courage and decisiveness to draw organisational conclusions and to restore the leadership of the ideological front in Georgia, which is currently headed by individuals who, for reasons unknown to us, do not fully stand on communist positions. They not only do not wage an uncompromising fight against the Menshevik tendencies of part of the Georgian intelligentsia, but in many ways facilitate their spread. Can we believe that Mr. Mchedlishvili and other leaders of the ideological front can rectify matters and stop the poisoning of the Georgian intelligentsia and student-youth with the poison of chauvinism and Menshevism when, instead of removing non-Soviet-minded scholars from the ideological front, they gave a voice against the fraternal Abkhazian people (in "Mnatobi" No. 2, February 1957) to a fervent Menshevik, a White émigré, and, to put it bluntly, to a fascist element - Professor Kaukhchishvili. 

We consider it our Party-duty to report these facts to the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and request an appropriate response. 


of the Council of Ministers of the Abkhazian ASSR (A. Labakhua) 




19 April 1957 

Source: Archive of ABIYALI, f. 5, op. 1, d. 72, ll. 45—51. 




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