Scientists explain story of 'Afro-Abkhazian' from 19th century photo

Caucasian Knot -- In January, the website “” published, in the article "Peoples of the Russian Empire", some photos from the stock of the library of the US Congress, including a portrait of an "Afro-Abkhazian" – a man in a beshmet and a fur hat with a naked dagger, having Negroid facial features. According to the article, these photos are from the collection of the American writer and traveller George Kennan, made in the 1870-1880s.

Sergey Arutyunov, the head of the Division of Caucasian Nations at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the RussianAcademy of Sciences (RAS) and Professor at the Moscow State University, said in his comment on the photo of the "Afro-Abkhazian" that "this is a well-known story."

"In the late 18th-early 19th century, there was such a unique case. A ship travelling from Turkey, probably, to the Crimea, was caught by a storm. It had several dozens of dark-skinned slaves on board, probably from Sudan or Somalia, which were controlled by Turkey. The ship crashed off the coast of Abkhazia. The case is rare also because slaves were mainly supplied from the Caucasus and the Crimea to the south, and not vice versa. Abkhazia was not yet a Russian possession, but Russian soldiers from some fortress on the coast seem to have saved the victims. They were released from slavery and settled among Abkhazians. Later, these people joined the local community, married Abkhazian girls and acquired Abkhazian names and surnames. Some of their descendants are still there," said Arutyunov.

Full text of the article is available on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’.

The Baltimore Sun. February 10, 1935

See also:

+ African Presence in Former Soviet Spaces, by Kesha Fikes and Alaina Lemon

+ When Did Africans Get To Soviet Union? (3 Parts)

In one bizarre twist in the tragedy the three villages of Adziuzhba, Kindigh (Georgian Kindghi) and Tamsh (Georgian Tamishi), which housed the only population of African descent in the entire former USSR, were destroyed by Georgian troops as part of the operation to besiege Tkvarchel. The fate of these unique Afro-Abkhazians has yet to be determined, though at least one survivor has been seen. Abkhazia by John Colarusso (Central Asian Survey (1995), 14(1), 75-96) 




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