Demokratizatsiya, Winter 1998.
The Abkhazian-Georgian conflict is clearly ethno-political and the main issues of controversy are the following: The Georgian side claims authority over the territory, which was incorporated into Georgia by Stalin’s decree in 1931. The Abkhazians are ethnically distinct from the Georgians, and they have a long history in which they had their own state with defined geographical boundaries, and they have a special claim to their territory and statehood. The outbreak of recent hostilities was preceded by years of tensions over political issues that started to develop along ethnic lines as issues of ethnic identity and the origins of the Abkhazians became the subject of political manipulation. The situation became further complicated by the involvement of other non-Georgian groups of Abkhazia in the conflict, who took the Abkhazian side overwhelmingly after the beginning of the war in 1992.
I do not want to overburden you with too much historical detail, but there are some important issues that need to be mentioned. Situated on the Black Sea coast, fertile and picturesque Abkhazia has been an important Transcaucasian crossroads, and historically has always been a dainty dish for conquerors. Abkhazian statehood has existed for over 1,200 years, and Abkhazians have had to defend themselves against invaders on more than one occasion.
For centuries, Georgians and Abkhazians, peoples with very different ethnic origins and languages, lived in neighboring territories. There were periods in their history when Abkhazia, as a separate principality, was under Georgian or Ottoman vassalage. There was also a period when the western and some eastern areas of Georgia were part of the Abkhazian Kingdom.
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Liana Kvarchelia is the coordinator for the Center for Humanitarian Programs, a non-governmental and nonprofit organization working in Abkhazia.