SUKHUM / AQW'A — In a recent press conference held in Sukhum, representatives of the Abkhazian diaspora in Türkiye voiced their concerns against the proposed apartment law. The representatives shared their apprehensions about a potential demographic shift in Abkhazia, accompanied by a loss of its native language and rich national culture.
During the conference, three prominent figures from the Abkhazian diaspora in Türkiye - Irfan Akhuachba, Yavuz Gumba, and Saniye Yetluk - officially announced their alignment with the opposition against this legislation. These individuals are part of the "Abkhazia" initiative group, which strongly challenges the proposition of allowing foreign nationals the entitlement to own residential properties in Abkhazia.
On 31 July 2023, in a concerted effort to spread awareness, they orchestrated a public campaign within the Turkish diaspora. Their campaign initially accumulated 1,864 signatures, a symbolic gesture referencing historical events. These signed documents were later transported to Abkhazia and presented to the parliament speaker, Lashe Ashuba. The movement's momentum didn’t stop there. In its subsequent phase, it garnered support from fifty distinct organisations that represent both the Abkhazian and broader Caucasian diasporas.
The collective message to the deputies of the People's Assembly of Abkhazia was lucid: "It's evident to any discerning individual that apartments, fully financed by foreign investments, constructed by overseas companies, employing international labour, and ultimately marketed to foreign clientele, will inflict irreparable harm on Abkhazia's demographic fabric. In the long-term perspective, such a move could jeopardise the hard-won political advancements and authority of Abkhazia."
In the aftermath of a press conference delivered in the Abkhazian language, Irfan Akhuachba provided responses to questions posed. The Abkhazian public figure and host of the analytical YouTube channel "Apsny Khabar," Leuan Lagulaa, facilitated translations and elucidated the rationale behind the exact count of collected signatures:
"In his discourse, Irfan indicated that the decision to gather precisely 1,864 signatures was a symbolic nod to our shared history. The 19th century saw the last significant wave of Mukhadzhir (exiles) migrations, notably in 1864. This references the challenges faced by our ancestors, successive waves of Mukhadzhir relocations, events like the parade at the Red Meadow, among others. This historical context drove the collection of 1,864 signatures. However, the resonance of the issue meant the count of supporters burgeoned quickly. In the wake of this, various organisations aligned with the cause. The appeal to the Abkhazian parliament wasn't just endorsed by individuals but also saw the backing of numerous groups. In total, fifty such entities, spanning associations, organisations, and foundations, voiced their support. Collectively, they echo the sentiments of potentially over a hundred thousand members of the Abkhazian and Circassian diasporas."
On the matter of the initiative group's decision to travel to Abkhazia and vocalise their concerns about the apartment law on home turf, Irfan Akhuachba shared:
"It was known to us that our brethren here were not in favour of this proposed legislation. Our journey to Abkhazia was driven by the desire to demonstrate solidarity. Far from any ambition to supersede the established authorities, our intent was solely to bolster our kin opposing the draft bill."
Irfan Akhuachba then underscored the primary contention prompting numerous diaspora affiliates to rally against the proposed statute:
"The demographic challenge facing the Abkhazian populace is palpable. They no longer constitute the majority on their ancestral lands. Drawing from our experiences in Türkiye, Abkhazians and Circassians coexisted harmoniously for extended periods. Yet, with the influx of other ethnicities, our distinct identity risked dissolution. The crux of our concern is that the proposed law could accelerate the cultural diminution of the already numerically modest Abkhazian community in their historical homeland. This rationale remains our most compelling argument."
Not all Abkhazian cultural associations in Türkiye, such as the cultural centres (dernek) and ABHAZ-FED (Federation of Abkhazian Associations - in Türkiye), have shown support for the protest. Offering clarity on this, Leuan Lagulaa stated:
"From our understanding, and as Irfan highlighted today, certain organisations maintain ties with the government. These organisations, by their own acknowledgment, are often advised against participating in such protests. Despite resonating with the protest's core concerns, they refrain from endorsing these appeals. However, within the federation, some organisations have shown their support. To be specific, of the cultural centres associated with the Abkhaz Federation, two have extended their backing. There's a dichotomy in representation: one list encapsulates organisations, and another denotes individual signatories. Among the individual endorsers, numerous representatives from Abkhazian cultural associations have pledged their support. This outlines the broader alignment landscape."