When most of Abkhazia was denuded of its native population in the wake of (a) the end of the Great Caucasian War in 1864 and (b) the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the question arose as to who would make the most appropriate substitute-population.
+ Conquest and Exile, by Austin Jersild
+ Mr Palgrave in the Dismal Swamp | The Pall Mall Gazette, 1867
+ The solitude of Abkhazia, by Douglas W. Freshfield
One of the leading Georgian intellectuals of the time, the educationalist Iakob Gogebashvili, wrote an interesting article in Tiflisskiy Vestnik in 1877 entitled /vin unda iknes dasaxlebuli apxazetshi?/ (Who should be settled in Abkhazia?). In this article he argued that the neighbouring Mingrelians would make the best /kolonizatorebi/ (colonisers)... And this is precisely what they subsequently became.
In 1873 the Georgian writer and columnist Georgii Tsereteli wrote: "Circumstances compelled them [Abkhazians/Circassians] to abandon their country. Land is very abundant and even better than in some of our areas... So, what are our people thinking about? Why hitherto has there been no decision to relocate to this country?... After all, is not the Caucasus our region? The whole Caucasus is our land, our country... Suppose we settle in the country of the Circassians or in Daghestan — everywhere is our motherland." Newspaper “Droeba”, Tiflis, 1873. No 399.
In 1879 Tsereteli wrote: It is time, high time that we move this way and that across our very own country; it’s time that we grab new territories in the Caucasus where air and soil that suits us is indeed to be found. One just has to understand that one brother’s territory won’t any longer be sufficient for five or ten brothers. Let’s spread out while we still have time, before foreign tribes arrive and take up settlement in our vacant Caucasian lands.
Newspaper “Droeba”, Tiflis, 1879. No:27
It is true, the edges of the whole of the Black Sea on the Caucasian side have been laid waste. The territory produces a multitude of rich fruits and is without equal for animal husbandry and arable cultivation, but it is only the people of Georgia-Imereti(a) and Mingrelia whom it will be profitable to settle there. In the lowland, along the sea-coast, starting from the port of Soch’i (Socha), in the whole of Abkhazia’s coastal zone and the lands of Batum-Kobuleti the folk of Imereti(a) and Mingrelia are fine — they live close to the sea, also pursue trade and are accustomed to a boggy and fever-bearing atmosphere. And so, these empty coastal areas are fit only for these people, the more so since they are today very short of land; however, it is the people of Lechkhumi, Rach’a, Ossetia and Svaneti(a) who suffer most from constraint of land. These poor wretches live insect-infested on meagre and fruitless piles of leaves, and, since they have no place to sow and plough, they come down to our towns in the valley the whole winter-spring and summer with a knapsack slung over their backs, almost working themselves to death day and night in sleepless labour.
Yes, such folk as these should be resettled into Abkhazia’s mountainous, rich and broad lands. If it’s the folk of Imereti(a)-Mingrelia who fit well with the air and soil of the coast, it’s the folk of our Racha-Lechkhumi and Svaneti(a), being mountain-dwellers, who in their stead will fit really well with the lands of Abkhazia’s moutain-slopes. It is time, high time that we move this way and that across our very own country; it’s time that we grab new territories in the Caucasus where air and soil that suits us is indeed to be found. One just has to understand that one brother’s territory won’t any longer be sufficient for five or ten brothers. Let’s spread out while we still have time, before foreign tribes arrive and take up settlement in our vacant Caucasian lands.
(To be continued)
See also: Newspaper "Droeba”, 1883, N 216.
"Abkhazia, October 10", A. Dzhugheli (Gadaghmeli)
'... Abkhazia , as the very name of the place suggests, belonged and belongs to the Abkhazians ... In this last war [1877-1878 -- Ed.], this country was almost completely emptied. The vacated lands of the Abkhazians were distributed among all who desired them. This country, as a country of the covenant, had a famous name. Everyone who had vaguely heard that in Abkhazia land was being divided and given away upped and moved here . Within 5-6 years Greeks, Russians, Bulgarians, Germans, Mingrelians, Imeretians, Armenians, etc. flooded into Abkhazia. And the authorities refused no-one.'
The mass-immigration of Kartvelians (mostly Mingrelians) goes back to the late 1930s. Abkhaz's script was then altered from a roman to a Georgian base. Abkhaz-language schools were summarily closed in 1945-6, following by a ban on broadcasting and publications.
The film-clip (from a 30-minute documentary on Abkhazia shot in 1941) talks of settlements having been created in the Gagra, Gudauta and Ochamchira districts and shows incomers travelling on carts, the building of their homes, and one family actually moving in. See: Resettlement to Abkhazia.