T. Shamba, A. Neproshin
Е, Ё: ...
Legal basis of statehood and sovereignty
Chapter I. Abkhazians - ancient ethnos with original culture
1.1 Ethnogenesis of the people of Transcaucasia
Studying the works of researchers of Transcaucasia from the times of Homer (IX century BC), Pliny and Strabona, as well as those of Arabian, Persian, Russian and other historians, allows the conclusion to be drawn that in the territory of Caucasus and Transcaucasia, including the areas adjoining this territory to the north and the south, up to 150 nationalities lived during the period from the Middle Ages to the middle of XIX century .
As we are interested only in the peoples occupying Transcaucasia (i.e. the territory of modern Georgia and the eastern Black Sea coast), for further analysis we have limited the list of the peoples by using certain criteria. Firstly, names of the peoples occupying Ciscaucasia (Nogais, Sarmatians, Kumiks etc.), and secondly peoples who were mentioned only once during the investigated period, have been excluded. Names appropriated on the basis of the leader, or on the basis of residence at this or that settlement, have also been withdrawn – for example, Dadian - Bedians, Gorians. Names of the people of countries known at that time, who did not represent interest for our research (Armenians, Persians), and also the people of the states which have later departed from the considered region (Tao-Klardjeti), have been excluded.
Use of data presented in works of ancient and medieval historians relating to an epoch and territory occupied by these peoples, has allowed us to reveal certain laws of occurrence of the ethnonym of these people and their evolution. On the chart ( Fig. 1) the picture of evolutionary change in ethnonym of the basic groups of people occupying areas of Northern Ciscaucasia, the Black Sea coast and Transcaucasia is shown. Whilst drawing up the chart, indicators such as the frequency of mentions of nationalities by different authors during the various centuries were used. From each work, only one mention of each people was considered. The information of historians referring those or other nationalities to a newly appearing ethnonym, or to the peoples which have changed ethnonym over time, has also been considered.
The presented material shows that in the distribution of peoples within an investigated zone, some pure lines of ethnic groups take place. Naturally, inside groups a mixture between their separate representatives took place, however as a whole they kept their ethnic features which have continued to exist unchanged till now. Geographical isolation has helped this situation to remain.
In our opinion, Svans are such a pure ethnic group, existing as an independent nationality which has kept features of their culture till now. As a special ethnic group Svans are mentioned in I century AD., although there are data that their ancestors were Mossineks, and possibly Melankhlens (V century BC). The native language of Svans is not understandable for modern Georgians (most likely, it was not understandable for Kartvels in the Middle Ages) either by lexicon, or by grammatical forms. There is even less similarity in their customs. It is an independent ethnic society among the peoples of Transcaucasia. Their mixture with other ethnoses was prevented by features of their environment - they occupied a high-mountainous area at a point of turn of the Caucasian ridge from a north-south direction to east-west.
The first group of people settled down southwest of the Black Sea coast (Colchis) and expanded into the central areas of Transcaucasia. They were represented by Colchians, and also by a number of other tribes which in V century BC did not make a considerable number in the region. Colchians under this name had been fixed in this region since V century BC and are also traced in works of historians till the end of XIV century. Since I century AD. their state had received the name Lazika, and then, with its disintegration, in this territory the separate independent states Imeretia, Guria and Mingrelia (IX-X centuries) were defined. G.Paichadze, interpreting the formation of the Georgian state, expresses the opinion that after the termination of existence of the state Colchis (I century BC): “in the territory of Western Georgia (?) the Egrissian state existed from II century till the end of VIII century,and in ancient sources was called “Lazika”. In Byzantian history, as well as in ancient sources, concerning Georgia the names "Colchis" and "Iberia" were used”. He named them western and eastern Georgia. However, G.Paichadze himself states that the terms “Georgia “, and " the Georgian service “ are used in church annals only from XVI century. As for the state Egrisi, it is not mentioned anywhere, except in Georgian history and the literature copied from the same XVIII century Georgian sources. G.Paichadze categorically declares that on the eastern Black Sea coast there were no Abkhazians at all, and those who had won practically all Transcaucasia, and had created the Abkhazian kingdom, were "Georgians".
The second group of people was represented by ancestors of Abkhazians - Geniokhs, living in the territory of modern Abkhazia. Their occurrence is traced from V century BC, showing that they already during that time occupied various areas. According to ancient historians, Geniokhs during the early period had close connections with the peoples occupying the northern region of the eastern Black Sea coast, where Scythians also lived at that time. Inevitable contacts of these ethnoses led to mixing of nationalities, therefore in VI century there appeared a new nationality - Misimianians, occupying territory on the Black Sea coast from Adler to areas near the termination of the Caucasian ridge in the north. Misimianians, having mixed up with Zikhs, gave rise (IX century) to Djigets, then to those people who are today called Adygs. In language, anthropological characteristics and customs, they are very close to their southern neighbours (Abkhazians), and represent an inherently uniform ethnic branch with Abkhazians.
The Abkhazian ethnic line was formed as follows : Geniokhs, occupying territory from modern Adler in the north to the southern borders of Colchis, lived there with related Koraksian tribes in V century BC, and Ftirofags from III century BC till I century AD. It is supposed that they were ancestors of Svans. Sanigs were one of the branches of the Geniokhs (I-IV centuries AD). In I century BC they began a new nationality - Absils. From VIII century Absils received a new ethonym – Abkhazians, which has existed throughout 14 centuries until now. In IV century the combination of Geniokh and Sanig nationalities caused the appearance of a new ethnic group – Abazgs, who as an independent people existed till the end of XIV century.
Fig. 1. Evolutional changes of ethnonyms of peoples of Transcaucasia. (Explanations are given in the text.
See list of tribes, nationalities and geographic names on pp. 115-119).
In XI century in the territory of Abkhazia, as a result of the mixing of two national groups, basically Abazgs (though from XII century this branch would gradually fade) and Abkhazians, the highest national and state development was reached, and during that time a new branch was formed - Abazinians. These people have existed from XII century until now. All these ethnic lines of peoples possess one language, close to the languages of more northern peoples occupying Northern Ciscaucasia who have similar customs and conduct a similar way of life.
Thus, on the east Black Sea coast from the beginning of I millenium AD, the independent Abkhazian ethnos was formed as a mixture of several tens of ethnic groups, and later formed independent nationalities (subethnoses) within northern, western and southern Caucasus. Keeping ethnic features, their own unique culture was generated and exists to the present time.
From the middle of the first century BC in the central area of Transcaucasia, new national tribal territorial formations appeared, represented by Iberians or Iverians who lived to the north of the newly-appeared state of Armenia. This region was named “Vrastan” by Armenians, and its inhabitants - "mountaineers", i.e. “Vratsis”, “Ivratsis” or Iverians. The tribal formation Karts or Kartls started to appear from VIII century AD in writings of ancient authors as an ethnonym, and the national group living in the territory of East Transcaucasia exists until now as one of the nationalities of modern Georgia, along with Kakhetinians, Eras, Dvals, and other tribes of Central Transcaucasia.
G.A.Melikishvili, echoed by G.Paichadze, declares: “Since the most ancient times, Western Georgia has been occupied by Megrel-Chansk (West Georgian) tribes”. Nothing is declared about Abkhazians living in this area since ancient times, as the mention of them would demand an explanation of the fact that their ethnos appeared there before all other people of Transcaucasia, and also demand answers to other questions inconvenient for the Georgian historians.
Speaking about Georgia ostensibly extending its influence along the Black Sea coast, historians involve the Kartls ethnos for evidence, and try to prove its relationship with ethnically independent tribes (for example, Colchians), who settled down in the western part of Transcaucasia in VI century BC. But, as already mentioned, Kartls historically appeared as an ethnos much later, approximately at the beginning of VIII century AD. Ethnic connection between Kartls and the people of the eastern Black Sea coast has not been traced, as Imeretians, Gurians and Mingrelians were defined as ethnoses, on the basis of the native people of Colchis, Lazika and Abkhazia, much later than Kartls. It is also established that the language of Kartls has serious differences from Mingrelian, Svan and other languages of the people of the Western Transcaucasia (and Mingrelians do not consider themselves Kartvelians), which once again underlines the dissimilarity of Kartls with other peoples of Transcaucasia and does not testify in favour of the accession of all these ethnoses to “Great Georgia”.
In the history of Transcaucasia it is considered that its settlement occurred from the south through Asia Minor and went across the eastern Black Sea coast. However in the territory of Transcaucasia there is one more pass to Asia Minor and regions where in ancient centuries advanced civilisations settled down. This route, along the border of modern Armenia and Azerbaijan, was frequently used during historically verifiable times for attacks on Transcaucasia by Persians, Khazars and Arabs. The settling of the Black Sea coast and formation in this territory of the Colchis state is historically confirmed from V century BC. The proto-Abkhazian tribes appeared in this region earlier than Colchians (who later pushed them north to the area of present Abkhazia and ex-Circassia). Considering that the states of the Black Sea coast were limited in the east by the Suramsky ridge, it is possible to assert with confidence that this territory was occupied using the western channel from areas of Asia Minor. This is confirmed by written sources, and V. Bochkarev (1890) also expressed the opinion that if Lazikans, Imeretians, Gurians, Adjarians and partly Mingrelians belong to Kartvels, then they differ so much from the patrimonial type that it is possible to allocate them as a special group.
The later settling of tribes in the central areas of Transcaucasia (Iverians - from I century BC, Eras, Dvals, Daks - from V-VI centuries, Kartls - from VIII century), their anthropological and language differences from the people of the Black Sea coast, and the area restriction of the Suramsky ridge – these all give the idea of a later settlement in this region. Most likely, it resulted from the use of another, eastern route. Undoubtedly, ethnic ancestors of the people of these two regions differed from each other. Obviously, this is only an assumption, a hypothesis, but the facts demonstrate its viability, and impartial historians will probably find a grain of truth here.
As already mentioned, the state Lazika was formed in I century AD in the territory of Colchis, and Lazikans - prospective ancestors of modern Mingrelians who had especially intensive matrimonial relations with Abazgs in the region of the river Ingur - are mentioned for the first time in written sources. The ethnonym "Lazikans" completely corresponds to “Colchians” and both existed till the end of XIII century. These people adjoined the territory of Abkhazia, and Colchians and Abazgs both lived in the boundary regions. We believe that between them there was a special ethnic group possessing its own language, and giving rise to modern Mingrelians. Having incorporated the use of two more languages, Abkhazians and Colchians (Lazikans) occupied the territory earlier belonging to Abazgs (Abkhazians), and had the same, or separate but related, tsars. The territory of this ethnic group always remained an area claimed by the peoples who were settling down to the south of the boundary river Engur (Ingur).
Close to the start of the VIII century in central Transcaucasia, along with the Kartls, appeared isolated nationalities - Eras (Eretia), Dvals, living in a central part of the southern foothills of the Caucasus, and others. From XII century the Kakhetinian nationality, occupying the eastern part of central Transcaucasia, starts to be found. In IX - X centuries there is mention of Laks and Adjarians, who were named Djurdjuans by some historians, and others.
So, on the basis of the undertaken research it is possible to reach the following major conclusions concerning Abkhazian ethnogenesis:
1) Abkhazians are one of the most ancient peoples occupying the Caucasus. In written historical sources the ethnonym “Abkhaz”, through its ancestors Abazgs, Apsils and Geniokhs, appears from V century BC.
2) Ethnic and ethnographic lines of the evolutionary development of Abkhazians are clear. Throughout 26 centuries there was no mixture of this ethnos with others, and during all this period Abkhazians have been living in their historical motherland.
3) The statement that Abkhazians went down to the Black Sea from the mountains (which are considered as North Caucasus) two centuries ago, is untenable, because:
a) on the basis of independent sources, the settlement of these ethnic tribes within the territory of modern Abkhazia by V century BC is confirmed;
b) in the territory of the North Caucasus, representatives of ancestors of an ethnic branch of Abkhazians have not been found.
4) In the territory of Transcaucasia and the eastern Black Sea coast, until XX century some ethnic lines of peoples have appeared and been formed:
a) Geniokhs -Absils -Abazgs -Abkhazians -Abazinians;
b)Misimianians -Zikhs - Circassians -Adygs;
d)Colchians -Lazikans - Gurians - Mingrelians.
5) To the east of the territory occupied by this group of peoples, we believe that independent ethnic branches of the people of central Transcaucasia were formed.
6)The nationality or ethnic group "Georgians" has not been found in the historical plan.
7) From the point of view of ethnogeography, these listed ethnic groups of peoples resided in local territories which expanded or contracted from time to time, but they lived there constantly.
8) Mixtures of ethnic groups during the historically investigated period ( from V century BC) did not occur.
Shamba T., Neproshin А. Abkhazia: Legal basis of statehood and sovereignty. М: Open Company "In-Oktavo", 2005, 240 pages.
Абхазы - (самоназвание апсуа) автохтонное население Кавказа.
Абхазия (краткая историческая справка).
Исторические лица Абхазии (биографический справочник).
Редактор Вячеслав Румянцев
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