T. Shamba, A. Neproshin
Е, Ё: ...
Legal basis of statehood and sovereignty
Chapter 2. Statehood of Abkhazia
2.3. Abkhazia as a part of the Russian empire
Expansion of Osmansk Porta (Turkey) taking place in XVIII - the beginning of XIX centuries, and Russian-Turkish and Russian-Persian wars of this period, forced Russia to reconsider its policy in Transcaucasia. The independent position of the kingdoms already accepted under its protection, which did not provide reliable guarantees of their loyalty to the crown, and assurance by oaths of fidelity “to serve Russia assiduously to their last breath”, did not satisfy Russia. For this reason at the beginning of XIX century Russia undertook active steps towards the establishment of control over kingdoms and princedoms of the former Abkhazian kingdom.
The political interests of Russia in the Caucasus were not co-ordinated with those of the states which entered under its protection, for which only formal cover was necessary, without intervention into their internal affairs. Russia, considering these states as a base for conducting military actions against the Ottoman empire, in a very short time deprived them of their sovereignty, having included all these territories within the structure of the Russian empire. Then, using the right of a suzerain, Russia posted its armies there and transformed all the territory into a semi-colonial formation with division into provinces (Caucasian region controlled by a governor-general) with military authorities at their head, having appropriated the name “Georgia” to this formation for simplicity.
During the same period on the coast of the Black sea, on the most strategically important site under conditions of incessant seizures by Turkey of cities and territories, there was one independent sovereign state - Abkhazia. Direct pressure was put as necessary upon governors of the country, and upon rulers of neighbouring princedoms and church leaders who could be friendly, fraternally advising it to become a part of Russia. Such advisers appeared. We quote a fragment from the letter of the Catholicos of Abkhaz-Imers Maxim III to Besarion Gabashvili about the expediency of a reunion of Abkhazia with Imeretia and fidelity with Russia, from July 2nd, 1789:
“The brilliant Prince, Besarion Zakharych!
Now I write, that if his Highness the Prince deigns to send you back to our Tsar David, report to the prince that our Tsar by his efforts will join the possessor of Abkhazia, Sharvashidze, who will agree with the Tsar and will be devoted to the Russian Sovereign. If he agrees and does this, there will be an influence of only our Tsar; the possessor of Abkhazia, Sharvashidze, I think will find great happiness. If he suddenly disagrees with our Tsar over the question of fidelity with Russia, I think in the end he will regret it, therefore it is better to unite now with our Tsar, to show fidelity to the Russian Imperial throne”.
As follows from the text, the direct aim of Imeretian governors (but not Kartvelian - "Georgian") was to attach Abkhazia to their country, though Abkhazia was then an independent state, the subject of international law.
A corresponding initiative was also shown by the rulers of neighbouring Mingrelia. We quote a fragment from an application by Grigol Dadiani, addressed to Emperor Alexander I, about acceptance of Mingrelia (including Abkhazia) within citizenship of Russia:
“I, the undersigned Prince Grigory Dadian, the lawful possessor of Odish, Lechkhum, Svan, Abkhazian (?) and all lands belonging to my ancestors from time immemorial, and autocratic master of these from the day of subscription of this certificate, after fulfilment of the oath promised at a ceremony, offer Myself with all my lawful posterity and with all my possessions, both the above- named and any others acquired, in eternal both true slavery and citizenship to the highest All-Russia power”.
In 1806 the Prince of Abkhazia, Keleshbei (Sharvashidze) applied for the acceptance of Abkhazia within the citizenship of Russia, but Emperor Alexander I hesitated with the decision of this question, though assumed to award to the Prince the rank of General Lieutenant of the Russian army with a huge salary, and to leave him the lifelong governorship of a princedom.
The commander-in-chief of the Russian army in Georgia and in the Caucasus, General A. P.Tormasov, wrote on January 11th, 1810 to Earl N.P.Rumiantsev (the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia), that Nino (the spouse of G.Dadiani, and the daughter of the last Tsar of Kartli-Kakhetia George XII, and who in the early childhood of the Tsar’s successor ruled Mingrelia from 1805-1810) “should be thanked for Sefer-Ali-bek’s intention to enter with all Abkhazian possessions into the eternal protection and citizenship of Russia”. The ruler of Abkhazia George (Sefer-bek) Sharvashidze (1810-1821), son of Keleshbei, informing General I. Rykgof of the murder of his (George’s) father, wrote that Keleshbei during his lifetime had given his lands to Russia, and now “if you want, I give this land to you if only to revenge Arslan-bek (his brother who had killed the father - author).
I undertake to obey, with all my true and assiduous citizens, the orders of the Chief Commander of Georgia, with all my might as you depend on him.
I undertake henceforth this letter and I commit myself, and together with me Abkhazia and all beings in Abkhazia, in hereditary citizenship and slavery to the throne of the most gracious and august monarch of All-Russia and also the successor of that throne, with confession of our former belief (Christian - author).
I wish sincerely to be, to the last drop of my blood, a true subject and I undertake by oath of allegiance and the promise in eternal citizenship to be obedient to the Chief Commander of Georgia, together with both my true assiduous slaves and my citizens”.
The application was supported by the commander of Russian armies in Transcaucasia I.V.Gudovich. George Sharvashidze's pleading points were also signed by Princes Tulaa Sharvashidze, Tuflasu Lakerbaya, Levan Zepishvili, Khutunia and Levan Anchabadze, Hitu, Rostom, Bezhan and Jambulat Margania etc.
Entering in July 1805 under the protection of Russia, with the direct mediation of Mingrelia, Levan and Manuchar Sharvashidze were presented in the oath as “the Abkhazian princes, sovereigns of Samurzakan”. Chkondid metropolitan Vissarion swore them on oath in Mingrelia. Such a situation was explained by the fact that the Mingrelian princedom had addressed Russia for help and entered under its protection earlier than others. From then on its governors became the most active conductors of Russian policy in the territory.
In the previously mentioned “Historical note about the management of the Caucasus” S.Esadze wrote that Samurzakan made a part of Abkhazia and was ruled by a “special branch” of Abkhazian Sharvashidze**. In the middle of XVIII century in Abkhazia there were big disturbances, and its rulers Sharvashidze (Chachba) at the will of the sultan were sent to Turkey. Disturbances promoted some isolation ("autonomy") of the Samurzakan branch of Sharvashidze, the head of which became the ruler Murzakan. His rule was serially inherited by: Khutunia, Levan and Manuchar (Mancha).
** In sources the writing of the name of rulers of Abkhazia occurs as both Sharvashidze and Shervashidze. To us the first is accepted, according to the
Penultimate Samurzakan ruler Levan Sharvashidze was in advanced years, and his nephew Manuchar entered into a struggle with him for advantage of possession. The latter was incited in every possible way by Mingrelian ruler Dadiani, to whose sister Manuchar was married. Attaching Samurzakan to Russia, Dadiani thereby extended his power to this area. In 1834 General Akhlestyshev entered Samurzakan and constructed the fortification of Ilori. In 1840 the ruler of Abkhazia, Michael, proved his right to this area, and from then on it was a separate region controlled by a police force.
In 1810 Abkhazia received the protection of the Russian empire, about which there is a Charter given by Emperor Alexander I to the ruler of Abkhazia Prince George Sharvashidze, by means of which the Russian Emperor declared a recognition of the statehood of Abkhazia and the distribution over it of the protectorate of Russia.
TheCharter given 17 Feb., 1810
By Emperor Alexander I
To the ruler of Abkhazia PRINCE GEORGE SHARVASHIDZE,
with pleading points
By the Grace of God, WE, ALEXANDER the FIRST, the EMPEROR and the AUTOCRAT of ALL-RUSSIA: and so on and so forth. From us, to kindly loyal Ruler of the Abkhazian land Prince George Sharvashidze, OUR IMPERIAL favour and goodwill. Condescending on Your application to arrive in eternal citizenship of the Russian empire and, not doubting Your fidelity to OUR high throne, explained in Your obligatory letter, to OUR all HIGHEST Name sent, WE confirm and WE recognise You as OUR kindly loyal hereditary Prince of the Abkhazian Possession under the Supreme protection of the Russian empire, and including You and Your house and all the Abkhazian possession of inhabitants in OUR loyal number, WE promise You and Your successors OUR IMPERIAL favour and goodwill. Having accepted also for the blessing all articles and explanations from word to word in that Your application, which together with a copy of the Russian translation of all of OUR bestowed Charter it is applied, WE confirm them by OUR IMPERIAL word for US and OUR high successors with all Our force for ever inviolably and, owing to that condescend to mark You with OUR special favour, defining You the salary in silver of two thousand five hundred roubles a year, and to Your Mother the kind Princess one thousand five hundred roubles a year in silver, which as for You, so for Her, from the date of declaring Your fidelity of citizenship on the oath, will be delivered by the Commander-in-Chief in Georgia from OUR treasury each third of a year. In greater expression to You of OUR IMPERIAL favour, WE award to You and Your successors a banner with the arms of the Russian Empire, ruling to store this hereditarily in Your house, and moreover with OUR IMPERIAL favour WE honour You as a Gentleman with an award of the Order of St. Anna of the first class, with signs which on this warning WE rule to assign to Yourself and to wear according to protocol. Your successors have the right to ask for the HIGHEST confirmation of their position as Prince of the Abkhazian possession by OUR IMPERIAL Charter, which according to OUR mercy will also be most graciously delivered. Due to this WE charge You to rule the people of the Abkhazian lands with mildness and justice, WE are assured that You and Your successors are in fidelity to OUR throne, and in accuracy of execution of duties by Yourselves You will be unshakable. In such hope and as proof of OUR Monarchical favours to You and to all Abkhazian people, OUR IMPERIAL Charter is given with OUR autographic signing and with the State Seal appended. In OUR Capital City (St. Peter), 17th day of February 1810, and OUR reign in the tenth.
State Chancellor Earl Rumiantsev
Far-sighted politician Keleshbei with the price of his life defined autonomy for the Abkhazian princedom within the limits of the Russian state. Thus, Abkhazians too cast in their lot with Russia. According to the Charter of the Russian Emperor, the Abkhazian Princedom became a part of Russia with its own territory, in which it kept autonomy and an independent position within the internal political sphere. The presence of such a document highlights two important political moments. Firstly, Abkhazia was a part of the Russian empire independently, as a sovereign state, and the subject of world politics and international law. As such, its position was recognised by the imperial government and was legally fixed. Secondly, even within the limits of empire the autonomy status had been kept, and it was still considered as a princedom (as, say, Poland - a kingdom, and Finland - a great princedom), and ruled by Chachba – Sharvashidze national princes.
But there was one more feature distinguishing the placement of Abkhazia under protection of Russia. If Guria, Imeretia and other states became parts of Russia complete with their full complement of all nationalities and families, then when Abkhazia came under the protection of Russia, free Abkhazian societies (Aibga, Pskhu, Dal, Tsabal, etc.) did not enter according to the Agreement, which led to further unpredictable consequences. Such behaviour of separate nationalities was explained by the fact that Abkhazians and the people of this territory close to them (Ubykhs, Shapsughs, Abazinians, etc.) throughout centuries-old history were completely free, proud and independent people, bold and eager to fight. At all times of the country’s existence its lands was never seized by conquerors completely, and enemies always received a worthy repulse. Therefore the idea that Abkhazians voluntarily would enter into submission to someone caused aversion in them.
Describing the political and state system of Abkhazia of that period, N.I.Karlgof gives the following data:
“In the Abkhazian tribe there are two different types of political system: 1) the Abkhazian property is a mixture of the feudal system and the appanage; 2) other societies of the Abkhazian tribe are situated between the Abkhazian and Circassian societies (i.e. Between the Abkhazian monarchy and democratic republics)...
We cannot positively tell which of the two forms of political system of the Abkhazian tribes was the first, i.e. whether small Abkhazian societies were torn away from dependence on rulers, as was common for all Abkhazian people, or the Abkhazian method of control is the result of the development of Abkhazian society; whether it was originally formed in the latter case, or occurred from the assignment of hereditary power by one of the governors of the people who was placed by the Georgian tsars...
In Abkhazia, Svanetia, Tsebelda, Pskhu, and for Djigets, the two forms of rule have remained to the present time, aristocratic republic or sovereignty, i.e. Abkhazia possessed the necessary statehood to allow the country to be independent”.
Because for Abkhazians it was unworthy and unnatural to be dependent upon foreigners, immediately after the posting of Russian armies into the country there was a counteraction to the Russian presence, though in the beginning of XIX century it was purely symbolic. But counteraction, revolts and resistance to the Russian administration and armies were always followed by retaliatory measures by the other side, and there was a conflict escalation. This process was warmed up, on the one hand, by military actions in the North Caucasus, and on the other by expansion of Turkey along the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus.
Islamisation of the territory and promises of help from Turkish invaders to the Abkhazian governors led to separation of the country leaders and, accordingly, split its political unity. Russia, which relied on the oath promises stated in the Agreement of 1810, was compelled to combat in this region on two fronts: with Turks in open fight for the Caucasus as a whole and with the people of the Caucasus who did not tolerate the presence of Russia on their land. We will not pause with the history of development of these events, as it does not enter into our problem. We will only say that during this period Makhadjirstvo began (resettlement to Turkey and the countries of the Middle East). According to historians, the number who left Abkhazia until the end of XIX century was 180 thousand persons. The blow to the Abkhazian ethnos was irreparable.
As an example we will give only a quotation from the official report of General E.A.Golovin to A.I.Chernyshev about destruction of the population and conquest of Dal:
“... In two weeks Dal was absolutely obedient, devastated and deprived of population, and in all it cost 10 killed and 20 wounded men, including only 6 Russian soldiers...
As to the opinion of Colonel Muravev, the settling of Dal by Russians still very attentively demands a reason for this country being subject to attacks by Karachaevs and other hostile tribes nearest to it... [Samurzakanians] since times of separating from Mingrelia and entering under direct control of Russian leaders, express the greatest diligence, do not know dangers and under the first requirement appeared from 600 to 700 persons in number, which is rather considerable given the small population of the Samurzakan district...”.
We quote this section not only with the purpose of showing the result of retaliatory measures by the Russian army, but mainly to note that as a result of the devastation of Abkhazian lands, including the Samurzakan area belonging to Abkhazia, there appeared a problem with the resettlement of this territory.
Despite the preservation of state sovereignty and autonomies of Abkhazia by Russia, instability within the territory still disturbed it. The Russian administration considered the developed instability in Abkhazia as being due to the governor of the country, Prince Michael Sharvashidze, who by his inactivity provoked disturbances. Confirming this view of the problem, we quote an excerpt from N.N.Muravev's report to Prince V.D.Dolgoruki about the actions of the ruler of Abkhazia:
“In actions of the possessor of Abkhazia I see double-faced behaviour against us and the Turks, resulting from his doubts: which of the countries at war will gain Abkhazia? He has no sincere attachment to one party, but wishes to keep his possession and considers himself in the right to remain neutral, forgetting his high rank as a General-Adjutant of H.I.M...”.
The unreliable position of Russia in autonomous Abkhazia (in comparison with other princedoms of the Central and East Transcaucasia which had already been deprived of sovereignty for a long time by the imperial government and were a part of Russia as military departments), and also its special interest in a strategically important site on the coast, demanded acceptance of cardinal measures on a change of the status of the region. Military leaders and the Governor-General incessantly reminded others of it, as we see from the official report from the Chief of Armies in Abkhazia, General M.T.Loris-Melikov, to the Kutais Governor -General G.R. Eristov of August 12th, 1858:
“The necessity and importance of our occupation of Abkhazia, having a unique good port on the east coast of the Black Sea, and the country which, recognising the power of Russia, should form the basis for distribution of our sovereignty on all the east coast, cannot of course be subject to any doubt.
We occupied Sukhum in 1810. Since then a half-century has passed, and it is necessary to confess that our influence in Abkhazia has not increased at all, and that as General Philipson said, we do not own, but only occupy it. It even seems more truthful to say that this occupation is less strong now than it was before, because secret intrigues of foreign powers, with the purpose of inciting the tribes occupying territories on the east coast of the Black Sea against us, have greatly increased recently”.
Also there came the moment when Russia made its decision about inclusion of Abkhazia in its structure, that was confirmed by the following document:
“Decree from the Governor-General of the Caucasus Grand Duke Michael
To Earl V.Adlerberg about introduction into Abkhazia of Russian rule.
June 26th, 1864
The highest command about elimination of Prince Sharvashidze from duties of the possessor, for ever with his descendants, and about introduction in Abkhazia of Russian rule, has been received by me during my last expedition to the river Mzymta valley. Wishing personally to declare the Supreme Will to Prince Sharvashidze, and at the same time to call him from Abkhazia so that at the forthcoming transformation of rule of this territory possible disorders and even armed resistance can be avoided, I have charged the Chief of Staff to invite Prince Michael to Kutais at my arrival time there... considering everything, in case the further measures of indulgence in relation to Prince Michael will not lead to the desirable purpose, I have sent to him my decree in which I positively declare to him the Supreme Will, and order the Kutais Governor-General to introduce Russian rule in Abkhazia now, having insisted on the immediate departure from Abkhazia of the former possessor”.
The document with which the Governor-General of the Caucasus addressed the tsar, concerning the liquidation of Abkhazian independence, is indicative. It is necessary to appreciate the delicacy in approaches to the decision of this problem, which was not simple. As follows from the text, only special circumstances compelled Russia to take this step, which was not undertaken with other princedoms which had earlier become a part of the Russian empire.
Here is how the Governor-General of the Caucasus, Grand Duke Michael, wrote on this occasion about the necessity for the abolition of the Abkhazian princedom and its settlement by Cossacks, on March 27th, 1864.
“In view of the close realisation of the highly-approved Assumptions of settling the Cossack villages on the East coast of the Black Sea from the mouth of the Kuban to the river Bzyb, it is obviously necessary to solve questions on the future position of Abkhazian rule: whether Abkhazia should be in its present state, i.e. under the unaccountable rule of Prince Michael Sharvashidze, or whether a newly-arranged rule should be entered.
Sixty years has passed since Abkhazia recognised the Supreme power of the Russian Sovereign and the father of Prince Michael Sharvashidze was recognised as its hereditary ruler. This country was then still half-wild, with the various princely families torn apart amongst themselves and constantly exposed to violence from Turks and predatory mountaineers, and since the time of joining to Russia has received external protection from the Russian government.
The Abkhazian people, occupying the best part of the Caucasian territory, have fallen to the last degree of poverty and wildness. Half have accepted Islam, the others have lost almost any concept about religion. Russia instead of a grateful ally has got in Abkhazia a rebellious and artful slave, ready with open arms to accept each of our enemies who appears at its coast. Our authorities are not concerned with the internal ruling of these people: Abkhazians neither pay taxes nor duties, armies do not stay with them in their homes, do not take any supplies from them, do not use anything and constantly protect them; for all this Abkhazians pay us in murders behind a bush.
Where are we to search for the reasons for all of this, as it is not under the control of the present ruler. Legally it is impossible to accuse Prince Michael Sharvashidze of any one of those grave crimes of which he is accused by public opinion and by everyone closely observing the activities, because his actions as ruler have never been exposed and could not be exposed to lawful investigation. Anyway, it is necessary to pay attention to many obvious facts of his long period of rule... Assessing commoners for small offences by huge penalties in favour of the treasury, he always leaves strong predators and murderers unpunished and even patronises them; from this predation robberies and murders have become constant phenomena in Abkhazia. Whether or not in such a territorial position it is favourable to Russia, and whether or not it produces a feeling of justice and philanthrophy, to leave it under the power of the possessor ruling it now, in the political situation it would be positively harmful. Destruction of such power which, deliberately or not, has done so much harm for so long makes it a duty of our government.
1. Persuade the possessor and his successor to refuse the right of possession.
2. Define and supply an allowance to the possessor and his successors.
3. Form a military district of Abkhazia, which together with Tsebelda will be subordinate to a special military chief, like the chiefs of departments in areas which submit to the Governor-General of Kutais.
4. If the quantity of free land permits, install Cossack settlements along the coast to the mouth of the Ingur, which together with settlements on the river Bzyb could make the Abkhazian Cossack army under the control of the chief of the Abkhazian military department.
5. Appoint a ridge, closing Gagra pass and now separating Abkhazia from Djigets land, as a border between the Kuban and Abkhazian armies”.
So, management reform also concerned Abkhazia. In 1864 with the aim of “a settlement of internal order” the Abkhazian princedom was abolished and Russian control began with the formation of the Sukhum military department of the Russian empire. This coincided with the termination of the Caucasian war and defeat of Turkey in the Russian-Turkish war. The Governor-General of the Caucasus, in a letter of March 23rd, 1864 wrote to Alexander II: “... The independent position of Abkhazia made sense, while the east coast of the Black Sea was not attached to Russia”.
Analysing the period of existence of the autonomous sovereign state of Abkhazia as a part of the Russian empire, being under its high protection, it is possible to say that in the Russian empire, military departments were not state formations, and were created as temporary administrative structures. Military departments territorially corresponded to the former princedoms, as, for example, Sukhum to the Abkhazian princedom, or to arbitrary territories, as, for example, the Black Sea department to the occupied Adler-Sochi-Tuapse region.
The administrative structure of this colonial formation was as follows: the military districts headed by governors (representatives of the Governor-General of the Caucasus), being in the district centres, submitted to the Tsar’s Governor-General who had residence in Tiflis and submitted directly to the Tsar. This complete structure, which had incorporated all kingdoms and princedoms of the Central and Western Transcaucasia, for simplicity was called “Georgia” by Russian governors. However, in each of the princedoms of this formation the people named themselves according to their own ethnos (to a tribe or a nationality). The name "Georgians" was also used, but only as a certain generalising symbol which could be applied to any inhabitant of this territory. Anyway, ethnic Abkhazians never used this name concerning themselves.
It is especially necessary to note that during the existence of military departments, civil authorities and any local government were absent. There was a centralised military power, typical of all colonies in the world. When in need of decisions to questions which fell outside the limits of competence of these departments, under their management corresponding committees were created, to solve the vital issues in the lives of the local population. In these committees representatives of the local nobility and communities were involved. This absence of local government was one more sign of the transformation of Abkhazia into a colony of Russia.
However, even with the formation of a military department, nothing had changed regarding the formal and legal position of Abkhazia. The population structure of the country was monoethnic and so it remained; the territory of the country practically remained unvaried, and hence Abkhazia was de jure a sovereign state. Nevertheless, considerable de facto deviations from the normal development of a sovereign state actually took place, namely:
a) The creation of a military department meant that development of the state occurred under emergency conditions;
b) Retaliatory actions increased against dissatisfied people, especially after the Abkhazian revolts of 1866 and 1877, after which began the violent expulsion of Abkhazians from their dwelling-places;
c) The population of Abkhazia after suppression of the above-stated revolts was declared “rebellious and guilty” and then retaliatory sanctions followed;
d) The aggregate population of the country sharply decreased;
e) The military and civil authorities of the Russian empire started realisation of the plan of settling Abkhazian lands, released as a result of makhadjirstvo, with foreigners i.e. country colonisation began.
The Sukhum military department existed till 1883, and then was transformed after the next reorganisation, and in the form of the Sukhum military district became a part of the Kutais province, and for all this period till 1917 the country was ruled by a Governor-General directly submitting to the Russian Emperor. Though nothing formal changed for Abkhazia during the following period, some events which essentially affected the subsequent development of relations with the present state of Georgia actually took place:
1. Remaining in the form of the Abkhazian kingdom, the Abkhazian princedom, or even the Sukhum military department, Abkhazia had the possibility to keep ethnic uniformity (monoethnicism).
2. The statehood of the country, its laws and immigration policy, and later administrative and territorial separation from neighbours to the south, prevented penetration into the country and the free settlement of people of other ethnic groups.
3. The transfer in 1883 of the government of the military district to the territorial centre of governorship Kutais, and the absence of civil national ruling and control promoted formation of the official channel allowing representatives of other ethnoses to emigrate freely from southern provinces (Guria, Kartli, Mingrelia, etc.) and to settle in empty regions of Abkhazia.
4. Assistance with resettlement of the people in Abkhazia was rendered by the colonial policy of imperial Russia, directed towards replacement of rebellious people by unscrupulous marginals, which was easy to operate by means of a whip.
To the end of the century the number of settlers was still small, but in comparison to the size of the rest of the people who avoided being destroyed by genocide, it became dangerous as it laid the foundation for a change of demographic balance in Abkhazia.
The association of separate princedoms of Transcaucasia under the Russian majestic eagle had come to an end by 1878 with the joining to Russia of former Batum pashalyk (region), occupied mainly by Moslems. Imeretia together with Guria left the Georgian-Imeretian administrative region in 1864, as an independent administrative unit which received the name of the Kutais province. In the beginning its structure also included Ahaltsikhski district, and later Mingrelia, Abkhazia and part of Svanetia provinces also joined, with their former rulers submitting directly to Russia.
The most important element in the circumstances was that the people of this phantom state conveniently named by Russians as "Georgia", which Russia involuntarily joined at the end of XIX century, showed a special interest in the territory of the neighbouring country of Abkhazia, which it appeared (by means of Russia) possible to take without undue effort. The territory was devastated, entrance and settlement were unobstructed, counteraction from local authorities was absent (as were the authorities), and the Russian military administration not only did not interfere with such resettlement, but even welcomed it.
In the history of Abkhazia there were two attempts at replacement of the Abkhazian native ethnos by other nationalities. The first of them occurred in XIX century, as a result of the colonial policy of Russia. For this purpose, not wishing to have to stomach restless Abkhazians, Circassians, or Ubykhs, it made an attempt at removal of these rebellious people from their native lands. This generated makhadjirstvo, i.e. an exodus of the native people of Abkhazia to Turkey, Jordan, Syria and other countries of the Middle East. There was an undertaking to replace rebellious nationalities of the Caucasus with those more loyal, who in the south were Mingrelians and Gurians, and in the north were the Russian Cossacks who completely replaced Circassians in the Tuapse-Sochi area, up to the river Bzyb.
As V.A.Gurko-Kryazhin notes, “the artificial reduction in the size of the Abkhazian population is explained by three main reasons: its mass emigration as a result of a gain of the Caucasus by Russia and its wars with Turkey, the infiltration of Megrel-Kartvels assimilating natives of the country, and the colonial policy of the imperial government”. Thus, the colonial policy of Russia in 1864-1917 began an exodus of Abkhazians from the country and led to replacement of the native people by foreigners - in short, to a change in the ethno-demographic situation in the country. And the population of the central and western areas of Transcaucasia accepted the most active participation in this process.
The second large-scale attempt at replacement of the native Abkhazian people was undertaken by Georgia which continued colonisation of their country (Abkhazia) in a military expansion 1918-1921. Then later, Abkhazia became an autonomous republic within Georgia, and thereby entered the USSR through Georgia. The people of central Transcaucasia, encouraged by Russia from the end of XIX century, longed to live in Abkhazia. The country, as a result of makhadjirstvo, had been weakened and had lost the possibility of administratively protecting the territory, as is practised by all sovereign states of the world through limiting the entrance of foreigners for settlement by the use of quotas or other regulating measures.
Fig. 3. Changes in the population of Abkhazia according to census. Years of occurence of census are shown.
(абхазы = Abkhazians, грузины = Georgians, русские = Russians, армяне = Armenians, греки = Greeks)
Settling by Georgians of Abkhazia was well-planned and occurred so intensively that from 1918 to 1964 the number of Georgians in Abkhazia grew to 240 thousand persons, and in comparison with data from the first census increased by a factor of 60, having thereby exceeded the number of the indigenous population of Abkhazians five-fold (Fig. 3). Ethnoreplacement allowed Georgia and the government of the USSR to consider Abkhazian people as an ethnic minority, i.e. a crime against the native ethnos was committed. Thus, in Abkhazia, especially during its occupation by Georgia, genocide occurred. This name according to “the Dictionary of foreign words” derives from Greek genos - a sort or tribe, and Latin caedo - I kill, and it represents one of the worst crimes against humanity - the extermination of separate groups of the population according to racial, national-ethnic or religious identities. All actions by Georgia in relation to Abkhazia throughout practically all XX century were inspired by genocide, national chauvinism, military expansion, aggression and terrorism. Their purpose was annexation of the country and replacement of the Abkhazian ethnos by the Georgian majority, through eradication of all ethnic groups of the population: Russians, Armenians, Abkhazians, Greeks, Jews, etc., and the settling in Abkhazia of Georgians. All this occurred both before and after acceptance of the Operating Convention of December 9th, 1948 about the prevention of crimes of genocide and punishment for it.
There are incontestable documentary written sources (firstly Georgian), about the exact date of mass resettlement of Mingrelian peasants in Abkhazia after the termination of the Caucasian war, the abolition of an autonomous Abkhazian princedom in 1864 and the expulsion of Abkhazians (makhadjirstvo) to Turkey which followed the revolts of 1866 and 1877. J.Gogebashvili wrote in detail about it all in 1877 in the newspaper “Tiflis bulletin”, in a vast article entitled “Whom to occupy Abkhazia?”, in which the developed plan of colonisation of Abkhazia was given.
Eventually the military authorities, under pressure from the indignant population of Abkhazia, and having estimated the possible consequences of such ethnic diversion, blocked access of immigrants to Abkhazia. And here the second stage of action occurred - an ideological substantiation of the postulate that Abkhazians and "Georgians" are ethnically one people, immemorial friends and brothers. Those who opposed such a statement were enemies of Abkhazians and "Georgians" who have lived from ancient times in one territory, and for their protection and for that of already arrived settlers, the acceptance of emergency measures, up to military action, was necessary.
From the moment of transformation of the Sukhum military department to a district with its centre in Kutaisi, favourable conditions for ideological propaganda and sabotage against the Abkhazian people were created. From Tbilisi and Kutaisi political emissaries and other agents rushed to Abkhazia to prepare a base for the assimilation and seizure of the country. The press conducted incessant work to introduce into the consciousness of the population the idea of both ethnic and territorial unity of Abkhazians and so-called "Georgians". We give quotations from press publications of that time, filled with unctuous speeches:
“It is a cause of regret that Abkhazians stand in the way of intellectual regeneration whilst showing complete indifference to the question of national independence. The policy of Russification has already done so much that these people have completely split from their neighbours - the Georgians; this policy, because of wrong education, has intellectually spoilt these people who have forgotten that if Abkhazia should have something in common with anyone, it should be with neighbours, with Georgians to whom they are connected historically; and the geographical position of their native land is such that further than Georgia these people do not have any salvation”. (Article in “Tsnobis Purtseli” from April 1st, 1905, signed “Sukhumian”. Despite the publication date, it is obviously not an April Fools' joke. - authors).
Apparently from N.Djanashia's letter “Motley notes about Abkhazians and Abkhazia”, Georgians were very strongly disturbed by thoughts about the independent, liberated territory of Abkhazia:
“Georgian magazines and newspapers in recent years have almost forgotten that on the coast of the Black Sea Abkhazia is located, its fate connected with the bitter past of Georgia. Though Abkhazians are hardly close relations of the Georgian tribe (at last it is told correctly!), it is also true that this remarkable corner, as fresh as spring, (notice that this is the country, not the people!) has been connected and united with Georgia: joining together with it has time and again drained the historical bowl filled with a bitter drink. Even if it had not been, today's interests of Abkhazians and Georgians are so bound, that leaving them without attention has been an inexcusable and irreparable sin of Georgian magazines and newspapers. In 1897 there was an order not to give any part of the area of settlement (Ochamchira and Gudauta) to "natives". Thus, the "natives" (Abkhazian and Georgian?) have been deprived of the right of acquisition of private property. Now I wish to note, as times and circumstances have changed, that nowadays very many care for them and caress them, if only to destroy and put an end to the small remains of a historical link uniting Abkhazians and Georgians over many centuries... Unless the Georgian nationality hinders in this matter? Certainly not. Georgians have undergone national oppression, and this bitter experience is a pledge that they themselves will never incur the role of executioner, let alone the executioner of not one person, but all people!” (“Droeba”, 1909).
Later in many works about the occupation of Abkhazia by Georgia in 1918, and up to the war of 1992-1993, it was shown that the Georgian mini-imperialists and national chauvinists, in relation to the Abkhazian people, actually became executioners and murderers.
In the press of that time incorrect data about the population of Abkhazia misrepresented its ethno-demographic structure, but simultaneously showed anxiety about the beginning of resistance of the Abkhazian people to ethnic expansion. We will give an example of this from S.Pirtskhalava's article "Forgotten land" - about the situation in Abkhazia.
“The majority of inhabitants of Samurzakan, which stretches to Ochamchira, are Megrelians... Ochamchira today is a completely Megrel settlement... There is no link with the rest of Georgia, and the local pulse does not join to the general pulse of the native land.
In Sukhumi there are now more than 40 thousand inhabitants. The majority are Georgians, Russians are 15 thousand, Armenians are 5500. And in the property plan the first position is occupied by Georgians... Local Georgians thirst to live a national life and wish to link closely with the rest of our country.
... The sharp question for Sukhumi and for the whole district is the Georgian-Abkhazian mutual relationship. It should not be forgotten that Abkhazians have given high political and cultural merit to our native land. In VIII century our revival began from Abkhazia”. (“Sakhalho Purtseli”, October 25th, 1915).
Thank God at least one has told the real truth, that today's Georgia was constructed by Abkhazian hands and minds. Thanks! It is to be hoped that this has reached today's Georgian leaders and politicians. And as to the numbers of separate ethnic groups living in Sukhumi, the author did not indicate how many Abkhazians were there, believing that Georgians were the main people in the city, and ranking all ethnic Abkhazians to them.
It will be pertinent here to give the following example from the directory "Caucasus" for 1903. On page 226 the following statistical data are published:
“Inhabitants about 180 thousand souls, which in percentage terms rate as follows: Armenians - about 40 percent, Georgians - almost 25 percent, Russians - about 20 percent, and the remainder of 15 percent - Persians, Tatars, Germans, Turks, Jews, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Czechs and others”.
What do you think - where was such structure of the population? In Yerevan? No, in Tiflis, nowadays Tbilisi – the capital of Georgia. Therefore, before you complain about your neighbour’s house, take a look at your own.
And here is what N.Djanashia wrote about the Georgian-Abkhazian mutual relationship: “Dark forces spread mean gossip and fairy tales here, as if Georgians prepare for destruction of Abkhazians and capture of their lands and manors”. Only today is it possible to appreciate the truth of these words, having compared them with what has been done by Georgia in Abkhazia during all these years. After comparing the above-stated citations with quotations from the press and the materials of the Georgian historians quoted in the second chapter, inevitably there will be this conclusion: the main weapon of the Georgian politicians, and naturally historians and the press, was not even double, but threefold morality: one was spoken, another was meant, and the third was carried out. Behind tender words and the alleged expression of care there was a rigid pragmatism, aggression and despotism.
Already then, at the beginning of XX century, and developed under the revolutionary movement trend in Russian program documents, the following was provided:
From the program of the Constitution-Democratic party of Georgia.
“With the establishment in Russia of the new political system, all nations, and in particular Georgia, must acquire the right of establishment of autonomous control. In autonomous Georgia civil freedom must be established and the rights of national minorities will be inviolable. The borders of autonomous Georgia will be defined by an extra-ordinary meeting consisting of freely selected deputies from Tiflis and Kutais provinces and the Batum, Sukhum and Zakatal districts.”
What cynicism must have been possessed to assume that as a part of the future national-state formation, "Georgia" would receive autonomy for only one people, and all other ethnoses of Transcaucasia would become in its structure "national minorities". Here it was decided to deprive Abkhazia of sovereignty, to take away its territory and to define its ethnos with a centuries-old history as being in a "national minority" position. Then also the idea appeared of defining the border of “the autonomous state of Georgia” not on the basis of historically developed states, but by the decision of district representatives, under the condition that all regions controlled by Governors-General would automatically enter the new autonomous state. Apparently from the document, nobody asked for the consent of administrative formations which earlier became a part of Russia as independent states, and later, by a power decision, were included in the structure of military districts and regions controlled by Governors-General.
In conclusion it would be desirable to say yes, since 1846 the state structure of Abkhazia as sovereign de facto, in the full sense of this phrase, did not exist. But after all, other princedoms which entered at various times into the structure of Russia also did not exist as independent states. There was only Russia with a region controlled by a Governor-General in Transcaucasia, and military districts or departments in the territory occupied by armies with military management.
Formally, Sukhum district existed till 1919 and introduced into the development of Abkhazia both negative and positive elements. On the positive side, it is possible to refer to a wide cultural exchange between Russia and Abkhazia, and the help of Russia in the creation of modern Abkhazian writing, which is based upon the Cyrillic alphabet.
For the negative influence, it is necessary to refer to: the violent entrance of elements of Russian culture and routine into the lives of the Abkhazian population, who had a culture based upon centuries-old traditions and laws of the mountain people; autocratic (without consideration of the opinions of the people or decisions of the Abkhazian state institutes) settling of Abkhazian lands by immigrants from other regions which led to changes in the demographic situation of the country; the beginning of the destruction of the Abkhazian ethnos and creation of conditions for the suppression of consciousness of the Abkhazian ethnos by other ethnoses; and the beginning of ideological diversion, which justified the subsequent annexation of the country by Georgia.
On the basis of the above it is possible to draw the following conclusions:
1) To the beginning of XIX century Abkhazia de jure and de facto was an independent state within outlined geographical borders, the subject of international law, and capable of entering into international agreements.
2) Abkhazia, unlike Georgia, had not completely lost its statehood after joining to Russia. From July 1810 to June 1864, and actually till 1883, the Abkhazian princedom kept “autonomous status” as a part of the Russian empire, and it still was considered as a princedom ruled by national princes Chachba - Sharvashidze. Abkhazia became a part of the Russia empire independently, as a sovereign state and a subject of world politics, and at the moment of reception of the Charter from the Russian empire, Abkhazia officially de jure and de facto confirmed the sovereignty which it had possessed since VIII century that was fixed by legal documents.
3) According to the text of “The Highest Manifesto on the joining of Georgia to Russia”, the borders of "Georgia" were defined, but they did not include not only the territory of Abkhazia, but also Mingrelia, Guria, Imeretia and Svanetia.
4) As follows from the text of the Petition, Abkhazia asked for the protection of Russia forever, i.e. eternal preservation of the sovereignty of Abkhazia under the protectorate of Russia was meant.
5) After abolition of the Abkhazian princedom and the bloody revolts of 1866 and 1877, Abkhazians because of numerous protests were declared a “guilty population” by the imperial government. Tens of thousands of Abkhazians were compelled to leave their native land and move to Turkey and the countries of the Middle East, and in their place, beginning from 70-80th years of XIX century, representatives of other people, mainly Megrelians, rushed in from adjoining areas. The ethno-demographic situation in the country began to vary sharply. Uncontrollable settling of Abkhazia became so intensive that it started to worry the imperial authorities. The stream of immigrants was limited, but the process nevertheless proceeded continuously.
6) Sovereign Abkhazia, by a powerful order due to a decision of the tsar, in 1864 “ lost independence” (which confirms the existence of the sovereignty of the country until that moment). The thesis “Russia stopped the existence of the Abkhazian princedom”, i.e. deprived de jure Abkhazia of its sovereignty in 1864, is incorrect, as Russia was not competent to deprive Abkhazia of its sovereignty, and in reality colonisation, as a retaliatory action of the Russian empire against Abkhazia and its people, took place. Therefore the liquidation agreement regarding the de facto sovereignty and deprivation of statehood of Abkhazia by Russia in 1864 has no validity, because the power change in the Abkhazian state system and its placement within the Russian empire was not included in the request for protection. Hence an infringement by Russia of its international obligations took place according to this agreement.
7) The decree of 1864 in which Russia attached Abkhazia to itself never had and could not have any validity, as in its basis it did not lay down bona fide one word about either the right of the conqueror, or the right of hereditary territorial possession, or any of the other norms demanded by the rules of international law.
8) At the same time it is impossible to consider an acquisition of one territory violently united with another territory during the presence there of military, or civil but generated by means of military force, government, as the loss of de jure sovereignty. Also, it is impossible to separate, and use as legally significant, the annexation or capture during any period of one state by another during civil war or formation of the statehood of the country.
9) The resistance of the Abkhazian people to innovations generated by Russian colonial policy, and the forceful suppression of that resistance, led to makhadjirstvo and to a devastation of the Abkhazian lands. This was the beginning of the genocide of Abkhazian people which was continued during almost the next two centuries by Russia, and later by the USSR and Georgia.
10) During the period between 1810 and 1917, Abkhazia did not transfer its sovereignty to anybody.
11) Loss of both the statehood and the sovereignty of Abkhazia during the period of the Russian empire controlling the Caucasus from 1883 to 1917, and also during the revolution and de facto disintegration of the Russian empire, is not the reason for the termination of its existence subsequently, with the arrival of other interstate and international circumstances. This status of Abkhazia de jure remained, as its formal liquidation was illegal.
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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