Abkhazians, or Abkhaz, are a Northwest Caucasian ethnic group, largely living in Abkhazia, a disputed region on the Black Sea’s northeastern coast. A large Abkhaz diaspora population lives in Turkey, the roots of which lie in the population migrations from the Caucasus in the mid-19th century. Many Abkhaz also live in other members of the then Soviet Union, particularly in Ukraine and Russia.
History of Abkhazians
Some historians deem the ancient Heniochi tribe the ancestors of the Abkhaz. This warlike person came into touch with Ancient Greeks through the Dioskourias and Pitiuntas colonies. In the Golden Roman days, the Abasgoi are recorded as a tribe inhabiting the territory.
These Abkhaz (Abasgoi) were reported by Procopius as warlike, worshippers of three gods, under the Kingdom of Lazica’s suzerainty. The Abkhazian view is that the Abasgoi and Apsilae are ancestors of the Abkhaz–Adyghe tribes, while the Georgian idea is that those were Colchians (Georgians or Kartvelians).
Lazica was a vassal state of the Byzantine Empire throughout most of its presence. Later they established the independent Kingdom of Abkhazia and the territory became a part of the Georgian cultural world. The local clergy, nobility, and educated class exclusively used Georgian as a language of culture and literacy. Georgian would stay as the second language for many Abkhaz tribes until the Russian language replaced it in the mid-20th century. From the preceding 11th to the 15th century CE, Abkhazia was a member of the all-Georgian monarchy but then became a diifferent Principality of Abkhazia only to be conquered by the invading Ottomans.
Towards the dawn of the 17th century, the territory became a field of extensive piracy and slave trade. According to a controversial theory promoted by Pavle Ingorokva in the 1950s, a number of the Northwest Caucasian pagan Abaza tribes moved from the north and blended with the regional ethnic elements, significantly transforming the region’s demographic scenario. These opinions were reported as ethnocentric and having little actual support.
They served as academic support to the Stalin-era absorption policy and profoundly shaped Georgian nationalism in the mid-1980s.
The Russian invasion of Abkhazia from the 1810s to the 1860 CE was followed by a massive purge of Muslim Abkhaz to the invading Ottoman Empire and the introduction of a firm Russification policy. As a result, the vibrant Abkhaz diaspora is currently assessed to measure at least twice the Abkhaz population in Abkhazia. The largest portion of the diaspora now lives in Turkey, with estimations ranging from 80,000 to 400,000, with smaller tribes in Syria (3,000 – 6,000) and parts of Jordan. Some of these have vividly emigrated to the West recently, principally to the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France, the United States (mainly to New Jersey), and Austria.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 CE, Abkhazia was a member of the Democratic Republic of Georgia but was conquered by the communist Red Army in 1921 CE and ultimately joined the Soviet Union as the Soviet Socialist Republic profoundly associated with the Georgian SSR. The Abkhazia status was lowered in 1931 CE when it became an Autonomous SSR within the Georgian SSR. Under Joseph Stalin, forcible collectivization was introduced, and the native communist elite purged. The influx of Russians, Armenians, and Georgians into the growing tourism and agricultural sectors was also encouraged, and Abkhaz schools were temporarily closed. By 1989, the number of Abkhaz was about 90,000 (18% of the self-governing republic population), while the Georgian population numbered 250,000 (45%). The number of Russians (14%) and Armenians (15% of the entire population) grew considerably as well.