Abkhazia profile

Map of Abkhazia

Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia in 1999. Georgia continues to regard it as a breakaway region.

Situated in the north-western corner of Georgia with the Black Sea to the south-west and the Caucasus mountains and Russia to the north-east, Abkhazia was once known as a prime holiday destination for the Soviet elite.

Abkhazia's battle for independence from Georgia since the collapse of the USSR reduced the economy to ruins. More recent times have seen major Russian investment in the territory, as Moscow seeks to consolidate its influence.

Abkhazia's long history was always closely intertwined with that of Georgia, although its language is unrelated and is closer to several spoken in the North Caucasus.

At a glance

View of the coast at Sukhumi
  • Broke away from Georgia in 1992-1993 war
  • De-facto independence recognised by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Vanuatu and Nauru
  • Ceasefire in force, Russian peacekeepers in place
  • Georgia says Russian troops propping up separatist state
  • Georgian offer of autonomy within federal state rejected by Abkhazia

Profile compiled by BBC Monitoring

From the 9th century BC onwards, it was part of the Georgian-dominated kingdom of Colchis. The area adopted Christianity in the sixth century.

In the 8th century AD, Abkhazia became an independent state, before being united with the medieval kingdom of Georgia in 1008. In the 19th century, the wider region came under Russian domination, and in 1864 Abkhazia was annexed to the Russian Empire.

After the Bolshevik revolution, Abkhazia gained a measure of autonomy, before Stalin incorporated it into the Soviet union republic of Georgia in 1931.

Despite formally remaining an autonomous republic of the USSR, there was very little sign of genuine autonomy, and Abkhaz ethnic culture was suppressed in favour of Georgian. The policy of repression was eased soon after Stalin's death in 1953.

At the time of the collapse of the USSR in 1991, less than a fifth of the people of Abkhazia were ethnic Abkhaz, while the rest of the population was made up largely of Georgians.

When Georgia became independent, supporters of a break with Georgia in favour of independence and closer ties with Russia became more vociferous. Tension grew, and in 1992 Georgia sent troops to enforce the status quo.

Key dates

Russian troops cross into Abkhazia
  • 756 - Independent kingdom formed
  • 985 - Becomes part of Georgia, later regaining independence
  • 1578 - Comes under Turkish rule
  • 1810 - Russia declares Abkhazia a protectorate
  • 1864 - Russia annexes Abkhazia
  • 1931 - Soviet authorities incorporate Abkhazia into Georgia
  • 1991 - Georgia declares independence
  • 1992 - Georgia sends troops to stop Abkhazia breaking away
  • 1993 - Fierce fighting ends with Georgian forces being expelled from Abkhazia
  • 1994 - Ceasefire agreed, peacekeepers arrive, nearly all Russian
  • 1999 - Abkhazia declares independence
  • 2004 - New Georgian president Saakashvili vows to restore Georgia's territorial integrity and return Abkhazia, South Ossetia to the fold
  • 2008 - Russia formally recognises Abkhazia's independence, following the Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia
  • 2009 - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits
  • 2010 - Moscow deploys S-300 anti-aircraft missiles in Abkhazia after a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
  • 2014 - President Ankvab resigns following opposition protests

In late 1993, they were driven out in fierce fighting. Several thousand people were killed, and nearly the entire Georgian-speaking population fled the republic in what Georgia describes as a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Abkhazia formally declared independence in 1999, resulting in an international economic embargo that is still in force. It has left Abkhazia's economy highly dependent on Russia, which maintains a border crossing and railway line to Sukhumi.

Moscow infuriated Georgia by making it easy for people in Abkhazia to gain Russian citizenship, and most now hold Russian passports.

For nearly 15 years, UN peacekeepers - mainly composed of Russians - patrolled a buffer zone on the border between the two sides.

However, in August 2008, during the war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, Russian army troops moved through Abkhazia and pushed into Georgia proper, effectively using the region to open another front with Georgia.

Meanwhile, Abkhaz forces drove Georgian troops out of the only area of Abkhazia still under Georgian control - the Kodori gorge.

After the 2008 conflict, Moscow declared that it would formally recognise the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia's allies Nicaragua and Venezuela followed suit, as did a number of small Pacific island states.

In October 2008, Russia pulled its troops back to the Abkhaz-Georgian border, but stationed a large force in the breakaway republic, with the agreement of the Abkhaz government.

The next year, Moscow also vetoed an extension of the UN peacekeeping mission, and signed a five-year agreement with Abkhazia to take formal control of its frontiers with Georgia proper.

Abkhazia's Kodori gorge Abkhaz militia seized control of the Kodori gorge from Georgian forces in 2008

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