Abkhazia: a problem of identity and ownership

"Abkhazia: a problem of identity and ownership", Central  Asian Survey 12.3, 1993, 267-323. (Earlier versions also in Journal of Nationalities &Transcaucasian Boundaries, edited by John Wright, Suzanne Goldenberg, Richard Schofield, 1996, UCL Press, 190-225).

The Abkhazians living in Turkey have preserved very well the customs, language and dances  carried  there  from  Abkhazia  by  their  ancestors.  The etiquette  of  the Abkhazians  (apswara)  is  strictly observed. Of  late  they have been asking us  to send them copies of the alphabet, books, teaching manuals, films on Abkhazia, recordings of  songs,  language-primers.  In  hundreds  of  letters  sent  to  the  homeland  there resounds a passionate longing to become acquainted with  the  life and culture of  the Abkhazians residing  in  the motherland, and we believe  that  the  time will soon come when many of  them,  setting  foot on  the  soil of  their  forebears, will  say:  ‘Greetings, our father Caucasus, greetings, our mother Apsny!’...

The collective History of Abkhazia (in Russian), Sukhum, 1991, page 281.

The  first variant of  this paper was composed  for The Nationalities’ Journal  (New York)  in  the  summer  of  1991,  when  the  ex-dissident  and  rabid demagogue  Zviad Gamsakhurdia still headed the government in Tbilisi and before the Soviet regime had collapsed in the wake of the failed August coup. The second variant was an up-date to the  middle  of  June  1992,  taking  account  of  events  following  the  overthrow  of Gamsakhurdia and  the return  to Georgia of former Party Boss Eduard Shevardnadze to head the (then still illegitimate) State Council. This variant was delivered at SOAS’ Conference  on Transcaucasian Boundary Disputes  (15  June)  and will  appear  in  the volume arising out of that conference. A further adaptation and up-date to 11 October 1992  (the day of Georgia’s ‘democratic’ elections  in which Shevardnadze, being  the only candidate  for head of state, duly received his  ‘personal  triumph’) was prepared for  submission  to  the  Parliamentary  Human  Rights’  Group  at the  invitation  of  its chairman Lord Avebury. This variant  took account of  the open war  that had broken out  between  Abkhazia  and  Georgia  on  14  August  and  was  without  some of the academic  notes  and  bibliography  of  its  predecessors.  The  present  version  restoressome  of  those  notes  plus  the  bibliography,  incorporates the  English  translation  of certain relevant documents, expands the history (particularly for the years 1917-1921) and up-dates current events to the end of 1992.

B.G. Hewitt (Reader in Caucasian Languages),
SOAS, London University.

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