Prof. George Hewitt

Sample-pages of Abkhaz from 1941

The ‘Abkhazian Internet-Library’ ( is an excellent source for gaining access to a wide range of publications, many/most of which would be difficult (if not absolutely impossible) to obtain in the form of original hard copies. A rarity among such rarities (not only on the said website but generally) is any work in Abkhaz that appeared after the Georgian script was imposed on the language in 1938. It is worth recalling that during the years 1936 and 1938 the USSR’s so-called ‘Young Written Languages’ (viz. those for which scripts had been devised in the early years of the Soviet state’s existence, mostly for the first time, following the decision to award official literary status to the relevant languages) had whatever script had been sanctioned for use at the time replaced by one utilising a Cyrillic base, the only exceptions being Abkhaz and the Ossetic of South Ossetia, two languages which just happened to be spoken in Stalin’s homeland of Georgia — the Ossetic of North Ossetia (in Russia) was moved to Cyrillic! Quite apart from the economic austerity resulting from the USSR’s entry into World War II, Stalin’s repressive measures undertaken against Abkhaz and its speakers from 1937 to 1953 saw the teaching of Abkhaz withdrawn during the school-year 1945-46, when all Abkhaz-language schools were summarily closed and pupils of Abkhazian ethnicity transferred to Georgian-language schools; this downgrading of the language in education was followed by its banning in publishing and broadcasting during Stalin’s final years.

A PDF-file of at least one volume illustrating Abkhaz in the Georgian script that can be found on the Internet-Library (at is a school-primer by Dmitry Gulia, universally styled ‘The Father of Abkhazian Literature’; his primer in the immediately preceding script (viz. the Unified Abkhaz Alphabet, designed by Nikolaj Jakovlev and introduced in 1928) is also included on the same website (at Among several other works from Gulia’s pen that can be accessed there is his rendition into Abkhaz of the Georgian national epic The Man in the Panther-skin by Shota Rust(a)veli (fl. c.1200). The uploaded text comes from the edition which appeared in 1984 (as the 4th volume of the author’s collected works in six tomes) and is naturally in the post-Stalinist Cyrillic-based script[1]. As for Gulia’s translation of Rust(a)veli, the work was originally published in a large-format edition in 1941, and this bibliographical rarity is, of course, in the Georgian-based alphabet, but it is not (?yet) available on the Internet-Library. Now, whilst the 1984 edition contains no Introduction/Preface, an 11-page Foreward was written to accompany its publication in 1941, though its author was not the translator. The Foreword was composed by Mikhail Konstantinovich Delba.

Delba (1905-1991), pedagogue, author and politician, headed the Presidium of Abkhazia’s Supreme Soviet during the fateful years 1938-48 and thereafter continued as Chairman of Abkhazia’s Council of Ministers until 1953, the year of Stalin’s and Beria’s deaths. His entry in the Abkhazian Biographical Dictionary (in Russian) of 2015 includes the observation: ‘In the years of Stalinist-Beriaite repressions he was one of the champions of the chauvinist policies of the Georgian ruling circles against the Abkhazian people. But all these activities were condemned by him in a letter to the Abkhazian Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia of 1 October 1953. Subsequently he did quite a lot for the country in order to exculpate his guilt before the people’. In 1941 Delba published a 38-page book(let) in Russian entitled Shota Rustaveli and his “Man in the Panther-skin” to appear alongside Gulia’s translation. Naturally, the 11-page Foreward to the book represents an abbreviated version of the content of the author’s book(let).  Delba’s book(let) is among the uploads to the Internet-Library and can be located there at the address: — indeed, the text that starts beneath the star on p.10 begins by mirroring exactly what appears at the start of the author’s Foreward. This can be confirmed by anyone who knows Russian and Abkhaz, is familiar with the Georgian alphabet, and has access to both texts. So, since I believe that (at least some) students of Abkhaz would appreciate the chance to see what an extended Abkhaz text (not designed for children, as in the case of most of the material in Gulia’s primer of 1940) looks like in the Georgian-based orthography, I have decided to post here the otherwise inaccessible Foreward by Delba along with the title-page plus three pages of Gulia’s actual translation (for comparison with the Cyrillic-based edition of the same in the 1984 publication[2]) in the hope that my belief is not unfounded.

[1].  Interestingly, Bagrat’ Dzhanashia’s Abkhaz-Georgian Dictionary, which was published in 1954, the year a new Cyrillic-based orthography was introduced, employed the Georgian-based script; this was because the lexicon had been prepared when the Georgian-based system was obligatory, but actual publication was impossible earlier, as nothing was being published in Abkhaz by the time it was finally ready.

[2]. In addition to the scans from the 1941 publication, also appended below is one of the table published in the now-defunct Georgian-language regional newspaper ‘Soviet Abkhazia’ (sabch’ota apxazeti) on 3 April 1954 by way of introducing readers to the newly devised (by a committee!) Cyrillic-based script for Abkhaz in recognition both of its (?restored) status as an official language of the USSR and of the Abkhazians’ rejection of any possibility of seeing their language once more represented in a Georgian-based alphabet. Even though relatively little had been published since 1938 in this script, the Georgian characters being replaced are shewn encircled above their respective replacements. 

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