Abkhazia's history has millennia-old roots. The fertile lands of Abkhazia were actively settled in the late Paleolithic Age, 35 thousand years ago. Mesolithic settlements founded in the 12000-7000 BC have been unearthed. People had settled in caves near rivers, and engaged in fishing and gathering, as testified by the bone harpoons and fish bones found near their dwellings.
In the Neolithic Age, approximately 6000-4000 BC, man begins making clay pottery and constructing the first man-made dwellings. People begin to farm the land and tame animals. At the turn of 4000-3000 BC, the inhabitants of Abkhazia were already fashioning metal tools, first out of copper and then bronze. At the end of 3000 and the beginning of 2000 BC, they began building Dolmen tombs. The stone tombs can be found throughout Abkhazian territory, with the highest concentration in the area of Otkhara village (Gudauta district), where 15 tombs weighing 60 to 110 tons have been found. In the late Bronze Age entombments, archeologists have found bronze axes, spearheads, and various jewelry and pottery.
The First Cities
In VIII century BC, the Abkhaz coast of the Black Sea began to be settled by seafarers from mainland Greece. They founded the first cities in peaceful, convenient bays in VI-I centuries BC: Dioscurias (modern-day Sukhum), Pitiunt (Pitsunda), Triglite (Gagra), Gyenos (Ochamchira), and others. Soon these colony towns became cultural and historical centers on the Black Sea coast, where various handicrafts flourished and trading was active.
The Romans replaced the Greeks and strengthened their positions in Abkhazia in the 1st century AD, in the times of Roman Emperor Augustus. It is then that the antique Dioscuriada received the new name of Sebastopolis.
According to a Christian legend, in 55 AD, Jesus Christ's disciples, the Apostles Simon the Zealot and Andrew came to Abkhazia to preach Christianity. Simon the Zealot died a martyr's death on the banks of River Psyrtskha and was buried there.
Christianity came to Abkhazia with Roman soldiers, of whom three cohorts (a cohort is a troop of up to 500 warriors) were quartered in Pitiunt, Sebastopolis and Ziganis (today, Gudava village of Ochamchira district). By late 3rd-early 4th century, Pitiunt was home to the oldest Christian commune in Caucasus. In 325 AD, Stratophilus, the Bishop of Pitiunt, represented it at the First Council of Nicaea.
In the beginning of the 4th century, Abkhazia came under the dominion of the Byzantine Empire. At this point in time, Apsyls, Abazgs, and Misiminians had formed a tribal union, and feudal relationships began to surface in the societal structure. The conversion to Christianity in 548 AD further contributed to the development of feudalism.
Battle of Anacopia
At the end of VII century in Western Transcaucasia invaded Arabs. They reached Apsilia and placed their garrisons.In 738 AD, Arabs under the leadership of Mervan Kru (Mervan the Deaf) invaded Abkhazia. They destroyed many fortresses and the seashore side of the Abkhazian Wall, occupied Tskhum (modern-day Sukhum), but were defeated near the walls of Anacopia (modern-day Novy Afon) and fled from Abkhazia.
Marwan army was like “a dark cloud of locusts and mosquitoes”, it was greater than forces of Anakopia. This inequality was offset by the capacity of walls of the Anakopia fortress. Its southern wall, which length is 450 m, was equipped with seven towers of a quadrangular and semicircular shape. These towers spaced at a distance of 30-50 m. The walls and towers had catapults or other propelling machinery to cover the enemy with arrows and stones. Behind the round many-tiered angle tower were carefully protected gate. Between the towers were wickets through which the defenders made their sorties.But the most of Arab men have died of epidemic cholera. So Mervan had to retreat.
At the end of the 8th century, an early feudal state had formed on Abkhazian territory: the Abkhazian Kingdom, populated by Adygh, Abkhaz, and Georgian tribes. The borders of the kingdom stretched from the modern-day Tuapse to Surami Pass. In the 9th century Georgian chronicles, this event, momentous for Transcaucasia, is described as follows: "When the Greeks weakened, the Eristavi [Duke] named Leon, the nephew of Eristavi Leon who was given Abkhazia as his barony, seceded from them. This second Leon was the son of the daughter of the Khazar Tsar, and (using) their (the Khazars') strength, he seceded from the Greeks, seized Abkhazia, and named himself the King of the Abkhaz." This early on, the Abkhazian Kingdom had already received "international recognition." Leon II moved the capital from Anacopia (modern-day New Athos) to Kutaisi. Economy and culture prospered in the Abkhazian Kingdom, and palaces, temples, and architectural ensembles were erected.
Abkhazian Kingdom flourished for 200 years. Its fall began with the death of the childless King Theodosius the Blind. Abkhazia became a part of the united Georgian state. In the 13th century, the breakdown of the "kingdom of Abkhaz and Kartlians (Georgians)" into separate principalities began.
Italians in Abkhazia
In the second half of the 13th century, a Genoese merchant fleet showed up in Abkhazian coastal waters. Genoese trading posts (factorias) were established in many places in Abkhazia: Gacary (modern-day Gagra), Pezonda (modern-day Pitsunda), Cavo di Buxo (modern-day Gudauta), Nicoffa (modern-day New Athos), Sevastopoli or San-Sebastian (modern-day Sukhum), Cavo Zizibar (near modern-day Adzyubzha), San Tommaso (modern-day Tamish), and others. Sevastopoli was the central Genoese settlement and served as the residence of the head of all Italian settlements in the Caucasus. The Genoese were mainly preoccupied with trade, and the most important commodity shipped through Black Sea ports from the Orient to Western Europe was silk. Three Transcaucasian offshoots of the Silk Road lay through Abkhazia, connecting Genoa with the Golden Horde.
Principality of Abkhazia and Turkey
In the second half of the 15th century, after Constantinople had been seized by Turks, the Turkish navy arrived in Abkhazia, and a short while later, the Genoese left the Black Sea Coast. By that time, Abkhazia was ruled by the Shervashidze (Chachba) family, who were striving to free themselves from the influence of Mingrelian rule. The internal war between Abkhazian and Mingrel feudal lords lasted 30 years. At the end of it, a state border was established between Abkhaz and Kartvelians along the Inguri River, and more than 300 years later, it remains in its place.
In the first half of the 17th century, Turks besieged Sevastopoli from the sea. Abkhaz feudal lords were forced to agree to pay tribute. In 1634, Turkish troops disembarked near Kodori Cape. The Turks devastated and ransacked the territory and imposed tribute on the feudal lords. In 1724, the Turks built a fortress on the Sevastopoli shore and named it Sohumkale. That also became the name of the town. Political and economic contacts with the Ottoman Empire led to the spread of Islam across Abkhazian territory.
In the beginning of the 18th century, during the rule of Kelesh-Bey Chachba (Shervashidze), the Principality of Abkhazia once again strengthened its positions and its navy began controlling the Black Sea coast from Anapa to Batum.
Abkhazia Under Russian Protection
In the 19th century, Russia and Turkey were at war, each trying to strengthen its foothold on the Black Sea coast. In July 1810, Russian navy took Sohumkale fortress by storm. Abkhazia, with the exception of free highlander communities, was annexed to Russia. 1810 is considered to be the year when Abkhazia first came under Russian protection. In the same year, up to five thousand Abkhaz moved to Turkey. It was the first migration wave in the 19th century.
One of the distinguishing traits of the Principality of Abkhazia was that it, unlike Georgia, did not completely lose its sovereignty despite when it was annexed to Russia. From 1810 to 1864, the Principality of Abkhazia kept its autonomous rule within Russian Empire and lasted longer than others in the Caucasus.
In June 1864, the Principality of Abkhazia was abolished and renamed into the Sukhum Military District of the Russian Empire. On the eve of the abolishment of the Principality of Abkhazia, Caucasus Governor Michael Romanov presented his plan for colonizing the east coast of the Black Sea. Alexander II approved the plan to give the stretch from the mouth of the Kuban River to Inguri River to Cossacks for settling. At this time, nearly all Ubykh and Sadz people resettled in Turkey (up to 45 thousand people and 20 thousand people, respectively).
Muhajirism and the "Guilt" of the Abkhaz
In 1866, a revolt broke out in Lykhny village and spread all the way to Sukhum. The main cause of public resentment was the preparations underway for a peasant reform. Russian officials did not take into account the local attitudes in a country in which, unlike Russia, Georgia, and the neighboring Mingrelia, there had been no serfdom. After the rebellion was smashed, Abkhazia was punished with purge after purge, followed by complete disarmament of the population, up to having their daggers requisitioned. Those who had taken part in the mutiny were exiled by Tsar's government to extremely inclement areas in Northern Russia and Siberia. In April-June of 1867, approximately 20 thousand people became muhajir, or forced migrants to Turkey.
The siding of the Abkhaz with the Turks in the course of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878 resulted in political repressions. For participating in this rebellion, Abkhaz were declared to be a "guilty" population, and were placed into penal servitude and sent into exile to remote Russian provinces. In 1877, the muhajir movement, i.e. mass migration of Abkhaz to Turkey, reached its peak: another 50,000 native people had left Abkhazia. The country was basically deserted to be resettled by other peoples, primarily Georgians (mainly Mingrels), as well as Russians, Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians, Estonians, and Germans. Thus, whereas in 1886, the Abkhaz had made up 85.7% of Abkhazia's population, in 1897 they comprised only 55.3%.
New Times and Soviet Government in Abkhazia
In the second half of the 19th century, Abkhazia still occupied an in-between position between democratic free highlander communities of the Northwestern Caucasus and Georgia's feudal system. Yet, in spirit, its social structure was closer to the Cherkesso-Ubykh social order.
After the Russian Empire fell apart, Abkhazia joined the Union of the People of North Caucasus and the Southeastern Union. On November 8, 1917, at a congress of Abkhaz people, the first parliament was elected, the Abkhaz People's Council, which adopted a Constitution and Declaration of the Abkhaz people.
On March 4, 1921, Bolsheviks pronounced Abkhazia under Soviet rule and announced it to be a new Soviet Socialist Republic. On February 19, 1931, at the 6th All-Georgian Council Congress in Tbilisi, a decision was made to restructure the Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic into an autonomous republic incorporated into the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
National Liberation Movement On the Rise
Before the falling apart of the Soviet Union, when the national liberation movement was on the rise in all republics, Abkhazia was fighting for a higher administrative status. Georgia's parliament began to unilaterally pass resolutions (acts of 1989-1990) that ignored the intergovernmental nature of the relationship between Abkhazia and Georgia, and, in essence, led to the abolishment of Abkhazian national identity.
In order to overcome the lack of legal regulation between the republics, on July 23, 1992, Abkhazia's Supreme Council passed the resolution to restore to effect Abkhazia's Constitution of 1925 on Abkhazian territory, and adopted a new Flag and Coat of Arms for the Republic of Abkhazia.
On August 14, 1992, Georgia, which had just joined the UN, had launched a war against Abkhazia. Georgian troops, including aviation, armored troops, and artillery, invaded Abkhazia and occupied part of its territory. In addition to physical extermination of people living in Abkhazia, cultural genocide was also performed. Abkhazian historical and cultural monuments were destroyed, and most valuable historical documents, linguistic materials, rare books and manuscripts had perished.
On September 30, 1993, the entire territory of Abkhazia was finally freed from occupation. Victory came at a high price: approximately 3000 people gave their lives for Abkhazia's freedom and independence.
On November 26, 1994, Abkhazian Parliament adopted Abkhazia's new Constitution, and Vladislav G. Ardzinba was elected as the country's first president.
From December 1994 until September 1999, Abkhazia and its people were subjected to political, economic, and informational blockade. Yet despite the complications of the post-war time, the country's economy, culture, sciences, education, and resort business began to recover. In October 1999, Abkhazia's multinational population, in the course of a country-wide vote, voted for the declaration of Abkhazia's independence, passing an according state law.
On August 26, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed state decrees recognizing Abkhazia's independence. In September 2008, Abkhazia was recognized by Nicaragua and Venezuela, in December 2009 by Nauru.