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Print version. Published on site Rusnet.NL 18 September 2003

Encyclopedia :: A :: Abkhazia

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Abkhazia, Autonomous Republic in Georgia, between the Black Sea and the Greater Caucasus. 3,300 sq mi (8,547 sq km), estimated population 539,000 (1990).The principal city is Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia.

Despite some perpetually snow-capped peaks, the region is mainly one of subtropical agriculture. Tobacco is the leading crop; there are also tea and citrus plantations, vineyards, and fruit orchards. Industries include saw-milling, canning, metalworking, and the manufacture of leather goods.

Abkhazia is also famous for its health resorts.

The population is made up of Abkhazians (an Orthodox Christian and Muslim people of the North Caucasian linguistic family), Georgians, Russians, and Armenians.

Originally colonised in the 6th century BC by the Greeks, the region later came under Roman and Byzantine rule.

In the 8th century a leader of the Abkhaz tribe formed an independent kingdom that later, in the 10th century, became part of Georgia.

In 1578 the Turks conquered the area and gradually converted it to Islam.

By a treaty with the Abkhazian dukes, Russia acquired Sukhumi in 1810 and declared a protectorate over all Abkhazia, which became part of Russian Empire in 1864.

Abkhazia became an autonomous republic of the Soviet Union in 1921 and was made part of Georgia in 1930. In 1991 the region became an autonomous republic inside independent Georgia.

Georgia itself was soon torn apart by bitter fighting between government forces and a guerrilla movement seeking an independent Abkhazian state. More than 3,000 people were killed in the fighting, and some 250,000 people, mostly ethnic Georgians, fled.

In 1994 a cease-fire was negotiated, with Russian troops serving as peacekeepers, but the ultimate disposition of Abkhazia remained unresolved and fighting broke out again in 1998 and in 2001.

In a 1999 referendum regarded as illegal by Georgia, voters approved declaring the region a sovereign state.