Seiichi Kitagawa (Hirosaki University / Japan)
      Excerpt from the paper presented at SRC Winter / 1996 Symposium “Socio-Cultural Dimensions

      of the Changes in the Slavic-Eurasian World”




The first known state of Georgia is Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece. In all Georgian literature on histroy Colchis is named Egrisi, of which descendants are claimed to be Megrelians (an ethinic group of western Georgia). However, based on some linguistic data, western as well as Abkhazian philologists claim that the inhabitants of Colchis were Abkahzians. The half brother of Media Apsyrtos (old Babylonian 'absu' (the abyss), or an Old Abkhazian */a-psw-art- (the Abkhaz-pronoun suffix-pronoun) bears the Abkhazian name by the explanation John Colarusso. Thismeans natives of the eastern coast of the Black Sea were Abkhazians and the Georgians, who live there now, were newcomers. So, the present Abkhazians have the right of titled nation including the demand for sovereignty and independence from Goergia. After Colchis, Lazica occupied the ancient territory of Colchis as a successor state, which was inhabited by Megrelians in the Georgian view or Abkhazians in the Abkhazian view. The Laz people who live in Turkish Lazistan now, speak a language very akin to Megrelian, so one can determine the main body of Lazicas were Georgians.

If the inhabitants of the kingdom of Lazica were Georgians, where were the present Abkhazians' ancestors at that time? From the first or second century, Greek writers wrote about the Apsilae and the Abasgoi. There are some opinions about their origin and identity. Maybe they were indigenous to Abkhazia or the whole of Western Georgia, and until that time had been simply called Colchians or Lazicas together with other tribes and ethnic groups of Western Georgia. Or else they were newcomers from the Northern Caucasus, during these centuries. They may have had relations with the present Svans (an ethnic group among Georgians), or Adyge-Abkhzians. If they were native Adyge-Abkhazians, present day Abkhazians, as the descendants of indigenous inhabitants, have the perfect right of titled nation. One typical Abkhazian opinion is that not only the Abasgoi but also the Apsilae belonged to the Abkhazians. One of the most extreme opinions of Georgians is that both of these groupes were Georgians, and the present Abkhazians penetrated through the Caucasian Mountains to Abkhazia in the 17th century; according to this opinion, the Abkhazians have no right to a titled nation and or even to autonomy, which they currently enjoy.

In the 11th century B. C., the Assyrian inscriptions made reference to the "Abeshela", a tribe which lived in the North Anatolian mountains. Then, in a medieval Georgian chronicle written by Juansher, mentions a toponym of "Apshileti" (or the land of Apshils). Some scholars insist that Apshil is the missing link between the ancient Abeshela and the classic Apsils. Here we must take into account that V. Ardzinba, chairman of the supreme soviet of Abkhazia, is a specialist in the history and languages of ancient Anatolia. After the weakening of the Lasica (in Georgian Egrisi) kingdom, in the 6th century the Princedom of Abasgia became a direct vassal of the Byzantine Empire. According to Prof. Mariam Lordikipanadze, the Abasgoi annexed the "Apsilia north to the river Kodori" in the second century, and then after the 6th century the "Apsilia proper" between the river Kodori and the river Egrisitsqali (Ghalidzga). In the 730s the Arab general of Murvan the Deaf invaded Western Georgia. Juansher wrote that the "city of Tskhum of Apshileti and Abkhazia" was burnt by him. Tskhum was at that time called the city of Apshileti, which in the 8th century was incorporated into Abkhazia. So, according to the theory of some scholars the Abkhazia Proper existed to the North of Tskhum (Sukhumi), where the main body of the inhabitants became the ancestors of the presentday Abkhazians. The Tskhum district of the Apsletia and the Apsletia Proper, between the Kodor and Egrisitsqali, were inhabited by the Georgians. In this view, Tskhum has even a Georgian etymology. But, according to an other opinion, the Apshletis were the ancestors of the present day Abkhazians, who now call themselves the Apsuas, and the Abasgoi were their northern brothers who used a language very akin to that of the Apshletis and came across the mountains. Therefore, the present Abkhazians are indigenous to the central as well as the northern part of Abkhazia.

One can find two key factors in the ethnic issues of the Caucasia. One is the institution of titled nation and the second is the theory of "indigenousness" of inhabitants. As long as the institution of titled nation was prolonged within the borders settled in Soviet times, the claim of inheritance by the inhabitants would continue. One of the Russian solutions to the conflict, namely to make the Georgian refugees go back to the Gali and Ochamchile regions under the protection of international peacekeeping army, was harshly rejected by the Abkhazian side, because this was the /iskonnyj/ territory of Abkhazia, although these provinces were inhabited compactly and densely by the ethnic Georgians before 1994. As for the Georgians, all Abkhazia except the North-Western corner of the country is also the /iskonnyj/ territory of Georgia. But, neither sides has an accurate memory of their ancient ancestors. Abkhazians have no explanation as to why they are called Abkhazians and their country is called Abkhazia, when they themselves were called Apsua and their country Apsuni. Only historiography can fulfill their desire for national satisfaction about the past. So, historiography wanders between the policy of titled nation and the theory of indigenous inhabitants. Before trying to solve the conflict we must understand each side's national sentiment about history as well as the material interest which comes from it. Then we must wait for a new theory of the past which depends neither on the system of tilted nation nor on the theory of "indigenousness".

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Copyright (c) 1996 by the Slavic Research Center / Hokkaido University / Japan

Originally published at:  http://src-home.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/sympo/Proceed97/kitagawa.html