A land of palm-trees and eucalyptus, this strip of earth sandwiched in between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains was incorporated into Georgia by Stalin in 1931. On 14 August 1992, one month after self-proclaiming its independence, Abkhazia saw the tanks and forces of Georgian President Edouard Shevardnadze invade.
The Tbilisi troops were defeated on 30 September 1993 by Abkhazian armed forces, backed by Armenians from Abkhazi and also forces of the Circassians and Chechens. The human cost was horrendous: Abkhazia suffered more than 10,000 casualties and some 230.000 were exiled (mainly Georgians), almost half of its population.
But this military victory, the anniversary of which is annually celebrated in Abkhazia, turned out to be the start of a long ordeal. Despite its official independence, Abkhazia was shunned by the international community for fifteen years. Only since Russia officially recognized it in 2008, in retaliation to the USA’s recognition of Kosovo, has the country begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Despite scarce hotel accommodation, tourism is slowly regaining momentum. More than 200,000 holiday makers, most of them Russian, visited Abkhazia in 2012. Houses that were destroyed during the war are gradually being rebuilt, and the safety of the self- proclaimed Republic is protected by a local Russian base.
Following events in early 2014 in Crimea one may wonder if the Russian protectors may one day become overloads and eventual masters once again of this territory.
Yet, even as Abkhazia is gradually comes out of its inflicted isolation, the country cannot open to the wider world as much as it would like to. Only Nicaragua, Venezuela and three Pacific micro-states have formally recognized Abkhazia so far. Cargo ships from Turkey are repeatedly intercepted and boarded by the Georgian navy, and it is solely the Russian big brother that keeps the country afloat. Abkhazia is yet far from becoming a Caucasian Andorra, a pacified, recognized country that many in the capital Sukhumi have long dreamed of.
Words by Frederic Delorca
Photography by Guillaume Poli