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Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Monday, 12 March 2012

Regions and territories: Abkhazia

Map of Abkhazia

Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia in 1999. Georgia continues to regard it as a breakaway region

Situated in the north-western corner of Georgia with the Black Sea to the south-west and the Caucasus mountains and Russia to the north-east, Abkhazia was once known as a prime holiday destination for the Soviet elite.

Abkhazia's battle for independence from Georgia since the collapse of the USSR reduced the economy to ruins. More recent times have seen major Russian investment in the territory, as Moscow seeks to consolidate its influence.

Overview

Abkhazia's long history was always closely intertwined with that of Georgia, although its language is unrelated and is closer to several spoken in the North Caucasus.

At-A-GLANCE
Sukhumi on the Black Sea
Broke away from Georgia in 1992-1993 war
De-facto independence recognised by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Vanuatu and Nauru
Ceasefire in force, Russian peacekeepers in place
Georgia says Russian troops propping up separatist state
Georgian offer of autonomy within federal state rejected by Abkhazia

From the 9th century BC onwards, it was part of the Georgian-dominated kingdom of Colchis. The area adopted Christianity in the sixth century.

In the 8th century AD, Abkhazia became an independent state, before being united with the medieval kingdom of Georgia in 1008. In the 19th century, the wider region came under Russian domination, and in 1864 Abkhazia was annexed to the Russian Empire.

After the Bolshevik revolution, Abkhazia gained a measure of autonomy, before Stalin incorporated it into the Soviet union republic of Georgia in 1931.

Despite formally remaining an autonomous republic of the USSR, there was very little sign of genuine autonomy, and Abkhaz ethnic culture was suppressed in favour of Georgian. The policy of repression was eased soon after Stalin's death in 1953.

At the time of the collapse of the USSR in 1991, less than a fifth of the people of Abkhazia were ethnic Abkhaz, while the rest of the population was made up largely of Georgians.

When Georgia became independent, supporters of a break with Georgia in favour of independence and closer ties with Russia became more vociferous. Tension grew, and in 1992 Georgia sent troops to enforce the status quo.

KEY DATES
756 - Independent kingdom formed
985 - Becomes part of Georgia, later regaining independence
1578 - Comes under Turkish rule
1810 - Russia declares Abkhazia a protectorate
1864 - Russia annexes Abkhazia
1931 - Soviet authorities incorporate Abkhazia into Georgia
1991 - Georgia declares independence
1992 - Georgia sends troops to stop Abkhazia breaking away
1993 - Fierce fighting ends with Georgian forces being expelled from Abkhazia
1994 - Ceasefire agreed, peacekeepers arrive, nearly all Russian
1999 - Abkhazia declares independence
2004 - New Georgian president Saakashvili vows to restore Georgia's territorial integrity and return Abkhazia, South Ossetia to the fold
2008 - Russia formally recognises Abkhazia's independence, following the Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia
2009 - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits
2010 - Moscow deploys S-300 anti-aircraft missiles in Abkhazia after a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

In late 1993, they were driven out in fierce fighting. Several thousand people were killed, and nearly the entire Georgian-speaking population fled the republic in what Georgia describes as a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Abkhazia formally declared independence in 1999, resulting in an international economic embargo that is still in force. It has left Abkhazia's economy highly dependent on Russia, which maintains a border crossing and railway line to Sukhumi.

Moscow infuriated Georgia by making it easy for people in Abkhazia to gain Russian citizenship, and most now hold Russian passports.

For nearly 15 years, UN peacekeepers - mainly composed of Russians - patrolled a buffer zone on the border between the two sides.

However, in August 2008, during the war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, Russian army troops moved through Abkhazia and pushed into Georgia proper, effectively using the region to open another front with Georgia.

Meanwhile, Abkhaz forces drove Georgian troops out of the only area of Abkhazia still under Georgian control - the Kodori gorge.

After the 2008 conflict, Moscow declared that it would formally recognise the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia's allies Nicaragua and Venezuela followed suit, as did a number of small Pacific island states.

In October 2008, Russia pulled its troops back to the Abkhaz-Georgian border, but stationed a large force in the breakaway republic, with the agreement of the Abkhaz government.

The next year, Moscow also vetoed an extension of the UN peacekeeping mission, and signed a five-year agreement with Abkhazia to take formal control of its frontiers with Georgia proper.

In 2010 Russia said it had deployed S-300 anti-aircraft missiles in Abkhazia in order to defend it and South Ossetia, shortly after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Sukhumi. Georgia expressed "concern" at the move.

Facts

  • Territory: Abkhazia
  • Status: Break-away region of Georgia. Declared independence 1999. Not recognized internationally.
  • Population: (1991) 550,000 (2003) approximately 250,000
  • Capital: Sukhumi
  • Major languages: Abkhaz, Russian
  • Currency: Rouble
  • Major religions: Christianity, Islam
  • Natural resources: Agricultural, primarily citrus fruit, tobacco, tea, timber; some coal, hydro-electric power

Leaders

President: Alexander Ankvab

Abkhaz President Alexander Ankvab
Alexander Ankvab was a leading official in Soviet Georgia

Mr Ankvab is a businessman and close ally of his predecessor, Sergey Bagapsh, under whom he served as prime minister and, from 2010, vice-president.

He took over as acting president on the death of President Bagapsh in May 2011 and won the August presidential election against his outgoing prime minister, Sergei Shamba, and opposition leader Raul Khajimba.

Mr Ankvab, born in 1952, was a leading official in Soviet Georgia who went on to support Abkhazia's campaign for independence. After a business career in Moscow, he returned to Abkhazia in 2000 and joined the opposition to then President Vladislav Ardzinba.

He is said to have survived at least six attempts on his life, including a deadly ambush on his convoy in February 2012 that was described by Russia as an attempt to destabilise the situation before Abkhazia's March 2012 parliamentary elections.

Media

Russian TV and Abkhazian state TV are the main sources of news. Major Russian TVs are relayed in the territory. AGTRK is the state-owned radio and TV broadcaster. There is little or no access to Georgian TV, other than by satellite. Broadcasts from the only private TV, Abaza TV, are limited to Sukhumi.

The Abkhaz government publishes newspapers in Abkhaz and Russian. Several private and pro-opposition papers publish alongside official titles.

Radio listeners can choose between Abkhazian, Russian, Georgian and Turkish stations.

The activities of the president and other leaders dominate the news on state media. Fear of retribution can mean that journalists self-censor. There is no significant questioning of Abkhazia's ties with Russia. Views toward Georgia are generally negative.

Internet access is growing, with local providers using connections via Russia and Russian ISPs. Local observers estimate upwards of 25% of the population use the internet. Most Abkhaz bloggers use Russian platform LiveJournal.

The press

• Respublika Abkhazia - official Russian-language paper, thrice weekly

• Apsny - official Abkhaz-language weekly

• Ekho Abkhazii - private Russian-language weekly

• Nuzhnaya Gazeta - private Russian-language weekly

• Chegemskaya Pravda - private Russian-language weekly

• Novyy Den - privatel weekly

Television

• Abkhaz AGTRK TV - Abkhaz government-run

• Abaza TV - private

Radio

• AGTRK Apsua Radio - Abkhaz government-run

Radio Soma - private FM station

News agency

Apsnypress - official



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Compiled by BBC Monitoring

SEE ALSO
Abkhazia's president Bagapsh dies
29 May 11 |  Europe
Russia 'has missiles' in Abkhazia
12 Aug 10 |  Europe
Russian president visits Abkhazia
16 Aug 10 |  Asia-Pacific
Putin message clear in Abkhazia
13 Aug 09 |  Europe
Russia pours money into Abkhazia
29 Dec 08 |  Europe
Georgia's forgotten conflict
03 Jul 03 |  Europe
Stalin's ghost looms large
12 Jul 03 |  From Our Own Correspondent
UN urges Georgia not to 'provoke'
13 Oct 06 |  Europe
Abkhazia rallies for independence
07 Dec 06 |  Europe
Breakaway Abkhazia votes in poll
04 Mar 07 |  Europe
Analysis: Georgia's separatism woes
30 Apr 08 |  Europe

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