Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic


(also, Abkhazia); native name, Apsny (Land of the Soul). Part of the Georgian SSR. Founded Mar. 4, 1921. Area, 8,600 sq km. Population, 481,000 (1969 estimate; 405,000 according to the 1959 census). Abkhazia has six raions, six cities, and three urban-type settlements. The capital is Sukhumi.

Constitution and government. A socialist workers’ and peasant state, the Abkhazian ASSR is an autonomous soviet socialist republic. The constitution now in effect was adopted Aug. 2, 1937, by the Eighth All-Abkhazian Congress of Soviets. The highest bodies of state power are the unicameral Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia, elected for four years on the basis of one deputy for every 3,000 inhabitants, and its Presidium. The Supreme Soviet appoints the Council of Ministers of Abkhazia, which is the executive and administrative body of the republic. The Abkhazian ASSR is represented by 11 deputies on the Soviet of Nationalities of the USSR Supreme Soviet. The local organs of state power are the Soviets of workers’ deputies of the cities, raions, settlements, and villages, elected by the population for two years.

The Supreme Soviet of Abkhazia elects the Supreme Court of the Abkhazian ASSR for a five-year term. It consists of two judicial divisions (one for criminal and one for civil cases) and the Presidium of the Supreme Court. The attorney of the Abkhazian ASSR is appointed for five years by the attorney general of the USSR.

Natural features. Abkhazia is located in the northwest part of the Transcaucasus and is bounded on the southwest by the Black Sea. The mildly rugged coast has many wide pebble beaches. The sea expanses, subtropical vegetation, tea and tobacco plantations, citrus groves, thick forests, rushing rivers, and high peaks of the Greater Caucasus lend Abkhazia an unusual picturesqueness. Much of its area is occupied by mountain spurs projecting from the southern slopes of the Main, or Watershed, Range, which bounds Abkhazia on the north. These spurs are the Gagra, Bzyb’, Abkhazian, and Kodori ranges. The highest peak of the Main Range is Mount Dombai-Ul’gen with a height of 4,046 m. Passes leading through the Main Range into Abkhazia include the Klukhor (2,781 m) and the Marukha (2,739 m). Narrowing gradually, the Kolkhida lowland extends into Abkhazia from the southwest and stretches along the coast, northwest of the Kodori River. Between the mountains and the lowlands is a zone of rolling foothills. Karst phenomena, such as the Caves of Abrskil and the Anakopian Caverns, have developed in Abkhazia.

The zone of lowlands and foothills has a warm, humid subtropical climate. In the mountains, the climate is humid, with the temperature varying from moderately warm to cold. The average temperature in January in the subtropical zone ranges from 4° to 7°C and in the mountains, from 2° to -2°C. In July these temperatures range from 22° to 24°C and from 18° to 16°C, respectively. The average annual precipitation is 1,300 to 1,500 mm in the lowlands and foothills and up to 2,000 to 2,400 mm in the mountains. The coastal strip has 250 to 300 days of above-freezing temperatures. In the mountains, snow covers the ground for two to three months; there are many glaciers in the upper ridges of the Main Range.

The rivers flow into the Black Sea basin. The most important ones—the Kodori, Bzyb’, Kelasuri, and Gumista—flow copiously and are rich in water power, with potential hydroelectric resources of over 3.5 million kW. The rivers are fed primarily by the runoff from rain and snow; high water occurs in the spring and summer. Lakes Ritsa and Amtkel are located in the mountains.

Marshy, subtropical podzolic, red, and yellow soils are intermixed in the lowlands and foothills. In the mountains, calcareous-humus and brown forest soils are found at elevations of up to 1,700 m, and above that, there are soddy and soddy-peaty alpine-meadow soils. The flora of Abkhazia includes more than 2,000 plant species. Over 55 percent of the land area is covered by forests. Distinct tracts of broad-leaved forests (white beech and other hornbeams, oaks, chestnuts, etc.) and alder groves are found in the Black Sea coastal strip—an area highly cultivated with subtropical, industrial, fruit, cereal, ornamental, and other crops—and in the valleys. At Cape Pitsunda, a vestigial grove of relict Pitsunda pine has been preserved. Beech forests predominate in the mountains, with box trees sometimes growing at the second level; fir and spruce forests grow on the upper slopes. Above 2,000 m, there are subalpine scrub forests, alpine meadows, and rock-and-cliff vegetation. Bear, wild boar, lynx, red deer, roe deer, and wisent inhabit the forests; chamois and Caucasian black grouse, the alpine areas; and jackals, the lowlands. Such fish as trout, salmon, carp, and pike perch are found in the rivers and lakes. Forest and wildlife preserves are the Ritsa, Gumista, and Pitsunda.


Population. More than ten nationalities inhabit Abkhazia. According to the 1959 census, there are 61,200 Abkhazians, 158,200Georgians, 86,700 Russians, and 64,400 Armenians. Other nationalities include Ukrainians, Greeks, Jews, Byelorussians, and Estonians. The average population density is 56 persons per sq km (1969). From 1926 to 1969, the population increased by 269,000. The coastal plain and the foothills are the most densely populated areas, with 93 percent of the population concentrated here. All the cities are located here as well as the greater part of the rural population (150–200 persons per sq km). A considerable portion of the mountain regions (above 1,000 meters) does not have a permanent population. Isolated settlements are scattered among the mountain hollows and river valleys. In 1969 the urban population constituted 42 percent (15 percent in 1926). According to the 1969 census, the city population figures were Sukhumi, 92,000; Tkvarcheli, 30,000; Gagra, 22,000; Ochamchira, 18,000; Gudauta, 15,000; and Gali, 11,000.

Historical survey. The first traces of man on the territory of present-day Abkhazia date from the early Paleolithic period. Archaeological evidence from the second half of the third millennium B.C. through the second millennium B.C. testifies to the existence of agriculture, stock raising, and handicrafts, as well as the working of copper and bronze and later even of iron. At the beginning of the first millennium, a settlement arose in the region of present-day Sukhumi. The earliest information about the predecessors of the Abkhazian people dates from the late Bronze Age. In the region of Abkhazia during the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., primitive communal society began to disintegrate, and a class society began to form. In the middle of the first millennium B.C., Abkhazia was part of the kingdom of Colchis. Along the Abkhazian coast, Dioscurias, Pythion, and other Greek colonies arose. At the end of the second century B.C., Abkhazia was a tributary of the king of Pontus, Mithridates VI Eupator; after 65 A.D. it came under the rule of the Romans, who built the fortress Sebastopolis on the site of Dioscurias. Toward the end of the first century A.D., early feudal-type social formations based on tribal relations were consolidated (principalities of the Apsily, Abazgi, and Sanigi). During the fourth through sixth centuries A.D., Byzantium gradually brought Abkhazia under its control. In the first half of the sixth century, Christianity was introduced into Abkhazia as the official religion. In the sixth century feudal relations had become established. By the eighth century, the Abkhazian nationality had basically been consolidated. In the 780’s, the Abkhazian ruler Leon II liberated the country from Byzantine rule and united all of Western Georgia, calling it the Abkhazian kingdom. Its capital at first was at Anakopia and later at Kutaisi. Reaching its highest point of development in the ninth and tenth centuries, it actively participated in the struggle for the unification of all of Georgia. In the second half of the tenth century, Abkhazia became part of the united feudal state of Georgia. In the coastal region, the population was chiefly engaged in agriculture. Trade with nations across the sea expanded. An ancient trade route from Transcaucasia to Kievan Rus’ passed through Abkhazia along the Black Sea coast. Stock raising was the predominant occupation in the hills. Primitive communal relations continued to exist in the mountainous regions. The feudal culture attained considerable heights during the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Byzantine cultural influence was gradually replaced by Georgian. With the political decline of feudal Georgia, Abkhazia broke away at the turn of the 17th century to become an independent principality. However, as early as the second half of the 16th century, Abkhazia along with all of Western Georgia fell under Turkish rule, which tried to destroy the material and intellectual culture of the Abkhazian people and to impose the religion of Islam on them by force. The Abkhazian population’s stubborn opposition to this policy sometimes took the form of outright armed insurrections (in 1725, 1728, 1733, 1771, 1806, and others). Abkhazia saw an opportunity to escape from the Turkish yoke by merging with Russia, which was accomplished in 1810 by an act of official annexation to the Russian empire. The feudal ruler, the akh, remained the nominal ruler of Abkhazia.

The colonialist policy of tsarism prevented the development of the economy. Nevertheless, the incorporation of Abkhazia into Russia, delivering it from the domination of extremely backward Turkey, and its entry into the all-Russian economic market helped Abkhazia attain higher forms of economic and social life and made it possible for advanced Russian culture to penetrate Abkhazia and for the Abkhazian people to participate in the Russian emancipation movement.

In 1864 a Russian administration was introduced into Abkhazia, and the country was transformed into the Sukhumi military district. The officials of the tsarist military and administrative apparatus based themselves on the local feudal nobility. The Orthodox church, which carried on the policy of restoring Christianity, served as a weapon of tsarist colonialism in Abkhazia. The struggle of the masses against feudal and colonial oppression began to develop. A major event was the Abkhazian uprising of 1866. In 1870 serfdom was abolished in Abkhazia, but the peasants remained “temporarily obligated” virtually until the Great October Socialist Revolution. A tragic consequence of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–78 was the enforced resettlement of a considerable part of the Abkhazian people by the Turks into Turkey (the so-called makhadzhirstvo). In 1877 there were over 78,000 inhabitants in Abkhazia; by the end of that year only 46,000 remained.

In the postreform period, Abkhazia was gradually drawn into the channel of capitalist relations. In the 1890’s the first highway was built, running from Novorossiisk through Sukhumi to Batumi. The foreign and domestic markets both expanded. Tobacco growing became the leading branch of agriculture. At the beginning of the 20th century, large landowners held over 135,000 desiatinas (147,150 hectares); peasants held only 72,000 (78,480 hectares). At that time there were about 400 small industries in Abkhazia, mostly cottage industries, employing only 1,030 persons.

The turn of the 20th century was marked by the activity of such prominent Abkhazian pedagogues and educators as F. Kh. Eshba, D. I. Gulia, and A. M. Chochua. In 1902–03 the first social democratic organizations appeared in Abkhazia. In 1903, on the initiative of A. G. Tsulukidze, the Sukhumi social democratic group of the Batumi committee of the RSDLP was organized. The revolutionary movement in Abkhazia in 1905–07 was led by the Caucasus union committee of the RSDLP. In 1905 armed detachments of revolutionary peasants, called the Red Hundreds, were formed in Gudauta, Gagra, and the Gali region. In November 1905 a people’s militia was organized in Sukhumi. The armed uprising in November-December 1905 was prepared by the Bolsheviks led by G. K. Ordzhonikidze. In Sukhumi, Gudauta, and Gagra power was virtually in the hands of the workers in December 1905. However, the revolutionary actions were crushed by tsarist troops.

In 1916 a Bolshevik military group began to operate in Sukhumi; after the February Revolution of 1917 it had great influence among the soldiers. In May 1917 the district committee of the RSDLP (Bolshevik) was set up, headed by E. A. Eshba. Although the leadership of the Sukhumi soviet was seized by the Mensheviks from the very beginning, Bolshevik Soviets existed in some areas. In November 1917 the local organs of the counterrevolutionary Men-shevik Transcaucasian Commissariat took power in Abkhazia. In March 1918 under Bolshevik leadership, the Abkhazian workers began an armed uprising. On April 8, Sukhumi was taken and Soviet power was proclaimed. But on May 17, 1918, after stubborn fighting, the counterrevolutionary Transcaucasian Sejm armed forces entered Sukhumi. In February-March 1921 the Abkhazian workers together with Georgian workers excited armed rebellion which was supported by the Red Army. The revolutionary committee was established in Abkhazia (E. A. Eshba, N. A. Lakoba, and N. N. Akirtava). On Mar. 4, 1921, Sukhumi became Soviet and on the same day Soviet power was proclaimed throughout Abkhazia. On March 4 and 10 the leaders of the Abkhazian revolutionary committee sent a telegram informing V. I. Lenin of the victory of the socialist revolution in Abkhazia. On March 28 in Batumi, at a conference of representatives of the Caucasian bureau of the RCP (Bolshevik) Central Committee with representatives from Georgia and Abkhazia, a resolution was adopted recognizing Abkhazia as an independent socialist Soviet republic. On March 31 the Abkhazian revolutionary committee sent a radiogram informing Lenin, J. V. Stalin, and G. V. Chicherin of this event. In May 1921 the revolutionary committee of Georgia published a declaration on the independence of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia, and on Dec. 16, 1921, Abkhazia became part of the Georgian SSR on the basis of the Treaty of Alliance between the Georgian SSR and the Abkhazian SSR. Subsequently, on Dec. 13, 1922, as part of the Georgian SSR, Abkhazia joined the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (TSFSR). On Dec. 30, 1922, as part of the TSFSR, it joined the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. On Apr. 1, 1925, Abkhazia’s first constitution was adopted. In February 1931, Abkhazia became an autonomous republic within the Georgian SSR.

In April 1921 the revolutionary committee of Georgia issued a decree on land whereby all of the land was nationalized and all privately and landlord-owned holdings totaling more than 44,000 desiatinas (47,960 hectares) were distributed among the peasants. Industry was nationalized, and other revolutionary economic changes were carried through.

Under the prewar five-year plans, advanced industry was created in Abkhazia. In 1940 production by state and cooperative industries was valued at 91.5 million rubles in 1926–27 prices (in 1914 production was valued at 185,500 rubles; in 1924–25, at 805,000 rubles). A mixed agricultural economy developed based on kolkhozes and sovkhozes. By 1940, 93.8 percent of peasant farms had been collectivized. A cultural revolution was carried through: illiteracy was eliminated; the ancestral and feudal customs surviving here for the most part disappeared; native working-class cadres and a native intelligentsia developed; higher educational institutions, scientific and research institutions, libraries, clubs, etc., nonexistent previously, were established. Abkhazian literature and art made important advances. On Mar. 15, 1935, Abkhazia was awarded the Order of Lenin for successes in agriculture and industry. On Aug. 2, 1937, at the Eighth All-Abkhazian Congress of Soviets, a new constitution was adopted for the Abkhazian ASSR, reflecting the victory of socialism in the republic. The Abkhazian people had consolidated themselves into a socialist nation.

During the Great Patriotic War, in August-September 1942, the German fascist troops attempted to break through into Abkhazia from the north by way of the mountain passes in the Main Range of the Greater Caucasus. They occupied the Abkhazian mountain village of Pskha but were stopped there and later pushed back by the Soviet army. The workers of Abkhazia demonstrated courage and heroism on the battlefield and the home front. Twenty sons of Abkhazia were honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. “For Defending the Caucasus” medals were awarded to 8,776 persons, and “For Outstanding Work in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45” medals were awarded to 32,102 persons.

In the postwar period, the economy and culture of Abkhazia continued to develop. From 1940 to 1968 the gross industrial product of the republic increased in volume by a factor of 5.2. The material and cultural standard of living of the people has risen noticeably. In Abkhazia in 1969 there were 264 Heroes of Socialist Labor.


Economy. Abkhazia is one of the USSR’s main centers of high-quality tobacco growing, advanced tea growing, and citrus fruit production. Tourism and health resorts are also important to the Abkhazian economy.

INDUSTRY. Abkhazian industry was entirely built after the establishment of Soviet power. Local fuel (coal) and water power are used as the sources of energy. The Sukhumi hydroelectric power plant is located on the Gumista River. In 1968 electric power production was 810 million kw-hr (155 million kW-hr in 1940). Coal fields are located at Tkvarcheli, deposits of mercury and polymetallic ores at Avadkhara, and barite deposits at Pitsikvara and Apshrini. In 1968 coal production was 939,000 tons (229,000 tons in 1940)—about 40 percent of the Georgian SSR’s total coal production. Most of the coal is made into concentrate and shipped to the Rustavi metallurgical plant for processing into coke. Processing industries for agricultural products play an important role in the economy, primarily those connected with typically subtropical products—tea processing in Gali, Achigvara, Okumi, Ochamchira, Akhalikindgi, Dranda, Gudauta, and elsewhere and tobacco processing in Sukhumi, Gudauta, Ochamchira, Gantiadi, and elsewhere. Canning, wine making, essential oil production, and dairy, meat, and fish processing are also important. Tea production (initially processed baikhovyi tea) totaled 9,500 tons in 1968 (1,200 tons in 1940); production of canned foods was 13.5 million standard-size containers (in 1940 it was 2.1 million). Other industries include leather and footwear manufacturing in Sukhumi; garment industry in Sukhumi, Gudauta, and Ochamchira; woodworking in Kodori, Sukhumi, and Bzyb’; instrument-making and metalworking in Sukhumi; and construction materials production in Sukhumi, Tkvarcheli, Bzyb’, and elsewhere.

AGRICULTURE. Abkhazia is noted for its cultivation of tea, tobacco, and citrus fruits and its production of essential and tung oils. Viticulture, fruit and vegetable growing, grain farming, and stock raising are well developed.

In 1969, Abkhazia had 133 kolkhozes and 22 sovkhozes (citrus, tea, and others). The cultivated area was 39,800 hectares (in 1940 it was 59,700 hectares). The area of permanent plantings of tea, grapes, citrus, and other fruits was 34,100 hectares. The area devoted to tea plantations was 13,700 hectares (9,000 hectares in 1940), primarily in the southeastern part of the republic. Producing 15 percent of Soviet tea (38,300 tons in 1968), Abkhazia is the leading producer in the Georgian SSR of high-quality yellow tobaccos. (In 1968, 6,000 hectares were cultivated, producing a harvest of 5,900 tons.) The main tobacco-growing areas are located in the northwest and central regions of the rolling foothill zone. Citrus fruit is also grown in this zone (3,300 hectares). Fruit growing (12,100 hectares) and viticulture (5,000 hectares) are spread out through many areas in the coastal zone. Maize, with 24,500 hectares, is the largest cereal crop. Potatoes, vegetables, and melons are grown in the foothills and around the major health resorts (2,200 hectares in 1968).

In the lowlands, flood control in the river valleys and swamp drainage are of great importance. In 1968, 24,500 hectares were reclaimed from swamps.

The livestock primarily consists of dairy cattle, dairy-and-beef cattle, hogs, goats, and poultry. In the plateau region, where there are few natural sources of fodder, cattle are kept either in stalls or in stalls and yards. Some livestock is sent out to pasture in the alpine and subalpine meadows. The livestock population as of Jan. 1, 1969, was cattle, 142,000; sheep and goats, 41,600; and hogs, 56,600. Silkworms and honeybees are also raised.

In 1968 government purchases of Abkhazian agricultural products were tea, 38,300 tons (6,500 in 1940); fruit, 15,400 tons, including 4,600 tons of citrus fruit; tobacco, 5,900 tons; cattle and poultry (liveweight), 3,400 tons (1,400 tons in 1940); milk (including that used to make dairy products), 5,500 tons (900 tons in 1940); eggs, 26.1 million units (1 million units in 1940); and cocoons, 4,400 tons.

Commercial fishing is carried on in the Black Sea for gray mullet, horse mackerel, and other fish.

TRANSPORTATION. The major electrified Tuapse-Sukhumi-Samtredia railroad line and the Novorossiisk-Sukhumi-Batumi highway run through the coastal zone of Abkhazia. The remote mountain areas are served by the Ochamchira-Tkvarcheli railroad branch and by roads from Bzyb’ to Avadkhara, from Sukhumi to the Klukhor Pass, and others. The major seaport is Sukhumi; other ports are Gagra, Gudauta, Novyi Afon, and Ochamchira. Air routes of union-wide importance pass through Sukhumi.

Abkhazia exports tobacco, tea, fruit (including citrus), wine, and essential oils. It imports grain, meat and dairy products, and sugar, among other products.

STANDARD OF LIVING. The standard of living of the population has been steadily growing with the rise in the republic’s national income. The volume of retail sales in 1968 was 3.2 times greater than in 1950. In 1968, new residential and commercial construction for use by state and cooperative enterprises and organizations (excluding kolkhozes) and by industrial and service workers in urban and rural areas, amounted to 74,300 sq m. In addition, 555 dwelling places were built by kolkhozes, their farmers, and rural intelligentsia. Social security and pension funds have increased as well as the real income of the population.


Public health. In 1913, Abkhazia had four hospitals with 92 hospital beds and nine doctors. In early 1969 there were 1,391 doctors (403 in 1940), 4,100 intermediate-level medical personnel (909 in 1940), 63 hospitals or hospital-type institutions with 4,300 beds, and 242 institutions serving as outpatient clinics. Dozens of kilometers of health resorts line the Black Sea coast, which is protected from the northeast by the mountains of the Greater Caucasus. Used by patients from the entire Soviet Union, these resorts are located at Sukhumi, Gagra, Gudauta, Novyi Afon, Gul’ripshi, Pitsunda, and Leselidze. Mineral springs found in the mountainous regions are used for curative purposes (Tkvarcheli, Ritsa-Avadkhara, and elsewhere). In early 1969 there were 36 sanatorium or health resort-type institutions with 11,400 beds. Tourism has been developing successfully. Attractive year-round tourist houses, boarding houses, and camping grounds have been built. There are summer shelters in Avadkhara and at the Klukhor Pass. Plans have been proposed to build an overhead suspension cable lift to the top of Mount Iverskaia at Novyi Afon as well as to the top of Mount Sukhumi at Sukhumi.

Education and cultural affairs. Before the Great October Socialist Revolution, about 10 percent of the population was literate. During the 1914–15 academic year Abkhazia had a total of 150 primary schools with 7,600 pupils, four upper primary schools with 600 pupils, and two secondary schools with 500 pupils. There were no specialized secondary schools or any institutions of higher education. Since Soviet power was established, illiteracy has been abolished in Abkhazia and compulsory universal education introduced. In 1968 there were about 10,000 children attending 193 preschool institutions. In the 1968–69 academic year there were 162 primary schools with 5,000 pupils, 129 eight-year schools with 19,800 pupils, 146 secondary schools with 72,900 pupils, 38 schools for working or rural youth with over 5,200 students, eight houses of pioneers and of school children, ten children’s sports schools, and three centers for young technicians and naturalists. There were also about 3,000 persons studying at six secondary specialized schools (the industrial and agricultural technicums, the schools of medicine, music, culture and education, and the art school) and at professional-technical schools. There were 7,900 students at the Institute of Subtropical Agriculture and the Gorky Pedagogical Institute. In 1968 more than 1,800 specialists were graduated with secondary or advanced qualifications.

The D. I. Gulia State Museum of Abkhazia is in Sukhumi. There is a museum and exhibition ground at Pitsunda and a museum of Abkhazian weaponry at Gagra. In 1968 there were 290 circulating libraries, 194 club buildings, and 147 film projectors.

Scientific institutions. In 1968 there were 15 scholarly and scientific institutions in the republic, including the D. I. Gulia Abkhazian Institute of Language, Literature, and History of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR; the Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR (with a monkey-research nursery); the Abkhazian branch of the Scientific-Research Institute of Treatment at Health Resorts and Physiotherapy, under the Public Health Ministry of the Georgian SSR; the Sukhumi branch of the All-Union Institute of Tea and Subtropical Crops; the Sukhumi Botanical Garden; and other such institutions. The only scientific research institute on tourism in the USSR is located in Sukhumi.

In 1969 there were more than 700 scientific workers at the higher educational institutes and research facilities in Abkhazia, including 27 holders of the doctoral degree and about 300 holders of the candidate degree in science. Among the prominent scientists working in Abkhazia are I. G. Gverdtsiteli, a physicist and corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR; A. A. Kolakovskii, a botanist and corresponding member of the same academy; B. A. Lapin, a corresponding member of the Academy of Medical Scientists of the USSR; three doctors in history, professors Z. V. Anchabadze, G. A. Dzidzariia, and Sh. Inal-Ipa; Professor S. Ya. Arshba, a doctor of medical sciences; and A. L. Grigeliia, a professor in medicine.

Press and radio. In 1968 the publishing house Alashara (Light) brought out 80 books and pamphlets totaling 237,000 copies. Three republic-wide newspapers are published— Apsny Kapsh (Red Abkhazia, since 1921), in Abkhazian; Sabchota Abkhazeti (Soviet Abkhazia, since 1937), in Georgian; and Sovetskaia Abkhaziia, in Russian (since 1921). Their combined circulation in 1968 was 57,000 copies. The magazine Alashara (Light), dealing with literary, artistic, social, and political subjects, has been publishing since 1955. The children’s magazine Amtsabz (The Flame) has been publishing since 1957. Both are in Abkhazian.

The radio in the republic broadcasts in Abkhazian, Georgian, and Russian. Radio and television programs are relayed from Moscow, Tbilisi, and Sochi.

Literature. Folklore has been one of the sources of inspiration for Abkhazian literature from its beginning. Many different genres are reflected in Abkhazian folklore—from the heroic epic legends about the Narty heroes and Abrskil to lyric songs and wise aphorisms. The first attempt to construct an Abkhazian alphabet using Russian letters was made in 1862 by the Russian linguist P. K. Uslar. The first primer in Abkhazian was published in 1865. A revised and updated primer entitled The Abkhazian Alphabet, compiled by D. I. Gulia and K. D. Machavariani, was published in 1892. The national poet of Abkhazia, D. I. Gulia, founded Abkhazian belles-lettres. He published his first collection of poetry, Poems and Chastushki, in 1912. The first Abkhazian newspaper, Apsny, was printed in 1919 and edited by Gulia. It drew a number of young writers around if. Gulia founded Abkhazian prose in 1919 when he wrote the short story “Under Alien Skies.” In 1920, S. Ia. Chanba published the first Abkhazian drama, Makhadzhiry. The creative work of the poet I. Kogonia also dates from that time. His finest narrative poems—Abataa Beslan, Navei and Mzauch, Khmydzh the Hunter, and Zoskhan Achba and the Sons of Beslan Zhanaa—published in 1925, reflected the heroism in the life of the people. After the establishment of Soviet power in Abkhazia in 1921, conditions were created in which realistic literature could develop and the transition to syllabic-tonic versification could be observed. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Abkhazian writers produced works that received wide recognition: the novel Kamachich (1940) and the drama Phantoms (1946) by D. I. Gulia, the novella Seidyk (1934) by S. Ia. Chanba, the novella The Birth of the “Vpered” Kolkhoz (1931) by V. V. Agrba, and the novels Temyr (1937) and Womanly Honor (1949) by I. G. Papaskiri. Later works include a book of short stories, Alamys (1961), by M. L. Lakerbai; verses and narrative poems and short stories by L. Kvitsinia, Sh. Tsvizhba, L. Labakhua, K. Agumaa, D. Darsalia, S. Kuchberia, M. Khatba, and P. Chkadua; short verses, narrative poems, and two novels in verse, My Countrymen (1950) and Song of the Cliff (1958), by People’s Poet of Abkhazia B. Shinkua; and works by I. Tarba, A. Lasuria, A. Dzhonua, Ch. Dzhonua, K. Lomia, K. Chachkhalia, M. Papaskiri,G. Gublia, V. Ankvaba, and A. Adzhindzhala. Many works by G. Gulia, who writes in Russian, are devoted to the life of the Abkhazian people. Among the writers of the younger generation are N. Tarba, A. Gogua, Sh. Chkadua, and D. Akhuba. Children’s writers include D. Tapagua and G. Papaskiri. Among those working in the field of literary criticism are Sh. Inal-Ipa, Kh. Bgazhba, M. Delba, and Sh. Salakaia. Many Russian and Georgian works as well as the classics of Western European literature have been translated into Abkhazian. A group of talented literary people who write in Georgian, Russian, and Armenian closely collaborate with Abkhazian writers. The group includes Sh. Akobiia, A. Dzhidarian, and L. Liubchenko.


Architecture and art. Bronze-age dolmens from the second half of the third millennium and the beginning of the second millennium B.C.. have been preserved, along with cyclopean stone constructions and the remains of ancient and early medieval civil and military structures (the ruins of cities Dioscurias-Sebastopolis, Anakopia, and Pythion and the 160–km Abkhazian wall, among others). With the coming of Christianity to Abkhazia in the sixth century, Byzantine influences began to penetrate. The religious architecture of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, which is distinguished by geometrical simplicity (the church in the ancient fortress at Gagra, or the single-apse basilica at Novyi Afon), also shows the influence of local architectural traditions (the use of crude stone blocks). During the period of the Abkhazian kingdom (the late eighth through tenth centuries) and the Georgian kingdom (the tenth through 13th centuries), Abkhazian medieval architecture attained its highest development. A restrained severity, multiplicity of forms, and minimum of carved ornamentation are characteristic of the structures dating from this period. Examples of these are the basilicas at Ambar and Gantiadi, the basilicas with well-proportioned cupolas at Mokva and Lykhny, and the temples with crosses and cupolas at Dranda, Novyi Afon, Agu-Bedia, and Pitsunda among others. The palace at Bedia dates from the 11th-12th centuries as do the single-span arched bridge on the Besleta River and a number of fortifications such as the castle of Bagrat at Sukhumi and others. During the period of feudal disarray in the 14th through 16th centuries and that of Turkish expansion from the 16th century to the beginning of the 19th, architectural activity was greatly reduced. Primarily castles and forts were erected. With the incorporation of Abkhazia into Russia in 1810 and with the development of capitalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the cities along the coast began to grow, leading to the construction of industrial and administrative buildings, private dachas and villas, hotels, and sanatoriums. Examples are the hotel and palace in Gagra, the Aloizi home in Sukhumi, and the sanatorium in Gul’ripshi.

Socialist architecture has brought city planning and reconstruction and the restoration of old monuments. In Sukhumi the following structures were built: the Abkhazian ASSR Government building (1932–39), designed by V. A. Shchuko and V. G. Gel’freikh; the Hotel Abkhazia (1938), designed by Iu. S. Golubev and Iu. V. Shchuko; the railroad station (1951), designed by L. and L. Mushkudiani; and the Institute of Subtropical Agriculture (1968), designed by D. Kipshidze, O. Paichadze, and K. Tsulaia. Standardized housing construction began in the 1960’s. A proposal for replanning the city of Sukhumi was approved in 1968. A maritime passenger terminal was being built in 1969. Health resort construction has expanded along the seacoast at Novyi Afon, Gudauta, and Gagra. Examples of these are the resort of the Council of Ministers of the Georgian SSR (1935), designed by N. P. Severov; the Ukrania sanatorium (1936), designed by Ia. A. Shteinberg; the workers’ resort named after the Seventeenth Party Congress (1952), designed by A. Alkhazov; and the Rossiia Workers’ Resort (1969), designed by Iu. L. Shvartsbreim. The Workers’ Resort Sinop (1967), designed by V. Aleksi-Meskhishvili, and the composers’ resort (1969), designed by Sh. Davitashvili and G. Dzhabua, are located in Sukhumi. In 1959–67 a new complex of health resorts was built at Pitsunda by a group of architects headed by M. V. Posokhin.

There exists today national-type Abkhazian architecture that dates from the most ancient times. The dwellings are of wood or wattle with tentlike or pyramidal roofs and have a circular or rectangular floor plan (types known by the Abkhazian names akuaskia, apatskha, amkhara, abora, etc.). Two-story homes with the lower of brick and the upper of wood and with a veranda on the front are popular. Well-designed stone buildings are increasingly being built in sovkhozes and kolkhozes.

Fine and decorative arts have existed in Abkhazia from ancient times. Dating from the Neolithic and Bronze ages are very old pieces of small sculpture (statuettes of people and animals, primarily dogs, ewes, and rams in both clay and bronze), as well as fragments of decorated pottery and artistic metal artifacts such as bronze axes, buckles, clasps, and bracelets decorated with sculpted or engraved animals. Unique items include the bronze rhyton from the village of Bambor, dating from early in the first millennium B.C..; the marble stela with a bas-relief from Sukhumi, dating from the fifth century B.C..; the early Byzantine mosaics from Pitsunda, dating from the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.; the 11th-century sacred cup of embossed gold from the village of Bedia; the miniatures in the Bibles from Mokva and Pitsunda, dating from the early 14th century; and the frescoes in the temples at Lykhny, Pitsunda, and elsewhere, dating from the 14th through 16th centuries.

The art studio of A. V. Shervashidze (Chachba), the first professor of Abkhazian art, opened in Sukhumi in 1918 and played an important part in establishing contemporary art in Abkhazia. Also important was the work of such artists as A. I. Sadkevich, V. S. Kontarev, O. A. Segal’, and L. N. Nevskii. An art school was opened in Sukhumi in 1935, and a college was established in 1937. Fine arts was developed further. The following artists paint historical and revolutionary subjects as well as still lifes and landscapes: I. P. Tsomaia, V. F. Evropina, N. O. Tabukashvili, V. Ia. Shcheglov, O. V. Brendel’, Kh. T. Avidzba, S. Gabelia, and others. Graphic arts (easel and illustrating) were developed by such artists as V. D. Bubnova, Ch. V. Kukuladze, and V. Meskhi. Monumental and portrait sculpture were developed by A. I. Razmadze, M. E. Eshba, V. E. Iuanba, B. G. Gogoberidze, and Iu. V. Chkadua. In decorative and applied arts, work has been done in weaving; carving in wood, bone, and horn; embossing and engraving in metal; embroidery in gold and silver thread; and the weaving of patterned belts.


Music. Abkhazian folk music is polyphonic. The folk songs for two or three voices are unusually distinctive. The musical structure of many folk songs testifies to an ancient origin. Among these are religious songs and a large number of hunting and work songs. The historical-heroic epic occupies a special place in Abkhazian musical folklore, reflecting the stern and courageous life of the people and their national character. The new way of life and view of the world are expressed in contemporary folk songs.

Abkhazian musical instruments include the aiumaa, an angular harp; the akhymaa, an instrument resembling a zither with strings over a trapezoid-shaped frame; the apkhertsa, a two-stringed instrument played with a bow; and the acharpan, a kind of flute. In Abkhazian songs, the instrument is usually used for accompaniment, but examples of instrumental music are also encountered in national folklore.

Those who have recorded Abkhazian folksongs include K. Dzidzariia, K. Kovach, I. Lakerbai, D. N. Shvedov, A. N. Balanchivadze, Sh. M. Mshvelidze, I. Kortua, V. Akhobadze, and A. Pozdneev. A number of operas have been based on Abkhazian folk art—for example, Exiles by Shvedov, excerpts of which were staged in Moscow in 1940 by the ensemble of the All-Russian Theatrical Society, and Mziia by Balanchivadze, staged in 1950 in Tbilisi. Symphonies, chamber music, and vocal works have also been based on folk music.

After the establishment of Soviet power in Abkhazia in 1921, the musical profession developed rapidly. In 1930 the State Musical College and the State School of Music opened in Sukhumi. Here the National Chorus under the direction of P. Pantsulai, a symphony orchestra, a wind-instrument orchestra, and the State String Quartet soon began to perform. In 1966 an opera studio was organized at the musical college. Important creative work is done by the Abkhazian State Philharmonic Orchestra, the State Song and Dance Ensemble of Abkhazia, the State Choir, the State Symphony Orchestra, and the House of Folk Art with its chorus of 100-year-old folk singers, the only one of its kind in the world. Organized amateur musical activity is also developed—for example, the Apsny-67 Ensemble and others.


Theater. The sources of the Abkhazian theater are to be found in the games and ceremonies of the people and in the oral folk tradition—for example, the performances of the satirical singers, the so-called akh’dzyrtv’iu, and the folk comedians, the kecheki. Amateur performances were first staged in Sukhumi in 1915. In 1918 at the Sukhumi Teachers Seminary, a literary and dramatic circle was organized on the initiative of the poet D. I. Gulia. After the establishment of Soviet power in Abkhazia in 1921, a theatrical troupe under Gulia’s direction began to work. In 1928 an Abkhazian division of the Sukhumi theater was opened. In 1930 classes began at the newly founded Abkhazian Dramatics Studio in Sukhumi. This laid the basis for the opening of the Abkhazian National Theater in the same year. In the next years, the theater built up a repertory consisting of national dramatic works, folktales and legends, and plays devoted to contemporary affairs by S. Ia. Chanba, V. V. Agrba, Sh. A. Pachalia, and others. Classical works—for example, by Shakespeare, Gogol, and Gorky—are also performed. Other works in the theater’s repertory include Phantoms by D. I. Gulia, Danakai by M. A. Lakerbai, My Best Role by M. A. Lakerbai and V. K. Krakhta, Your Uncle Misha by G. D. Mdivani, Before Sunrise by G. A. Gabuniia, and In the Distant Past by D. Kh. Darsaliia. Prominent theatrical figures include People’s Artists of the Georgian SSR and the Abkhazian ASSR A. R. and R. M Agrba, A. B. Argun-Konoshok, M. I. Zukhba, L. Sh. Kaslandzia, Sh. A. Pachalia, E. Z. Shakirbai, M. A. Kove, and artistic leader and director of the theater of drama N. R. Eshba. A Georgian troupe also works at the theater, having among its members the People’s Artists of the Georgian SSR, M. D. Chubinidze, V. V. Ninidze, and L. D. Chediia. In 1967 the theater was renamed after S. Chanba.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.