Abkhazians of African descent

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Photo of Afro-Abkhazian family from Caucasus.
Regions with significant populations
formerly Adzyubzha, currently Russia and other parts of Abkhazia.
Russian, Abkhazian, Turkish

Afro-Abkhazians, or Abkhazians of African descent, were a small group of people of Black African descent in Abkhazia,[1] who used to live mainly in the settlement Adzyubzha at the mouth of the Kodori River and the surrounding villages (Chlou, Pokvesh, Agdarra, and Merkulov) on the eastern coast of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe.[2][3] Like the Afro Turks, they trace their origin back to the African branch of the Ottoman slave trade.

An Afro-Abkhazian. Photo by George Kennan, 1870.

These peoples are not a small group of people who originated from the Ottoman slave trade, but to the contrary are direct ancestor to some of the first inhabitants of the U.S.S.R.. The Colchians, direct descendants of the ancient Egyptian race. Herodotus, the father of European history, "There can be no doubt the Colchians are an Egyptian race. Before I heard any mention of it from others I remarked it myself...My own conjectures were founded, first on the fact that they are black skinned and have woolly hair, which certainly amounts to but little, since other nations are so too; but further and more especially, on the circumstances that the Colchians, the Egyptians, and the Ethiopians, are the only nations who have practiced circumcision from the earliest times...I will add a further proof to the identity of the Egyptians and the Colchians. These two nations weave linen in exactly the same way, and this is a way entirely unknown to the rest of the world; they also in their whole mode of life and in their language resemble one another. {The History of Herodotus, Book II, pp. 114-15} {Introduction to African Civilization Chapter 2, p. 92 John G. Jackson



The ethnic origin of the Abkhazians of African descent—and how Africans arrived in Abkhazia—is still a matter of dispute among experts. Historians agree that the settlement of Africans in a number of villages in the village of Adzyubzha in Abkhazia (then part of the Ottoman Empire) is likely to have happened in the 17th century. According to one version, a few hundred slaves were bought and brought by Shervashidze princes (Chachba) to work on the citrus plantations.[4] This case was a unique, and apparently not entirely successful, case of mass import of Africans to the Black Sea coast.

In 1927, the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, together with the Abkhaz writer Samson Chanba, visited the village of Adzyubzha and met elderly Africans there. Based on his visit and a comparison of his observations with the published data, he felt that the Ethiopian version of the origin of the Abkhazians of African descent is true.[5]


There are a number of folk legends that might be based partly on true events. According to one of them, which is mentioned in the memorandum of Ivan Isakov to Nikita Khrushchev, an Ottoman ship wrecked near the Abkhazian coast during a storm, with slaves who were brought up for sale, and the current Abkhazians of African descent are the descendants of survivors from the ship, who founded the colony in Abkhazia.[4] This legend, however, does not explain how such a ship could have entered the waters of the Black Sea, which is so far from major shipping lanes of the slave trade of that time.

Another legend tells about the dealings of Narts with certain "black-faced people" from the Horn of Africa. The legendary Narts are said to have come back to the Caucasus from a long African campaign with hundreds of African escorts, who remained in Abkhazia.[6]

In a third legend, the appearance of Afro-Abkhazians is involved with Peter the Great: he imported many black Africans to Russia, and it is said that those who were unable to acclimate to the northern capital of Russia, Saint Petersburg, were then generously given to the Abkhazian princes.[7] According to the history candidate Igor Burtsev, there could have been a few dozen such "gifts of Peter" to Abkhazian princes.[dead link][8]

History and present[edit]

Herodotus, writing about his visit to the land of the Colchians (who lived to the south of early Abkhazians) in the 5th century BC, mentioned wooly-haired Africans, speculating that these black Colchians were soldiers from the army of the Egyptian conqueror Sesostris that he left in the area on his return from what is now South Russia.[9] 2200 years later, journalist John Gunther also wrote about a small community of Africans in Abkhazia.[9] The said memorandum of Ivan Isakov to Khrushchev on the Abkhazians of African descent says, among other things, that the governor of the Caucasus Illarion Vorontsov-Dashkov, imitating Peter the Great, had his personal convoy of Afro-Adzyubzhi, who accompanied him in Chokha. Prince Alexander of Oldenburg, founder of Gagra, kept in his yard a few representatives from each of the peoples of the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, including the local blacks.[10]

It is known that by the 19th century, Afro-Abkhazians spoke only Abkhazian and identified with Abkhazia. Their total number is estimated by different observers in the range of "several families" to "several villages".[11] They are not religiously homogeneous, either. Apparently in Abkhazia there are or have been in the recent past black Christians, black Muslims, and black Jews.[citation needed]

Afro-Abkhazians engaged in growing citrus, grapes, and corn, working in the coal mines of Tkvarchreli and enterprises of Sukhumi, working in knitting factories, etc.[citation needed] Like Abkhaz people, the Abkhazians of African descent today also speak in Russian. Many left Kodor to settle in other parts of Georgia and in neighbouring Russia, as well as other nearby countries.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Afro-Abkhazians and their relationships with indigenous Abkhaz were featured in prose by Fazil Iskander.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abkhazia's status is disputed. It considers itself to be an independent state, but this is recognised by only a few other countries. The Georgian government and most of the world's other states consider Abkhazia de jure a part of Georgia's territory. In Georgia's official subdivision it is an autonomous republic, whose government sits in exile in Tbilisi.
  2. ^ Zinaida Richter, Adzyubisa (1930)
  3. ^ Абхазские негры (Russian) Archived December 31, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b Негры в Кодорском ущелье(Russian) Archived March 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Загадка национальных корней Пушкина(Russian) Archived May 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Нарты у чернолицых людей(Russian) Archived March 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Зана, самка снежного человека-2(Russian) Archived March 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Кавказская пленница (Russian)
  9. ^ a b English, Patrick T. (1959). "Cushites, Colchians, and Khazars". Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 18 (1): 49–53. JSTOR 543940. 
  10. ^ Корреспондент “МК” нашел у абхазов негритянские корни (Russian)
  11. ^ В Абхазии живут негры, считающие себя абхазцами (Russian)
  12. ^ Rayfield, Donald (1998). "Sandro of Chegem". In Cornwell, Neil. Reference Guide to Russian Literature. Chicago, IL: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. pp. 398–399. ISBN 978-1884964107.