History of the Jews in Abkhazia

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Synagogue in Sukhumi.

The history of the Jews in Abkhazia dates back to the early 1800s. The Jewish population of Abkhazia consisted of Ashkenazi, Georgian and other Jews. It grew after the incorporation of Abkhazia into the Russian Empire in the middle of the 19th century. Most of the Jews left or were evacuated from Abkhazia as a result of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict of 1992–1993.

Number of Jews in Sukhumi[1][2]
Year Total Georgian Jews
1897 134
1915 356 80
1922 1,012
1926 916 201
1939 1,545
1959 ≈3,000 ≈2,000
1970 3,618
1979 1,640
1989 1,308


Abkhazia (/æbˈkɑːziə/ (About this soundlisten), /æbˈkziə/;[3]) is a de facto and partially recognized republic[4][5][6][7][8] on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, south of the Greater Caucasus mountains, in northwestern Georgia. It covers 8,660 square kilometres (3,340 sq mi) and has a population of around 240,000. Its capital is Sukhumi. It is called Аԥсны́ [apʰsˈnɨ] in Abkhazian, აფხაზეთი [ɑpʰxɑzɛtʰi] in Georgian, and Абха́зия [ɐˈpxazʲɪjə] in Russian.

The status of Abkhazia is a central issue of the Georgian–Abkhazian conflict and Georgia–Russia relations. The polity is recognised as a state by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Syria. While Georgia lacks control over Abkhazia, the Georgian government and most United Nations member states consider Abkhazia legally part of Georgia, whose constitution designates the area as the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia.

The region had autonomy within Soviet Georgia at the time when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate in the late 1980s. Simmering ethnic tensions between the Abkhaz—the region's "titular ethnicity"—and Georgians—the largest single ethnic group at that time—culminated in the 1992–1993 War in Abkhazia which resulted in Georgia's loss of control of most of Abkhazia, the de facto independence of Abkhazia, and the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from Abkhazia.

Modern history[edit]

A Russian garrison was installed in Sukhumi in the 1840s, as its fortress was part of the Black Sea defence line, and Jews from many regions of Georgia, particularly from Kulashi, settled in the town. As the 1897 census results indicate, there were also many Ashkenazi Jews in Sukhumi. A synagogue was built in the first decade of the 20th century.

In Soviet times, the Jewish population of Abkhazia increased greatly, but the Sukhumi Jewish community remained the largest in Abkhazia. According to the 1926 census, there were about 1,100 Jews in Abkhazia, most of them Ashkenazi (702) or Georgian (215).[9] The Jewish community of Sukhumi was officially recognised by Soviet authorities in 1945, at the very end of World War II. Abkhazian Jews suffered like the other Jews of the Soviet Union during the massive anti-Jewish campaign in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Sukhumi synagogue was razed in October, 1951 (according to the official version, its territory was needed for urban development).[10] The Jewish population increased to about 3,500 in 1959,[11] but many of them immigrated to Israel and elsewhere in the 1970s.

As the Soviet Union was disintegrating in the late 1980s, ethnic tensions began to grow in Abkhazia and the number of Jewish emigrants increased greatly. There were still many Jews in Abkhazia at the outbreak of the Georgian-Abkhaz War in August, 1992. All of the Jews who wished to flee the fledgling republic were evacuated by the Jewish Agency and settled in Israel. Most of the few who remained were Ashkenazi.[12][13][14][15] Those who remained had to endure the capture of Sukhumi by Abkhaz separatists and their allies.[15]

As of 2009, there are about 150 Jews in Abkhazia, nearly all of them Ashkenazi. The community maintains a synagogue in Sukhumi.[15] The majority of them are elderly, with their average age being 72 in 2004.[12]

Rivka Cohen, Israel's ambassador to Georgia, visited Abkhazia in July, 2004.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Altshuler, Mordechai (2007). יהדות במכבש הסובייטי : בין דת לזהות יהודית בברית-המועצות, 1964–1941 (in Hebrew). Merkaz Zalman Shazar le-toldot Yiśraʼel. p. 480. ISBN 978-965-227-225-6.
  2. ^ Ethno-Caucasus. Population of Abkhazia
  3. ^ Wells, John C. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  4. ^ "Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia (Apsny)". Abkhazworld.com. Archived from the original on 24 June 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  5. ^ Olga Oliker, Thomas S. Szayna. Faultlines of Conflict in Central Asia and the South Caucasus: Implications for the U.S. Army. Rand Corporation, 2003, ISBN 978-0-8330-3260-7.
  6. ^ Clogg, Rachel (January 2001). "Abkhazia: ten years on". Conciliation Resources. Archived from the original on 2 March 2008. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  7. ^ Emmanuel Karagiannis. Energy and Security in the Caucasus. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 978-0-7007-1481-0.
  8. ^ The Guardian. Georgia up in arms over Olympic cash
  9. ^ 1926 Census results, breakdown by ethnicities (in Russian)
  10. ^ Ro'i, Yaacov; Lili Baazova (1995). Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union. Routledge. p. 291. ISBN 0-7146-4619-9.
  11. ^ 1959, 1970, 1979 census results for Abkhazia, breakdown by mother tongues (in Russian)
  12. ^ a b Edwards, Maxim (September 30, 2012). "Jewish Life Slowly Dying in Abkhazia". The Forward. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  13. ^ Jewish Agency for Israel, Interview with Lev Shchegolyov, (in Russian)
  14. ^ Memorial (society), Положение беженцев из Абхазии в Краснодарском крае (Situation with the refugees from Abkhazia in Krasnodar Krai), December, 2000 (in Russian)
  15. ^ a b c d Leonid Landa, Еврейская община Абхазии в круговороте кавказских событий, (Jewish community of Abkhazia in the Caucasian whirl of events), 28.09.2004 (in Russian)