Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia

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Socialist Soviet Republic
of Abkhazia
Советтә Социалисттә Республика Аҧсны  (Abkhaz)
Социалистическая Советская Республика Абхазия  (Russian)
State Emblem
State Emblem
Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь!
Proletarii vsekh stran, soyedinyaytes'!
"Proletarians of all countries, unite!"
"The Internationale"
The Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia in 1921.
Capital Sukhumi
Languages Abkhaz, Georgian, Russian
Government Socialist Republic
Legislature Congress of Soviets
 •  Established 31 March 1921
 •  Disestablished 19 February 1931
 •  1926 8,600 km2 (3,300 sq mi)
 •  1926 est. 201,016 
     Density 23/km2 (61/sq mi)
Currency Ruble
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Democratic Republic of Georgia
Abkhaz ASSR

The Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia (SSR Abkhazia; Abkhaz: Советтә Социалисттә Республика Аҧсны, ССР Аҧсны; Russian: Социалистическая Советская Республика Абхазия, ССР Абхазия; Sotsialisticheskaya Sovetskaya Respublika Abkhaziya), was a short-lived republic within the Soviet Union that covered the territory of Abkhazia. It existed from 31 March 1921 to 19 February 1931. Formed in the aftermath of the Red Army invasion of Georgia in 1921, it was independent until 16 December 1921, when it agreed to a treaty uniting it with the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (Georgian SSR). It was unique among autonomous Soviet states in having de facto independence from Georgia. Through its status as a so-called "treaty republic" with Georgia, Abkhazia joined the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic when it was formed in 1922. The SSR Abkhazia was abolished in 1931 and transformed into the Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Georgian SSR.

Throughout its existence, the SSR Abkhazia was led by Nestor Lakoba, who served officially as the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, but controlled the republic to such an extent it was jokingly referred to as "Lakobistan." Due to Lakoba's close relationship with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, collectivization was delayed until after Abkhazia was incorporated into Georgia. Abkhazia remained a major tobacco producer, supplying over half of the country's supply. It also produced other agricultural products, namely tea, wine, and citrus fruits, leading to Abkhazia being one of the wealthiest regions in the Union. Its sub-tropical climate also made it a prime vacation destination, and Stalin and other major Soviet leaders all had dachas in the region and spent considerable time there. Though nominally led by the titular Abkhaz people, Abkhazia was ethnically diverse. The Abkhaz made up less than 30% of the population, while other major groups included Georgians, Armenians, Greeks, and Russians. Even though they did not form the majority, the Abkhaz were heavily favoured, and the Abkhaz language was promoted, a result of the korenizatsiia policies of the era. An Abkhaz national identity was promoted through these policies, instilling a sense of Abkhaz nationalism.

The main legacy of the SSR Abkhazia is that it created, for the first time in modern history, a defined geographic entity called Abkhazia. The Abkhaz people were cognizant of their republic and its semi-independent status, and though it was removed in 1931 did not forget that it had existed. The SSR Abkhazia would take a prominent role during the perestroika era, as Abkhaz leaders called for their state to once again be formed and broken away from Georgia. This led to them restoring the 1925 SSR Abkhazian constitution, which ultimately led to the 1992–1993 war between Abkhazia and Georgia, and the modern Abkhaz–Georgian conflict.


The Russian Empire annexed Abkhazia in the early nineteenth century and had consolidated its authority over the region by 1864.[1] It was made part of the Kutais Governorate, as the imperial authorities did not want to create ethno-territorial units.[2] After the 1917 Russian Revolution, which ended the Russian Empire, the status of Abkhazia was contested and unclear.[3] Free from Russian rule, it considered joining the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus in 1917, though ultimately declined due to the distance between Abkhazia and the rest of the groups involved.[4] Abkhaz Bolsheviks launched an attempt to create a commune, a similar system to the soviets (councils) being formed in Russia. However this was not successful, and the leaders, Efrem Eshba and Nestor Lakoba, fled.[5] A so-called "Abkhaz People's Council" (APC) was formed in the aftermath and effectively controlled the region. When the Democratic Republic of Georgia was formed in May 1918 it annexed Abkhazia, considering it an integral part of Georgia, though never fully maintained control of the region, leaving the APC to rule it until the Bolshevik invasion of 1921.[6]

Article 107 of the Georgian constitution guaranteed "Abkhazeti (district of Soukhoum)" — as it was officially called — autonomy for "the administration of their affairs."[7] However, the constitution was only proclaimed after the Red Army invasion of Georgia in February 1921; the nature of the promised autonomy was never determined.[8] The historian Timothy Blauvelt contends that this had a lasting legacy in the region as it marked the first time in modern history that Abkhazia was defined as a distinct geographic entity.[9]


The Red Army invaded Georgia on 15 February 1921.[10] This was followed by an invasion of Abkhazia on February 17. Eshba and Lakoba returned to Abkhazia prior to the invasion and formed a Revolutionary Committee (Revkom) in preparation for a Bolshevik government.[11] Sukhumi was captured on 4 March, and with fighting still occurring in Georgia the Revkom, who did not expect to be the sole authority over Abkhazia, took advantage of the lack of authority and moved to declare Abkhazia an independent republic.[12] They had sent a telegram to Moscow asking for advice on how to proceed, and suggested joining the Russian Federation, though this idea was dismissed by Sergo Ordzhonikidze, the leader of the Caucasus Bureau (Kavbiuro).[13] As such, on 31 March 1921, it declared that "at the will of workers a new Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia is born."[14] Though this made Abkhazia a nominally independent republic, it was done with the understanding on both the Abkhaz and Georgian sides that eventually Abkhazia would join the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (Georgian SSR).[14] Until then it was regarded as being completely detached from Georgia, and treated as such. The Georgian Revkom welcomed Abkhazia in a telegram on 21 May 1921, and said the form of relations should be settled by the first Workers' Congresses of both republics.[15]


The Georgian SSR in 1922. The SSR Abkhazia is highlighted in pink.

From the outset of its creation, the SSR Abkhazia was meant to join with Georgia. This was to be finalized at the meeting of the Congress of Soviet Deputies, though the Revkom, in a position of power, was reluctant to schedule the congress. However the Kavbiuro forced the Revkom to disregard this and negotiations for a treaty began in October 1921.[16] The result, signed on 16 December 1921, was a two article treaty:

1. SSR Georgia and SSR Abkhazia enter into political, military and financial-economic union.
2. In order to fulfill the aforementioned goal both governments declare the merging of the following Commissariats: a) military, b) finance, c) peoples' agriculture, d) post and telegraph, e) ChKa, f) RKI, g) People's Commissariat of Justice, and h) [Commissariat of] Sea Transport.

— Union Treaty between SSR Georgia and SSR Abkhazia, [17]

This united the two states, though left Abkhazia, as a "treaty republic," nominally subservient to Georgia.[18] The special status of Abkhazia within Georgia was reinforced in the 1922 Georgian constitution, which mentioned the "special union treaty" between the two, as well as the 1925 Abkhazian constitution, which noted it was united with Georgia "on the base of a special treaty."[19] While united with Georgia, Abkhazia joined in forming the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (TSFSR) along with Armenia and Azerbaijan on 13 December 1922, a move ostensibly for economic purposes but more likely done to consolidate Soviet control over the region.[20] Abkhazia was treated more as an autonomous region within Georgia, though unlike other autonomous states throughout the Soviet Union, it had its own national symbols (a flag and coat-of-arms), and importantly national army units, a right only given to full republics.[21] It also had its own constitution, created on 1 April 1925, another right only granted to full republics.[22]

The union with Georgia was not popular amongst the Abkhaz populace or leadership.[23] It also was received poorly in Georgia, who saw it as a ploy by the Bolsheviks to divert Georgian anger towards the Abkhaz rather than the authorities in Moscow.[24] As the only "treaty republic" in the USSR, the exact status of the SSR Abkhazia concerned the Soviet and Georgian authorities, who did not want other regions to demand a similar status.[25] To resolve this it was decide to downgrade Abkhazia, and on 19 February 1931 it was reformed as the Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, subservient to the Georgian SSR, while still remaining a member of the TSFSR.[26] The move was met with public protests in Abkhazia, the first time large-scale protests against the Soviet authorities had occurred there.[27]


Nestor Lakoba, the de facto leader of Abkhazia from 1921 until his death in 1936. He was instrumental in having the SSR Abkhazia established.

Initially the Abkhaz Revkom controlled Abkhazia, led by its chairman Efrem Eshba.[15] In February 1922 Nestor Lakoba was elected Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, the de facto head of the republic; this was a formality for Lakoba, who had effectively been in control of Abkhazia since the Bolsheviks took control in 1921.[28] With Eshba, he had been a leading Bolshevik in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, and the two had led two abortive attempts to seize Abkhazia in February and April 1918; after the latter attempt failed both Lakoba and Eshba fled, only returning in March 1921 after Bolshevik control had been consolidated.[29] Though he never took up a top position in the government, Lakoba effectively controlled Abkhazia as a personal fiefdom, which was jokingly referred as "Lakobistan."[30] He resisted many of the repressive policies implemented throughout the rest of the USSR, including collectivization and the even financially supported Abkhaz nobility.[31]


Throughout the Soviet era Abkhazia was a major producer of tobacco, supplying up to 52% of all tobacco exports from the USSR by the early 1930s.[32] Other agricultural products, namely tea, wine, and citrus fruits (especially tangerines), were produced in mass quantities in the region, making Abkhazia one of the most well-off regions in the entire Soviet Union, and considerably better off than Georgia.[33] The export of these resources turned the region into "an island of prosperity in a war-ravaged Caucasus."[34] Several factories were also built in the region as part of the overall development of the Soviet Union, though they had a lesser impact on the overall economic strength of Abkhazia.[35]

Abkhazia was also prized as a major vacation destination for both the Soviet elite and the general population. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin visited annually throughout the 1920s and was joined by his associates from the Kremlin, who used this time to gain the trust of Stalin.[36] As host, Lakoba grew close to Stalin and became a confidant of his, allowing him to keep his dominant position over Abkhazia.[37] This was most notably seen when Lakoba refused to implement collectivization, arguing that there were not kulaks in the state.[38] Such a policy was even defended by Stalin, who said that the policy did not "take account of the specific peculiarities of Abkhaz social structure and made the mistake of mechanically transferring Russian models of social engineering to Abkhaz soil."[39] Only after both Abkhazia was downgraded in 1931 and Lakoba's death in 1936 was collectivization implemented.[40]



The SSR Abkhazia was an ethnically diverse place. The demographics of Abkhazia shifted considerably in the decades following its annexation by Russia. Large numbers of ethnic Abkhaz had been deported in the late nineteenth century, with up to 100,000 expelled, mainly sent to the Ottoman Empire.[41] The result was that by the time the SSR Abkhazia was formed, ethnic Abkhaz comprised less than 30% of the population (55,918), which numbered 201,016 according to the 1926 Soviet census, the only census conducted during the existence of the SSR Abkhazia.[42] The korenizatsiia policy implemented in this era, which was to promote minority groups within the USSR, saw the numbers of Abkhaz increase within the SSR Abkhazia: between 1922 and 1926, ethnic Abkhaz grew by roughly 8%, and constituted about 27.8% of the population; in this same time-frame, the number of ethnic Georgians fell from 42% to 36% (67,494).[43] Other major ethnic groups counted in the 1926 census were Armenians (25,677, or 12.7%), Greeks (14,045, or 7%), and Russians (12,553, or 6.2%).[42]


The script used for the Abkhaz language was modified during the era of the SSR Abkhazia. Under korenizatsiia the Abkhaz were not considered one of the "advanced" peoples in the USSR, and thus saw an increased focus on their national language and cultural development.[44] As part of these policies, Abkhaz was Latinized in 1928, along with many other regional languages in the USSR, moving from the original Cyrillic-based script in the process.[45] Emphasis was placed on developing the Abkhaz culture, and was heavily promoted and financed throughout the era of the SSR Abkhazia.[46] To further this, an Abkhazian Scientific Society was create in 1922, while an Academy of Abkhazian Language and Literature was founded in 1925.[47]

In recognition of the multiple ethnic groups within Abkhazia, Article 8 of the 1925 constitution called for three official languages: Akhaz, Georgian, and Russian, while a later amendment stated that "all nationalities populating the SSR Abkhazia are guaranteed the right of free development and use of the native language both in national-cultural and in general state agencies."[48][49] As most of the population did not understand Abkhaz, Russian was the dominant language of government, while local regions used the language that was most prevalent there.[50]


The exact status of Abkhazia as a "treaty republic" was never clarified during its existence, and it has been suggested by scholars that even officials at the time did not know what the phrase meant.[51] However it had symbolic meaning to the Abkhaz people, who never forgot that they had, at least in theory, an independent state.[52] With the advent of glasnost in the 1980s, calls for Abkhazia to restore its status began; an assembly at Lykhny in 1989 issued a call to the Soviet authorities to make Abkhazia a full union republic, claiming the SSR Abkhazia as a precedent for this move.[53] When Abkhazia declared independence in 1990, it used the 1925 SSR Abkhaz Constitution, which as it called for Abkhazia and Georgia to unite, allowed for the possibility of a future union between the two states again.[54] The restoration of the 1925 constitution would serve as a pretext for the 1992–1993 war, and the ensuing dispute over the status of Abkhazia, which has led to Abkhazia being de facto independent of Georgia since the outbreak of the war in 1992.[55]


  1. ^ Lak'oba 1998a, pp. 89–101
  2. ^ kartuli sabch'ota entsiklopedia 1985, p. 504
  3. ^ Blauvelt 2007, p. 206
  4. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 43
  5. ^ Blauvelt 2012b, p. 81
  6. ^ Lakoba 1990, p. 63
  7. ^ Papuashvili 2012, p. 48
  8. ^ Welt 2012, pp. 214–215
  9. ^ Blauvelt 2014, p. 26
  10. ^ Suny 1994, p. 207
  11. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 48
  12. ^ Hewitt 2013, p. 39
  13. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 49
  14. ^ a b Saparov 2015, p. 50
  15. ^ a b Saparov 2015, p. 51
  16. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 52
  17. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 54
  18. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 55
  19. ^ Saparov 2015, pp. 55, 57
  20. ^ Hewitt 1993, p. 271
  21. ^ Saparov 2015, pp. 50–56
  22. ^ Hewitt 2013, p. 40
  23. ^ Blauvelt 2014, p. 26
  24. ^ Smith 2013, p. 344
  25. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 60
  26. ^ Blauvelt 2007, p. 212
  27. ^ Lakoba 1995, p. 99
  28. ^ Blauvelt 2007, p. 207
  29. ^ Blauvelt 2014, pp. 24–25
  30. ^ Lakoba 2001, pp. 50–54
  31. ^ Lak'oba 1998b, p. 71
  32. ^ Suny 1994, p. 268
  33. ^ Zürcher 2007, pp. 120–121
  34. ^ Rayfield 2004, p. 95
  35. ^ Anchabadze & Argun 2012, p. 90
  36. ^ Blauvelt 2007, p. 202
  37. ^ Scott 2016, p. 96
  38. ^ Marshall 2010, p. 239
  39. ^ Rayfield 2004, p. 30
  40. ^ Derluguian 1998, p. 266
  41. ^ Hewitt 2013, p. 25
  42. ^ a b Müller 1998, p. 231
  43. ^ Jones 1988, pp. 617–618
  44. ^ Martin 2001, pp. 23–24
  45. ^ Jones 1988, p. 617
  46. ^ Anchabadze & Argun 2012, p. 90
  47. ^ Blauvelt 2012a, p. 252
  48. ^ Saparov 2015, pp. 58–59
  49. ^ Blauvelt 2012a, pp. 241–242
  50. ^ Blauvelt 2012a, pp. 240–246
  51. ^ Saparov 2015, pp. 61–62
  52. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 62
  53. ^ Anchabadze 1998, p. 132
  54. ^ Cornell 1998, p. 52
  55. ^ Derluguian 1998, p. 266


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Coordinates: 43°00′N 41°01′E / 43.000°N 41.017°E / 43.000; 41.017