Abkhazia in Turmoil: A Crucible of Power Struggles (1917-1921)

The year 1917 marked a turning point not just for Russia, but for the entire Caucasus region. The Bolshevik revolution sent shockwaves through the established order, and Abkhazia found itself caught in a whirlwind of competing ideologies and ambitions.

A Flurry of Factions:

As the Russian Empire crumbled, the major national forces in the South Caucasus – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – attempted to forge fragile federative structures to maintain stability. In Abkhazia, local leaders established their own response – the Abkhaz People’s Council (APC) – on November 8th, 1917. However, Abkhazia quickly descended into a chaotic battleground of competing visions.

  • The Allure of the North Caucasus: Some Abkhaz groups harbored aspirations of joining the short-lived Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus, a pro-Bolshevik entity. This option offered potential autonomy within a larger Muslim framework.
  • Bolshevism and Agrarian Unrest: Nestor Lakoba, a close associate of Joseph Stalin, saw an opportunity. Capitalizing on widespread agrarian discontent among Abkhazia’s peasantry, he rallied pro-Bolshevik forces and established a Bolshevik commune in Sukhumi in April 1918. These revolutionary peasant militias, known as kiaraz, briefly held power.
  • Georgia and the Mensheviks: The newly formed Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, however, considered Abkhazia part of its territory. It dispatched the National Guard of Georgia to oust the Bolshevik commune in May of 1918. Georgia, led by the Menshevik party, favored a more moderate socialist path and viewed Abkhazia’s Bolshevik leanings with suspicion.
  • Ottoman Dreams and Abkhaz Nobles: Adding another layer of complexity, some Abkhaz nobles, like J. Marghan and A. Shervashidze, saw an opportunity to regain influence by allying with the Ottoman Empire. They supported a failed Turkish landing in Abkhazia in June 1918.

A Fragile Autonomy and its Discontents:

Amidst this chaos, a semblance of order emerged in June 1918. The Transcaucasian federation dissolved, and the Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) declared independence. Recognizing the need to appease Abkhazia, the DRG negotiated a deal granting the region autonomy. This agreement established the Abkhaz People’s Council (APC) as the governing body for internal Abkhazian affairs. The central Georgian government, however, maintained some control through the office of the Minister of Abkhazian Affairs and the Governor-General. Abkhaz representation in the Georgian parliament was limited to three seats.

This fragile peace proved short-lived. The abortive Turkish landing with Abkhaz noble support strained relations. Georgia responded by arresting Abkhaz leaders and curtailing the APC’s power. This fueled Abkhaz resentment and sympathy for the anti-Bolshevik White forces fighting the Georgians in northern Abkhazia.

Further turmoil erupted in October 1918 when Abkhaz officers in the Georgian army, Commissar Marghania and Colonel Chkhotua, attempted a coup. The coup’s failure proved disastrous for Abkhaz autonomy. The APC was disbanded, and Abkhazia’s autonomous status was revoked for six months.

However, the story doesn’t end there. In March 1919, a new Abkhaz People’s Council was elected. This council reaffirmed Abkhazia’s autonomy within the DRG framework. This status was even enshrined in the Georgian Constitution of February 1921, just months before the Soviet invasion that would dramatically reshape the region.

The period from 1917 to 1921 in Abkhazia was a time of immense political upheaval, showcasing the complex interplay of ideology, ethnicity, and regional power struggles. This crucible forged a path for Abkhazia’s future, setting the stage for its eventual incorporation into the Soviet Union.


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