The Georgia-Abkhazia War, in which ethnic Abkhazians effectively extracted northwestern Georgia from Tbilisi’s control, is a conflict largely forgotten in the West, despite its high profile re-ignition in August 2008. Historical arguments can be made both for Abkhazia’s unity and autonomy from Georgia, but the conflict cannot be solely blamed on Soviet ‘ethno-federalism’. It must, however, be understood within the context of Georgian independence.
Ethnic tension between Abkhazians and Georgians was a necessary but not sufficient cause for the conflict. It took an unstable transition in Moscow, and chaotic Russian involvement in the run-up to the conflict, to turn tension into violence. Russia’s one-sided role in ending hostilities meant that the conflict’s causal issues were left frozen, only to be violently thawed fifteen years later.
The War in Abkhazia raged from August 1992 to September 1993 was waged between Georgian government forces on one side and Abkhaz separatist forces supporting independence of Abkhazia from Georgia, Russian armed forces and North Caucasian hired fighters on the other side.
Ethnic Georgians, who lived in Abkhazia fought largely on the side of Georgian government forces. Ethnic Armenians and Russians within Abkhazia’s population, largely supported Abkhazians and many fought on their side. The separatists were supported by thousands of the North Caucasus and Cossack militants and by the Russian forces stationed in and near Abkhazia.
Handling of this conflict was aggravated by the civil strife in Georgia proper between the supporters of the ousted Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the post-coup government headed by Eduard Shevardnadze, as well as the Georgian-Ossetian conflict.
Significant human rights violations and atrocities were reported on all sides and peaked in the aftermath of the Abkhaz capture of Sukhumi on 27 September 1993, which was followed by a large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Georgian population according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The UN SG’s fact-finding mission reported numerous and serious human rights violations committed by both Abkhazians and Georgians. From 13,000 to 20,000 ethnic Georgians and approximately 3,000 Abkhaz have been reported to be killed, more than 250,000 Georgians became internally displaced or refugees and 2,000 are considered missing.
Post-Soviet Georgia was heavily affected by the war and suffered considerable financial, human and psychological damage. Abkhazia has been devastated by the war and subsequent continued sporadic conflict.