Rewriting History? A Critique of Modern Georgian Historiography on Abkhazia

In the book "Ответ историкам из Тбилиси (документы и факты)" (English: "A Response to Historians from Tbilisi: Documents and Facts"), Abkhazian historian Stanislav Lakoba addresses critical issues surrounding Georgian-Abkhazian relations. Drawing from extensive research and documentation, Lakoba delves deep into the intricacies of historical narratives and their role in contemporary conflicts. The piece (response 1) presented here, taken from pages 3-7 of his 2001 publication in Sukhum, has been translated from its original Russian.

During Stalin's years of repression, a time when Abkhazians were not allowed to recognise themselves as a distinct people, several oppressive measures were imposed: Abkhazian schools were shut down, their script was shifted from Latin to a Georgian base, Abkhaz place names were replaced with Georgian ones, and there was a mass migration of Georgians from Western Georgia to Abkhazia, among other changes. It was during this tragic era, at the behest of Beria, that the "theory" proposed by the Georgian literary scholar Pavle Ingorokva came into being. This "theory" emerged precisely between 1949-1951, a period when, after the forced relocation of Greeks and Turks from Abkhazia, plans were afoot to expel the Abkhazians. In line with this, Ingorokva's chapters, which later became part of his book "Giorgi Merchule - Georgian writer of the 10th Century" (Tbilisi, 1954), were published. In this work, he argued that the ancient and mediaeval Abasgians-Abkhazians were not the ancestors of today's Abkhazian people but were instead Georgians. According to Ingorokva, contemporary Abkhazians are descendants of the Apsua tribe (a name derived from the Abkhazians' self-designation as "apsua"), who migrated to Abkhazia merely two to three centuries ago. This narrative would ideologically position the Abkhazians as mere "visitors" or transitory inhabitants of Georgian land, providing a backdrop for their planned expulsion. However, these deportation plans were thwarted due to Beria's fall from power.

The term 'Apsua' (Apsw'a) is the self-designation of the Abkhazian people, also known as an auto-ethnonym. On the other hand, 'Abkhaz' is the more widely used exonym, or the name by which they are referred to by other nations. Similarly, for Georgians, 'Kartveli' is their auto-ethnonym, while terms such as 'gurji,' 'gruzin,' 'vrats,' and 'Georgian' are their exonyms. Therefore, 'Apsua' and 'Abkhaz' do not refer to different nations.

Subsequent to the release of Ingorokva's book, numerous articles by eminent Georgian and Abkhazian historians and linguists (including Z. Anchabadze, N. Berdzenishvili, Kh. Bgazhba, K. Lomtatidze, among others) were published. These articles critically dissected this myth, highlighting the author's significant misrepresentation of historical facts.

However, decades later, since the end of 1988, Ingorokva's "theories" witnessed a resurgence. Tornike Gordadze, a young Georgian scholar, characterised the situation thusly: "It's unfortunate that Ingorokva's book found renewed relevance in the 80s and 90s owing to Georgian dissidents. Such a 'theory' was bound to elicit a vehemently adverse response from the Abkhazians... Given the pervasive ethnic polarisation within Georgian society and the lack of robust statehood, this ignited an intense debate rooted in historical geom mythology, essentially centred on the question of who was here first. The erroneous assumption was that the first settlers held a unique claim to the land. Such geom mythologization is also evident in other post-communist conflicts (Karabakh, Kosovo, the Romanian-Hungarian contention over Transylvania, and so on)."[1].

Based on this gross falsification, leaders from Georgia at that time, such as Z. Gamsakhurdia, M. Kostava, and A. Bakradze, began openly asserting at rallies in Tbilisi, Sukhum, and Gagra, as well as in the periodical press, seeking to persuade the Kartvelian population that Abkhazia was, in fact, Georgian land and that the Abkhazians were Georgians. Numerous Georgian writers notably endeavoured to stand out in this campaign. Daily, the Georgian press, radio, and television provoked the Abkhazians, labelling them as "guests" on Georgian soil and referring to them as "Apsua," suggesting they shouldn't even have "autonomy."

During the entire post-war period (post-1993), the state of Georgian historiography regarding Abkhazia has further deteriorated[2]. A majority of scholars, seemingly driven by pseudo-patriotic motives, have adopted Ingorokva's myth-making, asserting that Abkhazia has always been populated by Georgians. Some seem to have forgotten their earlier works and now write in the manner "expected" of them, echoing the majority. Only a few historians support the "duo-aboriginality" theory, suggesting both Abkhazians and Georgians are indigenous to Abkhazia, and only G. Anchabadze posits that the Abkhazians have been the indigenous inhabitants of Abkhazia since ancient times.

+ Questions of Abkhazian history in the book by P. Ingorokva ‘Georgi Merchule - Georgian writer of the 10th century’, by Zurab V. Anchabadze
+ Abkhazia's Historical Struggles: A Historical Letter by Arkhip Labakhua and Ivan Tarba
+ The Ibero-Caucasian hypothesis and the historiography of Abkhazia, by Kevin Tuite
+ The value of the past: myths, identity and politics in Transcaucasia, by Victor A. Shnirelman
+ In Defence of the Homeland: Intellectuals and the Georgian-Abkhazian Conflict, by Bruno Coppieters

Of course, beyond Georgian historians and writers, there are other representatives of the Georgian elite from its new wave who perceive Ingorokva's dark role in modern history differently and understand the history of the Abkhazian people and Abkhazia. This group includes individuals like D. Berdzenishvili, L. Berdzenishvili, P. Zakareishvili, G. Nodia, and G. Gordadze. Due to their principled stands, they often face criticism from their more "illustrious" peers. For instance, soon after David Berdzenishvili aired his views on certain dynamics within Georgian society and its governance, he faced a public rebuke in the official "Free Georgia" [Свободная Грузия] newspaper by academician M. Lordkipanidze and professor Z. Papaskiri. In a recent dialogue with "Radio Liberty," the head of the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia, Levan Berdzenishvili, opined on the present state of intellect and historiography, stating: "... We lack genuine history; what we have is M. Lordkipanidze. She might be a good person, but that doesn't equate to history. Lordkipanidze's perspective simply reflects a singular view of the Georgian past."[3].

It can be said that the situation in Georgian-Abkhazian relations will certainly worsen after the publication of the recent book of articles "Research on the History of Abkhazia/Georgia" (Tbilisi, 1999). Even the title of this "work" is designed in the spirit of UN Security Council resolutions... And who might they be referencing this time?  The same Ingorokva.

This publication, it appears, was intended as a response to "History of Abkhazia" (Sukhum, 1991; Gudauta, 1993), a book I had the privilege of editing. While their retort took a decade, it's evident that the authors are still mentally anchored in a bygone era. I'd like to draw the attention of Tbilisi historians to another noteworthy publication - "The Abkhazians", edited by the British academic George Hewitt in London. Please take note of its bibliographic details[4] and try not to spend another decade before offering a counter-response. In Hewitt's book, the Ingorokva "theory" is meticulously dissected, providing insights about the Abkhazians, Mingrelians, and Georgians up to the 17th century. This should, hopefully, guide the authors towards the truth. I'd also recommend delving into other works by this English scholar[5]. Notably, one of his publications from 1998 bears the striking title: "The role of scholars in the Abkhazians' loss of trust in the Georgians and how to remedy the situation"[6].

+ Zviad Gamsakhurdia: “Abkhaz Nation Doesn’t Exist!”
+ After 30 years Georgians still refuse to acknowledge their own responsibility for the conflict, by George Hewitt
+ "Georgia for the Georgians": The Evolution of a Nationalistic Slogan
+ Nationalism, politics, and the practice of archaeology in the Caucasus, by Philip Kohl and Gocha Tsetskhladze

It's abundantly clear that the state of modern Georgian historiography is less than ideal.  The recently released "academic" work titled "Investigations" is, with a few exceptions, imbued with the spirit of Ingorokva. Variations of his migration "theory", whether in its classical (17th century) or contemporary form, are evident in writings by M. Baramidze, D. Muskhelishvili, G. Zhorzholiani, among others. Even the stance of a distinguished researcher like O. Japaridze has shifted. His once clear perspective on the ethnocultural dynamics of the Northwestern Caucasus during the Stone and early metal ages seems to be swaying towards the dual-origin theory. This shift might be attributed to certain "patriotic" pressures.

How can one resolve the conflict when Ingorokva's "theory" about the Abkhazians being newcomers to Abkhazia stands between the parties?

The prevailing mood in Georgian historiography naturally concerns the Abkhaz community. Both Georgians and Abkhazians are deeply affected by historical discourses, and the state of historiographical discussions is a reliable indicator of the health of Georgian-Abkhaz relations, often complicating political negotiations. How can one resolve the conflict when Ingorokva's "theory" about the Abkhazians being newcomers to Abkhazia stands between the parties? According to historian G. Anchabadze, this viewpoint, due to its unambiguous nature and accessibility, is now widely spread among the Georgian population[7], especially among the "Georgian intelligentsia, particularly those who aren't specialists"[8]. P. Ingorokva, back in the 40s and 50s, laid the foundation for "politicised scholarly disputes", making the "historical topic in Georgian-Abkhazian relations" a subject of intense debate[9]. Z. Gamsakhurdia was an active participant in these heated discussions[10]. It's noteworthy that the 1989 confrontation and the war of 1992-1993 were preceded by significant tensions in historiography, leading to a full-blown dispute between Georgian and Abkhazian scholars, a conflict which moved from academic publications to mainstream media.


1. Gordadze, T. (2000). Moral and ideological obstacles to the resolution of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. In Abkhazia - Georgia. Obstacles on the way to peace. Sukhum, pp. 38-47.

2. Anchabadze, G. (2000). The study of the ethnic history of the Abkhazians against the backdrop of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. In Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict: Proceedings of the Georgian-Abkhazian conference. Konobevo (Moscow region). Irvaín, pp. 20-70.

3. Radio Svoboda. (27.04.2000). Georgia and Shevardnadze. Interview of Tengiz Gudava with Levan Berdzenishvili.

4. Hewitt, G. (Ed.). (1999). The Abkhazians. London: Curzon Press. 288 p.

5. Hewitt, G. (1993). Abkhazia: a problem of identity and ownership. Central Asian Survey. 12(3), pp. 267-323.

6. Hewitt, G. (1998). The role of scholars in the Abkhazians' loss of trust in the Georgians and how to remedy the situation. In The New World Disorder and Caucasia. Haarlem, Netherlands, pp. 115-125.

7. Anchabadze, G. (2000). The study of the issues. p. 33.

8. Anchabadze, G. (1999). Attempts to neutralize the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict using folk diplomacy methods. In Proceedings of the Georgian-Abkhazian conference. Sochi, March 1999. Irvaín, p. 14.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., p. 16.




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