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Russian Abkhazia

The Circassians of the 18th Century were divided into a great number of tribes, who led a partially wandering life, so that no very precise arrangement could be made with regard to the districts of their country. Between the sources of the Kuban and Terek, and along the courses of those rivers, as far as they ran North, the land was wholly occupied by a tribe called the Abbasines or Absne ; and formed the Little Abasa of Pallas. The Great Abasa occupied likewise a very considerable part of the Kubanian Circassia; among the rest, the Nottakhaitzi district, mentioned by Spencer. It appeared, indeed, that the Absne were the lawful proprietors of all Kubanian Circassia. and that the Circassians had only the right of conquest to the portion of their country : that right was, however, very fully established, not only on the North slopes of the mountains, but even to a very great degree on the West side, along the shores of the Black Sea (Great Abchasia).

Some made little distinction between the Absne and Circassians, and frequently spoke of them as one people : this must, however, be an error, since the former displayed a very peculiar physical conformation, and their language, with the exception of a few Circassian words, was totally unlike that of their conquerors, and of every other known people, European or Asiatic.

The Circassian princes were cruel and oppressive tyrants to their Abassian subjects, so much so, that the latter had in many instances sought the protection of the Russian government; but it did not appear that they were in any moral attribute superior to their taskmasters, since in every age they had been infamous for their robberies by land, their piracies by sea, and their reckless cruelties every where.

Prince Zizianoff, a native of Georgia, and a general officer in the Russian service, proved that more was to be accomplished by a wise and cautious policy than by harsh measures. He brought Abchasia under Russian administration, and strengthened himself by a wise government. On the 8th of February, 1806, he was murdered by the Persians in a faithless manner, just at the time he was marching forward to receive the keys of the fortress of Bakoo.

In the year 1810 Soochoom Kaleh, lying in the territory of Abchasio, was conquered by the Russians, and by the treaty of 1811 it ought to have been surrendered with other places to Turkey. But, in compliance with the inevitable policy of Russia, and in consequence of the war taking a more favourable turn in 1812, counter orders were transmitted to the Euxino not to surrender the ports seized. But the order was too late for all the places except Soochoom Kaleh, which was therefore not given up, and remained in possession of the Russians. Isooksa, the capital of Abchasia, was a place of no importance whatever. Anapa was built by the Turks in 1784. Six years afterwards General Bibikof attempted to storm it, but was repulsed. In 179l, however, it was taken by General Gudowitsch after a siege of six weeks ; and on the 29th of April, 1807, the Russian troops, under Traversey and Pastoshkin forced it to surrender in one day. It was subsequently taken in 1800 [and for the last time in 1828, by Prince Menschikoff].

In 1813 Persia solemnly ceded to Russia the khanates of Karabagh, Gandja, Sheki, Shirvan, Derbent, Baku, Kouba, and Talysh, and abstained from all influence in the Daghestan, Georgia, Imeretia, and Abkhazia. After various fortunes, about 1823, the reigning prince, Michael Bey, called on the Russians to occupy the country, which they did, by stationing troops at Anapa, Soukgoum-Kaleh, Tambor, Pitzunda, Gagra, and other towns. Anapa, situated on the Black sea, was formerly the chief emporium of the Turkish trade with the Circassian tribes, and from it the Georgian and Circassian slave-girls were supplied. The fort was constructed by the Turks in 1784, when the Russians took possession of the Crimea and the island of Saman. In 1791, the Russians carried it by storm. It was afterward restored to the Turks, who strengthened the fortifications. By a subsequent treaty the Russians again acquired possession. Its trade was chiefly in hides, tallow, wax, and honey.

By the treaty of Adrianople, in 1828, the strong fortresses along the Abasian coast were ceded to Russia, while the interior was subject to the Porte. By the treaty of Adrianople, Anapa became definitively the property of Kussia. In the Turkish time this was the head-quarters of the Circassian slave-trade. All the ports, but chiefly Arsapa, were so many slave-markets, whence the inhabitants of the Caucasus exported the prisoners made by them in their incursions into Georgia; and it is a curious fact that the coasts of Abasia were regarded with dread and abhorrence, as resorts of pirates and slave-dealers, by the Byzantines.

In 1828, Paskiewitsch conducted the campaign in Asiatic Turkey, with some success ; but in the Caucasus he had none. The expedition of 1831, against Abchasia, is barren of events, and he was called away for ever from the Caucasus by the Polish insurrection. His place was efficiently supplied by General Pankratieff.

While under the Porte, Abasia was divided into two pashaliks, - the eastern and the western. The seat of the former was at Soudjouk-Kalh, 25 m. SE of Anapa, which must not be confounded with Soutchali, - that of the latter at Soukhoum-Kalh. The most important fortified position on the coast is that of Anapa, which fell into the hands of the Russians in 1828; but although Russia has assumed a sovereignty over this portion of the coasts of the Black sea, her power really extended only as far as the cannon of her fortresses reach. The latter power having changed the name of Tamn at the mouth of the Kuban, into Tmutarakhan - from the ancient name Tamatarcha - the whole coast of Abasia is frequently called by their geographers Tmutarakhan.

The Abassians had held their districts on the Black Sea, since the Christian era. A part of them on the coast had been conquered by the Russians, but those in the interior were still independent. As a result of the Russian occupation the Abkhazians of the area started to rebel in attempts to become an independent nation. All of these attempted rebellions failed quite spectacularly and did little more than to foster a very ill perception of Abkhazians by Russians. With respect to the political position of these various tribes, the American missionaries, Messrs. Dwight and Smith, stated in 1860 that the limits of Russian sway among them do not at all correspond to the pretended boundaries on Russian maps, rations. "Nearly half of the country of the Abassians," they say, " is marked as subject to Russia, but in fact, their authority is acknowledged no farther than the guns of their garrison reach."

Greater Abasia or Abassia or Abkasia or Abkazia was a province of the Russian empire, lying between the parallels of 42 30' and 44 N lattitude; and extending from 39 to 41 E longitude. The province was bounded north and west by the Caucasian range, which separated it from Circassia; east by Mingrelia ; and south by the Black sea. On the NE it is separated by the crest of the Caucasian ridge from Circassia; on the E it is bounded by Mingrelia, the Enguri or Ingur, forming the boundary until around 1850 that the NW frontier of Mingrelia was extended to the Kudiirs river ; on the SW extends the Black sea. It was about two hundred and sixty miles long, by less than thirty in breadth.

This country was composed wholly of the southern side of the Caucasus mountains - some of whose snow-covered peaks are here from twelve to thirteen thousand feet high - and of the low plains intervening between these mountains and the sea. The prevailing geological formations are greenstone, porphyry, black slate, and Jura limestone. The Caucasus and its lateral ridges - between which lie numerous small vestiges of fertile soil - were here thickly covered with wood, while snow rests on their summits one-half of the year. The range extending from the defile of lagra westwards to Anapa is not considered by Russian geologists as forming a part of the great Elburz chain, though presenting the same combination of primitive, volcanic, and limestone rocks. The rivers - among which are the Metshisht, the Pshandra, and the Kepse - as they all descend from the SW slope of the Caucasus, are of limited course, and though often much swollen in spring, not one was navigable even by the smallest vessels; further to the E, however, are the Enguri, the Khopi, and the Rioni, which are each navigable for a tew boats. The shores of the Black sea are here sandy, and present several fine ports.

In the 19th Century immense forests of the finest trees (oak, alder, chestnut, &c.) clothed the mountain-sides, stretching down to the plains, whose Italian climate, ripening maize, figs, pomegranates, the fruits of central Europe, grain, and excellent grapes, invited to profitable cultivation ; but the country was a waste, its numerous ruins alone proclaiming its former flourishing condition. Nor did the Abassians excel in cattle-rearing or commerce - a little of the latter, in felt mantles, fox and polecat skins, honey, wax, and boxwood, being carried on - any more than in agriculture.

With such indifference were the branches of industry pursued, that by their means they did not obtain a sufficient subsistence ; which, therefore, they eked out in the manner most congenial to their tastes, by plunder and robbery - occupations which, in them, have become a second nature. Some of them wandered peaceably through their forests of oaks and alders, which covered the country, while others supported themselves by a little agriculture; all, however, were more or less inclined to robbery, and sold each other to the slave merchants. The Turkish and Armenian merchants, who brought them salt and stuffs, are obliged to be constantly on their guard against the attacks of these perfidious savages, who, whenever, they aro strong enough in numbers, rob friends and enemies without distinction.

They were formerly well known as pirates on the Black sea, and many of them prosecuted their fortunes in Egypt, where they rose by their bravery to eminent military rank among the Mamelukes. The slave-trade with Turkey formerly constituted one of the chief employments, and tended greatly to reduce the population. Notwithstanding the watchfulness of the Russians, slaves were still secretly exported. The women were beautiful, and were much sought after in Turkey.

The Russians held what they call the Little Abadsa; Abadsa being the Russian name of the country north of the mountain ridge, of which the Little Abadsa is the eastern portion. The Uby'h, a clan of Highlanders in the northwest, who have made themselves formidable to the Russians, are probably the same as the Ubi'h or Ubu'h, of Abassian origin. The Abkhasses - the native population of this district and the most ancient inhabitants of the Caucasus - were divided into several tribes whose collective numbers were estimated in 1850 by Klaproth at 53,898 families, or about one-tenth of the entire population of the Caucasian isthmus.

By 1853 the Abassians on the right of the Kuban, as far as Podkumok, were Russian subjects; on the left, near the Little Ingik, they are still independent. Although Russian troops occupied numerous forts on the coast , and had there succeeded in subduing some tribes as the Zibeld, no stranger, least of all a Russian, could venture many miles away from the coast, for the Abassian tribes were the fiercest of the Caucasus.

The majority of Moslem Abkhazians were deported by the Russian Tsarist administration to the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the 19th century as a punishment for their fierce resistance to the Russian occupation and colonization of Abkhazia. The Russian government started moving ethnic Russians and other ethnicities of the Caucuses into the area. Georgians, who also made historical claim to Abkhazia, also started moving into Abkhazia, although they were officially prohibited from doing so. In doing so, ethnic Georgians started take over the area and ethnic Abkhazians became a smaller and smaller minority group.




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