Abkhazians: 1. An ethnonym that originally denoted the population of the northwestern part of Western Georgia. The term Abkhazians originated in the Georgian language. It signified both the Abkhazians themselves and the entire population of Western Georgia (8th century). The term Abkhazians spread from the Georgian language to other languages.

From the middle of the 2nd century BC to antiquity, a culture known as the Colchian culture was widespread in Western Transcaucasia, including the territory of modern Abkhazia. Despite a number of local peculiarities, Colchian culture is considered a common phenomenon for this region. Ancient Greek writers also considered it a united territory. It is known as Colchis in their works and they considered the cities there as cities of Colchis (Tskhumi-Dioskuria, Bichvinta-Pitsunda and others in the territory of modern Abkhazia). In the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder mentioned the Apsilae living near Sevastopol (now Sokhumi), and in the 2nd century, while describing his journey around the Black Sea, Arrian referred to the territory of the Apsilae and the Abasgoi, who lived after them, between the lands of the Laz people and the Sanigs. Later (6th century), Byzantine writers, Procopius of Caesarea and Agathias Scholasticus, also mention the tribe of Misimians (Svans). Such late information about Apsilae and Abasgoi (whom some scientists consider to be the ancestors of today's Abkhazians) is explained in two ways: according to one opinion, the appearance of these tribes must be the result of the intensive settlement of highlanders in lowlands in the first centuries AD. According to the second point of view, Greek writers considered the population of ancient Colchis as one ethnos despite its ethnic heterogeneity, and therefore they did not separate them into independent ethnoses. The term Abkhazians is mentioned in Georgian sources starting from the 8th century.

The Christianity of historical Abkhazia is confirmed by many reports. According to them, Andrew the Apostle traveled to Abkhazia (1st century). Simon the Zealot died and was buried here. There was an episcopate in Bichvinta in the 4th century, and Abasgia officially adopted Christianity in the 6th century (Procopius of Caesarea). The Christianity of the ancient population of modern Abkhazia is confirmed by the Christian architecture and symbols in this region. From the 9th century, when the Georgian language finally replaced Greek in the churches of Western Georgia, the language of religion, writing and state administration in Abkhazia was Georgian and from the ethno-cultural standpoint, Abkhazians are Georgians just like the population of other historical provinces of Georgia (Mingrelians, Gurian people, Kakhetians, etc.). In the 11th–14th centuries, during the period of united Georgia, the meaning of the term Abkhazians went beyond Western Georgia and referred to Georgians in general. The term came into the languages of many neighboring peoples with this meaning. This happened under the influence of the titles of the kings of the united Georgia, which reflected the sequence of the main stages of the unification of Georgia. That's why the King of Abkhazia, i.e., the king of Western Georgia, was mentioned here in the first place. In the 13th century, the mention of Abkhazians remained in the first place in the titles of the kings, but Abkhazians and Abkhazia were gradually replaced by the terms Likhtimernians and Likht-Imereti. The meaning of the terms Abkhazians and Abkhazia was localized within the territory beyond the River Kodori and its population.

After the disintegration of the united state of Georgia, the migration of the highlanders to the lowlands, in which the North Caucasian highlanders were actively involved, intensified. As a result of this process, significant ethnic, religious and social-cultural changes took place in the territory of Abkhazia. From this period, the term Abkhazians changed its ethno-cultural meaning and included only the people who called themselves Apsua.

  1. People of Apsua are part of the population of modern Abkhazia. Their number in Georgia reached 95,900 (1989), of which 93,300 live in Abkhazia. Except for Georgia, Abkhazians live in Turkey and other countries, where they settled mainly after Muhajir movement, the Abkhazian uprising of 1866 and the deportation by the Russian Empire. The language belongs to the northwestern group of Caucasian languages. Georgians call their language Abkhaz language, according to some researchers, the Apsar language mentioned in the 18th century meant the language of the Apsua.

In Georgian historical sources, these people are referred to as Abkhazians. There are several noteworthy opinions about the origin of modern Abkhazians in Georgian historical science: 1. Abkhazians are the descendants of the tribes, in particular, Apsilae and Abasgoi, that settled in ancient Colchis, on the shore of the Black Sea; 2. Abkhazians settled in the 15th–17th centuries from the highlands of Transcaucasia; 3. Abkhazians were formed as a result of merging of Kartvelian and Adyghe tribes. Undoubtedly, the process of migration and assimilation played a very important role in all three cases.

Anthropologically, modern Abkhazians along with Georgians belong to the Asian branch of Indo-Mediterranean race, while the linguistic relatives of the Abkhazians, the Adyghe-Circassians, are united in the Pontic branch of the same race (M. Abdushelishvili).

Abkhazians are divided into several internal ethnic groups: Sadz (Asadzwa or Jigets), Bzyb people, Guma people, Abzhywa people, Pskhu people. Each of them is characterized by dialectical and cultural peculiarities.

In the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the leading field of Abkhazia's agriculture was small cattle breeding (goats). Large cattle breeding (cow, buffalo) prevailed in the lowlands; Panicgrass, foxtail millet, barley, and wheat have been part of seed crops there since ancient times. Later, corn became the main crop. Hunting and beekeeping played a special role. The dwelling of the Abkhazians was a round, plaited, single-chamber structure, which was covered with straw and plastered with clay. It corresponded to the semi-nomadic way of life and extensive farming of Abkhazians (G. Dzidzaria). There was also a square, boarded, one-chamber structure with a round roof. High society lived in such houses. Modern rural residential houses became similar to urban ones. Distinguished Abkhazian men wore chokha, which were sewn from handwoven wool. Women wore long dresses (naza).

As a result of the extreme weakening of Christianity in Abkhazia, old paganism, which still exists among the population, took root again. Sunni Islam spread during the period of Turkish domination (from the 16th century). Muslim Abkhazians were massively deported by the Russian Empire (Muhajir movement). The pre-Christian and pre-Islamic beliefs of the Abkhazians demonstrate significant resemblance with the similar beliefs of both the Georgians and the North Caucasians. In addition, in the narratives depicting the beliefs and ideas of modern Abkhazians, the process of servitude of local shrines by the settled northerners is portrayed, thus happened their religious and social adaptation (see the servitude of the icon). There are also reports that clearly indicate the establishment of the shrines in the name of ancestors who came from the north, which reflect the process of mass immigration of North Caucasians in recent centuries.

According to ethnographic data, the main deities of Abkhazians are the protectors of forests, wild animals and hunting — Ayerg and Azhvepshaa. They also worship the bee and hunting goddess, the patron of women and marriage — Anana Gunda, Aytar — the great cattle patron, Dzhadzha — the goddess of fertility. They also believe in Erysh — the goddess of weaving and milking, Dzyzlan — the goddess of water, etc. Afy, the goddess of lightning and thunder, is especially strong and strict, and Shashvi, the patron of blacksmithing and patron of forges, is popular. Female and male deities represent a kinship group, they have an elder — a father; If the deities are not considered blood relatives, they are related to each other by artificial kinship. During the community and family festivals held in the name of deities, sacrifices, mainly goats, were offered. Ethnomusical Data indicates that there was a continuous process of coexistence of different ethnic groups in this region for a long time, and Georgian culture played a leading role. In spite of such a common picture, there are verified facts, which make North Caucasian origin of Abkhazians obvious.


Literary works: არქანჯელო ლამბერტი, სამეგრელოს აღწერა, თბ., 1938; ევლია ჩელების „მოგზაურობის წიგნი“, ნაკვ. 1–2, გ. ფუთურიძის გამოც., თბ., 1971–73; ქართლის ცხოვრება, ს. ყაუხჩიშვილის გამოც., ტ. 1–2, თბ., 1955–59; ტ. 4, თბ., 1973.

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