I first met Abkhazians through an art project in Germany on my 19th birthday. One of the participants, Anna from Abkhazia, sat next to us as we all spoke about our travels and showed off the stamps in our passports. It seemed she wanted to share something but she was too nervous--perhaps the thought that we, as Georgians and Abkhazians, have been in conflict for decades made her hesitant to be too friendly. With time, however, she overcame her shyness and joined us.
When she looked at my Georgian passport, with all the stamps from other countries, she told me it was her first trip abroad. She had to travel on a Russian passport—she could not get visas to EU member states or elsewhere with her Abkhaz documents, as Abkhazia is not recognized by Georgia or most of the international community.
It was difficult for me to understand the isolation she felt. At that time, I could not really comprehend where I was from and why, compared to Abkhaz participants, it was a privilege to have a Georgian passport.
That was five years ago. Today the situation is much more complicated for my Abkhaz friends. In addition to the uncertainty that has followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the Abkhaz leadership has made it increasingly difficult for civil society to organize or attend events and workshops abroad. For instance, in December 2022, Sokhumi stated that all foreign non-government and international organizations must have “prior approval” to carry out activities in Abkhazia. The decision followed the November 2020 Common Social-Economic Space program between Sokhumi and Moscow, which forces non-government organizations that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.”
In protest, more than 400 Abkhaz called on Sokhumi to repeal the decision. In a signed appeal, they argued that it would create more barriers between Abkhazia and the rest of the world, exasperating the existing isolation around it, which remains unrecognized by Georgia and most of the international community.
Over the years, I have tried to stay in close touch with my friends in Abkhazia. Until now, our correspondence had been light—messages about our daily lives and plans. But following the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, our conversations changed. The war seemed to fundamentally alter the balance in the region, and I do not know what to expect from the government, nor do I know how to answer when they asked if there would be war between us, as well.
“Yesterday, my mother, who is Ukrainian, told me that she was forced to go to the stadium for a rally in support of Russia. You probably remember me telling you my uncle died defending Donetsk in 2014. Then my 52-year-old mother suffered a heart attack. This story has renewed the wounds of war for us again. My young mother is getting older. She barely recovered from the depression, and life seemed to continue slowly. And what happened now? She must support Russia from work! This is horrible! Lela, you cannot imagine how miserable and powerless we are.”
“These days I am just thinking about your words, your actions. About how you feel and how you do not hate Abkhazians after everything you went through, and maybe I could have relations with Georgians. On your advice, I try to turn to alternative media when I am interested in something because I realized we, in Abkhazia, are significantly influenced by Russian propaganda channels. This can lead to terrible results. And I really thought about trying to leave to Georgia. Maybe just for a few days. And while I was thinking about this, a video was posted on YouTube where a partisan group was calling on the people to return the historical lands of Abkhazia and Ossetia through war. Lela, I turned off the computer and started crying very loudly. Then my mother came too, and we both sat in despair. It was sunny, but we did not go to the beach. I do not dare to go to Georgia yet. Hopefully, this anger and fear will pass soon. Take care of yourself, dear."
I also saw that video, and I knew exactly what emotions it would cause in Abkhazians. It frightened and unnerved me too, so I did not respond to my friend’s letter.
"Fear and powerlessness. What more can I tell you? I told you that Georgia is the same aggressor for us as Russia is for Georgia. I even know that this image was created artificially, but imagine what it would be like for my people to watch this video against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine? Our only interest is survival. We are a small nation. Fighting would be detrimental to us at all events.”
“Believe me, Abkhazians are not happy with what is happening in Ukraine. We had a significant loss during the war. If Abkhazian soldiers are called up to fight in Ukraine, we will have massive protests. Who will let their children fight in someone else's land? I do not want to kill Ukrainians or Russians. I do not want to kill anyone. I want us to live in peace, together or separately. But this war makes us think about past mistakes and the future. However, it is too early to talk about it. Moscow has told us that it will reduce fundings to Abkhazia, which means bad things to us. Hard times are coming. Everything is more expensive: fuel, food, rent. How are things going to be? I do not want to be pessimistic but thinking about the future scares me. I cannot tell you anything, dear. I hope you will come to Abkhazia soon and there will be peace everywhere."
DISCLAIMER: This essay does not use terms such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ in reference to Abkhazia. This does not imply Chai Khana’s position on its status.