Standing in the street among the people dressed in costumes and waving Abkhazian flags, I stood on tiptoes and poked my head, trying to look forward. I still can’t believe that this is the desolately deserted city the day before.
It was the autumn of 2017 and I was traveling in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia. Abkhazia is legally part of Georgia. However, since Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union, this former Georgian Autonomous Region has been plunged into prolonged wars and divisions.
Today, Abkhazia, although more than 20 years have passed since the initial declaration of “independence”, only Russia and a few other countries still recognize its existence. Except for the Russians, almost no tourists will visit here, and even most people in the world don’t even know the existence of this place.
Sukhumi has a population of only 60,000. I wandered along the seashore the day before yesterday. There were almost no people in the wide streets. Only the broken ruins that kept coming into view were reminders of the wounds left by the war.
I saw an veteran with a big brimmed hat quietly taking out his handkerchief and wiping away tears from his eyes.
But today—5 minutes ago, when I just woke up, I just wanted to find a place to have breakfast—just when I went out, I realized that everything had changed: crowds and traffic from nowhere made the road to the city center crowded. Water can’t get through. Even the Roma (“Gypsies”) who wore floral skirts and slippers and were rarely seen in the Caucasus on weekdays appeared, holding a bunch of colorful balloons and selling them along the street.
Passersby shouted “Hello” at me excitedly, but no one could tell me what happened in English. Until I finally stopped a person who looked like a college student, he stretched out his hand and waved to the place where the crowd was flowing, and a few English words popped out: “Today, our National Day, go to the park!”
On September 30th, he came to Abkhazia. On the third day, I caught up with what they called “National Day.” To be precise, it is “Independence Day.”
The place the young man pointed to was named “Victory Park” on the map, but it was at most a street garden. In the center of the open space, there stands a huge bronze sword-shaped monument, with the blades inserted deep into the soil; the surrounding stone steles are densely packed with names of people, presumably the list of martyrs. An old woman who was faltering, was holding a bunch of white roses and gently placing them on the stone tablet, she was already crying. Maybe there is her husband or son in the names of the people on the stone tablet.
The “best viewing area” directly in front of the monument is reserved for official guests. They were neatly arranged, mostly veterans in Soviet-style military uniforms, and the religious leaders in black hats and robes interspersed in between looked very strange. Like Russia and Georgia, the Orthodox Church is the most mainstream religion in Abkhazia. However, in this place that has experienced the suffering of war for a long time, it is clear that the status of fighters is much higher than that of priests. The Abkhaz historian Stanislav Lacoba once had a joking but brilliant summary of the beliefs of the residents here: “80% Christians, 20% Muslims and 100% pagans.”
The uncle beside him patted. Holding the camera, I pointed to the person who was shaking hands with the guests: “President.”
Raul Zumkovic Hajimba, the leader of more than 200,000 Abkhaz people, is short, with a high nose, and has a typical Caucasian face. Although he has white hair, his face is No wrinkles can be seen. Like Putin, he was also a member of the Soviet KGB-perhaps it was the experience that led him to be accused of poisoning his biggest competitor in the subsequent 2019 elections (although the crime of poisoning has never been It was confirmed, but he won the election because of this scandal and eventually resigned in 2020).
The current Abkhaz government officials shook hands with the generals participating in the celebration
Children holding flags of Abkhazia
Abkhazian leader Hajimba (blue tie) and Transnistrian leader Krasnoselski (red tie) participated in the celebration
In Abkhazia on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the most populous ethnic group was not Abkhazians, but Georgians.
On that day, he was wearing a navy blue suit and seemed to try his best to make him have the majesty of the president. However, compared with those veterans with their heads high and chests dazzling, his momentum is undoubtedly much weaker.
Despise the chain and sympathize with each other
As he took his place in front of the monument, the whole celebration officially began. I noticed that the man standing side by side with Hajimba was actually “President” Krasnoselsky from “Dnistria”.
I was so impressed with him because I saw the flag there in the souvenir shop on the street of Sukhumi the day before—on a souvenir T-shirt with 9 flags, except for the Abkhazian flag in the middle, the other 8 The faces come from all countries and regions that recognize Abkhazia. Perhaps in such a “country” that is hardly recognized by the world, there is nothing that leaders desire more than “international recognition”. Ironically, Vanuatu and Tuvalu withdrew their recognition as early as 2013 and 2014 respectively.
The flags on the T-shirts represent not only “Transnistria”, but also “South Ossetia”-they are similar to Abkhazia, and they are both disputed areas that are not recognized internationally. Interestingly, as early as 2009, the “Arzakh Republic” (that is, the disputed “Naka” region between Azerbaijan and Armenia), which recognized Abkhazia as early as 2009, did not appear on the T-shirt, and perhaps even Abkhazia did not. Think of it as a country. It seems that the same “unrecognized countries” also have a chain of contempt for each other.
However, it is clear that the Abkhazian authorities not only have no contempt for the “Transnistria”, they are even polite: they not only printed their flags on T-shirts, but also invited their “presidents” to come here to “communicate.” Xiangshengju”. Under such a background of time and space, the two people appearing side by side in this humble street park, there is indeed a taste of sympathy.
In order to capture a clear image of them, I kept moving forward, unconsciously I was far away from the crowd of onlookers. When I realized that I had caused a major disaster, I stood abruptly in the center of the much-anticipated conference venue, and the distance from the “presidents” was only less than 5 meters. However, neither the soldiers and policemen present, nor the brawny men in suits and ink mirrors acting as bodyguards, seemed to have no intention of pulling me back. Even Hajimba “President” saw me, but he just nodded at me with a smile, as if complimenting my appearance, which added a lot to the “international recognition” of this celebration.
The honor guards lined up in columns, two by two, holding huge flower baskets and walking towards the monument. The two “presidents” followed the flower basket and bowed to the martyrs. The noisy scene with thousands of people suddenly fell silent for a while, and there was only the sound of the neat steps of the honor guard’s leather boots. In the distance, I saw a veteran with a big brimmed hat quietly taking out a handkerchief and wiping away the tears from his eyes.
A general is wiping away his tears
Soldiers lay a wreath at the monument to the martyrs
Performance and fireworks
Had it not been for curiosity to translate a Russian text message I received, I almost missed the theatrical performance at the “National Opera” in the evening. For such a place with a population of only more than 200,000, even if admission is free, even if the news of the performance is sent to every mobile phone user in the whole country, even if the performance has already started when we arrive, it is still enough to easily find a good viewing location. .
However, the level of the whole performance is not like a place with a population of only more than 200,000 people. The men in felt hats and the women in riding boots, accompanied by cheerful music, contributed an amazing performance in this small theater. Their costumes are obviously derived from the daily wear of Abkhazians in the past, just like a group of herdsmen who have worked in the Caucasus mountains for a day, dancing lightly under the catalysis of alcohol and music.
”Being able to sing and dance” seems to be a kind of nationality of the Abkhaz people. In the masterpiece “Sandro of Chegem” by the famous local writer Fazil Iskander, the protagonist “Uncle Sandro” is an amateur dancer of the song and dance troupe. In fact, the dancers in front of them are all amateurs, and there are almost no full-time actors in Abkhazia’s song and dance troupe.
The performance ends, and the fireworks show begins immediately. The abandoned cruise ship dock has turned into a fireworks launch site. Onlookers crowded the narrow road by the sea. Accompanied by the rhythm of the fireworks blooming, they shouted in unison, “Abkhazia! Abkhazia!” The child’s immature voice and the old man’s already somewhat hoarse voice, mixed together, resounded. A war-torn city on the shore of the Black Sea. I believe that anyone who has experienced this situation will inevitably be moved by it.
However, the “independence” they celebrated may not be as glorious as this firework. For hundreds of years, Abkhazia has been a multi-ethnic area. Especially during the Soviet period, with the encouragement of policies that year, a large number of Georgians, Russians, even Armenians and Greeks moved here. At the end of the 1980s, in Abkhazia on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the most populous ethnic group was not Abkhazians, but Georgians-with a total population of nearly 250,000, nearly three times that of Abkhazians during the same period.
The Georgians’ numerical advantage in Abkhazia did not last long. During the 1992-1993 civil war, the Georgian army followed the ceasefire agreement and withdrew from Sukhumi. However, the remaining Georgian civilians became the targets of some fanatical Abkhaz mobs attacking and even killing them.
Fireworks show on the night of “Independence Day”
Dancers performing the Abkhazian national dance in the “Independence Day” performance
The serious humanitarian crisis that occurred almost at the same time as the Gulf War was “collectively ignored” by the Western media at the time.
Incited by nameless anger, violent conflicts have escalated, and Sukhumi, once a “vacation paradise”, has become a hell of countless robberies, rapes, and murders. In the end, even the Abkhazians who “didn’t actively kill Georgians” became the targets of the mobs.
The panicked Georgians can only flee their homes, but the coastal roads have long been blocked. They can only brave the severe cold of late autumn and climb over the snowy and windy Caucasus Mountains. A report that year described the tragic situation at that time: “The refugees were trapped in the mountains for several weeks, constantly being hit by rain and snow, and dozens of people were often crowded in a small mountain house to keep out the cold, and even some people could only stay in the dilapidated mountain house where the wind leaked. Camping in Soviet cars.” Even those who succeeded in reaching Georgian-controlled areas were often turned away by the Georgian defenders because they were suspected of being “among them with Abkhaz spies”.
As a result of this conflict, more than 5,000 civilians were killed and more than 250,000 Georgians were displaced. The number of Georgians in Abkhazia dropped sharply from 250,000 before the war to a few thousand today (mostly people who had intermarried with Abkhazians). Those villages and towns that are almost entirely composed of Georgians (such as the town of Gary near the border, where 98% of the residents were Georgians) have almost all become ghost towns after this disaster. Many of the ruins of residential houses that I saw on the road to Sukhumi were not only destroyed by the war, but also because there were too many ruins and too few people left behind, and there is really no value in repairing them.
For those Abkhazians living in other parts of Georgia, almost exactly the same disaster has come to them. Georgians and Abkhazians, these two fraternal nations who have lived together for thousands of years and even share common beliefs, have since become unshakable enemies.
Perhaps it was because Abkhazia had “no oil,” and the severe humanitarian crisis that occurred almost at the same time as the Gulf War was “collectively ignored” by the Western media at the time, and only some Russian media were reporting. To this day, not many people know this history.
The next day, I scanned a photo uploaded by Hashimoto on Facebook: He was wearing a blue striped T-shirt with a childish look, but he stood side by side with the “President” Hajimba in a suit and leather shoes, holding his hands in the most standard posture. It seems that two heads of state are having a cordial and friendly conversation.
There is only regret. Why didn’t I stay a little longer after the ceremony.