For Sokhumi, the timing could not be better. Breakaway Abkhazia has invited ethnic Abkhaz from chaotic Syria to resettle in their ancestors’ land and fill the population void left by the territory's 1992-1994 war with Tbilisi. The region’s de-facto authorities declare that the return has begun, as they have five takers already.
An Abkhaz de-facto official claimed, though, that the homecoming is not an immediate consequence of the ongoing violence in Syria. “The majority of people looking to return had been planning to do so long before the situation in Syria worsened, but developments in this country have expedited the process,” Kavkazsky Uzel news service quoted Inar Gitsba, head of the Turkey and Middle East Department of Abkhazia’s de-facto Foreign Ministry, as saying.
Earlier this year, Sokhumi sent a diplomatic mission to Syria to facilitate the repatriation of some 8,000 Syrians of Abkhaz descent. De-facto officials now say that some 90 Syrian-Abkhaz will resettle in Abkhazia by year’s end.
Returning Abkhaz have been offered a temporary stay in a Sokhumi hotel and, then, a permanent residence in the nearby region of Gulripshi.
It's unclear whether the century-and-a-half homecoming will be a large one, however. Sokhumi held similar expectations for Diaspora Abkhaz from Turkey, but, often discouraged by local living conditions, their return, for the most part, has been more sporadic than epic.
Thousands of displaced ethnic Georgians out there would be happy to return to Abkhazia, too, but Sokhumi is choosing to look for its own genetic kin to replenish the region's population. The Abkhaz living in places like Syria and Turkey are descendants of mukhajirs, individuals who fought against Tsarist Russia's 19-century conquest of the Caucasus and, consequently, were given the boot by the Russians.
The tables have turned since then and Russia is now Abkhazia’s welcome guardian, while Tbilisi, with its attempts to bring the region back under its control, is public enemy number one. While the Abkhaz are looking for Diaspora scattered across the Middle East, the Georgians, in a jab at Moscow, are embracing the North Caucasus' Circassians, whose ancestors accounted for the largest mukhajir groups driven out of the Caucasus by Tsarist Russia.
Such ethnic policies may be hardly conducive to peace in one of the world's most ethnically diverse regions, but it’s not the first time when the people of the Caucasus are looking for solutions in far-away places instead of trying to make peace amongst themselves.