Just about everyone knows that the FIFA World Cup football tournament gets underway June 12 in Brazil. But in a parallel football universe, a little-known tournament has already been completed, and the champion is a land that stretches across portions of France and Italy.
From the shores of the Black-Sea resort town of Gagra, situated in the separatist territory of Abkhazia, you can see the glow of the Olympic flame in Sochi, just under 60 kilometers away. For many locals, the light in the night serves mainly as a reminder of unmet expectations.
The last time 76-year-old Venera Oshoridze saw her son, Kakha, was September 15, 1993.
A pensive 20-year-old who loved his friends, his mother’s fried potatoes, and dreamed of going to college, Kakha volunteered to fight in the Abkhaz war just days before Tbilisi lost the battle for Sokhumi on September 27, 1993.
At the entrance to the cathedral in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, one Saturday this summer, women kissed the hand of the white-bearded Father Vissarion Apliaa, the self-declared “interim bishop of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church.” Devotional items were displayed on a table near the door, including small pictures of the slain Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
The Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi these days amply illustrates French novelist Marcel Proust's maxim that houses are a “fleeting” receptacle for memories. But local authorities are out to prove Proust wrong by launching a campaign to preserve historic homes and restore the resort city’s faded Tsarist-era grandeur.
The unexpected May 29 death of Sergei Bagapsh, the de facto leader of the breakaway region of Abkhazia, is certain to shake up Abkhaz politics, but some Abkhaz observers say that the underlying question is whether or not it will lead to instability in the territory.
It’s Thursday night at the Soviet-era House of Culture in Agudzera, a village outside Sukhumi, the capital of the breakaway region of Abkhazia, and three Abkhaz rock bands are setting up for a concert. The lighting and sound system is professional and right out of the box, but guitarist Alexander Tsamruk of the band Ferumage must adjust the levels because there is no soundman.
Latin America may seem an unlikely diplomatic priority for Abkhazia, thousands of miles away from the tiny, breakaway territory on the Black Sea. But Abkhazia's de facto foreign minister, Maxim Gvindjia, on his fifth trip to the region, says Latin America is a key to the territory’s efforts to build diplomatic and trade ties around the world.
You could call it poetic justice. Thrown out of his own boyhood home in Abkhazia on the orders of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, Valery Mizadei now is responsible for maintaining all five of the former Soviet dictator’s residences in the sub-tropical Black Sea territory.