A political crisis in the separatist entity of Abkhazia, which included coup rumors and Russia’s temporary detention of an opposition leader, has eased for now. But the sources of instability have not been fully addressed.
In 2013, as Syria’s civil war raged, 23-year-old Samar Abaza opted, like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, to flee his home for safety abroad. Yet unlike most of the estimated 2.5 million Syrians who are now refugees, Abaza sought to build a new life in Abkhazia, another contested land.
Five years after their formal recognition by the Russian Federation as independent states on August 26, 2008, Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are on very different trajectories in terms of relations with their northern neighbor. But both are plagued by growing domestic political instability.
Although divided by a separatist conflict and decades of tension, Abkhaz and Georgians have proven willing to set mutual grievances aside when humanitarian matters come into play. One such area is the treatment of those infected with HIV/AIDS.
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.
In a jab at Moscow, Georgia on May 20 became the first country to recognize as genocide Tsarist Russia’s massive slaughter of ethnic Circassians in the mid-19th century. The decision constitutes part of Tbilisi’s ongoing argument that the Caucasus is a region where Russia comes as an outsider, not as a native with the right to rule.
Complaining about a lack of Georgian-language instruction, ethnic Georgian students from the breakaway region of Abkhazia are regularly sneaking past armed Russian border guards to attend classes in Georgian-controlled territory. But the covert crossings, a potential security debacle in the making, are so far raising few alarms.