Some of the issues of Russian imperial language policy in Abkhazia and its results (part II)
28/06/2010 13:44
Gogi Maisuradze
Experts' Club

Approach of official circles of Russia towards cultural heritage of Abkhazians and a role of Georgian intelligentsia in its rescue

In 1868 by official decision of the Russian authorities Abkhazian language was declared an undeveloped language, "... it does not have a script, there is neither religious nor secular literature in this language, and therefore Abkhazians should study and pray in Russian i.e. official state language. Abkhazians are not Georgians so they do neither need to study this language not pray in it. As to population of Samurzakano they, according to ideologists of the empire, are not Georgians but Abkhazians and if that is so they do not need to learn Georgian language and say prayers in this language, therefore residents of Samurzakano must , like Abkhazians, study and pray in Russian" – declared Russian officials.

Of course, one does not need to think too much to realize that using such "logic" the empire was tying to simultaneously Russificate both Abkhazians and Georgians population of Abkhazia and Samurzakano.

Unfortunately, after the mass deportation of 1878 Abkhazians who were left in minority and were left just in two reservations and were officially branded as "guilty people", were prohibited from settling near roads and the sea. They almost had no intelligentsia and leaders in order to carry out serious opposition against Russification politics of the empire. Therefore a burden of fight for saving national, linguistical, religious and cultural identity of both Abkhazians and their own Georgian people was undertaken by Georgian leaders living in Samurzakano.

On March 17th 1898 when sinodal department of Georgia-Imereti by order 2771 again prohibited teaching and conduction of religious services in church schools and churches of the Sukhumi district respectively in Georgian language it was followed by such mass protests of Georgian population of Abkhazia and Samurzakano that it even reached the Russian emperor. The emperor charged the Holy Synod of the Russian Church with solving of this problem. On September 3rd 1898 the Holy Synod issued order 4880 which determined: Those parishes where congregation were Mingrelians i.e. Georgians both church services and church education should have been conducted in Georgian language, while in Abkhazian parishes ... for already known reasons, in old Slavic language. This order was only carried out only in three parishes out of 42 in the Sukhumi district which was justified by leaders of the Sukhumi eparchy with the above-mentioned "logic". Georgian public figures did not accept this and continued to fight for their rights. One of them Tedo Sakhokia managed to publish a protest letter in the Sankt Peterburgskie Velomosti newspaper that was published in Saint Petersburg where he defended interests of both Georgian and Abkhazian population and he demanded from authorities to introduce Abkhazian and Georgian languages in church services and education. In response, authorities instituted criminal case against Tedo Sakhokia and leaders of the "Georgian party" that was active in Abkhazia and was headed by Sakhokia as a result of which on May 1st 1904 the council of the Vice Roy of the Caucasus sentenced eight "guilty" persons indefinite exile from the Caucasus (in details see Silagadze, Guruli, 1999). Simultaneously with this investigation , as it is clear form the sources, military governor of Kutaisi province General Vershelman asked of Russian highest authorities permission " for axeleration of Russification of population of Sukhumi okrug" to send only Russian, or in extreme case, Abkhazian religious persons in those parishes where Abkhazians and Georgians lived; to replace Georgian teachers that were working in the okrug with Russians and to expel Georgian religious leaders and teachers from the region (Silagadze, Guruli, document N 2, p. 83-84).

Aggressive nature of Russification politics of Tsarism and attempts to instigate hostilities between nations

Main characteristics of linguistical politics carried out by Tsarist Russia in Abkhazia were its aggressiveness and russificatory nature. The result of this politics was that by the 1905-1907 revolution there appeared first signs of confrontation between Georgian and Abkhazian population: part of Abkhazians believed that Georgians allegedly were disputing their lands and wanted to assimilate Abkhazians i.e. Georgianize them. They were made to accept " scientific theory" created by Russian ideologists according to which there never were Georgians in Abkhazian region until XIX century; Mythologized image of Georgian as an enemy to Abkhazian emerged; a slogan destructive for Abkhazians was created: "It is better to be swallowed by the sea than by the stream" where "sea" was Russia and "stream" – Georgia; Nihilistic attitude towards Abkhazian people, Abkhazian language and culture was spreading. This was the situation when the 1917 Revolution came which overthrew rotting, military-style (in literal meaning of this word) imperialist state of Tsarism. Naturally, during a short period of restoration of Georgian independence (26 may 1918 – February 1921) it was impossible to completely change extremely difficult legacy of tsarism. All the more that both Soviet Russia and its rivals actively interfered with similar fervour in internal affairs of Georgia and promoted troubles and confrontation between peoples in Abkhazia. It was this period when there appeared ideologists such as Basaria, Ashkhvatsaa, Chanba...) that preached ideas of separatism. Although there was large part of Abkhazian people who were in favour of maintaining traditional good Georgian-Abkhazian relations and who were well aware that Abkhazian people should not expect anything good in Russia. These were Giorgi Shervashidze, Varlam Shervashidze, Vianor Anchabadze and others. Despite existing difficulties and small period of time in 1918-1921 Abkhazians still managed (in order to save Abkhazian language) to carry out several good measures. In particular, in 1919 with leadership of D. Gulia was established the first Abkhazian-language newspaper "Afsny" (Abkhazia), preparations were begun for improvement of teaching of Abkhazian language in schools, several theatre performances were done in Abkhazian language and so on.

Attitude of ruling circles of Moscow towards Abkhazian legacy in Soviet years

On March 4th 1921 Soviet regime was established in Abkhazia as well and it started to actively work on setting Abkhazian ands Georgian population against each other and on Russification of both ethnic groups. Along with other measures this new kind of empire paid special attention to a language politics that was provocative and aimed at uprooting of national characteristics. Together with new methods the empire had in its arsenal modified versions of tsarist methods. With the help of ideologists all over the territory of the Soviet Union the following methods were being renovated:

1. Segregation of relatively large ethnic group into numerous groups according to false linguistic and ethnic characteristics;
2. Self-willed and unjustifiable (artificial) autonomization of regions and administrative and territorial division that involved elements that might easily provoke conflicts between ethnic groups;
3. Activization of a problem of legal status of languages in multiethnic regions;
4. Creation of formally so-called national and in reality Russian schools;
5. Periodic change of foundations of scripts of those languages that had written language (first latinization and then Russification);
6. Forceful imposition of Russian language on the entire population of the Soviet Union and attempt to mass spread Russian monolingualism passing through first national-Russian bilingualism
7. Encouragement to artificially increase share of Russianisms, Sovietisms and internationalisms in non-Russian languages;
8. Provocation of "toponymic, onomnastic and historiographic wars" among neighbouring ethnic groups;
9. Settlement of ethnic Russians and so-called Russian-language population on lands of other ethnic groups and encouragement of multiethnicism of regions;
10. Establishment-achievement of priority of Russian language in the media;
11. Artificially limiting edition of literature in national languages;
12. Official declaration of entire ethnic groups as "guilty people" and their deportation from native lands and so on.

Practically all these methods were used in Abkhazia in Soviet times. It is also notable that special attention was paid to tactics of giving interchangeable priority to Abkhazian and Georgian people in the region. This involved all the above-mentioned methods. This tactics enabled the metropolis constantly maintain tensions between these two ethnic groups and rule out with all possible methods their unification in order to prevent them from damaging the imperial politics.

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