Russian colonization in Abkhazia
31/08/2010 14:10
Gogi Maisuradze
Experts' Club

In the second half of the XIX century the Russian imperial authorities started to actively master and colonize historical Georgian lands. In our view, this process was consciously or unconsciously presented in a biased and distorted way by Russian and Abkhazian authors in their "works". They presented as though that was the time when Georgians "annexed" Abkhazia and Georgians "invaded" this region and that was the reason for demographic changes in favour of Georgians (Dzidzaria, Lakoba, Bgazhba). In reality in the above-mentioned period Russia founded more than 35 villages for Russians and other Russian-speaking peoples in Abkhazia. And this should have been enough for complete development and Russification of this small region. Numerous archive materials clearly show how unfoundedly Russian officials harassed Georgians in Abkhazia and that the latters were not even taken into account in the colonization process.

A clear demonstration of real aims of the Russian colonization was an attitude of Russian administration towards Georgians population of a village of Parnauti of the Sukhumi district. Violation of their civilian rights clearly served Russian interests in the Black Sea region. So-called Parnauti case raised a large response not only in the Georgian press of the time but also in the Russian one as well. It showed how unjust was the decision of Russian government and governing circles of the time towards residents of Parnaurti.

Numerous fact-based materials clearly show events that took place in the village of Parnauti. In the 60s and 70s of the XIX century almost the entire population of the village fell victim of Mukhajirstvo. The place that left without people became abandoned and deserted. The village was overrun by forest. Despite the fact that it was situated just 11 km away from Sukhumi it became unattractive to everybody due to its state. Soil became fallow. It needed so much work and efforts as well as resources that there were few who could afford to to cultivate it. It was the reason that Russian peasants refused to settle in Parnauti. Even those who were brought in groups from remote parts of the Russian empire and were offered to be settled there for free refused it. Russian peasants that came to Abkhazia in earlier period also refused to settle in this village. After that the Sukhumi authorities leased land to Georgian peasants, mainly from Zugdidi and Senaki districts. And they were promised a permanent or long lease. It should be also said that when Russians were given lands free of charge Georgians had to pay 6 rubles per desetina. Georgians also paid for keeping cattle – 40 kopeiks per head. Georgian peasant bought weapons for cultivation of land themselves when Russian settlers used to get them free of charge.

It was a hard path for new settlers of Parnauti. It took a lot of willpower and energy to fight a wild nature. As the press of the time unanimously noted that it was them who were to be thanked for the fact that this settlement that previously was completely fallow, abandoned and deserted became a wonderful place in the outskirts of Sukhumi with its gardens, orchards and vineyards. Those who drew lease agreements with residents of Parnauti were usually of Russian origin and representatives of the Russian authorities. As it later became apparent they deceived residents of Parnauti, made them cultivate this fallow land and then decided to establish a Russian village on their gardens and estates. More they were announced as appropriators who misappropriated lands. And that was happening when the entire population, with the exception of several newcomers, was settled there two-three decades ago. But these several families were used as a pretext to justify their unlawful actions. In reality their only crime was their ethnic origin, their being Georgians.

They were named as violators that illegally occupied lands in documents written and later sent to higher authorities by head of department for settlers in the Caucasus...

According to the same document many Georgian peasants had taken land on lease from private landowners and that made the case more complicated for authorities. At the same time boundaries were not clearly marked between private and treasury lands. The government project was dragging on and the blame for this was put ion Georgians peasantry. So authorities thought it necessary to expel them and they cited a reason as though there was not enough land even for Russian settlers. Those who should have been expelled included those who settled there later as well as new settlers.

Russian officials understood well that this was a very delicate issue and involved a lot of risks for authorities. Therefore this process was realized at politically appropriate period - during the rage of reactionary forces, after the brutal suppression of the revolution. The head of the department for settlers wrote to a viceroy that 95 Abkhazian families in Eshera were in difficult conditions and if Mingrelians (Georgians) were to be given Parnauti these Abkhazian would have been left empty-handed. But this was just a pretext as in all other documents he used to talk about settling of Russian settlers in Parnauti.

Peasants of Parnauti did not think that the situation would get so difficult. As it can be seen from the case they hoped that by paying they would manage to legalize land that they occupied and built from scratch as their property. At the beginning they wrote letters, appeals, complaints and explanations through their representatives. They hoped for justice but in the end they were bitterly disappointed. They involved everybody in this process starting from Georgians members of the Russian Duma, state council, local press and that of Petersburg most of which were on their side . But all this was not a decisive factor that could have been taken into account, although they were not altogether indifferent towards this fact. It is obvious even from the fact that newspaper cut-outs showing Parnautian peasant letters were meticulously sent by the office of the department for settlers to the viceroy.

Member of the State Duma Prokopi Shervashidze sent a telegram from Petersburg to the viceroy where he protested illegal and forced expulsion of 45 Mingrealian (Georgian) families from Parnauti and creation of a village for Russian settlers on their land.

Russian chauvinism was apparent even from the fact that these people were not mentioned as Georgians in any of the documents. They were mentioned as Mingrelians. Russian beaurocracy showed that they followed imperial principle of "divide and rule" by separating Georgian people into Mingrelains, Svans, Khevsurs, etc and for Georgian people it was hard to endure. The only newspaper that mentioned residents of Parnauti as Georgians was Russian newspaper Novaya Rech. Other Russian publications also wrote about Parnautian peasants. These were Golos Kavkaza (#971, 1909), Zakavkazie (# 242), Rech newspaper, Baku, Kaspia and others. The main line in all articles published there is the same and implies that all lands in the Transcaucasus belong to Russians settlers and no native can have a claim to them. This was an approach of the Russian press towards the colonization of the Caucasus.

This issue was even more acute and widely discussed in the Georgian democratic press. Despite a severe census that followed the period of the first revolution, Georgian journalist used to manage to carry out fight against lawlessness, to disclose Tsarist officials and the colonial regime. Newspapers were being shut down, bold articles were written; editors and courageous journalists were punished.

Golos Kavkaza newspaper as opposed to other Russian newspapers of the Caucasus shred the same point of view as Russian reactionary press and used to assess the case of Parnauti from the government point of view, criticised the press that defended Parnautians and called appropriators to those Georgian peasants that were striped of everything. And the following title was chosen -"Parnautian seizure"...

As to arguments of Golos Kavkaza regarding Parnauti and Georgians that were expelled from there they are the following "the village of Parnauti does not exist in the Sukhumi district at all and those Georgian newspapers that are writing about such settlement are lying. This is a forest holiday village, which was provided for Russian settlers back in the nineties and which was alter captured by Mingrelians that came from Kutaisi province to Sukhumi district. First they got a lease on lands and then settled there without authorization". The newspaper also talks about seizing of land by Mingrelains from indigenous Abkhazian population. While Abkhazians were not even included in government plans, the following phrase was said: "It is responsibility of Russian authorities to protect Abkhazians from invasion of Mingrelians as the latter can lead to unpleasant results" (8, sheet 120). This is a manifestation of arrogance of Russian imperialism, that used to carry out and still does occupation of Abkhazia, "protects" Abkhazians from Georgian "annexation" ...

How Russian officials favoured Abkhazians in Abkhazia is seen from the set of documents. Here are some excerpts from the 1864 report of the Governor-General of Kutaisi Sviatopolk-Mirsky about eviction of Abkhazians and Russian colonization of Abkhazia: "only radical way, which would remove any risk from Sukhumi department, is sending of residents of Abkhazia in exile to the Ottoman Empire. If part of Abkhazians expresses their wish to go to Turkey we must not prevent them from doing so. We can begin colonization of Abkhazia with Cossacks settlements. Settling of both banks of the river Bzyb will enable us to begin settlement of Abkhazia by Russian population.

Viceroy of the Caucasus Baratynsky, 1861: " the Caucasian highlands should be freed of population ... and Cossack settlements should be created on these beautiful and fertile places". He repeated this idea after the end of the Caucasian War in his letter to Emperor Alexander II.

There are plenty of such examples.

Ultimately, Russian officials settled Georgian residents of Parnauti that were expelled from there - about 30 families - in the valley of the upper part of the river Kodori.

The history of the village of Parnauti is a clear expression of the Russian colonial policy in Abkhazia, it reflected the imperial government crackdown against Abkhazian and Georgian population and the process of settlement of the territory with Russians. This story reflects methods that Russia used to denationalize Abkhazia and fully assimilate it into the imperial space.

The article is based on the work of Doctor of Historical Sciences and principal researcher of the Ivane Javakhishvili Institute of History and Ethnology Dodo Chumburidze.

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