August 14: 23 years ago today Abkhazia conflict began

  • A woman holds a baby and a gun during the Abkhazia conflict., 14 Aug 2015 - 15:50, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgia is commemorating the 23rd anniversary of the Abkhazia war, which ended with the area becoming a breakaway region of Georgia and leaving hundreds of thousands displaced.

The confrontation started on August 14, 1992 and lasted for 403 days. It was one of many conflicts precipitated by the breakup of the Soviet Union and was one of the bloodiest, most consequential and most unresolved battles of the time.

Click here to see a multi-media story by about one of the bloodiest episodes of the Abkhazia war.

Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili issued special statements today, saying "revenge policy” had no future and he was confident Georgia’s territorial integrity would be restored in a peaceful manner.

"Exactly 23 years ago today the most dramatic event of our history – the Abkhazia war – started,” the President said.

During the 1992-93 conflict, tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers lost their lives and about 300,000 people were displaced.

Internally displaced Georgians walk dozens of kilometers to get to safety after they were forced to leave Abkhazia.

The Abkhazia war is commonly referred to as "the war between brothers”.

"The war between brothers caused a huge human, material, financial and psychological loss,” Margvelashvili said.

The President expressed his hopes to rebuild a "strong, developed, democratic and peaceful state”, which would be the guarantee for defending the rights of each and all of its citizens regardless of their political, religious or cultural views.

PM Garibashvili said this war was a "very bad experience" for Georgia and the country had no right to repeat it or to reciprocate when provoked.

"Georgia will never stop fighting for its territorial integrity, but this fight will be peaceful," Garibashvili said, adding Georgians were the biggest well-wisher for Abkhazians. 

The Abkhazia war was waged mainly between Georgian government forces on one side and Abkhaz separatist forces on the other, who fought for independence of Abkhazia from Georgia. The separatists were supported by the Russian armed forces and North Caucasian hired fighters.

Oscar shortlisted film Tangerines, the most famous modern film by a Georgian director, focused exactly on this topic. Although it was not a documentary, it centred on an older man who cared for two wounded soldiers from opposite sides – one Georgian and the other Chechen - of the 1990-era war in Georgia.

Watch the trailer below.

On the first day of the war, Georgian police and National Guard units were dispatched to restore governmental control over Abkhazia. The ranks of Georgian troops were filled partially by "emptying the jails" as some inmates were released on the condition they fight in Abkhazia.

Handling of this conflict was aggravated by civil strife in Georgia between supporters of the ousted Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the post-coup government led by the late Eduard Shevardnadze.

Significant human rights violations and atrocities were reported on all sides and peaked in the aftermath of the Abkhaz capture of Sokhumi – the main city in the region - on September 27, 1993. This was followed by a large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing against the ethnic Georgian population, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

A United Nations Secretary General fact-finding mission reported numerous and serious human rights violations were committed by both sides during the Abkhazia war.

Between 13,000 and 20,000 ethnic Georgians and approximately 3,000 Abkhaz were reported to be killed, more than 250,000 Georgians became internally displaced and 2,000 went missing.

Two Georgian men help a child cross a stream while fleeing Abkhazia and heading to other Georgian regions.

Internally displaced Georgians walk dozens of kilometers to get to safety after they were forced to leave Abkhazia.

Post-Soviet Georgia was heavily affected by the war and suffered considerable financial, human and psychological damage. Abkhazia has been devastated by the war and subsequently, sporadic conflict has continued ever since.

As a result of the war, Georgia effectively lost control over Abkhazia and the region established itself as a de facto independent territory.

Relations between Russia and Abkhazia improved in the late 1990s and the economic blockade of Abkhazia was lifted.

Laws were also passed allowing other countries to become part of the Russian Federation, which was interpreted by some as an offer to Abkhazia and other unrecognised countries of the former Soviet Union.

This dispute persisted without major incident as a frozen conflict until 2008, when a large-scale Russian military intervention invaded Georgia. This clash re-ignited hostilities and led to Moscow’s unilateral recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state.