23 years ago: Fall of Sokhumi, Georgians flee Abkhazia

Two Georgian men help a child cross a stream while fleeing Abkhazia and heading to other Georgian regions. Photo source: National Archives.
Agenda.ge, 27 Sep 2016 - 11:38, Tbilisi,Georgia

On this day 23 years ago hundreds of thousands of Georgians were forced to leave their homes in Sokhumi, the capital city of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region.

September 27, 1993 was the day when tens of thousands of people died, hundreds of thousands of people became internally displaced (IDPs) within their own homeland, and Tbilisi lost control of Abkhazia region in north-western Georgia.

Today Georgia is remembering those who died in the fight for their homeland as the country marks the 23rd anniversary of the fall of Sokhumi.

Georgia's Prime Minister at the Heroes Square in Tbilisi. Photo by the Prime Minister's press office.

Georgia’s leaders and cabinet members this morning laid wreaths at the memorial of heroes who died for their country at Heroes Square in capital Tbilisi and expressed condolences to the victims' families.

"Today is one of the most tragic days in Georgia’s modern history,” said Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.
"We all realise that this war was directed against Georgians and Abkhazians. And it was obvious even from the beginning that this war wouldn’t have a winner.”

Kvirikashvili said now the main concern was trying to restore bridges between Abkhazians and Georgians.

"We must walk step-by-step towards our ultimate goal – unification of Georgia. And we must do it peacefully,” the Prime Minister said.

President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili at the Heroes Square in Tbilisi. Photo by the President's press office.

Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili today posthumously awarded 28 fighters who lost their lives in Abkhazia war with the Vakhtang Gorgasali Order for their "courage and heroism in the fight for protection of their motherland and its territorial unification”.

"We are working to create a united and strong Georgia. The unification of Georgia will be the result of our peaceful efforts,” the President said.

Georgia's defence Minister Levan Izoria. Photo by the Ministry's press office.

Georgia’s Defence Minister Levan Izoria also believed Georgia would one day be united.

"Sokhumi, Abkhazia is part of our national identity and part of our heart. I’m sure that with our clever policy we will be able to live in the same state together with our Abkhazian brothers,” Izoria said.

What happened 23 years ago?

On this day 23 years ago the capital city of Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region collapsed as a result of a war that lasted 13 months and 13 days.

Armed conflict in Abkhazia began on August 14, 1992 when Georgia's Armed Forces, intending to defend the Sochi-Enguri section of the railway, were confronted by Abkhaz Gvardia [armed forces]. The Abkhazian militant group involved Russian soldiers and was created under the order of head of the Supreme Council of Abkhazia, Vladislav Ardzinba, near Okhurei Village in Ochamchire district.

In response, the State Council of Georgia decided to send the National Gvardia [another soldier unit controlled by Tbilisi] to Abkhazia to challenge the militant group.

This confrontation sparked the beginning of hostilities in Abkhazia.

On July 27, 1993 both sides agreed to the ‘Sochi Agreement on Ceasefire and Separation of Forces’ however about two months later, on September 16, 1993, the Abkhazian side violated the ceasefire deal and began an attack on Sokhumi.

The Abkhaz-Russian forces started their attack on the building of the Council of Ministers of Abkhazia in the morning of September 27, 1993. They captured and killed Chairman Zhiuli Shartava, Sokhumi Mayor Guram Gabeskiria and 27 employees of the Council of Ministers.

On the same day Sokhumi collapsed and the Georgian Armed Forces lost the fight. This was the end of the war.

Internally displaced Georgians walk dozens of kilometers to get to safety after they were forced to leave Abkhazia. Photo source: National Archives. 

Data collected by the Georgian side revealed in 1992-1993 more than 10,000 Georgian soldiers and civilians died in Abkhazia while 300,000 people became internally displaced. The Abkhaz side reported 3,500 Abkhazians died and 2,000 were wounded in the conflict.

The global community recognises Abkhazia as an integral part of Georgia, while Russia treats the breakaway region as an 'independent state' – a violation of international law.