Abkhazia’s Population in the beginning of XXth century

Ioseb Archvadze

From the time of the blind king Teodos I and his successor Bagrat III to the XXth century, in spite of the attempts of Byzantium and later other countries, Abkhazia’s social-demographic map was clear and definite.

True facts obtained from examination of independent sources, including the ones of the parties having a hostile disposition towards Georgia, confirm this. Today this issue has become relevant as never before since various myths are spread by means of diplomatic and information sources. Furthermore, Abkhazia’s separatist authorities are trying to change this situation in a surgical way by populating the region with the descendants of the allegedly resettled mojaheds. The presented material shows once again the huge lies that are being spread in the world by the Russians and Abkhazians.
The number of population and ethnic structure of any country or a particular territory undergo changes for many reasons – political, economic, social, cultural as well as many other factors, traditions, the country’s political structure, demographic policy, ethnic and confessional tolerance, etc have an effect on them. Inculcation of market relations, development of communication means and globalization enhance the possibility and likelihood of mobility of separate social groups (their ever increasing part).
From this point of view, comparison of the national structure of Georgia’s population in 1916 and in 2002 is interesting in many aspects. The agricultural census of 1916 fixed Georgia’s population before the big cataclysms that followed during the subsequent decades (gaining and loss of independence, large-scale repressions and turning of Georgia into “a testing ground for international relations…), while the general census of 2002 – the population after the reestablishment of independent statehood. This kind of comparison gives a more or less complete picture of the growth of the number of Georgia’s population during almost the whole century.
In 1916 the administrative territory of Georgia made up 67960,4 thousand versts, i.e. 77343,1 thousand square kilometers; out of it, 7386,6 thousand square versts – 8,4 thousand square kilometers, i.e. 10,9%1 of the Georgia’s territory of that time, fell at Abkhazia. Now, within the internationally recognized borders, Georgia has the territory of 69,7 square kilometers; according to the general census of 2002, its population makes up 4602 thousand people (4372 thousand people – on the territory controlled by the central authorities2 and 230 thousand people – on the uncontrolled ones3). Currently the Georgian central authorities cannot control 9/10 of the territory of Abkhazia and 2/3 of the territory of the former Sooth Ossetian autonomous region, which in all makes up 10,36 thousand square kilometers, i.e. almost 15% of the country’s de jure territory, on which lives approximately 5% of the country’s total population.
The chart given below represents the national structure of Georgia’s population in 1916-20024.
As it can be seen from the presented data, the share of representatives of other nationalities in Georgia’s population is quite big. Besides the nationalities presented in the chart, we should first of all mention Greeks, Jews and Germans. The Jewish community has been living in Georgia for centuries, while Greeks and Germans appeared in our country in large numbers in the nineteenth century. In 1916 approximately 45-50 thousand Greeks, 25 thousand Jews and 20 thousand Germans lived in Georgia6. For many reasons, in Georgia (on the controlled territories) there lived only 15,2 thousand Greeks, 3,8 thousand Jews and 0,9 thousand Germans.
From the present point of view, of no less important is the analysis of the number and ethnic structure of the population, taking into account the Abkhazian region as well, which was represented by 4 districts (Gudauta, Gumista, Kodori and Samuzarkano) and three towns (Sukhumi, Ochamchire and Gudauta).
In 1916 in Abkhazia every 404 of 1000 people were Georgians, Abkhazians -277. In rural areas the mentioned indicators made up 417 and 304 people respectively, while in towns – 285 and 33 people. 5,9% of Georgia’s population and 3,64% of Georgians living in Georgia lived in Abkhazia.
In 1916 the number of Georgians in Sukhumi made up 2579 people, in Gudauta – 645, in Ochamchire – 869. The number of Georgians exceeded the number of Abkhazians: in Sukhumi – by 14,8 times, in Gudauta – by 4,4 times, in Ochamchire – by 5,6 times7.
All this is a clear evidence of the fact that Georgians always dominated in Abkhazia’s population and their “presence” there is not the result of the “Stalin’s and Beria’s policy” being furiously exploited by the separatists for many years.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that Abkhazia’s administrative centre – Sukhumi was a Georgian town not only from historical, but also demographic and cultural point of view8.
In 1916 a certain number of Georgians also lived in Sochi district – in historical Jiketi9.
In 1916-1989 Abkhazia’s population increased by 3,6 times, including the number of Georgians – by 4,1 times, Abkhazians – by 2,3 times, Russians – by 11,3 times, Armenians – by 5,0 times. It is true that the number of Georgians increased faster than that of Abkhazians, but their share in the total population of Abkhazia increased by just 5,2%, while during the same period the share of Abkhazians decreased by 10 percent points. If in 1916-1989 the number of Georgians had increased in the same proportion as it was the case with the average growth of Abkhazia’s population, by 1989 the number of Georgians would have reached 212 thousand people, i.e. only 28 thousand less than it actually was. It should also be taken into account that, as a rule, for many reasons, the title nation’s population of a country is growing faster in comparison with the remaining population. For instance, the share of Kazakhs in Kazakhstan increased from 38% in 1989 to 59% in 2005, and the share of Azerbaijanians in Azerbaijan – from 70% to 91% respectively. In Georgia itself, without taking Abkhazia into account, the share of Georgians also increased from 68,3% in 1916 to 72,8 in 1989.
It should be pointed out that though in 1916-2002 the number of Georgia’s population and the share of Georgians in the total population increased, the living areal of Georgians became somewhat decreased and limited. The territory currently controlled by Georgia’s central authorities does not exceed 59 thousand square kilometers, which is 23,3% less than the area of Georgia’s administrative units in 1916… At the same time, the density of the population on the territories that are not controlled by the central authorities is 4,3 times less in comparison with the remaining territory of Georgia10.
In the twentieth century, demographic indicators of Georgians absolutely and relatively deteriorated in some regions. For instance, in early 1990 the number of Georgians in Tskhinvali was by more than 4 times less than that of Ossetians, while in 1916 it was more than three to one11. Currently the ancient Georgian town of Tskhinvali, which was once the summer residence of Kartli kings, is almost fully cleansed of the Georgian population (the way Abkhazia was ethnically cleansed of several hundred thousand Georgians). According to the general population census of 2002, out of 65 administrative units12 being in Georgia’s jurisdiction, Georgians are an absolute majority in 58 ones, while in 7 ones (Akhalkalaki, Bolnisi, Gardabani, Dmanisi, Marneuli, Ninotsminda and Tsalka regions) they are a minority. Besides, in some regions Georgian population is currently in larger minority than ever.
In the twentieth century Georgia experienced heaviest demographic blows, deportation of a considerable part of the population, direct military losses during the two world wars… Correspondingly, in spite of the absolute growth of the population, the correlation of Georgia to other countries according to this indicator was on the whole extremely unenviable (see the Annex)…
I hope that, in spite of this kind of situation, the twenty first century will be a better and more successful one for the reproduction of the Georgian nation, political-economic and social-cultural development than the last century that was full of tenseness…