[lg policy] Some of the issues of Russian imperial language policy in Abkhazia and its results (part II)

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 1 15:40:15 UTC 2010

Some of the issues of Russian imperial language policy in Abkhazia and
its results (part II)

28/06/2010 13:44
Gogi Maisuradze

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

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


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents.
Members who disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal,
and to write directly to the original sender of any offensive message.
 A copy of this may be forwarded to this list as well.  (H. Schiffman,

For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to

This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list