Abkhazia is a nation on the eastern side of the Black Sea. It shares borders with Georgia and Russia. It covers roughly 3200 square miles (8400 sq. km), and has a population of just under 200,000. The nation is considered de facto independent, with a formally adopted constitution as of 1999.
The region has been occupied for millennia, and in the 9th century BCE was a part of a larger Georgian kingdom, Colchis. In the 1st century it became a part of the Roman Empire, and was later absorbed into the Byzantine Empire. In the 4th century it began to assert some independence within the Empire, and by the 7th century was declared an autonomous region within Byzantium. In the 10th century the country was subsumed by the larger Georgian Kingdom, which it remained a part of until the 16th century.
Abkhazia was independent briefly following the breakup of the Georgian Kingdom, before being conquered by the Ottoman Empire. During this era it converted largely to Islam, and the nobility became distanced from the still-Christian Georgian royalty in the neighboring regions.
Throughout the 19th century, the country was tossed back and forth between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire. At various times over this period it was granted differing levels of autonomy, and at some times it was almost entirely independent.
After the Russian Revolution, Abkhazia was reunified with greater Georgia, as part of the newly independent Georgian state. The Georgian government continued to give the country much of the same autonomy it has enjoyed under various Ottoman and Russian rulers. Stalin later made it an autonomous republic, although it was still under the auspices of the Georgian SSR. At this time, in spite of an official party line of autonomy, Georgian was instituted as the official language, and mass immigration was encouraged from surrounding Georgia.
After Stalin’s death, the ethnic Abkhaz began to be given greater power and freedoms. Although in many immediate ways this was good for the Abkhaz, as they saw more direct power, it also engendered a great deal of resentment from ethnic Georgians, who saw the Abkhaz being given what was felt to be a disproportionate role in decision making.
Leading up to the breakup of the Soviet Union, many Abkhaz worked against the movement towards an independent Georgia, which they felt would put them in a position of weakness. As the breakup continued, Abkhazia worked towards their own autonomous status. This was largely successful until Eduard Shevardnadze took power and reinstituted the 1921 Constitution of Georgia, which many Abkhaz saw as undermining their autonomy. This led to a reaction in which Abkhazia declared their own independence, although the move was ignored by the international community.
War began not long after, and following a defeat of largely-unarmed Abkhaz the war was joined by the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus. In following years many Georgians and Abkhaz were killed. It’s estimated that some 10,000 to 30,000 Georgians died, some 3,000 Abkhaz died, and more than 250,000 Georgians were pushed out of Abkhazia.
In 2004, elections were held in Abkhazia, although it still had not been recognized by the international community as an independent nation. Violence continued for the next few years, and Russian support increased. Russia eventually backed the Abkhazian use of the Russian ruble as a unit of currency, and issued Russian passports to Abkhaz who applied. Following the South Ossetia war between Russian and Georgia, a number of Russian troops entered the country, and Russia officially recognized it as an independent nation in August of 2008.