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Sukhumi: The history of the region became ashes

Hotel Abkhazia in Sukhumi - flickr-cabiria8
Hotel Abkhazia in Sukhumi. Photo: flickr/cabiria8

Neal Ascherson is a well known British foreign correspondent. He is also the author of a book of history and reportage about the Black Sea. It was written as the Soviet Union crumbled and in the period just afterwards. It was first published in 1995. In 2007 a new and updated version came out. This is not surprising. For an English language readership Ascherson's book had established itself as the single best and most readable introduction to the region and it has lost none of its freshness and poignancy. Given the conflict in Georgia in 2008 the idea of bringing out a new edition was timely indeed. One chapter, from which these extracts are taken, is devoted to Abkhazia, the breakaway part of Georgia which is now recognised as independent by Russia. In a painstakingly fair-minded way Ascherson explains how the ancestors of the Abkhaz were already there when the first Greeks arrived in the sixth century BC, and how by 1992 they had become less than 20 per cent of the population, the rest being Georgians, Mingrelians (a Georgian minority,) Russians, Pontic Greeks, Armenians and others. The conflict of 1992 and 1993 which originally severed Abkhazia from Georgia was brutal. "There were atrocities on both sides," writes Ascherson:

The towns were wrecked and often looted. In the south, the Georgians destroyed villages as they fell back, and sowed the fields with mines. The dead

Black Sea: Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism. Neal Ascherson. 2007.
[p. 247 & pp.  253-254 / Vintage Books]

January 2009
Tim Judah

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