Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Abkhaz Negroes – A Numerically Small Nation Few Have Ever Heard Of

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – The exact number of nations in the countries of Eurasia is not only unknown but a matter of dispute. Most attention goes to those who have their own statehood either complete or autonomous within another or to the numerically small peoples of the North and Far East who have their own followers in Russia and abroad.

            But there are many other numerically small nations on the territories of the post-Soviet states about which some scholarly investigations have been conducted and more rarely popular media stories have been written.  Among the most unusual of these groups, one that was the subject of an Internet story this week, is the numerically small Abkhazian Negros.

            These people have black or brown skill, dark curly hair and facial shapes resembling those of African nations.  But they live in the Caucasus to this day and deserve their own time in the sun even though they are few in number, live in isolated areas, and seldom get much attention from anyone.

            This week, the Russian7 portal, which regularly features stories on unusual aspects of society and history in Russia and neighboring countries carried one on the Abkhaz Negroes who live in more than a dozen villages in the Kodor River valley in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia (

            Some of them have left these villages for Sukhumi and for other cities of Georgia and Russia, the portal reports; “and despite belonging to the Negroid race, they consider themselves Abkhazians,” speaking Abkhaz among themselves and otherwise behaving in ways indistinguishable from the Abkhaz majority in their villages.

                Many are assimilated in whole or in part because of what Russian7 says are “numerous cases of mixed marriages and their complete isolation from their original cultural milieu.” Like the Abkhaz, it continues, they are predominantly agriculturalists but some work in industry or operate their own businesses.

            Most profess Islam but some of them reportedly are Christians or Jews. Up until the 19th century, they spoke only Abkhaz. Now, Russian7 reports, most speak Russian as well. Just how many there are is unknown as they have not been counted separately in any census. But their numbers now are probably less than a hundred.

            Where they came from and how they ended up in Abkhazia is a matter of dispute. Some historians say they were purchased as slaves by Abkhaz princes. Others say they swam ashore from an Ottoman ship that was sinking.  And still others argue that they are the descendants of an ancient Colchis people.

            Probably their moment of greatest prominence came in 1927 when Maxim Gorky visited one of their villages and, in the words of Russian7, “came to the conclusion that they most likely were the descendants of slaves brought from Ethiopia.”  But that conclusion may be as fanciful as his stories.

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