Georgia is located in the Transcaucasus region between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, a veritable jig-saw puzzle of diverse ethnic and religious groups forged into a single state by the Russians. Abkhazia is located in the Northwest region of Georgia, bordering on the Black Sea and rising into the high Caucasus Mountains in the east.
Abkhazia was incorporated into Russia (1810), and in 1931, the USSR merged Abkhazia and Georgia into a unified socialist republic of Georgia. Georgian language was made compulsory and Abkhazi culture was assimilated and dissipated. Abkhazis felt their culture was on the verge of extinction. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Abkhaz rebels rose in rebellion, seeking independence from Georgia. During two years of fighting an estimated 200,000 Georgian refugees fled from Abkhazia and Georgians leveled charges of ethnic cleansing. In 1993, Abkhazi guerrillas captured the key city of Sukhumi and declared their independence. A ceasefire agreement was arranged but political disputes remained unresolved and the international community has not recognized Abkhazi independence.
The UN sent non-military observers (UNOMIG) to monitor the ceasefire and Russia deployed peacekeeping forces. The Organization for Security in Europe (OSCE) and other international organizations are also involved in monitoring developments. Negotiations toward a permanent peace settlement have made little progress, but the Georgian and Abkhazi governments have agreed to limit the size of their military forces and extend the authorization for UNOMIG. Meanwhile, Georgian refugees maintain a government in exile.
Key points of disagreement are the ultimate political status of Abkhazia and the rights of Georgian refugees to return to their homes in Abkhazia. As in nearby Chechnya and other Russian territories, criminal organizations have exploited weakened governments and complicate efforts to restore security, order and commerce.