De facto State

Abkhazia is a disputed territory in north-west Georgia, bordering Russia. It has been a de facto independent state since 1993, but is only recognised by four nations in the world: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Pacific island nation of Nauru. In 2008, Georgia declared Abkhazia a Russian-occupied territory, and most other governments in the world share this view.

Ethnic Tensions

Abkhazia has historically been a part of many different kingdoms and empires that came and went. In the 11th century, it became part of the Kingdom and Georgia, which broke up into smaller principalities in the 16th century before Abkhazia was invaded by the Ottoman Empire. Georgia sought the protection of the Russians from the Ottomans, and Abkhazia south protection from of the Ottomans from the Russian Empire. Eventually Abkhazia was annexed by Russia in the early 19th century. Following the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, Abkhazia became part of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. Throughout all these changes, Abkhazia enjoyed a level of autonomy.

In the 1980s as the breakup of the Soviet Union approached, many Abkhazians feared that an independent Georgian state would lead to them losing their autonomy, and instead argued in favour of a separate Soviet Republic of Abkhazia.

In 1990, Georgia boycotted a referendum held in the USSR to decide whether or not to preserve the Soviet Union, however nearly all ethnic non-Georgians in Abkhazia took part and voted in favour. When Georgia held an independence, those same ethnic non-Georgians boycotted the vote.

Georgia did declare independence, and in the turmoil that followed, a hardline nationalist Georgian government formed that nullified the soviet treaties that had ensured Abkhaz autonomy. In response, Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia and started ousting Georgian officials, often using violent methods.

Ethnic Cleansing

Georgian troops marched into the capital of Abkhazia, Sukhumi, ostensibly to restore order. At the time the Abkhazians were not militarised, and could barely fight back. However, after gathering support, they launched a counter offensive, and by the end of 1993 had driven the Georgians out of Abkhazia altogether.

Prior to the war, More than 50% of the population of Abkhazia was ethnically Georgian, and only around 20% Abkhazian. As the Abkhazians advanced through their territory, they drove all Georgians out – both military and civilian – often using brutal violence. It is estimated between 8,000 and 10,000 Georgians were killed, and more than 200,000 driven from their homes, many of whom are still displaced people living in Georgia proper today. Many homes were destroyed and rape, torture and murder were rife.

The population of Abkhazia was over 500,000 before the fighting started but little more than 200,000 by the end.

Reigning World Champions

Abkhazia were the host nation of the 2016 ConIFA World Cup, and used that home advantage to lift the trophy, scoring an 88th minute equaliser against Panjab in the final before winning the game on penalties (a lot of the Panjab players are based in England, after all). Abkhazia previously took part in the 2014 ConIFA World Cup, losing int he quarter finals after finishing top of a tight group.

They are not the rag tag group of amateurs that many of the other teams at the ConIFA World Cup consist of. Many of their players play professionally in Russia, mostly in the second division but also including Anri Khagush who played Champions League football for BATE Borisov in 2008, and Feras Esmaeel, an old hand at international games after racking up 81 caps for Syria between 2002 and 2016.