News / Europe

Syrian Refugees Go ‘Home’ to Former Russian Riviera

Syrian Refugees Go ‘Home’ to Former Russian Rivierai
X
April 15, 2013 8:57 PM
As Syria’s civil war grinds into its third year, ethnic and religious minorities feel increasingly insecure. Armenian Christians have left for Beirut and Armenia. VOA's James Brooke reports from Sukhumi that another ethnic group is finding safe haven on the Black Sea coast in Abkhazia, a breakaway territory of Georgia, drawing on 150-year-old ethnic ties.
James Brooke
Syria’s civil war has created more than one million refugees. Many live in border camps in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon.

But a lucky few are finding shelter on the Black Sea coast, in Abkhazia, a breakaway territory of Georgia. This sunny strip of beaches and forests once was called “Russia’s Riviera.”

They are Syrian Abkhaz, coming home 150 years after the Russian czar deported their Muslim ancestors to the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of modern Turkey.

Elbrus Abhaza was a French teacher in Damascus. It’s my origins - Abkhazia,” he said of his ancestral homeland, which he first saw when he arrived from Syria in January. “We have roots, roots in Abkhazia.”

  • Abkhaz Syrian refugees are housed in blue and white prefabricated houses, installed in Sukhumi for United Nations peacekeeping monitors who worked in Abkhazia after the 1992-1993 war. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • Installed for peacekeepers, this dining room now serves meals for 75 Abkhaz Syrian refugees. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • Noor Wadkhuka, with her 10-year old son Gyakhra, pours tea for visitors. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • Sami Emha runs the dining room, helping to cook for 75 refugees. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • Basima Marshan, a former museum curator in Damascus, plays with her baby, Sana, while her 2-year-old daughter Sara, watches. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • Syrian-born sisters, Sana and Sara, are the faces of Abkhazia’s new generation. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • Laman Jadker adjusts to life in the land of her ancestors, a land she had only heard about in her Syrian village. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • Walid Wadjukh served as a Syrian-Abkhaz volunteer in Abkhazia's 1992-1993 war. Last year, Wadjukh decided to move his family to Abkhazia. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • The bedroom nook of the Wadjukhs’ 14-year-old daughter. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • Elbrus Abaza taught French in a Damascus suburb before coming to Abkhazia. (V. Undritz for VOA)
  • Elbrus Abasa and his grandmother, Laman Jadker, face the future in Abkhazia together. (V. Undritz for VOA)

Before Syria’s civil war, Abkhazia fought its own civil war.

Administered during Soviet years as an autonomous region of Georgia, Abkhazia won de facto independence in 1993 by expelling Georgian troops and ending Georgian control. A Russian military presence, first established in the 1990s, was greatly expanded after Russia defeated Georgia in a short war in 2008.

Twenty years ago, Walid Wadjukh fought in Abkhazia’s secessionist war, serving as a volunteer from the Abkhaz diaspora. Six month ago, when Syria’s war came to his Damascus suburb, this flower seller and father of three moved his family to his ancestral homeland.

“The best place is where you can live peacefully,” he said, talking in his temporary apartment, accompanied by his wife Noor, and his 10-year-old son, Gyakhra. “Here we live peacefully. And they help us as well. People here help us, and they don’t bother us.”

With Abkhazia now peaceful, the Syrian refugees moved into blue-and-white housing vacated four years ago when a U.N. cease-fire observer mission ended work here.

Abkhazian government official Viacheslav Chirikba said 200 Syrian Abkhaz already have arrived. Another 150 are to come by the end of April.

“We want to help our brothers who are in need and in danger now in Syria, and to assist them in any way possible which we can provide them,” said Chirikba, foreign minister of a region recognized as independent by only two major countries, Russia and Venezuela. All other major countries say Abkhazia is still part of Georgia.

Although few of the refugees speak Russian or Abkhaz, Chirikba said they are needed as Abkhazia slowly rebuilds from its own war.

“Many of them have very useful professions - electricians - we have a need of them,” he said. “So many of them already start working, which is very good.”

At Sukhumi’s hilltop campus of Abkhaz State University, Beslan Baratelia says Abkhazia has a long-standing program to encourage ethnic Abkhaz to come home from Turkey.

“Repatriation has already been happening in Abkhazia for around 20 years,” said Baratelia, who is dean of economics. “A repatriation fund was created in Abkhazia that focuses on helping those who have returned to their historical motherland to adapt.”

Many houses are empty here. After separatist forces won control of Abkhazia in 1993, half of the population - 200,000 ethnic Georgians - were forced to flee.

In Tbilisi, Georgia, demonstrators say that if Abkhazia wants to boost its population, it should let Georgians return to their houses.

But Izida Chania, editor of Nujnaya Gazeta, said the population policy is ethnic, not just economic.

“We are trying to increase the quantity of ethnic Abkhaz living in Abkhazia,” she said, in her office located across Freedom Square from a burned out high-rise that was the final headquarters for Georgian soldiers here 20 years ago. "For us it's really important to understand exactly what kind of people are moving here, what kind of relationship they have with Abkhazia."

So Abkhazia rebuilds its population, drawing ethnic Abkhaz refugees from 1,000 kilometers away - and shunning ethnic Georgian refugees from 100 kilometers away.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
April 17, 2013 12:18 PM
They try to expand the quantity of Abkhazians and discriminate other minorities as well. I'm a Russian who lives there - not in London - and I know what I say, take my word!

by: Metin from: London
April 16, 2013 6:32 AM
It seems Mr Broke confused where to Sukhum is belong. In his first article it was SUKHUMI, ABKHAZIA and now Georgia.

Abkhazia is already accepted 45.000 (mostly Mingrelian) Georgians in Gal region. Is there any other example like that in similar conflicts? Have a look Karabakh for instance... And the question is how the Abkhazians became minority in their homeland and the Georgians became majority? Stalin-Beria period might help answer this question.

Many Georgians are fought against their Abkhaz friends, neighhbours during the war. Abkhazians are lost 4% of their population in this war. People still remember well the horrors of the war. Hatred still smoulders in peoples' hearts. "How could a woman who have lost four children tolerate if the killer of her children would move to her neighbour?" asks Esmeralda Arshba in the documentary film " Ei-toivottu valtio | An unwanted state"

Abkhazian society can allow the return only of those Georgians who did not fight on the Georgian side and only after they recognise Abkhazia as an independent state. And the same right for return should be given also to descendants of Abkhazian refugees from the Caucasian War of the XIX century, who live mostly in Turkey..
In Response

by: ereklikhan from: new york
April 17, 2013 12:06 PM
Mr Metin, you write one-sided absurdities. Abkhazia is not the land of Abkhaz only, it has been for thousand years homeland to Georgians (including mengrelian, svan, e.t.c) too. In fact most of Abkhaz nobility still have Georgian last names, as the feudal belonging of Abkhazia always was to the Georgian crown. Even the name the world knows Abkhazia with, is of Georgian origin Apkhazeti. More then half of population of pre-war Abkhazia were ethnic georgians and You can not deny them the right to live in their homes under pretext that they "fought the war" ? How about their children who were 2 years old then ? Did they fight too? Nevertheless it is an idiotic argument as It would be the same if Flemish Belgians kicked out of their homes Vallons and claim their homes.

The only practical difference between Abkhaz and Georgians is the language as the common history of cohabitation is much longer then the conflict. I know, You all try to deny that very hard but history is documented and when You try erasing Georgian writings from Bedia and Ilori churches, there are still photographs of them that exist.

In fact You do not realize that the only reason why no-one besides marginalized criminal states recognizes your existence is that You are ann apartheid land, who builds on the blood of Georgians and uses ethnic rules to separate its citizens. Georgians do not want You out, they only want what's theirs. You want them out and You claim their homes, while You lay under Russia who deported all of You to Turkey - refusing your own historic ties to the nation with which You share literally every single cultural element. By this not only You deny Georgians their rights but You condemn yourselves to certain death, as Russia will assimilate and swallow You like they did with many others, in the North Caucasus.

by: moniq from: France
April 15, 2013 7:59 PM
as long as Arabs are kept away from Europe - we are happy...
In Response

by: kallu from: neighbour
May 03, 2013 1:08 PM
Well i think abkhazia is a part of georgia these muslims with the help of russians are unnecessarily harassing georgians. They are calling people from thousands of kilometers away & who knows might some terrorists also come & settle there under the banner of refugees from syria or other war torn countries.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs