Islam in Abkhazia

Most inhabitants of Abkhazia are Orthodox Christians, with a minority adhering to Islam. The influence of the traditional Abkhaz religion also remains strong and has been experiencing a revival in recent decades.[1] There exists a very small number of adherents to Judaism and Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as non-believers.[2] The Jehovah's Witnesses organization has officially been banned since 1995, though the decree is not currently enforced.[3]

According to the constitutions of both Abkhazia and Georgia, the adherents of all religions have equal rights before the law.[4][5]

Christianity

According to a survey held in 2003, 60% of respondents identified themselves as Christian.[2] The two main churches active in Abkhazia are the Abkhazian Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. There are approximately 140 church buildings in Abkhazia, most of which date from the first millennium.[6]

The Abkhazian Orthodox Church operates outside the official Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical hierarchy, as all Eastern Orthodox churches recognise Abkhazia as belonging to the jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox church.[7][8] The Georgian Orthodox Church lost effective control over the Sukhumi-Abkhazian eparchy following the 1992-1993 war in Abkhazia, when ethnically Georgian priests had to flee Abkhazia. It maintains its structures in exile, where the current head is Archbishop Daniel.[9] The Abkhazian Orthodox Church came into existence when the ethnically Abkhaz branch of the Sukhumi-Abkhazian Eparchy declared on 15 September 2009 that it no longer considered itself part of the Georgian Orthodox Church and that it was re-establishing the Catholicate of Abkhazia disbanded in 1795.[10]

The Georgian Orthodox Church has accused the Russian Orthodox Church of interfering in its internal affairs, thereby violating Orthodox canon law, by training and sending into Abkhazia priests,[3] publishing translations of the Gospels into the Abkhaz language and annexing Georgian Orthodox property in Abkhazia.[11] The Russian Orthodox Church claims that the priests it has sent serve in Abkhazia only temporarily while the local Orthodox believers do not have contacts with the Georgian Orthodox Church.[12]

May 15, 2011 at the National Assembly of the Church in the city of New Athos (Anakopiya), proclaimed the establishment of a new church organization - the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia.[13]

History of Christianity in Abkhazia

The earliest accounts of the introduction of Christianity into the present-day Abkhazia date from the 1st century AD,[14] and from 325, when the bishop of Pityus (present day Pitsunda) participated in the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea.[15] From around the 9th century onwards, the Orthodox dioceses of Abkhazia were governed by the Catholicate of Abkhazia, subordinated to the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Catholicate of Abkhazia and the Georgian Orthodox Church were abolished in 1795 and 1811 and the dioceses taken over by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Georgian Orthodox Church regained its independence in 1917, after the fall of Tsar Nicholas II.

During the 1992-1993 war in Abkhazia, the Georgian Orthodox church effectively lost control of Abkhazian church affairs as ethnically Georgian priests had to flee Abkhazia and the Abkhaz Priest Vissarion Aplaa became acting head of the Sukhumi-Abkhazian eparchy. In the following years, recently consecrated clerics from the neighbouring Russian Maykop Eparchy arrived in Abkhazia, who eventually came into conflict with Vissarion. Through the mediation of Russian church officials, the two sides managed to reach a power-sharing agreement at Maikop in 2005, but this did not hold.[12]

In April 2008, the last Georgian Orthodox priest remaining in the predominantly Georgian-populated Gali district was expelled, reportedly by Abkhaz security officers, after a "special decree" of the Sukhumi-Abkhazian Eparchy, effectively leaving the local Georgian community without access to clergy.[16] After the capture of the Upper Kodori Valley during the August 2008 war, the two remaining monasteries of Georgian Orthodox monks and nuns there were pressured by the Abkhazian authorities to submit to the Abkhazian Orthodox authorities or else leave Abkhazia. The Abkhazian Deputy Foreign Minister Maxim Gvinjia said the Abkhazian authorities did not plan to defend Georgian monks and nuns.[17] The monks and nuns refused, and in April 2009, they were expelled from Abkhazia.[18]

On 15 September 2009, the Sukhumi-Abkhazian Eparchy led by Vissarion declared that it no longer considered itself part of the Georgian Orthodox Church, that it was re-establishing the Catholicate of Abkhazia, and that it would henceforth be known as the Abkhazian Orthodox Church.[10]

Representatives of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia, a new church organization in Abkhazia, are quite successful dialogue with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the decision of the Abkhazian Church issue.[19]

Islam

Further information: Islam in Georgia


According to a survey held in 2003, 16% of respondents identified themselves as Muslim.[2] There are two mosques in Abkhazia, one in Gudauta and one in Sukhumi.[20]

History of Islam in Abkhazia

For more details, see Ethnic Cleansing of Circassians and Circassians in Turkey

Islam spread in Abkhazia during the times of Ottoman domination in the region from the 16th until the 18th century.[21] Throughout the 19th century Russo-Turkish wars, Abkhazian nobility was split along religious lines, with Christians being generally pro-Russian, and Muslims siding with the Ottomans against Russia. Russia's final victory in the area in the 1860s-1870s and two Abkhazian revolts forced most of Muslim Abkhaz to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire as Muhajirs in the 1870s.

Thousands of Abkhaz, known as makhadjiri, fled Abkhazia for Ottoman Empire in the mid-19th century after resisting the Russian conquest of the Caucasus. Today, Turkey is home to the world's largest Abkhaz diaspora community. Size estimates vary - Diaspora leaders say 1 million people; Abkhaz estimates range from 150,000 to 500,000.[22][23]

In 2009, Muslims in Abkhazia for the first time received an invitation from the King of Saudi Arabia to go on the Hajj to Mecca.[20]

On 19 December 2011, the Spiritual Board of the Muslims in Abkhazia held its fourth congress, after the death of its Chairman First Mufti of Abkhazia Adlia Gablia. Salikh Kvaratskhelia was elected the new Chairman, Roman Jugelia and Timur Dzyba Deputy Chairmen.[24]

Target killings of Muslim clergy

Members of Abkhazian Muslim clergy faced target killings in 2007 and 2010.

July 2007

On 2 July 2007 at around 23:00, an unknown gunman shot member of the local Muslim community Daur Mutsba and his wife Karin Nersesyan in the yard of the house they rented in the centre of Sukhumi (Mutsba was originally from Adzyubzha, Ochamchira District).[25][26]

August 2007

On 17 August 2007 at around 13:00, Khamzat Gitsba was killed in Gudauta along with Ufa resident Ruslan Assadulina. Gitsba was a member of the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of Abkhazia and an informal leader of Muslims in Gudauta.[26] Gitsba died on the site of the shooting, aged 37, Assadulina died in hospital. The masked killer had shot the pair through a lowered back window of a Chrysler stolen a few days earlier, using a machine gun with suppressor. After the attack, the police was unable to follow the perpetrator, about half an hour later it found the burning wreck of the car on the outskirts of town.[27][28][29] The death of Gitsba, who had fought against Georgians during the 1992-1993 war and who had been among the pro-Chechen hijackers of the Turkish passenger ship MV Avrasya in 1996, as well as other facts of alleged anti-Muslim discrimination led to serious concerns by the Abkhaz Muslim community about their security.[30]

10 July 2010

On 10 July 2010, an attempt on the life of the Imam of the Sukhumi Mosque Salikh Kvaratskhelia failed. Around 16:30, during an inspection near the Kelasur railway station on the Kodori road, a bomb was discovered attached to bottom of his VAZ-2107, which also contained three women and two children. The bomb was defused by employees of HALO Trust.[31][32]

On 12 June 2012, it became known that as part of the investigation of the perpetrators of the February 2012 assassination attempt on President Alexander Ankvab, police had also re-opened the case of Kvaratskhelia's attempted assassination.[33]

17 July 2010

On 17 July 2010, Emil Chakmach-ogly was killed in Gagra. At the time of his death, Chakmach-ogly was the local leader of the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of Abkhazia and a member of the Public Chamber of Abkhazia, he had previously been a Deputy of the People's Chamber of Abkhazia. Chakmach-ogly was shot in the courtyard of his home around 2:00, after returning from his shop.[34][35]

October 2010

On 8 October 2010, 34-year old Arsaul Pilia was killed and Rustam and Raul Gitsba were injured in Gudauta. The triple had been among a group of eight people standing in front of the mosque around 15:00, when shots were fired from a dark green Volkswagen Touareg.[36] About an hour after the attack, the car was found burned out at the entrance of the village of Achandara, Gudauta District. On 11 October, the Prosecutor General's office announced that the car used in the attack had been specially modified so as to aide shooting from it, and that it was registered to a resident of Khimki, Moscow Oblast.[37]

Abkhaz native religion

The Abkhaz native religion has undergone a strong revival in recent decades.[1] As of 2003 8% of the population of Abkhazia (thus a higher percentage among ethnic Abkhazians) in Pagan or follower of the native religion.

Judaism


As of 2012, the Jewish population in Abkhazia is estimated at about 150 and is mostly elderly.[38]

See also

References

External links

  • (Abkhaz) (English) (Russian) Official site of the Abkhazian eparchy
  • Matsuzato, Kimitaka: "Canonization, Obedience, and Defiance: Strategies for Survival of the Orthodox Communities in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia" in the Caucasus Analytical Digest No. 20


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