Under Russian and Soviet rule

Disillusionment with Russian rule sparked local rebellions, but in most parts of Georgia these were soon crushed. The exception was Abkhazia, whereuprisings recurred until 1878. The Czarist government responded by deporting 100,000 Abkhaz to Turkey, leaving half of Abkhazia uninhabited.

People from all over the Russian Empire resettled the exiles’ land, though mostly by land-hungry peasants from neighboring Megrelia in western Georgia. This gave rise to anti-Georgian feeling among the remaining Abkhaz.

 Tbilisi

The Georgian capital Tbilisi (called Tiflis by the Russians) was the administrative center of Russian rule in the Caucasus. Toward the end of the 19th century, it had become an industrial and cultural center, and the regional railroad hub. A modern intelligentsia and working class took shape with a sense of Georgian national identity that had been lacking in the centuries preceding annexation to Russia.

Georgia declares independence

In May 1918, Georgia declared independence. Independent Georgia lasted less than three years before being deposed by a Red Army invasion in February 1921. Nevertheless, it is today regarded by Georgians as a precursor of the post-Soviet Georgian republic. The Georgian government of1918-21 never managed to win the loyalty of the Abkhaz and Osset minorities, and had to deploy troops in Abkhazia in order to secure its control there.

TSFSR

In 1922 the Soviet regime imposed a federal structure on the southern Caucasus, called the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic(TSFSR), consisting of four Soviet republics with equal status: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Abkhazia.

In 1931 Abkhazia was incorporated into Georgia as an autonomous republic. In 1936, the TSFSR was abolished, and Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan became full union republics of the USSR.  Violent resistance to Soviet rule continued in Georgia until 1924. Soviet leader Stalin was himself an ethnic Georgian. Nonetheless, thousands of rebels were executed or imprisoned. Thousands more perished in the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.

Anti-Abkhaz policies

Stalinist repression took on an ethnic dimension in Georgia. Abkhaz leaderNestor Lakoba was poisoned in 1936, and Abkhaz autonomy and Abkhaz-language education were abolished. The Abkhaz interpreted Soviet repression as an attempt to forcibly “Georgianize” them. After the death of Stalin, the anti-Abkhaz policy was abandoned, but it left behind a deep legacy of bitterness.

Eduard Shevardnadze

In 1972, Eduard Shevardnadze was appointed First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. He experimented with economic reform, and responded to popular protest with concessions and dialogue instead of violent repression.

In 1978demonstrators in Tbilisi got their way when they demanded that the authorities drop a plan to make Russian a second official language in Georgia alongside Georgian.

Mass protests by ethnic Abkhaz in Abkhazia in the same year resulted in the promotion of more Abkhaz to leading posts and in improved provision for Abkhaz culture, such as television broadcasting in Abkhaz and the opening of an Abkhaz State University. These concessions only partly placated the Abkhaz, while causing resentment among ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia. Shevardnadze left for Moscow in 1985 when Gorbachev made him Soviet Foreign Minister.