Religion in Abkhazia

Religion in Abkhazia (2003)[1]

  Christianity (60%)
  Islam (16%)
  Other religions (2%)
  No religion (8%)
  Undeclared (6%)

Most inhabitants of Abkhazia are Orthodox Christians, with a minority adhering to Islam and Abkhazian Neopaganism. The influence of the traditional Abkhaz religion also remains strong and has been experiencing a revival in recent decades.[2] There exists a very small number of adherents to Judaism and Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as non-believers.[3] The Jehovah's Witnesses organization has officially been banned since 1995, though the decree is not currently enforced.[4]

According to the constitutions of both Abkhazia and Georgia, the adherents of all religions have equal rights before the law.[5][6]


St. Simon the Zealot's (Simon Kananaios) cave in Abkhazia

According to a survey held in 2003, 60% of respondents identified themselves as Christian.[3] 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.[7]

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.[8][9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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,[4] publishing translations of the Gospels into the Abkhaz language and annexing Georgian Orthodox property in Abkhazia.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

History of Christianity in Abkhazia

The earliest accounts of the introduction of Christianity into the present-day Abkhazia date from the 1st century AD,[15] and from 325, when the bishop of Pityus (present day Pitsunda) participated in the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea.[16] 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.[13]

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.[17] 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.[18] The monks and nuns refused, and in April 2009, they were expelled from Abkhazia.[19]

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.[11]

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.[20]


Further information: Islam in Georgia
Sukhumi mosque

According to a survey held in 2003, 16% of respondents identified themselves as Muslim.[3] There are two mosques in Abkhazia, one in Gudauta and one in Sukhumi.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23][24]

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.[21]

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.[25]

Recent Unsolved Murders

Daur Mutsba, a member of the local Muslim community, and his wife Karin Nersesyan were shot dead on 2 July 2007 by an unknown gunman in the yard of the house they rented in the centre of Sukhumi. Mutsba was originally from Adzyubzha, Ochamchira District.[26][27] Another murder took place on 17 August 2007 at around 13:00, when 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.[27] Gitsba died on the site of the shooting and 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. The burning wreck of the car was found later on the outskirts of town.[28][29][30] 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 perceived anti-Muslim violence led to serious concerns by the Abkhaz Muslim community about their security.[31] A similar incident took place in Gudauta on 8 October 2010, in which 34-year-old Arsaul Pilia was shot dead outside the mosque in a drive-by shooting. The car involved, a Volkswagen Touaregdiscovered to be registered to a resident of Khimki, Moscow Oblast, was found burned about an hour later, outside the village of Achandara, near Gudauta.[32]

It was announced in June 2012 that, as part of the investigation of the February 2012 assassination attempt on President Alexander Ankvab, police had also reopened the case of the attempted assassination of the Imam of the Sukhumi Mosque Salikh Kvaratskhelia in July 2010.[33] It was not established whether there was a connection to the killing in Gagra on 17 July 2010, of Emil Chakmach-ogly a member 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]

Abkhaz native religion

The Abkhaz native religion has undergone a strong revival in recent decades.[2] As of 2003 8% of the population of Abkhazia (thus a higher percentage among ethnic Abkhazians) in Pagan or follower of the native religion.


Synagogue in Sukhumi.

As of 2012, the Jewish population in Abkhazia is estimated at about 150 and is mostly elderly.[36]

See also


  1. Александр Крылов. ЕДИНАЯ ВЕРА АБХАЗСКИХ "ХРИСТИАН" И "МУСУЛЬМАН". Особенности религиозного сознания в современной Абхазии. (2004-03-17). Retrieved on 30 May 2011.
  2. 1 2 George Enteen, ABKHAZIA versus GEORGIA: Implications for U.S. Policy toward Russia
  3. 1 2 3 Александр Крылов. ЕДИНАЯ ВЕРА АБХАЗСКИХ "ХРИСТИАН" И "МУСУЛЬМАН". Особенности религиозного сознания в современной Абхазии.
  4. 1 2 Georgia: International Religious Freedom Report 2005. The United States Department of State. Retrieved on May 24, 2007.
  5. Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia, art. 12 Russian: {{{1}}}
  6. Крылов А. Б. Секрет абхазской веротерпимости. НГ-религия от 17 марта 2004.
  7. Kuchuberia, Anzhela (17 November 2009). Абхазская православная церковь обратилась к духовенству Грузии с братским посланием (in Russian). Caucasian Knot. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
  8. Witness through troubled times : a history of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, 1811 to the present, Abashidze, Zaza.
  9. A long walk to church: a contemporary history of Russian Orthodoxy, 2nd ed, Davis, Nathaniel
  10. Autocephalous Orthodox Churches centered at Constantinople
  11. 1 2 Сухумо-Абхазская епархия переименована в Абхазскую Православную церковь с Сухумским и Пицундским патриархатами (in Russian). Администрация Президента Республики Абхазия. 2009-09-16. Retrieved 2009-09-26.
  12. The Georgian Times on the Web: Comprehensive news site, daily international, national and local news coverage , breaking news updates, sports, reviews
  13. 1 2 Вновь обострился конфликт внутри православной общины Абхазии. May 15, 2006. Retrieved on June 26, 2007 (Russian)
  15. HISTORY OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH OF GEORGIA Archived 28 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. Abkhazia: Only Georgian Orthodox priest expelled.. Forum 18 News service, April 23, 2008.
  18. ABKHAZIA: "Of course" authorities won't defend Georgian monks and nuns. Forum 18. September 4, 2008.
  19. Abkhazia expels clergymen to Georgia for refusing to recognize local church - official. Interfax. 6 April 2009
  21. 1 2 Kuchuberia, Anzhela (2009-11-16). Группа мусульман Абхазии совершит хадж в Мекку (in Russian). Caucasian Knot. Retrieved 20 November 2009.
  22. Russian: {{{1}}}
  23. Abkhazia's Diaspora: Dreaming of Home
  24. Circassians in Turkey rally for their rights
  25. "Салих (Станислав) Кварацхелия избран председателем Духовного управления мусульман Абхазии". Apsnypress. 19 December 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  26. "Выпуск №250". Apsnypress. 3 July 2007. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
  27. 1 2 Kuchuberia, Anzhela (27 August 2007). "ДУМ Абхазии обеспокоено отношением властей к исламу". Caucasian Knot. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  28. Sergeyev, Nikolai (18 August 2007). "Абхазию избавили от героя войны с Грузией". Kommersant. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  29. Kuchuberia, Anzhela (17 August 2007). "В Абхазии расстреляли имама Хамзата Гицбу". Caucasian Knot. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  30. Kuchuberia, Anzhela (21 August 2007). "ДУМ Абхазии требует найти и наказать убийц имама Хамзата Гицба". Caucasian Knot. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  32. "В Гудауте в результате обстрела мечети один представитель Духовного управления мусульман Абхазии погиб, двое ранено". Apsnypress. 8 October 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  33. "Судом продлен срок содержания под стражей до 6 месяцев обвиняемых Анзора Бутба, Алхаса Хутаба, Рамзи Хашига и Муртаза Сакания". Apsnypress. 12 June 2012. Retrieved 14 June 2012.
  34. "Убит представитель Духовного управления мусульман Республики Абхазия Эмик Чакмач-оглы". Apsnypress. 17 July 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  35. "В Гагре состоялось расширенное совещание межведомственной следственно-оперативной группы по факту убийства Эмика Чакмач-оглы". Apsnypress. 18 July 2007. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
  36. Edwards, Maxim (September 30, 2012). "Jewish Life Slowly Dying in Abkhazia". The Forward. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
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