Abkhazia in Georgia: Like stepping into a history book is written by Lene Kohlhoff Rasmussen.
Remember the stamp in the passport before crossing the border into Abkhazia
Visiting Abkhazia was a rather spontaneous idea that arose during my long journey along the Silk Road. And the visit to this strange little breakaway state became a very curious experience. Take to a place where the greatness of the past has fallen into disrepair and the future has not yet arrived.
I traveled from the Caucasus Mountains in Svaneti to the town of Zukdidi near Abkhazia, and from there I took a taxi to the so-called border. On the Georgian side there was only one military post, as there is no official border crossing as such from Georgia.
Some large truck tires blocked the road for car traffic. On the other hand, there were some horse-drawn carriages transporting passengers with their large quantity of luggage, carrier bags and large boxes of goods purchased in Georgia.
The road went over a bridge by a river that marked the border itself. On the other side of the bridge, there was a passport controller who was looking at my passport and the entry permit that I had received by email from the Abkhazian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The condition for obtaining permission to enter Abkhazia was that I had to show up at the immigration office in the capital Sukhumi within two days and pick up my visa. It came on a separate piece of paper. This visa had to be handed in to the passport controller at departure.
I did not get any stamps in my passport, and thus I did not have any problems when leaving Georgia. Because you only get into trouble if you travel into Abkhazia from Russia and continue on to Georgia. If you do that, you will fall into the trap.
At the border crossing between Russia and Abkhazia does not get a Georgian entry stamp in the passport, and one has thus stayed illegally.
Ruin heap with dishes
Back in Soviet times, Abkhazia was a favorite tourist area for the political elite of the Soviet Union. The rulers had large, beautiful summer homes along the Black Sea coast, but due to the civil war they have been abandoned.
In the formerly fashionable part of the capital Sukhumi, reconstruction had gradually begun with Russian funds. Some of the old Russian mansions down around the harbor promenade were still intact.
Most of the town around the small center around the harbor promenade looked like an abandoned battlefield. I walked past the former Georgian government building, which was a large bombed-out and partially burnt-down building.
The building stood as a monument to the victory over Georgia, but was now both ghostly and abandoned. The facade was riddled with bullet holes and large posters with messages of victory were still hanging.
Similar posters hung all over the city to keep alive the nationalist and patriotic feelings of the population.
On discovery in the government building
The stairs inside the building were still there, and I carefully slipped up it. It was a spiral staircase, not nearly intact, and the remains of the stair railing protruded.
From the upper floors I could look all the way down through the building as the floor separations had partially disappeared. Only the façade and the load-bearing concrete columns and beams held the building together and prevented it from collapsing.
There was old concrete and rusty reinforcement everywhere. The building was overgrown with tall thistles and stinging nettles. Inside the center of the building, there were even trees and shrubs growing along the concrete pillars.
Garbage was thrown in large piles and there were filled with bullet holes and graffiti on the walls. The place was riddled with hatred and frustration. But now nature has taken over power, where the Georgians once sat and ruled over the region.
Much of the city was similarly deserted with lots of empty and ghostly houses, all bombed and overgrown. It was a surreal sight to see the many totally burnt down and empty apartments side by side with apartments with flowers on the balcony, satellite dishes and new plastic windows.
Once upon a time, Georgians and Abkhazians were ordinary neighbors. Maybe they drank tea together and their children played with each other down in the backyard. Now they were mortal enemies, and the Georgians have had to flee their homes. I wondered if those who threw their neighbors out of the country live happier on an abandoned battlefield than they did before?
Both when I looked at the buildings and the people's attire, it was as if I had suddenly stepped back 30 years in time. The Georgian lari had been replaced by Russian rubles, and there was a very special mood that Abkhazia still lived in the same pocket of time as when the old Soviet Union still existed.
It was very strange for me to walk around a city that was so reminiscent of a Soviet provincial town several years after the fall of the wall and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.
Scientific experiments in Abkhazia
On a hilltop behind the botanical garden in Sukhumi lay an absurd relic from the Cold War. A test center with animal experiments, which was part of the space race during the Cold War. When the Soviet Union sent the dog Laika into space, they also tested other animals to see if they could be sent into space. Including various monkey species. But other experiments were also made with the monkeys.
Crazy scientists tried to inseminate gorillas with human semen in an attempt to create the perfect and most enduring soldier. A creature that was intelligent as a human and strong as a gorilla!
Before I reached the top of the hill, I could smell the stench of feces from the monkeys from a long distance. There were lots of different monkey species in old rusty and worn cages.
It was a little creepy to walk around between the cages and look at the animals and think of all the creepy things they have been subjected to by insane scientists in white coats and with their heads full of crazy ideas. It ran cold down my spine.
Apart from the fact that the monkeys could use a little better care, however, I could not see any clear signs of mating attempts with humans.
No malformations after other strange animal experiments either. But something more absurd and creepy, you have to look for a long time.
A different birthday in Abkhazia
It had become November 1st. When you celebrate your birthday in such a bizarre place in the world, as most people have hardly heard of, you should not expect a big ramashang or party speaker either.
I celebrated the insignificant event at what was once the finest and most elegant restaurant in town. The restaurant was down on the pier with a view of the sunset over Sortehavet.
It was an extremely modest relic from the time when the city was extravagant.
The place gave off a strange sense of grandeur upon entering the empty restaurant reserved for the powerful elite. There were waiters in uniform, there were white tablecloths on the tables, fine china and crystal glasses. At the same time, everything was faded, decayed and worn.
Big and small fish
After celebrating myself in silence, I took a walk along the pier, where local men sat with their fishing rods in the water and with a small dram in their inner pocket. The mood was high, but the bucket for the fish was empty.
"Look there!" said one of the men, pointing to his mate who had just gotten a tiny little fish on the hook.
"My partner catches small fish but big ladies," he said, laughing out loud. "But he has a lot of problems because his wife has found out that he has a mistress. It's not that easy with those big ladies, ”he laughed and teased his partner.
"No, certainly not," I replied. "Maybe you should suggest him try big fish and small ladies."
"Yes!" he replied, breaking out in loud laughter.
I left the merry gentlemen and headed back towards my hotel. On the way I passed the central square, where a group of men sat around some tables. The yellowish glow from the lampposts shone down on the chess pieces, and the men sat in deep concentration. This is how life goes on quietly in a small forgotten breakaway state near Sortehavet, I thought, and headed back to my hotel room.
On both sides, armed groups prepared for battle, and in 1992 civil war broke out in the region. The Abkhazians, like the South Ossetians, received support from the Russians in their struggle for independence from Georgia. The conflict ended with the Georgian army having to withdraw, and Abkhazia declared independence.
A large part of the Georgians fled over the mountains to Svaneti and other parts of Georgia. The flight was extremely harsh and many perished. Only a few have begun to return home to what is left of their bombed-out properties.
Abkhazia is internationally recognized as part of Georgia, but has declared itself an independent state recognized only by very few countries besides Russia. In the early 1990s, some Abkhazian separatists fought to break away from Georgia.
Although the Abkhazians made up only 17 percent of the population, they were still the political and economic elite of the region. While ethnic Georgians wanted closer ties with the new state of Georgia when it was established in 1991, the Abkhazians wanted to nurture relations with Russia.
Happy journey to the unknown Abkhazia.