In 2013, as Syria’s civil war raged, 23-year-old Samar Abaza opted, like hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, to flee his home for safety abroad. Yet unlike most of the estimated 2.5 million Syrians who are now refugees, Abaza sought to build a new life in Abkhazia, another contested land.
The de-facto government of this breakaway, Black-Sea region claims that since May 2012 it has welcomed some 490 Syrians of Abkhaz descent. While some of the refugees told EurasiaNet.org they are adapting well in the tiny, sub-tropical territory, others are finding it a difficult adjustment.
Most returnees are descended from the makhadjiri, predominantly Muslim rebels who fled to the Ottoman Empire from Russia’s North Caucasus during the mid-19th century. After separating from Georgia in 1992, Abkhazia made repatriation of this ethnic Abkhaz Diaspora a priority to bolster the territory’s population, which was depleted by the mass exodus of ethnic Georgians during Tbilisi’s 1992-1994 conflict with Abkhaz separatists.
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Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.