THE AFRO-AMERICAN- FEBRUARY 10, 1973
By Slava Tynes
A Soviet poet, the son of a black American and a Russian woman, he sings of his Russian motherland in all his poems and at the same time draws parallels with Africa, the land of his forefathers on his father’s side.
During my first talk with Viano Pachulia, an Abkhazian scientist, he told me that he had visited 11 villages in the republic in which he had met many descendants of the Africans who had landed on the Black Sea coast during the period of Turkish rule.
I paid my first visit to the village of Adzyubzha which has received much attention from Russian historians and journalists since as far back as 1913, when Africans were first discovered in the Caucasus. The village is not fat from Sukhum.
After travelling by car for half an hour from the center of Sukhum in a southerly direction. I soon reached the village where the African family of the Abashes had settled long ago.
It turned out that the Abashes were descended from parents who had been brought from the African continent to Turkey, and from there by Prince Abashidze to his estate in Abkhazia.
Like all other Africans who had been sold into slavery, they had been deprived of their own names and became Abashidze’s property. (Their descendants, in order to get rid of any connection with the Prince’s name, shortened their name to Abash)
The history of the Abashes, like that of the other Caucasian Africans, is very similar to the history of the American blacks, as both groups were brought from Africa by force and found themselves thousands of miles away from their home.
Like their Afro-American brothers and sisters, the Abashes do not know their native language and do not remember any of the customs and traditions of their native people and tribes.
Having found themselves in absolutely gradually became assimilated with the local population. This process atmosphere in which the Abashes and other Caucasian Africans found themselves.
The present Abashes told me the following story they had heard from their grandmother Sophia who lived to be 112 and died only in 1952. According to her, when the Abash married couple were brought to the village, the population met them warmly, but with certain curiosity.
Later, moving from village to village and talking to the descendants of the Africans who had come to Abkhazia in one way or another, found themselves, unlike the American blacks, in a more favourable environment.
They also had to work on plantations – tea and citrus fruit, but they worked on equal terms with the Abkhazians and other peoples. (They slaved for the prince together and shared their joys and sorrows with each other. Neither peoples were their own masters. This resulted in brotherly solidarity, and the black color of the Africans’ skin did not cause racial antagonism.
Thus the Africans joined the poor peasants of Abkhazia and shared their meagre bread with them. And when the Revolution took place in the country, which resulted in the exploiters being overthrown and power passing over to the people, the Africans were on the side of the working people.
Many of them fought for the establishment of Soviet power in Abkhazia which proclaimed that the land should be given to the people. Representatives of the Abash family were also among the soldiers of the Revolutionary army.
And when the echo of the events of the Great October Revolution of 1917 reached the outskirts of the Russian Empire, he turned his arms against the exploiters without a moment’s hesitation.
Nutsa Abash and Shamil Chamba spoke to me with pride about their uncle Shaaban, who had taken an active part in the social and economic transformation not only his village, but all over Abkhazia as well.
Considering his great service to the Revolution, Shaaban Abash was elected by the people to the government of Soviet Abkhazia – he was a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Abkhazian Soviet of Working People’s Deputies, the highest executive body of power.
He, an African by ancestry, helped to build a new a happy life for the Abkhazian people and dreamt of a brilliant future. “Nutsa,” Shaaban used to say to his niece, “in 50 years time you will not recognize our land. It makes me happy to know that you will live under socialism.”
“Shaaban Abash did not live till our days, but his contribution to the building of a new life in Abkhazia has not been forgotten by the people. His name is still mentioned with respect by his fellow villagers,” Bagrat Dzhanashiya, secretary of the Abkhazian Institute of History and Languages told me.
People who have become the flesh and blood of their new motherland and have come to love it, can only look upon themselves as its sons and daughters.
That is why the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the Africans who live in Abkhazia consider themselves Abkhazians, or “Black Abkhazians” as they are called here.
NEXT: And what has been the fate of the generation of Caucasian Africans born and brought up under socialism, a society of which Shaaban, a soldier of the Revolution, used to dream?
The Afro American - Feb 10, 1973