Monday, September 19, 2011

Abkhazia's Independence Struggle Mixes with Religion

Abkhazia is the de facto independent country which broke off from Georgia in the early 1990s.  The country was independent in almost every way possible.  The Georgians only held a corner of the country, a moderate pro-Russian presidential candidate defeated the Russian-puppet in an election, and Abkhazian laws prevented non-Abkhazs from owning real estate.

Things changed for Abkhazia at the end of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War.  Russia and a handful of countries recognized the independence of Abkhazia... at a very steep price.  Russian troops now control all border points in Abkhazia, Russian elites and businesses bought much of the famous Soviet-era resort properties, and there are countless allegations that many members of Abkhazia's parliament are now under Russian control.

Adding to the mess is Russian-proxy control of religion.  In the Eastern Orthodox Communion Abkhazia officially falls into the realm of the Georgian Orthodox Church.  However, in 2009 Father Vissarion Apliaa declared the "Abkhazian Orthodox Church" into existence and began to act as its interim bishop though he was never consecrated.  Since then Father Apliaa has imported priests from Russia with the help of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The independence of Abkahz religion was furthered threatened by Father Apliaa pressing the churches to drop Abkhaz in the services in exchange for Russian.

The arrival of Russian priests and the loss of the Abkhaz language in services, which the Georgian Orthodox Church always allowed, has led to a young faction of Abkhaz clergy to form a Church National Assembly
 to overrule the pro-Russian heads of the Abkhaz Orthodox Church.  This factor is rumored to be moderate in its stance in Abkhazian Orthodox church independence from Georgia and even has appealed to the Georgian Orthodox patriarch, as well as the thirteen other undisputed Eastern Orthodox heads, for helping in removing pro-Russian Abkhaz from the church.

The only problem is that the Eastern Orthodox lacks a pope and therefore no one can make a final judgement on the issue of Abkhazian Orthodoxy.  Eastern Orthodoxy cannot settle the issue of Orthodoxy in Estonia (Russian Orthodox v. national Estonian Orthodox), Ukraine (Ukrainian Orthodox pro-Russia v. two different national Ukrainian Orthodox), Macedonia (Serbian Orthodox v. national Macedonian Orthodox with the Greeks rooting the Serbs on) and Moldova (Russian Orthodox v. Romanian Orthodox) let alone issues of what if any Orthodox Church should be head of Orthodox in America.  The various churches are too nationalistic for rational discussion.

Abkhazia is not a overly religious country.  Orthodoxy never held massive sway over the population in modern times and various estimates given to me state there are no more than forty clergy in the country.  However, a country's national Orthodox church is something it can rally behind and becomes an issue of pride when a country feels threatened.  Look for Orthodox (and not-so-Orthodox) in Abkhazia to develop strong opinions concerning their Orthodox church and national independence


Dan tdaxp said...

Fascinating they didn't even bother with finding an actual bishop to be their quisling!

Michael said...

I wonder if the Abkhaz knew what they were doing when they sought Russian help in their dispute with Georgia?

Catholicgauze said...

Strange indeed. You think ROC would just ordain him.

Catholicgauze said...

Probably not.

Anonymous said...

To note, until the mid-19th century Abkhazia was majority Muslim but Russia ethnically cleansed large chunks of the Caucasus after the Crimean War so that the descendants of Muslim Abkhaz that managed to escape live in Turkey.