Known as the crown jewel of the former USSR, and the holiday destination for a certain Josef Stalin, Abkhazia is the meeting point for the stunning mountains of the Caucasus and the sparkling clear waters of the Black Sea. Situated in the southwestern part of the Caucasus region, sandwiched between Russia and Georgia, it’s safe to say Abkhazia has seen its fair share of conflict over the years.
A brief history of Abkhazia
Having become an autonomous republic within Georgia in the Stalin era in the 1930s, ethnic tensions began to grow between the Abkhaz people and the Georgians towards the end of the 1980s due to fears that Georgian independence would see the abolishment of the Abkhaz region. It all came to a head in 1992 when a bloody war ensued between Georgia and Abkhazia, from which Abkhazia ultimately emerged victorious. The victory did not come without a price; months of brutal combat saw approximately 3,000 Abkhazians killed. They formally declared independence from Georgia in 1999, but despite this Georgia still claims that Abkhazia is a part of Georgia. To this day Abkhazia is only officially recognized by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and a handful of other unrecognized nations.
Football in Abkhazia
Football has always been a major sport in Abkhazia, with FC Dinamo Sukhumi leading the line for the Abkhaz republic in the former Soviet Second league. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent War of Independence, nearly all Abkhaz football clubs ceased playing. Football wasn’t gone for long, as in 1994 the Abkhazian Premier League was founded. Comprised of 15 teams initially, the inaugural title was won by Dynamo Sukhumi. In more recent times, the dominant club in Abkhazia has been Nart Sukhumi, who boast an impressive trophy cabinet including 12 league titles and 9 domestic cups. What makes this more impressive is the club was only founded in 1997!
The Football Federation of Abkhazia is currently led by former Russian lower-league journeyman Juma Kvaratskhelia, who also doubles up as the head coach of the national team. Abkhazia played out a 1-1 draw in their first ever game vs The Artsakh national football team (Nagorno-Karabakh) in September 2012, before losing 3-0 in a return game just a month later.
Abkhazia and CONIFA
They became affiliated with CONIFA in 2014, and have competed at 3 CONIFA World Cups with mixed fortunes. In their first appearance in 2014 they made it to the quarter finals before being knocked out on penalties by South Ossetia, but on home soil in the 2016 edition they made it all the way to the final and played out a thrilling match against Panjab in Sukhumi in which they scored a last minute equaliser to take the game to penalties. They put their previous penalty woes to bed and came out victorious 6-5 in the shootout! Unfortunately, they could not build on this momentous victory, and in the 2018 edition held in London, they failed to qualify from the group which included the eventual winners, Kárpátalja.
They’ll certainly be looking to bounce back in the 2020 edition in Skopje, North Macedonia. They are definitely a team to look out for, especially coming off the back of a respectable third-place finish in the 2019 CONIFA European Championships.
Abkhazia National Squad: just the stats
Manager – Juma Kvaratskhelia
Record Goalscorer – Ruslan Shoniya
First Game – Abkhazia 1 vs 1 Artsakh (Dinamo Stadium, Sukhumi)
Biggest win – Abkhazia 9 – 0 Chagos Islands (Dinamo Stadium, Sukhumi)
Honours – 2016 CONIFA World Football Cup Winners
It is not the easiest place to get to, but visit Abkhazia with us on our annual Caucasus Unrecognised Countries tour!