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Monday, December 3, 2007

Upper Abkhazia

Upper Abkhazia (Georgian: ზემო აფხაზეთი, Zemo Apkhazeti; Abkhaz: Аҧсны хыхьтəи , Apsny khykh'twi) is an official Georgian name for a mountainous district in northeastern Abkhazia, a breakaway republic, which is internationally recognized as an autonomous republic within Georgia. It is currently the only part of Abkhazia controlled by the central Georgian authorities and the de jure government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia. The village of Chkhalta is an administrative center of Upper Abkhazia.

Geographically, Upper Abkhazia comprises the upper Kodori Valley, the Chkhalta Ridge, and the Marukhi Pass on the border with the Russian Federation. Populated by some 2,000 people, chiefly ethnic Georgians (Svans), the area occupies approximately 17 percent of Abkhazia’s territory and is of high strategic importance due to its proximity to the Abkhaz-held capital of Sukhumi, and other important cities in the region.

The term Upper Abkhazia has been largely used by the Georgian officials and media since the successful July 2006 operation of Georgian forces in the Kodori Valley which established firmer Georgian presence in the region. Prior to that, the Georgian government had exercised a very loose control over Kodori even though the Abkhaz separatist forces had never been able to penetrate the valley, and the area had largely been run, since 1994, by the local warlord Emzar Kvitsiani who was dislodged in the abovementioned Georgian police operation.

On September 27, 2006, on the 13th anniversary of the fall of Sukhumi to the Abkhaz rebels and their allies from the Northern Caucasus (1993) the Kodori region and the adjacent pieces of land governed by Georgia were officially renamed into Upper Abkhazia and declared as a "temporary administrative center" of Abkhazia and the headquarters of the de jure Abkhazian government. [4]In spite of Abkhaz and Russian protests, a new office of the de jure government was inaugurated, on the same day, by a high ranking delegation from Georgia's capital Tbilisi, including President Mikheil Saakashvili and the Catholicos Patriarch Ilia II.

The area is currently undergoing a major rehabilitation program, including the reconstruction of infrastructure and reinforcement of security services. The Central Election Commission of Georgia has recently established the constituency in Upper Abkhazia, allowing the population of the area, for the first time in the recent history of Georgia, take part in the Georgian local elections, 2006.

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