Abkhazia optimistic about a brighter future
Abkhazian football player Tania Anri is trying to adapt to a new environment. Together with his friend, he will now be playing for the Yenicami Agdelen club in Northern Cyprus.
“My dream is to play in the Premier League in Britain, but to start with I came to play for Northern Cyprus,” Tania Anri says.
Northern Cyprus is a small and unrecognised republic controlled by Turkey, and has an influential ethnic Abkhazian community.
Many people there believe that, despite their national status seeming one and the same to the international community, there are few similarities between Abkhazia and Northern Cyprus. They say Abkhazia will soon get further international recognition.
Political scientist Muhittin Ozsaglam lives in Northern Cyprus, but his family has Abkhazian roots. He spearheaded the transfer of Abkhazian players to the local football club. He believes that through sporting and cultural exchanges, people in former conflict zones can come to a better understanding.
In the past Abkhazia was swapped between the Georgian kingdom and the Ottoman Empire. Thousands migrated to Turkey and the Middle East when Abkhazia became part of the Russian Empire in the beginning of the 19th century.
In Soviet times it came under Tbilisi's rule, but after the collapse of the USSR, the republic declared independence. Tbilisi sent its troops to control the breakaway region and a violent conflict ensued. Tensions have been simmering for more than a decade.
Thousands of ethnic Abkhazians living overseas dream about visiting the land of their ancestors, but for most of them the journey is too tricky.
An international blockade, and diplomatic and economic sanctions, means the only way to come to Abkhazia from abroad is through Russia.
Cemre Jade was born in Istanbul and lived in Turkey almost all her life. She is an ethnic Adyg-Abkhazian, and she decided that it's important for her to live and work in Abkhazia. Currently she's working on a university degree focusing on Abkhazian repatriation, and works as a sociologist in Sukhum.
“When I came there were 200 people. And that number doubled in two years. More and more are coming since recognition. Now people feel safer in Abkhazia,” Cemre says.
Russia has signed treaties on economic, political and military cooperation with the republic, but so far, besides Russia, only Nicaragua has officially recognised Abkhazia. Abkhazians themselves, living both at home and abroad hope their nation will be less divided in the future.