In Sochi’s shadow
– Abkhazia, a country that doesn’t exist –
“Our dream is to compete in the Olympic Games as Abkhazians,” Djarnaz Beniya told me.
Beniya, a wrestling trainer who coached Denis Tsargush to a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympic Games, is a resident of Abkhazia, a breakaway territory from Georgia whose border is less than 10 miles from Sochi Olympic Park in Russia.
Abkhazia fought a war with Georgia in 1992 and 1993; it declared independence after that and fought again with Georgian troops in 2008, forcing the last of them out.
Today, Russia has a strong presence in Abkhazia, which has had a “special relationship” with Russia’s security services for decades. Only Russia and a handful of other countries have recognized the independence of this economically depressed former Soviet republic.
Not only does most of the rest of world not recognize Abkhazia as an independent country,neither does the International Olympic Committee; any athletes from Abkhazia would have to compete as Russians, although none are going to the games.
When I visited them, some students at Abkhazia State University told me that they are proud of being Abkhazians but they also know the future of the country is uncertain.
“I love the country, and I am proud of my country, but I know the situation is a deadlock now,” one student said. “It is our generation who have to find their own path for the country.”