Abkhazia’s National Art Gallery lost more than 4,000 paintings in the fire taking place on January 21. A fire at the Russian-backed breakaway Republic of Abkhazia in occupied Georgia ripped through the main display. Three hundred works by Abkhazian artist Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze were also caught in fire.
Abkhazia’s National Art Burned Down
Dinara Smyr, Abkhazia’s acting cultural minister, told Apsnypress that the fire occurred about 3:38 a.m. Also, she said that by 7 a.m., 11 firefighters from the cities of Gudauta, Ochamchira, Gulrypsh, and Sukhum had put out the flames. The Abkhazia Ministry of Emergency Situations stated that the blaze started on the second level.
“You could say everything burned down”, she added. “This is an irreparable loss for the national culture of Abkhazia”. Only 200 or so of the collection’s artworks escaped the fire, according to officials subsequently. This includes works by Viktor Sheglov, Khuta Avidzba, Sergey Sangalov, Sergey Gabelia, Visarion Tsvizhba, and others. Smyr said that 300 works destroyed were by Abkhazian painter Alexander Chachba-Shervashidz.
Alexander Chachba-Shervashidz lived during the Russian Empire. He also came from the line of the Principality of Abkhazia’s monarch. The museum’s director, Suram Sakanya, lamented the loss of an inventory that outlasted a civil war with Georgia in the early 1990s in a statement to the BBC. “We have been gathering this collection since 1963 and it went up in flames in seconds. Such a tragedy for us here in Abkhazia”, she said.
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Politicians Argue Over Cultural History
The territory of Abkhazia was a feudal state that arose during civil wars with the Kingdom of Georgia in the 1400s and was eventually captured by Russia. Tensions between Georgians and Akhazians following the dissolution of the Soviet Union resulted in a war. In this war Georgia lost control over most of the territory. Diplomatic strain surfaced following the fire. Also, Georgian, Russian, and Abkhazian politiciansall made remarks against the loss of culture.
“The fire that destroyed Sokhumi’s National Gallery in occupied Abkhazia is a tragedy for us all. I deplore what is a direct consequence of the neglect of cultural identity both by the de facto leadership and the Russian occupants”, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili said on social media. “I call on the international community to revive its attention to the protection of our cultural heritage in the occupied territories”, he also added.
Olga Lyubimova, the Russian Minister of Culture, described the fire as tragic in a Telegram statement. “A real tragedy in Sukhum. We are thinking together with our colleagues from Abkhazia [on] how to help. The investigative department of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Abkhazia has launched a criminal investigation as investigators seek to determine the cause of the fire.