Abkhazian Rhapsody

ONCE A Black Sea resort region known for its balmy climate,
Abkhazia has recently become a geopolitical hot spot?even as it
rediscovers a philosophical tradition that could provide a key to
peace in the region.

As an ?autonomous republic? struggling to claim its sovereignty
after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Abkhazia successfully
repelled an invasion by the newly independent Georgian Republic in
1992. Today, it finds itself threatened again by Georgia?s
American-trained soldiers and by the continued instability in
nearby Chechnya.

?The Caucasus was always a pow-der keg, but now it is a nuclear
powderkeg,? says Murat Yagan, an Abkhazian expatriate and Canadian
citizen who recently returned to his homeland hoping to promote an
ancient Caucasian philosophy called Kebzeh. Yagan, 87, may
be the only surviving trainee of Kebzeh, an ancient
spiritual tradition (though not a religion itself). As an ethical
code embedded in a way of living, Kebzeh is said to build
character through a rigorous program ranging from martial arts and
horsemanship to etiquette and conflict mediation. ?It is based on .
. . universal values,? Abkhazian diplomat Vyacheslav Chirikhba told
National Public Radio reporter Alex Van Oss. ?The respect for
elders, respect for women. A person is regarded as someone who is a
member of society, rather than as a completely isolated
individual.?

Smuggled over the Russian border, Yagan last year was awarded
Abkhazia?s highest cultural honor, the medal of Honor and Glory, by
Vice President Sergei Arshba at an event in the National Theater.
This is a sign that Kebzeh philosophy, now embraced by
some Westerners, may be making a resurgence as part of Abkhazians?
determination to establish their own nation. Yagan?s books,
including I Come from Behind Kaf Mountain (Threshold
Books) are being translated into the Abkhazian language.

And support for his struggling homeland is growing. The
International Documentation and Information Center for Abkhazia,
created to help restore priceless historical archives destroyed in
the war with Georgia, has opened in The Hague. In many ways,
Abkhazia remains in political limbo, but with Yagan?s writings and
a little Kebzeh, the country may one day return to its
former glory.

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.