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State sandwiched between the Caucasian mountains and the Black Sea. Its capital is Sokhumi, the land area is 8700 square kilometers and the population is half a million. In 1996, Abkhazia achieved virtual seccession from Georgia.

The population is 18% Abkhaz, 46% Georgian. There is also a small number of ethnic Greeks. The ethnic Abhkaz are predominantly Muslim. The Abkhaz language belongs to the West Caucasian linguistic group.

The principal exports are coal, iron, citrus fruits, tea and tobacco.

The ancient Greeks are reputed to have arrived here. Jason and the Argonauts stopped by to steal the golden fleece from the Colchis leader. A nascent Abkhaz, Mingrelian and Svan culture coexisted. These groups make up present day Georgia.

In 1810, Abkhazia was conquered by the Russian Tsar. In the Crimean war (1853-1855), Abkhazia supported the Turks. Afterwards, their leader Micheil Sharvashidze was sent into exile. In 1866 an Abkhaz revolt was brutally supressed by Russia.

In 1921, Abkhazia became a Socialist Soviet Republic but Stalin(a Georgian) subsumed the area into the Georgian Republic. Abkhazia did retain some autonomy but resented their demotion.

In 1990, Abkhaz separatists declared their country independent. A bitter struggle ensued between the Georgian government and the rebels. The separtists carried out ethnic cleansing in order to remove Georgians living in Abkhazia. Georgia has accused Russia of supported the separtists. In 1996, a ceasefire was called. Since then Abkhazia has been independent of Georgia in all but name.

Abkazia is a member of UNPO.

The people of Abkhazia are caucasian, typically possessing narrow faces, pale skin, and dark hair and eyes. Red hair is extremely uncommon among Abkhazians, blond hair even less so. They are generally quite lean, and have a saying that a man's waist should be so narrow that a cat with its tail straight up can pass beneath him when he is lying on his side.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the world took notice of the Soviet territory, due to an encouraging phenomenon. The eldery citizens of Abkhazia reportedly were living well past their hundreds, into their 120-30s even, and were described as physically fit and mentally alert. Scientists and reporters flocked to Abkhazia, hoping to discover the secret to their longevity.

Different theories abounded, but genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors seemed to hold the key to the survival of the centenarian population. As for the Abkhazians themselves, some seemed to agree, attributing their long lifespans to following a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise and strenuous labor. Others accredited the mountain air, plenty of homemade vodka, possesion of an even disposition, the will of God, and pre-marital abstinence.

There was initially some controversy over the claims of the Abkhazians, since they had no way to prove their ages because they possessed no birth certificates. This was cleared up later, when a joint Soviet-American program interviewed the elders, along with their family members and friends under a fabricated pretext, and was able to verify their claims.

The Abkhazians boast an extremely healthy diet, characterised by a high consumption of homegrown and home-processed foods, abundant raw fruits and vegetables, and moderate meat consumption. They consume relatively few calories, very little sugar or salt, and their diet contains a balance of almost all the main nutrients. Most notably, their diets are low in tryptophan and raw vegetable oil, and they consume adequate amounts of antioxidants such as vitamins E and C.

As for their sex lives, most Abkhazians don't begin having sexual relations until about age 30 or 40, as pre-marital sex is shunned by their society. While some scientists believe this to be a factor in the Abkhazians' lengthy lifespans, this same sort of behaviour is absent in other groups with high centenarian populations, such as the people of Azerbaijan or the Andes.

Still, Abkhazian men are able to retain fertility until well into their seventies, and 13.6 percent of their women reportedly continued to menstruate after reaching 55 years of age. Dr. Sula Benet, who authored a book on the Abkhazians wrote that "Late menarche and late menopause for women are both expressions of the same biological principle of the slow aging process. Biologically speaking, they are 'late bloomers'."

Another unique aspect of Abkhazian society which may having some bearing on the lifespan is the fact that all elders converse with their family members daily. Soviet anthropologists believe that the extensive family ties may help to minimze stress, and therefore have a beneficial affect on lifespan. Furthermore, there are no nursing homes in Abkhazia, and the elders are actually encouraged to continue doing physical labor well into their 100s, which may explain the relative absence of senility. If one does get sick, he or she is cared for by their family, or if the person has no family, by a member of the kinship group. Trips to the hospital are only made if absolutely necessary, if the person is in need of an operation, or round-the-clock medical attention.

Statistically speaking, Abkhazia is not alone in its high percentage of elderly citizens. Scientists have reported that certain areas and ethnic groups have a higher population of citizens 90+ than others. These include Abkhazia, Azerbaijan, and Yakutia in the former Soviet Union, as well as parts of Pakistan (the Hunzas northeast of the Khyber Pass) and Ecuador (the valley of Vilcabamba in the Andes). This information has served to reinforce the argument that longevity has a genetic basis.


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