Fire destroys thousands of paintings in Abkhazia

A fire in Abkhazia, a Russian-backed breakaway region of Georgia, destroyed thousands of paintings early Sunday morning, devastating a collection that locals considered a national treasure, albeit from a country recognized as such only by Russia and some of his allies. including Syria and Venezuela.

Nearly 4,000 paintings belonging to the National Gallery of Abkhazia were destroyed by a fire that devastated an exhibition hall in the center of Sukhumi, the region’s capital. This was stated in a statement by the interim Minister of Culture of Abkhazia.

The minister, Dinara Smyr, said that these include 300 works by Aleksandr Chachba-Sharvashidze, a famous Abkhazian artist and set designer, who worked with renowned artists and theaters in Russia and France. “This is an irreparable loss for the national culture of Abkhazia,” she said. However, the National Gallery is more of an archive space than a museum.

Residents rushed to the scene on Sunday to save the paintings, but only 200 works of art were removed from the burning building. The photos of the scene, released by Apsnypress, a local news agency, they showed people carrying framed canvasessome charred and burned.

Local law enforcement said they were investigating all possible causes, including arson. According to the news agency, the director of the gallery, Suram Sakaniya, attributed the fire to a short circuit.

Abkhazia, a mountainous region on the Black Sea with a population of about 245,000, is internationally recognized as part of Georgia. Since the late 1980s, its status has been contested, and the dying Soviet Union has sparked tensions between the ethnic Abkhazians and Georgians who both populated the area at the time. In 1994, after a bloody war of secession against Georgian forces, Abkhazia promulgated a constitution declaring itself a sovereign state.

This was followed by decades of crisis, underfunding and neglect. Many of the region’s tourist resorts, once famous throughout the Soviet Union, have been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. Local authorities promised to build a dedicated building for the gallery, so that the art could be exhibited regularly, but this never materialised. The National Gallery had to keep its entire collection crammed into a few rooms in the upper part of the exhibition hall used by the local artists’ union. The fire destroyed the roof of the building and the entire floor where the works were stored.

In 2008, after a five-day war with Georgia, Russia recognized Abkhazia as an independent state. Moscow has established a real military base in the region and exerted influence on Abkhazia’s politics and finances. Georgia believes that Abkhazia is under Russian occupation.

In 2016, talking about the state of the gallery in an interview Speaking to a local news website, Mr Sakaniya, the director, described the premises of his institution as “not suitable for storing paintings, nor for displaying them in any way”.

In a statement on Monday, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili attributed the fire in Abkhazia to “neglect of cultural identity on the part of both the de facto leadership and the Russian occupiers.”

The fire was “a tragedy for all of us,” Ms. Zourabichvili said declaration on X.

Established in 1963 as part of a regional state museum, the National Gallery of Abkhazia collects works by local and Russian artists. This was promised by the Russian Minister of Culture, Olga Lyubimova send Russian specialists to help restore the surviving paintings.

But Mr. Sakaniya, the gallery’s director, told Apsnypress that the damage would hit Abkhazia’s self-esteem hard. “It is impossible to evaluate the damage done to Abkhaz culture,” he said. “I walked around and cried.”