The Caucasus mountains on the north and northeast divides it from Circassia; on the southeast it is bounded by Mingrelia; and on the southwest by the Black Sea. Though the country is generally mountainous, with dense forests of oak and walnut, there are some deep, well-watered valleys, and the climate is mild. The soil is fertile, producing wheat, maize, grapes, figs, pomegranates and wine. Cattle and horses are bred. Honey is produced; and excellent arms are made. This country was subdued (c. 550) by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, who introduced Christianity. Largely associated with Western Georgia, it was ruled by Georgian dynasties from 735 to the 15th century, when the region was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and became partially Muslim. The Russians acquired possession of it piecemeal between 1829 and 1842, but their power was not firmly established until after 1864. Large numbers emigrated to the Turkish empire in 1864 and 1878 as a result of Russian oppression.
Originally a Western Georgian region inhabited primarily by indigenous Georgians (48% of its 500,000 population ) and Abkhazians (17%), Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia on July 23, 1992, though this was not internationally recognized. Civil strife followed in 1992-1993, in which Abkhazian guerilla forces helped by Russian regular forces and Chechen paramilitaries drove out newly estabilished Georgian National Guard units. This led to a campaign of ethnic cleansing directed against the Georgian population, resulting in some 10 thousand casualties and 250 thousand more people fleeing their homes.
A new constitution adopted on 4 November 1994 declared Abkhaz sovereignty. Elections were held on 23 November 1996 but these were not recognised by the Georgian government or the international community. The CIS imposed economic sanctions in January 1996.