By The Associated Press on January 23, 2024.
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) – Thousands of artworks were destroyed in a fire that swept through the main art gallery in Abkhazia, reports said, a severe blow to the cultural heritage of the separatist Georgian region.
The blaze swept through the Central Exhibition Hall on Sunday in the city of Sukhumi, where the gallery was located on the second floor of a building. The cause of the fire has not been determined.
The gallery’s estimated 4,000 artworks were mostly stored in poor conditions, unprotected and jammed into small rooms and narrow halls, according to the news website Abkhaz World.
That treatment of the region’s artwork “painfully mirrors our country, plagued by criminal neglect and abandonment,” commentator Roin Agrba wrote on Abkhaz World.
The fire brought an “irreparable loss for the cultural heritage of our state,” the regional parliament said in a statement.
The gallery had held much of the work of Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze, noted for his production designs of operas and shows at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, and elsewhere.
Abkhazia, a region of steep mountains about the size of Cyprus along the Black Sea coast, came mostly under the control of separatists in 1993 after intense fighting. Georgia held a small portion of Abkhazia’s interior until the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.
Russia now stations thousands of troops in Abkhazia and recognizes it as an independent country. Nicaragua, Nauru, Venezuela and Syria also recognize Abkhazia’s independence but other countries regard it as a part of Georgia.