"Such violence, such humiliation, such abuse, such genocide," Khasig recalls. "Our people never experienced such things before."
In a sense, World War II was something of a respite, but the work begun in the 1930s continued as soon as the war was over. By that time, Khasig was in
"In 1945, after the end of the war, Abkhaz schools were shut down and the policy of forced assimilation was begun," he says. "Our children -- we ourselves
-- studied in the Georgian language and didn't know a single word [of Abkhaz]. We were simply cut off."
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, all this old resentment and more surged to the surface.
In 1992, war broke out in Abkhazia -- with Abkhaz separatists joined in their struggle by representatives of other aggrieved Caucasus nations such as
Chechens, Circassians, Ossetians, and Cossacks.
The Abkhaz were also actively supported by the Russian military. An estimated 8,000 people were killed and as many as 240,000 ethnic Georgians were
After the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, Abkhazia's de facto independence was recognized by Russia and a handful of other countries. Georgia and most
of the international community says the region is occupied by Russia. Khasig, despairingly, describes Abkhazia as "a Russian colony."
Bizarre Border Policies, Wholesale Deportations
The guns of war flared elsewhere as well in the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. And these similar ethnic conflicts, many of which were exacerbated
by Soviet polices six decades earlier, have come to be called "Stalin's time bombs."
Such conflicts, spanning from Central Europe to the intricate patchwork of exclaves that comprises the borders of Central Asia, are in many ways direct
legacies of the shifting nationalities policies that were often brutally implemented during the nearly 30 years that Stalin towered over the Soviet Union.
These disputed places include the disputed ethnic-Armenian region of Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia's North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, its
neighboring republics, and the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester.
From bizarre border policies and the wholesale deportation of ethnic groups to the mass importation of ethnic Russians to various regions, Stalin's
policies created or aggravated conflicts that remain central to understanding Eurasia today.
Under Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin -- and later in the early years of Stalin's rule -- the Soviet government argued that nationalism was the bane of the
imperial system. They tried to develop policies that would transform the multinational Eurasian space into a unified Soviet, socialist state.
"It was only by transforming the economic and social bases -- and the cultural basis, because [Stalin] paid a lot of attention to that -- of the
nationalities that they would become fully integrated into a single socialist state," says Stephen Blank, a professor of national security studies at the
U.S. Army War College and the author of a book on Stalin's time as Soviet nationalities commissar. "And the overwhelming thrust of his policies [was] to
create that centralized, socialist system and that, he believed, would answer the nationalities problem."