Damage to Totemic Linden Tree Turns Political in Abkhazia

The de-facto Sokhumi authorities said they completed an investigation into the damage done to a 150-year-old Caucasian Linden tree, considered a spiritual symbol of the Abkhaz nation. Located at the Lykhny Glade, a gathering place of the Abkhaz tribe, the tree was cut with a chainsaw on the night of April 5. The video of the act resurfaced on Telegram channels on April 6, to much public condemnation. Aslan Bzhania, leader of the occupied province, condemned the act as “vandalism” and “terrorism.”

Bzhania visited the scene and called for an immediate investigation on April 7. On April 11, he met the local security chief Robert Kiut, who reported that two locals were identified and detained. The suspects were not officially named, even though the Abkhaz Telegram channels identify them as brothers Bagatelia, residents of the Ochamchire district. Kiut stated that they are exploring various potential motives, including the involvement of the unnamed foreign intelligence services and individuals “seeking to destabilize the situation.”

The prosecution said the suspects will be charged with illegal felling and vandalism, which may land them five years in prison. Speculation is rife that the brothers might have been instrumentalized in a plot by the former leader, Raul Khajimba to destabilize his rival, the current leader, Bzhania.

Race to save the tree

Roman Dbar, a local ecologist and researcher, told local media that the vandalized tree is unlikely to survive, saying the incident is “an act of terrorism aimed at undermining the spiritual values of our people.” To try and save it, Dbar suggested making 100-150 short, pencil-thick branches of the tree itself to try and bridge the cut. Another respected botanist Sergey Bebia says that the tree should be cut down.

According to Abkhazian scientists, the Linden tree is 147 years old, stands at the height of 19 meters, has a diameter of more than two meters, with circumference of the trunk reaching 6.3 meters. The historic Lykhny meadow is home to three Linden trees that are a significant symbol for the Abkhaz people as a communal gathering space for collective decisions. On March 18, 1989, over 35,000 people gathered at Lykhny Meadow and proposed the withdrawal of Abkhazia from Georgia. Amid the War, the World Abkhaz-Abazin Congress was formed in the same meadow in October 1992.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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