Vladislav Ardzinba, 64
Vladislav Ardzinba dies at 64, helped lead Soviet Georgia region to independence
Vladislav Ardzinba, 64, who led the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia to de facto independence through a bloody war and ethnic cleansing, died March 4 at a clinic in Moscow. No cause of death was reported.
Russia recognized Mr. Ardzinba after the 2008 war with Georgia over another breakaway province, South Ossetia. The United States and European Union consider both provinces an "integral" part of Georgia.
Mr. Ardzinba was a controversial figure criticized for his autocratic policies, poor human-rights record and determination to secure Abkhazian independence that led to what Georgian leaders called a genocide.
In 1989, Mr. Ardzinba, a prominent scholar who specialized in ancient Middle Eastern history and mythology, became a lawmaker in the Soviet Union's first democratically elected parliament.
A year later, he was elected chairman of Abkhazia, an autonomous province of ethnically diverse Soviet Georgia.
Abkhazia lies on the Black Sea coast, its subtropical climate and numerous resorts attracting tens of thousands of Soviet tourists.
The 1991 Soviet collapse and the increasingly nationalist policies of the Georgian government led to disagreements between the central government and its autonomous republics, which exploded into a civil war.
In 1992, Mr. Ardzinba proclaimed Abkhazia's independence, saying he was "strong enough" to fight Georgia and actively recruited mercenaries from neighboring Chechnya. One of the recruits was Shamil Basayev, who later led Chechen separatists and was dubbed Russia's most wanted terrorist.
By late 1993, the Georgian army had left Abkhazia, and Mr. Ardzinba's government orchestrated a massive ethnic-cleansing campaign that resulted in the expulsion of about 250,000 ethnic Georgians, more than a half of Abkhazia's population.
In 1994, Abkhazian's parliament elected Mr. Ardzinba president, and he secured Abkhazia's de facto independence by establishing close ties with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Throughout the 1990s, Abkhazia's tourism-dependent economy went through a deep recession, and hostilities with Georgians continued.
Mr. Ardzinba was reelected in 1999 but kept a low profile because of deteriorating health. He resigned in 2005 and lived between Moscow and Abkhazia.
He is survived by his wife and daughter, who are also Middle Eastern scholars.