Nestor Lakoba

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Nestor Lakoba
Нестор Лакоба (Russian)
Нестор Лакоба (Abkhaz)
Lakoba Nestor.jpg
1st Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Socialist Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia
In office
February 1922 – 28 December 1936
Preceded by Post created
Succeeded by Avksenty Rapava
Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Abkhaz ASSR
In office
17 April 1930 – 28 December 1936
Preceded by Post created
Succeeded by Alexei Agrba
Personal details
Born (1893-05-01)1 May 1893
Lykhny, Sukhum Okrug, Kutais Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 28 December 1936(1936-12-28) (aged 43)
Tbilisi, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Spouse(s) Sariya Lakoba
Children Rauf Lakoba

Nestor Apollonovich Lakoba (Russian: Не́стор Аполло́нович Лако́ба; Abkhazian: Нестор Аполлонович Лакоба; 1 May 1893 – 28 December 1936) was an Abkhaz Communist leader. Lakoba helped establish Bolshevik power in Abkhazia in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, and served as the head of Abkhazia after its incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1921. While in power, Lakoba saw that Abkhazia was initially given autonomy within the USSR as the Socialist Soviet Republic of Abkhazia. Though nominally a part of Georgia with a special status of "union republic", the Abkhaz SSR was effectively a separate republic, made possible by Lakoba's close relationship with Joseph Stalin. This also ensured that during the era of collectivization, Abkhazia was largely spared, though in return Lakoba was forced to accept a downgrade of Abkhazia's status to that of an autonomous republic within the Georgian SSR.

Due to his close relationship with Stalin, who would frequently holiday in Abkhazia during the 1920s and 1930s, Lakoba became rivals with one of Stalin's other confidents, Lavrenti Beria, who was in charge of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. During a visit to Beria in Tbilisi in December 1936, Lakoba was poisoned, allowing Beria to consolidate his control over Abkhazia and all of Georgia.


Early life

Nestor Lakoba (obscured) with Joseph Stalin (in background), Stalin's daughter Svetlana and Lavrenti Beria (in foreground).

Nestor Lakoba was born in the village of Lykhny, Abkhazia to a peasant family, one of three sons. His father, Apollo, died three months before his birth, with Mikhail Bgazhba, who would serve as the First Secretary of Abkhazia, writing that Apollo was shot for opposing the nobles and landowners in the region.[1] A member of the Bolsheviks since 1912, Lakoba had attended the Tiflis Seminary, shortly after Joseph Stalin had been expelled.[2] Like many Caucasian Bolsheviks, Lakoba began as a bandit persecuted by the Tsarist police, and he became a personal friend of Stalin's during their time together in the revolutionary underground.[3]

Lakoba was the lead Bolshevik in Abkhazia when the Revolution began in 1917, based in Gudauta in the north of Abkhazia, and opposed the Mensheviks, who were centered on Sokhumi.[4] On 16 February 1918, Efrem Eshba, an Abkhaz Bolshevik, aided by Russian sailors from warships docked at Sukhumi, overthrew the Abkhaz People's Council (APC) that had provisionally controlled Abkhazia since November 1917.[5] This coup only lasted five days, as the warships departed, leaving little support for the Bolsheviks, and the APC resumed control of Abkhazia.[6] In April Lakoba joined Eshba in again overthrowing the APC, holding power for 42 days before the forces of the Georgian Democratic Republic, with the help of Abkhaz anti-Bolsheviks, regained control over Abkhazia, which they regarded as an integral part of Georgia. Both Lakoba and Eshba would flee to Russia, and not return to Abkhazia until 1921.[7] Georgia never fully maintained control of the region, leaving the APC to rule it until the Bolshevik invasion of 1921.[8]

Leader of Abkhazia

Lakoba returned to Abkhazia after it had been occupied by Bolshevist Russia, as part of its conquest of Georgia. Named the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee, in effect the head of the region, in Abkhazia, Lakoba had such control over Abkhazia that it was jokingly referred to as "Lakobistan."[9] He gained the favor of Stalin in part for his role in containing Leon Trotsky during the death and funeral of Vladimir Lenin: by keeping Trotsky, who was in Sukhumi for health reasons, isolated and thus absent from the immediate aftermath of the Lenin's death, Lakoba helped Stalin increase his profile in Moscow.[10] For the next decade Abkhazia was a Union Republic, associated with the Georgian SSR, but in 1931 Stalin made it an Autonomous Republic more firmly under Georgian control. This compelled Lakoba to make regular visits to the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, in order to intercede on behalf of his homeland.[11]

Lakoba was a short, slightly reserved, and almost entirely deaf man, and he established good relationships with many Kremlin power-brokers, drawn as they were to holidays in his beautiful sub-tropical province.[11] He regularly sent crates of tangerines to Moscow for Stalin and other Caucasians there.[12] He also welcomed those no longer in the leadership's good graces; for instance, he and his brother Mikhail, People's Commissar of internal affairs and later of agriculture in Abkhazia, welcomed the seriously ill Leon Trotsky and his wife for several months in 1925.[12]

Lakoba managed to stave off collectivization during his leadership of Abkhazia, persuading Stalin to deal gradually with particularly backward peoples. The situation changed after his death, when the process began with a vengeance and landless peasants from central and western Georgia were brought in.[3]

In 1932 Lakoba told his friend, the high-ranking Georgian Communist Sergo Ordzhonikidze, that his main rival, Transcaucasian Party chief Lavrentiy Beria, an acquaintance of both men, had been making some extremely derogatory remarks about Ordzhonikidze, such as "In 1924 Sergo would have shot all Georgians if it hadn't been for me".[13] Ordzhonikidze was enraged, as was Beria when he found out what had occurred. Beria felt compelled to send a series of letters apologizing to Ordzhonikidze, his patron. One of these, dated 18 December 1932, read, in part: "I admire you too much to say those things. I ask you only one thing–don't believe anyone."[13] Beria and Lakoba had despised each other for years, their feud deliberately fuelled by Stalin.[14] Another source of tension may have been the longstanding animosity between Mingrelians (of whom Beria was one) and Abkhazians; during the Second Five-Year Plan (1933–37) Beria initiated the settlement of large numbers of Mingrelians, Armenians and Russians into Abkhazia.[14]


Nestor Lakoba, Nikita Khrushchev, Lavrenti Beria and Aghasi Khanjian during the opening of the Moscow Metro in 1936.

As Lakoba was incredibly popular in Abkhazia, Beria was unable to arrest him. Instead, in December 1936 Lakoba was summoned to Party headquarters in Tbilisi. Lakoba ate dinner at Beria's house, and was likely poisoned there.[15] They attended the opera after dinner, and it was there that Lakoba first showed signs of his poisoning, dying there.[16] It was announced that Lakoba had died of a heart attack.[14] His body was returned to Sukhumi, though notably all the internal organs (which could have helped identify the cause of death), were removed.[17]

Beria feigned grief.[18] Lakoba was given an elaborate state funeral which thousands of Abkhazians attended. According to Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs, Beria had Lakoba's body exhumed and burned on the pretext that an "enemy of the people" did not deserve burial in Abkhazia; this was possibly done to hide evidence of poisoning. Others say that after his denunciation his coffin and remains were dug up and reinterred in an unmarked grave elsewhere.[18]


In several months after his death, during the Great Purge Lakoba was declared an "enemy of the people"[19] and denounced for Trotskyism and national deviationism,[20] accused of having fomented an insurrection and having organized a counter-revolutionary plot to kill Lavrentiy Beria and Joseph Stalin himself. The charge of an anti-Stalin plot on his part was especially far-fetched, given that Lakoba in 1934 had written a hagiographic pamphlet, Stalin and Khashim, in which he praised Stalin as "the greatest man of a whole epoch, such as history gives to humanity only once in one or two hundred years".[21] In October 1937, his brother Mikhail was convicted in a show trial of participating in the conspiracy and shot.

Nestor Lakoba was survived by his wife, Sariya, who came from a wealthy Adjarian noble family, and their son.[19] She was arrested soon after his death and imprisoned in Tbilisi. The NKVD took her away every evening, beat her severely in order to have her sign a statement on "How Lakoba sold Abkhazia to Turkey", and dragged her back to her cell, bloody and unconscious, in the morning. Her reply each time was "I will not defame the memory of my husband". Their son Rauf, aged 14, was arrested, brought to the jail where his mother was held, threatened with death if she did not testify, and beaten in front of her. His wife's repeated refusal to confess angered the NKVD agents and she finally died in her cell after a night of torture.[22]

Rauf Lakoba was sent to a labor camp for children whose parents had been convicted of political crimes. He and two friends there wrote to Beria asking to be sent home and continue with school. Beria summoned them and had them taken to the courtyard of an NKVD jail in Tbilisi, where they were shot, having been accused of taking part in a "counterrevolutionary group" engaged in "systematic agitation aimed at discrediting measures taken by the party and government".[23]


The statue of Lakoba built in 1959, located in the Sukhumi botanical garden.

During the Stalin era Lakoba was seen as an "enemy of the people," though after 1953 he was slowly rehabilitated.[24] A statue was built in his honour in the Sukhumi botanical garden in 1959, and he was subsequently honoured in Abkhazia.[25] In 1965 Mikhail Bgazhba, who was the First Secretary of the Abkhaz Communist Party from 1958 until 1965, wrote a short biography of Lakoba, largely rehabilitating him.[26]


  1. ^ Bgazhba 1965, pp. 7–8
  2. ^ Bolshaya sovetskaya entsyklopediya 1973, p. 122
  3. ^ a b Derluguian 2005, p. 235
  4. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 43
  5. ^ Blauvelt 2014, p. 24
  6. ^ Welt 2012, pp. 207–208
  7. ^ Blauvelt 2014, p. 24
  8. ^ Lakoba 1990, p. 63
  9. ^ Lakoba 2004, p. 99
  10. ^ Lakoba 2004, pp. 97–99
  11. ^ a b Kun 2003, p. 47
  12. ^ a b Kun 2003, p. 49
  13. ^ a b Knight 1993, p. 51
  14. ^ a b c Knight 1993, p. 72
  15. ^ Lak'oba 1998, p. 95
  16. ^ Rayfield 2012, p. 352
  17. ^ Hewitt 2013, p. 42
  18. ^ a b Medvedev & Shriver 1989, p. 624
  19. ^ a b Medvedev & Shriver 1989, p. 495
  20. ^ Suny 1994, p. 277
  21. ^ Knight 1993, p. 81
  22. ^ Medvedev & Shriver 1989, p. 496
  23. ^ Medvedev & Shriver 1989, p. 606
  24. ^ Bgazhba 1965, p. 56
  25. ^ Bgazhba 1965, pp. 56–57
  26. ^ Bgazhba 1965


  • Bgazhba, Mikhail (1965), Нестор Лакоба (Nestor Lakoba) (in Russian), Tbilisi: Sabtchota Saqartvelo 
  • Blauvelt, Timothy (May 2007), "Abkhazia: Patronage and Power in the Stalin Era", Nationalities Papers, 35 (2): 203–232, doi:10.1080/00905990701254318 
  • Blauvelt, Timothy K. (2014), "The Establishment of Soviet Power in Abkhazia: Ethnicity, Contestation and Clientalism in the Revolutionary Periphery", Revolutionary Russia, 27 (1): 22–46, doi:10.1080/09546545.2014.904472 
  • Bolshaya sovetskaya entsyklopediya (1973), "Nestor Lakoba", Bolshaya sovetskaya entsyklopediya (Great Soviet Encyclopedia) (in Russian), Vol. 14, Moscow: Bolshaya sovetskaya entsyklopediya 
  • Conquest, Robert (1990), The Great Terrory: A Reassessment, Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-507132-8 
  • Derluguian, Georgi M. (2005), Bourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus: A World-System Biography, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-14282-5 
  • Hewitt, George (2013), Discordant Neighbours: A Reassessment of the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-South Ossetian Conflicts, Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, ISBN 978-9-00-424892-2 
  • Knight, Amy W. (1993), Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-01093-5 
  • Kun, Miklós (2003), Stalin: An Unknown Portrait, translated by Bodóczky, Miklós; Hideg, Rachel; Higed, János; Vörös, Miklós, Budapest: Central European University Press, ISBN 963-9241-19-9 
  • Lakoba, Stanislav (2004), Абхазия после двух империй. XIX-XXI вв. (Abkhazia after two empires: XIX–XXI centuries) (in Russian), Materik, ISBN 5-85646-146-0 
  • Lakoba, Stanislav (1990), Очерки Политической Истории Абхазии (Essays on the Political History of Abkhazia) (in Russian), Sukhumi, Abkhazia: Alashara 
  • Lak'oba, Stanislav (1998), "History: 1917–1989", in Hewitt, George, The Abkhazians: A Handbook, New York City: St. Martin's Press, pp. 67–88, ISBN 978-0-31-221975-8 
  • Medvedev, Roy Aleksandrovich; Shriver, George (1989), Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, New York City: Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-06350-4 
  • Montefiore, Simon Sebag (2004), Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, New York City: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 1-4000-7678-1 
  • Rayfield, Donald (2012), Edge of Empires: A History of Georgia, London: Reaktion Books, ISBN 978-1-78-023030-6 
  • Saparov, Arsène (2015), From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh, New York City: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-41-565802-7 
  • Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994), The Making of the Georgian Nation (Second ed.), Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, ISBN 978-0-25-320915-3 
  • Welt, Cory (2012), "A Fateful Moment: Ethnic Autonomy and Revolutionary violence in the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918–1921)", in Jones, Stephen F., The Making of Modern Georgia, 1918 – 2012: The first Georgian Republic and its successors, New York City: Routledge, pp. 205–231, ISBN 978-0-41-559238-3 

External links

  • "Chapter One: The Abkhazian Candidate", Degenerate Magazine.
  • (in Russian) "Caucasian safari of Joseph Stalin" by Musto Jikhashvili
  • (in Russian) Biography, with photographs
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