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
Citizenship Soviet
Nationality Abkhazian
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.

Immensely popular in Abkhazia due to his ability to resonate with the people, Lakoba maintained a close relationship with Stalin, who would frequently holiday in Abkhazia during the 1920s and 1930s. This relationship saw Lakoba become 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. Rehabilitated after the death of Stalin in 1953, Lakoba is revered as a national hero.

Early life

Nestor Lakoba was born in the village of Lykhny, Abkhazia to a peasant family, one of three sons along with Vasily and Mikhail. 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] Lakoba's mother remarried twice, but both husbands died.[2] From ages 10 to 12 Lakoba attended a parish school in New Athos, followed by a further two years of schooling in Lykhny.[3] He then entered the Tiflis Seminary in 1905.[4] Disinterested in religious study, Lakoba was frequently caught reading books banned by the school authorities.[5]

In 1911 he was expelled for revolutionary activity and moved to Batum, then a major port for exporting oil out of the Caucasus, where he taught privately and studied for the gymnasium exam.[6] It was in Batum that Lakoba first became acquainted with the Bolsheviks, working with them from the autumn of 1911 and officially joining in September 1912.[7] He became involved with disseminating propaganda amongst the workers and peasants in the city and throughout Adjara, the local region, and began to refine his ability to relate to the masses at this time.[8] Discovered by the police, he was forced to leave Batum in 1914, so moved to Grozny, another major oil-based city in the Caucasus, and continued his efforts to spread Bolshevik propaganda amongst the people.[6] Lakoba continued studying in Grozny, passing his examinations in 1915, and the following year enrolled in law at Kharkov University in what is now Ukraine; the ongoing First World War and its effect on Abkhazia led him to quit his studies and return home after only a short time.[9]

Early Bolshevik activities

Back in Abkhazia Lakoba took up a position in the Gudauta region helping to build a railway to Russia, while continuing to spread Bolshevik propaganda to the workers.[10] The 1917 February Revolution, which ended the Russian Empire, saw the status of Abkhazia became contested and was unclear.[11] A peasant assembly was created to govern the region, and Lakoba was elected as a representative of Gudauta.[6] Bgazhba notes that his ability to mingle with the people of the region, and his speaking abilities made him an ideal choice as representative.[12] Lakoba gained wider notability across Abkhazia by helping to establish "Kiaraz", a peasant brigade that would later help consolidate Bolshevik control.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15] This coup only lasted five days, as the warships departed, leaving little support for the Bolsheviks, and the APC resumed control of Abkhazia.[16] 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.[17] Georgia never fully maintained control of the region, leaving the APC to rule it until the Bolshevik invasion of 1921.[18]

In the autumn of 1918 Lakoba was ordered to return to Abkhazia, in order to attack the Mensheviks from their rear positions. He was captured during this time and imprisoned in Sokhumi, though released early in 1919 due to public opposition.[19] That April he was offered the post of police commissioner of the Ochamchira District, which he accepted and used as a means to spread Bolshevik propaganda. When the Menshevik-backed central authorities became aware of this Lakoba again left Abkhazia, staying in Batumi for a few months. While there he was elected the deputy chairman of the Sokhumi district party committee.[20] Lakoba also led several operations near Batumi that hindered the ability of the White movement (opponents of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War) in the Caucasus, further improving his image amongst the Bolshevik leadership.[21]

Leader of Abkhazia

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

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."[22][2] 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.[23] To this extent he was invited to the Thirteenth Party Congress in Moscow, held in May 1924. There Lakoba further acquainted himself with Stalin, who was in the process of consolidating his power, and made a lasting impression.[24]

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.[25]

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.[25] He regularly sent crates of tangerines to Moscow for Stalin and other Caucasians there.[26] 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.[26]

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.

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".[27] 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."[27] Beria and Lakoba had despised each other for years, their feud deliberately fuelled by Stalin.[28] 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.[28]


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, on 27 December 1936 Lakoba was summoned to Party headquarters in Tbilisi. Beria hosted Lakoba, and fed him fried trout for dinner, a favorite of Lakoba's.[29] It is likely that Beria poisoned Lakoba at this time.[30] They attended the opera after the dinner, watching the play "Mzetchabuki" (მზეჭაბუკი; "Sun-boy" in Georgian).[29] During the performance Lakoba first showed signs of his poisoning, and returned to his hotel room, where he died early the next morning.[31] Officially Lakoba was said to have died of a heart attack.[28] His body was returned to Sukhumi, though notably all the internal organs (which could have helped identify the cause of death), were removed.[32]

Though Stalin was not directly responsible for the death of Lakoba, it did seem likely he played a role: Beria would not have been able to have someone as prominent as Lakoba killed without the approval of Stalin.[28] It is also notable that though telegrams of condolence came from various leading officials throughout the Soviet Union, Stalin himself did not send one.[29]

Lakoba was given an elaborate state funeral which thousands of Abkhazians attended, though Beria did not.[29] Initially buried in the Sokhumi Botanical Garden, Lakoba's body was moved the first night to St. Michael's Cemetery in Sokhumi, where it stayed for several years before being returned to its original place.[33] 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.[34]


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

After his death Lakoba was declared an "enemy of the people"[35] and denounced for Trotskyism and national deviationism.[36] He was also accused of having plotted to kill both Stalin and Beria, despite the fact that Lakoba's former close relationship with Stalin, whom he had called "the greatest man of a whole epoch, such as history gives to humanity only once in one or two hundred years" in a 1934 pamphlet.[37]

In the months that followed Lakoba's death, members of his family were implicated on charges against the state. His two brothers were arrested on 9 April 9 1937, with his mother and Sariya arrested on 23 August of that year.[38] A trial of thirteen of Lakoba's family was conducted from 30 October to 3 November 1937 in Sokhumi, with charges including counter-revolutionary, subversion and sabotage, espionage, terrorism, and insurgent organization in Abkhazia. Nine of the defendants, including Lakoba's two brothers, were shot the night of 4 November.[39] Rauf, Lakoba's 15-year-old son, tried to speak to Beria, who visited Sokhumi to view the start of the trial, and was promptly arrested as well. Sariya was taken to Tbilisi and tortured in order to extract a statement implicating Lakoba, but refused, even after Rauf was tortured in front of her.[40] Sariya would die in prison in Tbilisi on 16 May, 1939.[41] Rauf was sent to a labour camp, and was eventually shot in a Sokhumi prison on 28 July 1941.[42]

With Lakoba dead Beria effectively took over control of Abkhazia and implemented a policy of Georgianization.[43] Abkhaz officials were purged, ostensibly on charges of trying to assassinate Stalin.[44] Toponyms were renamed across Abkhazia, with most using Georgian names and grammatical rules (for example, Sukhum became Sokhumi).[45] The greatest difference though was the policy to settle thousands of ethnic Mingrelian farmers across Abkhazia, displacing the ethnic Abkhaz and reducing their overall share of the population.[43] This had been attempted since the start of the second five-year plan in 1933, though opposition from Lakoba and other leading Abkhaz figures had stopped it.[44]


During the Stalin era Lakoba was seen as an "enemy of the people," though after 1953 he was slowly rehabilitated.[46] A statue was built in his honour in the Sukhumi botanical garden in 1959, and he was subsequently honoured in Abkhazia.[47] 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.[48] A museum dedicated to the life of Lakoba was established in Sukhum, though it was burnt down during the 1992–1993 war in Abkhazia.[49]


  1. ^ Bgazhba 1965, pp. 7–8
  2. ^ a b Kotkin 2017, p. 137
  3. ^ Bgazhba 1965, p. 8
  4. ^ Bolshaya sovetskaya entsyklopediya 1973, p. 122
  5. ^ Bgazhba 1965, p. 9
  6. ^ a b c Kuprava 2015, p. 463
  7. ^ Bgazhba 1965, p. 11
  8. ^ Bgazhba 1965, p. 12
  9. ^ Bgazhba 1965, pp. 13–14
  10. ^ Bgazhba 1965, p. 14
  11. ^ Blauvelt 2007, p. 206
  12. ^ Bgazhba 1965, p. 16
  13. ^ Bgazhba 1965, p. 19
  14. ^ Saparov 2015, p. 43
  15. ^ Blauvelt 2014, p. 24
  16. ^ Welt 2012, pp. 207–208
  17. ^ Blauvelt 2014, p. 24
  18. ^ Lakoba 1990, p. 63
  19. ^ Bgazhba 1965, pp. 27–28
  20. ^ Bgazhba 1965, pp. 28–29
  21. ^ Bgazhba 1965, pp. 29–31
  22. ^ Lakoba 2004, p. 99
  23. ^ Lakoba 2004, pp. 97–99
  24. ^ Lakoba 2004, p. 101
  25. ^ a b Kun 2003, p. 47
  26. ^ a b Kun 2003, p. 49
  27. ^ a b Knight 1993, p. 51
  28. ^ a b c d Knight 1993, p. 72
  29. ^ a b c d Lakoba 2004, p. 112
  30. ^ Lak'oba 1998, p. 95
  31. ^ Rayfield 2012, p. 352
  32. ^ Hewitt 2013, p. 42
  33. ^ Lakoba 2004, p. 113
  34. ^ Medvedev & Shriver 1989, p. 624
  35. ^ Medvedev & Shriver 1989, p. 495
  36. ^ Suny 1994, p. 277
  37. ^ Knight 1993, p. 81
  38. ^ Lakoba 2004, pp. 113–114
  39. ^ Lakoba 2004, p. 117
  40. ^ Lakoba 2004, p. 118
  41. ^ Lakoba 2004, p. 119
  42. ^ Lakoba 2004, pp. 120–121
  43. ^ a b Blauvelt 2007, pp. 217–218
  44. ^ a b Slider 1985, p. 52
  45. ^ Blauvelt 2007, p. 221
  46. ^ Bgazhba 1965, p. 56
  47. ^ Bgazhba 1965, pp. 56–57
  48. ^ Bgazhba 1965
  49. ^ Kuprava 2015, p. 464


  • 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 
  • 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 
  • Kotkin, Stephen (2017), Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941, New York City: Penguin Press, ISBN 978-1-59420-380-0 
  • 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 
  • Kuprava, A.E. (2015), "Lakoba, Nestor Apollonovich", in Avidzba, V.Sh., Abkhazskii Biograficheskii Slovar (Abkhaz Biographical Dictionary) (in Russian), Sukhum: Abkhaz Institute of Humanitarian Studies 
  • 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 
  • Slider, Darrell (1985), "Crisis and Response in Soviet Nationality Policy: The Case of Abkhazia", Central Asian Survey, 4 (4): 51–68, doi:10.1080/02634938508400523 
  • 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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