Georgia, locally called Sakartvelo, though an independent nation for hundreds of years prior to the modern age has had a legacy linked with Russia and the later USSR for the last few hundred years. It is only in recent times that the nation has again become an independent state in the world and it has seen its share of growing pains during that short time. One of the small new nations of the Caucasus region, Georgia declared its independence from Russia in the early 1990s, an act which was followed by a wave of bloodshed as the myriad nationalities within Georgia attempted to gain their own independence.
Land Area: 69,700 sq km or 26,911 sq miles
Total length – 1970 km with 1655 km being land boundaries and 315 km bordering the Black Sea
Neighbors – Russian Federation to the north, Turkey in the southwest, Armenia in the southeast and Azerbaijan to the east.
Population: 5,400.000 as of 1998 (Density of 77 people per sq km)
Ethnic Factions: Georgian (70%), Armenian (8%), Russian (6%), Azeri (6%), Ossetian (3%), Abkhaz (2%), Other (5%)
Official Language: Georgian
Religion: Majority Orthodox Christian with minority Muslim, Armenian Apostolic and Jewish
Largest Cities as of 1998:
Tbilisi – 1,225,000
Kutaisi – 221,000
Rustavi – 145,000
Batumi – 115,000
Geography and Climate
At 69,700 sq km (26,911 sq miles), Georgia is a rather small state. The land area that makes up the nation is heavily mountainous along its borders, with the Great Caucasian Range running along the northern border and the Minor Caucasus Range running along the southern border. Between these two mountain ranges is the Minor Caucasus Plains and to the west lies the Black Sea.
Georgia’s climate is influenced both by the moderate east European climate and the drier climate of the Urals. The mountains that border the nation help prevent the cold weather that might otherwise sweep down from the north during the winter. The western reaches are high in humidity and precipitation, with average temperatures around 5C in the winter and 22C in the summer. To the east, where the mountains prevent some of the Mediterranean weather from reaching, the area is drier and generally 20-24C in the summer and 2-4 C in the winter.
Writing and Literature
The Georgian culture is one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world. Along with having many ancient temples and other structures littered throughout the nation, the Georgian alphabet is one of the few remaining ancient forms of writing. Said to have been first developed by, or under the guidance of, King Parnavaz in the 3rd century BC, the Georgian written language, albeit changed over time, is one of the 14 remaining alphabets in the world.
The writing itself has three forms, Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli, along with a numeric value for each associated symbol (much like ancient Hebrew and other languages of the sort. Asomtavruli, being the oldest of the three forms can be found in a few places, among them the Petre Iberi in Judah and inscribed on the Bolnisi Temple. As well the language is used in the “Martyrdom of Shushanik”, written by Jakob Tsurtaveli in the fifth century AD. Asomtavruli would eventually, along with the later Nuskhuri writing, become the premier form of writing for the ecclesial community.
Mkhedruli is said to have been first developed in the golden age of the Georgian nation for court records. This form of writing became the exclusive writing of the secular world, while the other two remained in use for the church. Over time, Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri writing would slowly die out and only Mkhedruli writing would continue to be the written form of Georgia. Indeed it is still the written form of the nation today.
Branching into many forms of the millennia, modern Georgian writing could first said to have been fixed at a certain point in 1629, when printing moulds were created in Rome. It was here that the “Georgian Italian Dictionary” and the “Georgian alphabet with prayers” were first transcribed and compiled by Stephano Paolini and Nikiphore Irbach. 1643 would bring the completion of “Georgian Grammar” by Francisco-Maria Majio, which used all three of the Georgian languages.
In the early 18th century, in Moscow, the Georgian language was further refined when Muskhuri and Khutsuri printing moulds were cast. Here the “Davitni” was written in the Vakhctang printing house, as well as a printing of “The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin” by Shota Rustaveli. The printing house would later produce versions of the “Bible”, including the New Testament.
Georgia maintains a rich folk heritage in its music, and it is here that the oft overrun culture has managed to preserve much of its social and historical facts and identities. The various types of music which have arisen over the centuries are often named for their place of origin, such as Kakheti and Imereti. Each typically differs in some forms, such as rhythm or intonation but all share the common polyphonic songs. Most songs are made up of three singers, though a very few areas use a fourth. At current time, one of the best known Georgian companies is the Rustavi Choir, which was formed in 1968.
Indications of human inhabitance of Georgia have been found as far back as 50,000 to 100,000 BC via various Middle Paleolithic cave sites along the coast of the Black Sea. Archeological evidence for the area is first placed around the fifth millennium BC, with a highly developed Bronze Age culture inhabiting the area, being among the first to develop metallurgy. Over the next millennia, the area would remain relatively stable in a tribal or familial type society.
It would be the end of the 2nd millennia BC when the first real regional power structures came into place in Georgia. During this time, the power of the Diakhi and Qolha tribes would rise, bringing them to the forefront of power in the region. The Qolha indeed are considered, due to their advanced culture and wealth to be the origin of the Greek depicted Argonauts. The two tribe coalition would split around the 8th century BC though and the region would be controlled by other tribes.
It was during this time that the tribes of the Karts, Mengrels, Chans and Svans would assume control over the region. Their power helped to create a two kingdom confederation. The western nation, the Kingdom of Colchis (also known as the Kingdom of Egrisi) would be firmly established between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. The Colchis civilization attracted the attention of the Greeks who colonized the Black Sea coast during this time, creating settlements in Phasis (Poti), Gyenos (Ochamchire), Dioscuras (Sukhumi), Anakopia (Ankhali Atoni) and Pityus (Bichvinta).
Meanwhile the Kartlian tribes, who inhabited the southern and eastern parts of Georgia consolidated their own power, allowing the rise of the Meskhian tribes in their midst. The Meskhians would move slowly to the northeast forming settlements as they traveled. The Kartli kingdom would be ruled by one King Parnavaz (the first of the Parnavazi dynasty) who, after successfully driving back an invasion, focused on social projects, including the citadel of the capitol, the Armazistiche, and the idol of the god Armazi. He is also credited with the creation of the Georgian written language.
The period following this time of prosperity was one of incessant warfare though. Both the Colchis Kingdom and the Kartli would be forced to defend against numerous invasions into their territories. In 66 BC, the Roman Empire first burst into the region under Pompey. Having just subjugated the Pontus Kingdom, the Romans were setting their sights upon those lands who they now bordered, including the Kartli Kingdom, as well as Armenia and Albania. Armenia fell first and the Romans marched into the Kartli lands, forcing King Artag to surrender in 65 BC. From here the Romans marched into the western kingdom, eventually reaching and subjugating Phasis.
The next two centuries would see a continuation of Roman control over the area, but by the reign of King Parsman II (130 – 150 AD) the Kartli kingdom had regained some of its former power. Relations between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Parsman II were strained, though Hadrian is said to have sought to appease the Kartli king. It was only under Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius that relations would improve. King Parsman is said to have even visited Rome, where Dio Cassius reports that a statue was erected in his honor and that rights to sacrifice were given. The period brought a major change to the political status of the Kartli Kingdom and Rome recognized them as an ally rather than the former status as a subject state. The political situation would remain the same, even throughout the Roman hostilities with the Parthians.
The wars extended throughout the next century though the Parthians were replaced by the Sassanids. A treaty in 298 AD would change the political fabric of Georgia though. In the Peace of Nisibus Rome was acknowledged their reign over the Kartli Kingdom, but recognized Mirian III as the King of Eastern Georgia. It was under Mirian that a new era would begin in Georgia, the era of Christianity.
Early Christian Georgia
Christianity had first established a toehold in the first century AD and by the 330 AD it had become the state religion in eastern Georgia and just a short while after became the same in western Georgia. The religion would become a strong tie between Georgia and Rome and have a large scale impact on the state's culture and society. By the middle 400s AD, the church in Georgia had expanded to 30 bishops and the King Vakhctang Gorgasali received permission from Constantinople to make it auto cephalic under the new Catholicos of Mtskheta. The Georgian church would form a large scale literary movement within the country, translating many works and giving us some of the only remaining examples of early Georgian writing.
The struggle against the eastern Persian Empire was only increased by this trend though. By the time of Vakhtang Gorgasali I, who came to the Kartli throne in the mid 550s, the kingdom was effectively in perpetual war with the Persians. Though Vakhtang was the man who established the capitol at Tbilisi, his greatest legacy was the war against Persia. Succeeding at the onset of the war, he managed to lands to the southwest and to subdue the Hereti kingdom to the east. His victories though were brought to naught when the nobles, the Eristavs, allied with the Persians against their king. King Vakhtang I would die in battle in 502 AD and his fall paved the way for the absorption of the Kartli Kingdom by the Persians. The Persians then moved into the west Georgian kingdom of Egrisi (Lazica), which was a Byzantium satellite. This move would spark a fifty year war between the Byzantium and Persia, and though the Egrisi Kingdom tried to use the hostilities to maintain its own independence, by the peace of 562 AD, the country had become fully subjugated by the Byzantium.
The Georgian Kingdom
The subjugation of the Kartli Kingdom by the Persians would only last until 572 AD when the people revolted against Persian rule and expelled the garrisons form the country. A small scale state government was now instituted in Kartli and would become the base for the, soon to be created, Georgian kingdom. During the 7th and 8th centuries, under the protective umbrella of the Kartli Kingdom, the lands of Kakheti, Hereti and the Kingdom of Abkhazia would be established. And though the Arab invasions of the 8th century would reach the Kartli kingdom where the majority of the Kartli kingdom (along with Tbilisi) were absorbed, these other states would manage to maintain their independence.
Though the conquered people within the former Kartli heartland would rise in revolt numerous times against their subjugators, this period actually served to improve Tbilisi, which became a center of trade for the Caucasian world. With the decline in the Arab power, the way was set for the resurgence of the Georgian peoples. It was around the end of the 8th century AD that the Abkhazian Kingdom of northwestern Georgia would spread their influence. The beginning was a revolution against the Byzantium, which expelled the Roman powers from the area. Over the next few years they managed to expel the Arab Emirate from much of Georgia, though Tbilisi still remained under Arab control, and to liberate Egrisi (Lazica) from all these distinct parts he founded the independent Egrisi-Abkhazian Kingdom centered on the city of Kutaisi. Following their successful bid for independence, the Abkhazian Kingdom separated themselves from the Byzantium fully by removing the Patriarch of Constantinople’s jurisdiction over the Georgian church.
In the 9th century, the Erismtavari of Kartli, Ashot Bagrationi, founded the Principality of Tao-Klarjeti in Arab controlled lands. Falling back to his native land of Klarjeti, Ashot fought the Arabs from there, gradually liberating the surrounding lands of Tao, Kola, Artvani and Shavsheti, along with a few other lesser lands, from the Arab dominance. With the help of the Byzantium, Ashot was finally able to create a stable land in the areas and was given the title of Kuropalate by the Byzantine Emperor.
In the second half of the 10th century the new ruler, David III, would rise to the Tao-Klarjeti throne. His initial gains were in wars against the Arabs, where he regained control of some more Georgian lands. When Bardas Sclerus revolted against the Byzantium, David III would play a major part in the subduing of the rebellion in 979 AD. From this act he was given, by the Byzantine Emperor, control of lands stretching to Lake Van. With the support of a Kartlian, by the name of Ioanne Marushidze, David now focused on the unification of Georgia.
In 975 David placed his adopted son Bagrat Bagrationi on the throne of Kartli, and in 978 he also placed Bagrat on the throne of the Abkhazian Kingdom. Upon David’s death, Bagrat would inherit the Tao-Klarjeti kingdom and inherit the title King of the Kartvels. In 1110 AD he would add Kakheti and Hereti to his domain which, besides the Emirate of Tbilisi, completed the unification of the Georgian lands. The capitol was moved to Kutaisi and by the beginning of the reign of Bagrat IV (1027 – 1072) Georgia had become a major power in the region.
The strength of Georgia would not last for long though, as 1068 brought a massive scale raid of the province of Javakheti by the newly arrived Seljuk Turks. The Great Turkish Conquest of Georgia began in the 1080s and the kingdom was hard pressed to defend itself from the highly effective Turkish military structure. The lands conquered by the Seljuks were mostly depopulated and left as pristine environments for the nomad cavalry that made up much of the Seljuk population. The small bit of Georgia that managed to survive the invasion was in the far western mountains and even so it was forced to pay tribute to the Sultan. King Giorgi II, perhaps unable to deal with the difficulties of defending his kingdom, perhaps just tired of ruling or even perhaps forced out of power, stepped down from the throne in 1089, allowing his son to David to become King David IV.
King David IV and the Georgian Golden Age
Known as David the Builder, the new king would become one of the greatest in the history of Georgia. In the lead of his own troops, the new king defeated the Seljuk army in a decisive engagement and allowed his people to return to their farms and homes in the plains. He slowly pushed the Turks out of Kartli, liberating more and more land from them as the Seljuk Turks were now forced to focus not only on the Georgian armies but the newly begun crusades in the eastern Mediterranean. By 1099 David IV’s power was considerable enough that he was able to refuse paying tribute to the Turks, but he had not finished the unification by far, for that he needed stronger internal power from which he might create a unified and strong military force.
In 1033 David IV led the Georgian church in two councils that would change the political fabric of Georgia. Held in the dioceses of Ruisi and Urbnisi, these councils removed church members who supported the old nobility over David and replaced them with royalist clergy. Not only did the councils heavily weaken the Georgian nobility, but the church could now add a veneer of true legitimacy to any of King David’s acts. At the same moment, the king was assembling a true army of more than 40,000 by drafting the lower nobility and the peasants and welding them into a true force. The resurrected Kingdom of Georgia was now able to face the Seljuk armies on much more equal footing.
1104 brought major success to David as he liberated Kartli and Kakheti from the Seljuks. In 1105, at the Battle of Ertsukhi, David routed the Seljuk forces, leading to momentum that helped him secure the towns of Samshvilde, Rustavi, Gishi, Kubala and Lore between 1110 and 1118. Problems began to crop up for David now, his population, having been at war for the better part of twenty years needed to be allowed to become productive again. As well, his nobles were still making problems for him, along with the city of Tbilisi which still could not be liberated from Muslim grasp. Again David was forced to solve these problems before he could continue the reclamation of his nation and people.
To begin to solve the problems the king hired 40,000 Kipchak mercenaries from the northern Caucasian steppe and invited them to settle in Georgia with their families. But any further reforms he may have attempted where cut off when the Seljuk Sultan Mahmud sent an army under the esteemed general Radin Al-Din Ilguzi to retake the lost lands. The two armies met on August 12, 1121 near Didgori, where David IV routed the Seljuk forces. Following the battle David moved on Tbilisi, which fell in 1122, becoming the capital for the first time in many hundreds of years.
It now fell to David IV to rule a kingdom that had slowly grown multiethnic in its population. This he did with abandon, creating a truly humane kingdom that would help to greatly strengthen the power he could wield. By 1123 David had managed to further improve the nation when he liberated Dmanisi, forcing the Seljuk Turks completely out of Georgia. His last great achievement was in assisting the Armenian city of Ani against the Turks and thus gaining control of it and expanding the Georgian borders up to the Araks Basin. King David IV would die on January 24, 1125 after resurrecting the Georgian state from the brink of complete annihilation.
The successors of King David would expand the realm still further, eventually reaching as far south as Mount Ararat and as far east as the Caspian Sea. The apex of Georgian height would be reached under Queen Tamar, who ruled from 1184 until 1213. Under her guidance, the culture of Georgia flourished, bringing with it many achievements. It was during this time that the Gelati and the Vardzia were built and that Shota Rustaveli wrote “The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin” a tale of chivalry and honour that was to be celebrated throughout the Georgian state. Upon her death she left Georgia rich, with a multitude of tribute paying states and with a productive and strong populace.
Giorgi Lasha, or King Giorgi IV, held no hope to stop the demise of Georgia. Less than ten years into his reign, the Mongols swept across the southern Russian steppe, destroying all that was in their way. Though the king mustered an army that consisted of more than 90,000 horsemen, his life was lost in 1223 when the Mongols smashed his army. What would follow was more than a century of subjugation by the Mongols, including heavy taxes and levies. The will of the Georgian people would be sorely tested throughout this time.
The Dark Age of Georgia
Georgia would be temporarily resurrected under King Giorgi V (1314 – 1346) who would manage to finally drive the Mongols out of his homeland. He united the country yet again and revived ties with not only the Byzantium but also with the great trading republics of Venice and Genoa. The stability he created was not to last though, as the Black Death swept through the area in 1366, decimating the population, and Georgia would find itself again in the path of yet another great conqueror.
This time Georgia would be met by Tamerlane, the great Mongol warlord of Samarkand. Eight invasions of the country would be made by Tamerlane and though the nation was humbled, the Empire of Timur would not long last the death of the great leader. This though was not a respite for the Georgians, as the political fabric of the near east was to change when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 and the Safarid dynasty rose in Iran near the end of the 15th century. Georgia now found itself trapped between two very strong and very stable empires.
Georgia would now be invaded almost constantly by the two empires, causing a severe break in the social structure of the kingdom. By the end of the 15th century, four independent states had emerged where there was once a unified Georgia; the Kingdoms of Kakheti, Kartli and Imereti and the Principality of Samtskhe. All these, though able to better protect their limited lands, would weaken the overall power of the Georgian people. When the Peace of Amasia (1555), between the Ottoman Empire and the Safarids set up the spheres influences over Georgia, with the Ottomans getting the west and the Safarids receiving the east, the numerous invasions turned permanent and the nations of Georgia were slowly being overrun.
The King, Luarsab I (1527] – 1556) and his successor King Simon I (1556 – 1600), who ruled the strategically important Kingdom of Kartli, managed to hold off the invaders for almost a century, finally the strength opposing them was too much. Indeed it was Kakheti that was overrun first, between 1614 and 1617 the Kingdom was defeated by Shah Abass I several times, with over 100,000 people being killed and more than 200,000 being removed to Iran. Kartli would now share the same fate, being overrun by the Iranian armies and being completely subjugated.
But the Georgian general Giorgi Saakadze would give the Kartli Kingdom and the rest of east Georgia just the breathing room they needed. Though his army quickly retook Kartli and Kakheti, he was defeated in the Battle of Martqopi by the Iranian forces and the Safarid dominance was re-established. What he had accomplished though was to persuade the Iranian government that it was not possible to annihilate the Georgian people and they resorted to setting up Islamic Kings in Kartli instead, a practice that would last from 1632 until 1744.
The people of Kakheti would use this time to their advantage, rising up against their conquerors in 1659 and throwing the Safarid garrisons out of the country and reuniting Kakheti and Kartli again. This time they would hold of the Safarid armies for a time and under King Vakhtang VI (1703 – 1724) would actually reach a period of prosperity and progression. The 1723 invasion would again doom the Georgian peoples, as King Vakhtang fled to Russia to request support. His request was denied and the king died on his return, defenseless the small Georgian kingdom again succumbed to the invasions.
The Last Stand of Georgia
In west Georgia, the Kingdom of Imereti would be recreated under the King Solomon I in 1752. He built his power on several victories over the Ottoman Empire, and using his new found prestige redeveloped the nation, modernizing it and enriching its citizens. In the east the father and son pair of King Teimuraz II and Erekle II would jointly rule a recreated Kartli and Kakheti kingdom until 1762, when Teimuraz died and Erekle became the sole king. Both kingdoms attempted to use the Russo-Turkish War (1768 – 1774) to completely free themselves from Turkish and Iranian dominance, but the action largely failed. Following the Kacak-Kainadji Peace between Russia and Turkey though the actual political status of Georgia was upgraded, leading to some small bit of victory for the beleaguered people.
King Erekle was not convinced that his nation could stand up to the Muslim empires to his south for long though and appealed to Russia for help. On July 24, 1783 Catherine the Great of Russia led the signing of the Treaty of Georgievsk, which made the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti a protectorate of Russia and provided the Georgian states with the assumed guarantee of Russian protection. The treaty though would fail entirely when in 1787, at the outbreak of the Second Russo-Turkish War; Catherine withdrew the Russian troops from Georgia. Shah Agha Mohamed Khan of Iran took advantage of the situation, sending troops into Kartli-Kakheti and demanding the ending of the Treaty of Georgievsk.
The country was devastated by this newest invasion, as the small army was wiped out by the Iranian troops and Tbilisi was invested and depopulated, with a majority of its people being slaughtered by the invaders. The death of Erekle in 1798 was the last blow for the hobbled kingdom of Kartli, and his son Giorgi XII was barely given a chance to rule the nation. From the moment of his ascension to the throne, he was constantly bombarded by plots to overthrow his rule. The rival claimants eventually led to civil war within the country and when another Iranian invasion was threatened, the king had to again appeal to Russia for assistance.
Russia no longer wished to assist an independent Georgia though and instead would become on of the invaders. In January 1801, Czar Paul I signed into act a manifesto which eliminated the kingdoms of east Georgia. King Giorgi XII was removed to Saint Petersburg, where his royal powers were formally removed from him on September 12, 1801, by Czar Alexander I. In 1810 the Russians forced the King of Imereti to flee his country and absorbed the majority of west Georgia too. What few independent areas existed where later abolished and forced to join the new Russian state of Georgia. Here was a conqueror that was too vibrant and powerful for the Georgian people to overcome and though the renouncing of the auto cephaly of the Georgian church, and the binding of it to the Russian Patriarch, would cause many uprisings, the land was now firmly in the grasp of a greater empire.
Colonial and Soviet Georgia
The control of Georgia by Russia was not a horrible thing by any means. For the first time in generations the Georgian people could receive the benefit of peace for one thing. They also received the benefit of Russian education, the abolition of serfdom and more progressive taxes than could have been accomplished under the constantly threatened kingdoms of the past. The main problem was that, as often happened in colonial possessions and especially with regard to Russia, the people of Georgia were subjected to a massive campaign of Russification which threatened their very national character.
An independence movement, led by the poets Alexander Chavchavadze and Grigol Orbeliani would end in 1832 with their arrest by Russian officials, but they sparked a school of literature that focused on the loss of Georgian glory. The so called “Men of the 60s” would build on this tradition. Coming back from Russian universities as educated leaders, they would lead a quiet backroom move for independence. Mostly led by Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli, the group revolved around a belief in social activism and democratic ideals. By the 1890s though the Georgian focus for self determination had switched from democratic activism to Marxism and from 1905 to 1907 Georgians participated actively in the Marxist revolutions in Russia.
With the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Socialist government of the USSR was established and though the Georgians had strong ties to the communist ideals of the new government, they were determined to go their own way. On November 17, the Transcaucasus Commissariat was established, followed shortly thereafter by the Transcaucasian Federation. The union was short lived though and the National Council of Georgia declared the country’s full independence on May 26, 1918. The Social Democratic Party (Menshevik) would guide the fledgling nation past its first year of turmoil and into some semblance of stability. And as the power and prestige of Georgia grew slowly, it made peace with Russia through a May 7, 1920 treaty that recognized the independence of Georgia.
The treaty, though supported strongly by Lenin, was broken by the machinations of Joseph Stalin and Grigory Ordzhonikidze, who marched Soviet forces towards the Caucasus during the Russian Civil War. Following the “Sovietization” of Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Russian forces invaded Georgia. The battle was completely lopsided, with the Georgian armies being routed by the Soviet forces. By February 25, 1921 the Soviet forces had entered Tbilisi and shortly thereafter Lenin received the news, “The red banner blows over Tbilisi”. Georgia would again be betrayed after a signing a treaty with Russia, and it again lost its independence to the Russian army.
Georgia’s political state was now in a period of flux. From 1921 on, Georgia was made a part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Republic (SFSR) along with Armenia and Azerbaijan, but in 1936 the federation was broken up and Georgia became its own Soviet republic, the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). In the meantime, the Ajarian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was formed within Georgia, in July of 1921, and Abkhazia was also made a separate Soviet republic. Russia also created the autonomous region of South Ossetia, making it part of the Georgian republic and making the northern part of Ossetia another federation.
An attempted uprising by the Georgian Mensheviks would be put down in 1924, with more than 5,000 rebels being executed. And though both Stalin and the Beria, the chief of the Soviet secret police, were Georgian, the country felt more than its fair share of the oppressions of the coming Soviet regime. Georgia became a heavily industrialized part of the Russian nation, through hell or high water it was determined that Georgia would be one of the economic engines of the reborn Russian state. The Second World War would bring little devastation in the way of armies crossing its soil, but more than 300,000 Georgians would lose their lives in the conflict. And though Stalin himself was a Georgian, it was not spared the deportations that he inflicted upon much of the Caucasus, forcing the ember of nationalism to burn quietly throughout Soviet control.
In 1972 Eduard Shevardnadze would be elevated to the post of first secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia. It was in this capacity that he became an outspoken supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika in the mid 1980’s. Shevardnadze would himself be promoted to head of Soviet Foreign Ministry in 1985, from where he continued to support Gorbachev’s reforms. The reforms though had the effect of sparking that ember of nationalism into flames, especially within the areas of Ossetia and Abkhazia. When the official language of the Georgian Republic was made Georgian in 1989, the flames fanned higher among these minority areas, and a demonstration in Tbilisi, on April 9th, that erupted into violence and left 19 dead, would only further fan the flames of independence.
That fire would flare into new independence for Georgia when in November of 1990, the Georgian Supreme Soviet allowed free elections. The Round Table-Free Georgia coalition would win the majority of votes in this election and Zviad Gamsakhurdia became the chairperson of the new government. April 1991 would bring the declaration of independence for Georgia. With the severest anti-Communist sentiments running strong, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected president in May of the same year. His presidency quickly turned corrupt though, alienating almost all sections of the Georgian nation and from 1991 into January of 1992 a military rebellion would force Gamsakhurdia out of power. The military, forming a security council, but unable to deal with the repercussions of their coup, invited the influential former Soviet Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze to return to Georgia. July, 1992 would bring the admission of Georgia as the 179th nation to join the United Nations. As well, in October, 1992, Shevardnadze would be elected to the position of Chairman of Parliament by an overwhelming majority of the Georgian people.
Ossetian independence movements, which until 1989 had merely simmered, had by this time broken into open revolt. The revolt was finally put down by Russian troops in 1992, but now Abkhazian rebels declared their own independence. Georgia responded by sending troops in the region and heavy fighting broke out. By October of 1993, the Abkhazian forces had forced the majority of Georgian troops out of the region, forcing the mass exodus of more than 200,000 Georgians from the area. The action prompted Georgia’s joining of the Commonwealth of Independent States in the same month in a bid to receive Russian support. The bid worked spectacularly, and in February of 1994 a Russian-Georgian agreement was reached in which the Russian army was allowed to maintain its bases on Georgian soil in return for training and equipping the Georgian army.
An April 1994 cease-fire agreement was ratified by the United Nations and 2,500 Russian soldiers were dispatched to Abkhazia to maintain the peace. The resulting stability prompted many Georgian refugees from the area to return to their homes and resulted in an agreement that, while maintaining Abkhazia as a part of Georgia, gave the Abkhazians a large degree of self-autonomy. But by November of 1994, with the ratification of the Abkhazian constitution, the government of that state again announced its complete independence from Georgia. The situation would change again though when the government of the state announced, in February of 1995, that it was abandoning its claims to independence and would instead seek a confederate status within Georgia.
The new Georgian Constitution, which restored the Georgian presidency, was ratified on August 24, 1995 and presidential elections were held on November 5, 1995 with Shevardnadze assuming the presidency on the 26th of the same month. Shevardnadze’s party, the Citizens’ Union of Georgia, also won the majority of the legislature, lending a strong body of power to the new president. So it was, that with South Ossetia and Abkhazia still simmering in rebellion, that the new president had more than enough power to demand economic sanctions on the two regions. The immediate result was that Ossetia at last agreed to renounce the use of force against Georgia and the sanctions were relieved against that region.
Abkhazia continued to smolder though, and broke into open revolt yet again in early 1997. This time though the situation was different and the fighting was mostly in Abkhazia itself as Pro-Georgian and pro-independence groups fought for control of the region. As of 1999, the problem has still not been solved and Russian troops are still active in the region as a peacekeeping force. Georgia itself was not immune from insurrections, and President Shevardnadze managed to survive two assassination attempts by Pro-Gamsakhurdian factions, in 1995 and in February of 1998. The faction again led an insurrection in 1998, when it seized a military installation, and, together with a small part of the military, marched on Kutaisi. The insurrection came to a peaceful end though with government sponsored talks being held.
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Georgia’s History and Culture. Retrieved December 24, 2004, from thewineman.com. (http://www.thewineman.com/geo_culture.htm)
Georgia. Retrieved December 25, 2004, from The Russian News Network. (http://www.russiannewsnetwork.com/countries/georgia.html)
Georgia. Retrieved December 24, 2004, from gbgm-umc.org. (http://gbgm-umc.org/country_profiles/country_history.cfm?Id=31)
(Submitted for the E2 Quest: Histories of the world)