Country: Georgia (Georgian: Sakartvelo)
Georgian transcript: საქართველო (ჯორჯია)
Capital: Tbilisi (თბილისი)
Official languages: Georgian
Religion: Christianity (Georgian Orthodox Church)
Patron saint: Saint George
Motto: Strength is in Unity
Government: Unitary semi-presidential republic
Independence: 26 May 1918
Population: 3 978 134 (2021)
Currency: Georgian lari (GEL)
Drives on the right
Time zone: UTC +4:00
Calling code: +995
Internet TLD: .ge
Website: Government of Georgia
Neighbouring countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey
Georgia (in Georgian, Sakartvelo) is a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. Tbilisi is the capital and the largest city. Georgia covers a territory of 69,700 square kilometres and its 2017 population is about 3.7 million. Georgia is a unitary semi-presidential republic, with the government elected through a representative democracy.
There are several suggestions about the origin of the word Georgia. The traveller Jacques de Vitry explained the name's origin by the popularity of St George amongst Georgians, while traveller Jean Chardin thought that Georgia came from Greek γεωργός ('tiller of the land'). The word Georgia has been adopted in numerous other languages, including Slavic and West European languages.
The country's native name is Sakartvelo ('land of Kartvelians'), recorded from the 9th century, and in extended usage referring to the entire medieval Kingdom of Georgia by the 13th century. The self-designation used by ethnic Georgians is Kartvelebi (i.e. 'Kartvelians'). The medieval Georgian Chronicles present an eponymous ancestor of the Kartvelians, Kartlos who was a great-grandson of Japheth. However, scholars agree that the word is derived from the Karts, the latter being one of the proto-Georgian tribes that emerged as a dominant group in ancient times. Ancient Greeks such as Strabo, Herodotus, Plutarch, Homer, etc. and Romans like Titus Livius, Tacitus, etc. referred to early western Georgians as Colchians and eastern Georgians as Iberians.
Today the official name of the country is Georgia, as specified in the official English version of the Georgian constitution, 'Georgia shall be the name of the State of Georgia'. In 1918-1921 the country's official name was the Democratic Republic of Georgia; in 1922-1991 the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic; in 1991-1995 the Republic of Georgia.
The territory of modern Georgia was inhabited by Homo erectus since the Paleolithic Era. The proto-Georgian tribes first appear in written history in the 12th century BC. The earliest evidence of wine to date has been found in Georgia when 8000-year old wine jars have been discovered. Archaeological artifacts and references in ancient sources also reveal elements of early political and state formations characterised by advanced metallurgy and goldsmith techniques that date back to the 7th century BC and beyond. Early metallurgy started in Georgia during the 6th millennium BC, associated with the Shulaveri-Shomu culture.
During the classical era, several independent Georgian states existed on the territory of modern Georgia, the principal of which was Colchis in the west and Iberia in the east. In Greek mythology, Colchis was the location of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts in Apollonius Rhodius' epic tale Argonautica. The incorporation of the Golden Fleece into the myth may have derived from the local practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from rivers.
In the 4th century BC, a kingdom of Iberia – an early example of advanced state organisation under one king and an aristocratic hierarchy – was established. According to the early medieval Georgian chronicle, The Life of the Georgian Kings, Pharnavaz I of Iberia defeated Azo (sometimes referred as Azon), a ruler allegedly left by Alexander the Great to govern the country. Azo killed Pharnavaz's father and uncle while the future king of Iberia was a 3-year old boy. When adult, Pharnavaz gathered a Georgian army with significant help from Kuji of Colchis, and the Georgians rebelled against Azo and his forces. In the final battle, Azo was defeated and killed, and Pharnavaz became the king at the age of 27.
King Pharnavaz allied with various North Caucasian peoples during his reign. He married a Durdzuk woman in order to consolidate the alliance of Iberia with the Durdzuks, who helped him against his disobedient vassals. He married his sister to a Sarmatian chief. Kuji married one of the sisters of Pharnavaz.
King Pharnavaz had introduced a military-administrative organisation based on a network of regional governors (eristavi). Iberia had seven eristavis, one in each saeristavo (region) – in Colchis, Kakheti, Khunani, Samshvilde (Kvemo Kartli), Tsunda (included Javakheti, Kola and Artaani), Odzrkhe, and Klarjeti. According to Strabo, the Iberian army consisted of 70-80,000 warriors; therefore, each saeristavo had 10,000 soldiers. The kingdom's hierarchy created by Pharnavaz was the following: king; commander-in-chief (spaspet) of the royal army; eristavis; middle commanders (atasistavis and tsikhistavis) of the garrisons stationed in the royal strongholds; junior commanders (asistavis) who were the younger sons of the aristocratic families; mercenary professional warriors from the neighbouring countries, and the soldiers of the entire kingdom.
King Pharnavaz established one supreme idol Armaz for the kingdom people to worship. Its idol was mounted on top of a hill near the holy city of Mtskheta. Fortress Armaz was built on a nearby hill by order of the king. According to the Georgian Royal Annals, King Pharnavaz created the Georgian script and made the Georgian language an official language of the kingdom, spreading usage of both all over the country. He reigned for 65 years. When the king died he was buried in front of the Armaz idol and worshipped. His son Saurmag succeeded him to the throne. Pharnavaz's grave is undisclosed. One of the last monarchs who visited his grave to adorn it and pay his respects was King Mirian III.
From the first centuries AD, the cult of Mithras, pagan beliefs, and Zoroastrianism were commonly practised in Georgia. However, Christianity started to spread among Georgians at its very dawn. In 337 AD Georgian King Mirian III declared Christianity as the state religion. The new religion played a key role in the formation of the unified Georgian nation.
The Kingdom of Georgia reached its Golden Age during the reign of King David IV (c.1089-1125) and his granddaughter Tamar (c.1184-1213) in the 12th and early 13th centuries. King David suppressed dissent of feudal lords and centralised the power to effectively deal with foreign threats. In 1121, he decisively defeated much larger Turkish armies during the Battle of Didgori and liberated Tbilisi.
Tamar, the first female ruler of Georgia, was given the title 'king of kings' (mepet mepe). This early Georgian renaissance, which preceded its Western European analogue, was characterised by impressive military victories and a cultural renaissance in architecture, literature, philosophy, and the sciences. The Golden age of Georgia left a legacy of great cathedrals, romantic poetry and literature, and the epic poem 'The Knight in the Panther's Skin'.
Samaia is an ancient Georgian dance dedicated to a deity of Moon. Usually, it was danced during the baby boy welcoming ceremony in pre-Christian Georgia. Today the idea of the trinity in the dance Samaia represents King Tamar (1160-1213) as a young princess, a wise mother, and the powerful king.
Eventually, the strong and successful Georgian kingdom declined and disintegrated under hegemony of various regional powers, including the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, and dynasties of Iran.
The Kingdom of Georgia started to collapse under the Mongol attacks within two decades after King Tamar's death. In 1226 Tbilisi was occupied and destroyed by the Khwarezmian leader Jalal ad-Din. The Mongols were expelled by George V of Georgia (1286/1289-1346) who was named 'Brilliant' for restoring the country's previous political strength and Christian culture.
After achieving the kingdom’s unity, the king focused on cultural, social, and economic projects. He changed the coins issued by Ghazan khan with the Georgian ones, called George’s tetri ('silver'). Between 1325 and 1338, he created two major law codes. King George V the Brilliant established close international commercial ties with the Byzantine Empire, the European maritime republics of Genoa and Venice. King George V also extended diplomatic relations to the Bahri dynasty of Egypt, achieving the restoration of several Georgian monasteries in Palestine to the Georgian Orthodox Church and gaining free passage for Georgian pilgrims to the Holy Land.
The re-introduction of the 5-cross flag, representing St George's Cross and four small Bolnuri crosses date to the reign of King George V. Supposedly, the inspiration for the flag might be the lost Georgian Royal Flag that belonged to Kings Vakhtang I and David IV. The modern national flag of Georgia reflects the tradition.
After the successful era of King George V the Brilliant, Georgia was weakened again by several disastrous invasions by Tamerlane. Also, both Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu Turkomans constantly raided the southern provinces of Georgia. Continuous invasions gave no time to the kingdom for restoration. As a result, the Kingdom of Georgia collapsed into anarchy by 1466 and fell off into three independent kingdoms and five semi-independent principalities.
From the 16th century up to the late 18th century Safavid, Afsharid and Qajar dynasties of Iran and Ottoman Turkey conquered and controlled the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively. The Georgian rulers of regions organised several rebellions. However, endless invasions by Iranian and Ottoman forces weakened Georgian kingdoms and regions.
Eastern Georgia went under Iranian suzerainty from 1555 by the Peace of Amasya signed between Iran and Ottoman Turkey. With the death of Nader Shah in 1747, Eastern Georgia broke free of Iranian control and two kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti reunified under the skillful king Heraclius II in 1762.
Heraclius was awarded the crown of Kartli by Nader Shah in an attempt to use him against Heraclius' father who was the king of Kakheti. However, father and son wisely manipulated with the situation until Nader was killed, and then succeeded their political goal to unify Eastern Georgia again. King Heraclius stabilised Eastern Georgia throughout his reign due to his political wisdom and bravery on the battlefield. Realising the undying threat from neighbouring countries, the king sought Western and Northern political and military support.
In 1783 Russia and the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, by which Georgia abjured any dependence on Persia or another power, and Russia guaranteed protection of the kingdom from any invaders, Georgia's territorial unity and the continuation of its reigning Bagrationi dynasty.
Despite the commitment to defend Georgia, Russia did not assist the kingdom when in 1795 the Iranians invaded Tbilisi, massacring its citizens. Soon after King Heraclius passed away, Russia violated the Treaty of Georgievsk and in 1801 it annexed eastern Georgia, abolishing the royal Bagrationi dynasty and autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Bagrationi royal family was deported from Georgia to Russia.
In 1810 Russia annexed the western Georgian Kingdom of Imereti. The last Imeretian king and the last Georgian Bagrationi ruler, Solomon II, died in exile in 1815, after vain attempts to rebel against Russia and to find foreign support against the invader.
Russian rule over Georgia was eventually acknowledged in various peace treaties with Iran and the Ottomans and the remaining Georgian territories were absorbed by the Russian Empire during the 19th century.
In 1828 the Empire invaded and abolished the principality of Guria, using the difficult moment for Guria when it was fighting against the Ottoman Turkey. In 1858 Russia annexed Svaneti, ignoring the treaty of 1833 between Svaneti and Russia. Samegrelo accepted a Russian protectorate since 1803, in a weak attempt to avoid the fate of the rest of Georgia but in 1867 the Empire annexed and absorbed Samegrelo, too, sending the ruling family to exile in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The Georgian people made several attempts to fight against the Russian invasion. In 1802 the first rebel started in Kakheti. About 70 Georgian noblemen, including two Royal Princes, were joined by peasants and clerics. They intended to defeat the Russian troops with joint forces and crown Prince Iulon, the son of Heraclius as a Georgian king.
The first battle ended with the victory and 69 Georgian noblemen sent a petition to the Russian Emperor, demanding to follow the Treaty of Georgievsk by giving back independence to the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti and reinstall the Bagrationi Royal Family by crowning Prince Iulon as the next king. In reply, the Russians moved more troops to Georgia and the rebels were forced to stop the fight. Some of the Georgian noblemen were forced to take an oath to the Emperor, the rest fled to exile.
In 1804 a great rebel started in Eastern Georgian Highlands. They were joined by Georgians from other regions, including Kartli. The demand was same – the Russian Empire had to agree on the independence of Georgia and reign of Prince Iulon. The Georgians used a politically convenient moment when the Russian troops were sent from Georgia to siege Yerevan. The rebel achieved significant success at the beginning, defeating the Empire forces from May to August.
Motivated by several victories, more and more Georgians joined the rebel and it became dangerously spread over a big territory of Georgia. The Empire sent forces against the rebels from North and the Russian troops left Yerevan, moving towards the rebels from South. The Georgian rebels were caught in between and after several battles, defeated. Both Georgian Princes, Iulon and Parnaoz, were taken prisoners and exiled to Russia.
Serious damage could have caused the conspiracy of 1832 if the plot had not been discovered untimely. In 1825 two Georgian royal princes, Dimitri and Oqropir Bagrationi made a group of conspirators out of Georgian students who studied in Saint Petersburg. The group of noblemen was planning a rebel against the Empire. In 1827 the centre of conspiracy moved to Tbilisi as the young conspirators went back to their homeland. The main goal of the conspirators was a huge rebel, involving the entire Caucasus region, to get rid of the Russian troops and gain the lost independence. However, they also aimed to renew the Treaty of Georgievsk that was ignored by Russia.
One of the conspirators, Iese Palavandishvili shared the plot with his brother who was on a high position in the administration of Caucasus viceroy. He betrayed the conspirators and they were imprisoned immediately. The Russian Emperor, Nicholas I ordered the death penalty but later he decided to exile the group members to Siberia, in attempt to prove to the rest of the world that Russia was not an invader of Georgia but a kind protector who had to punish rebels for the sake of peace in the region. The head of the conspiracy, prince Elizbar Eristavi was exiled to Finland where he served as a soldier.
In 1841 another anti-colonial rebel started in Guria. Again, Georgian gentry and peasantry fought side by side against the Russian Empire. The rebel started in a Gurian village Aketi in May. Colonel Brusilev was sent to Guria with the regular Russian Army that marched to the capital city of Ozurgeti in Guria. However, this boosted the rebel and the amount reached 7 thousand, taking all strategically important locations. The rebel achieved the decisive victory in the Gogoreti battle. As a result, the widow of the last prince of Guria, Princess Sophia started to consider her come-back to Guria from an exile, to join the victorious Gurians. The Russians did their best to close the border and sent more troops against the rebels from West and Easy. The Gurians fought successfully till September but without a promised help from Ajara, new Russian forced finally managed to defeat the Georgians. Their peasant leader, brave fighter Abesalom Bolkvadze was killed without a trial in the court. 50 rebels have been sentenced to either hanging or sent to Siberia.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic was established with Georgian politician Karlo Chkhenkeli acting as its president. The federation consisted of three nations: Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
As the Ottomans advanced into the Caucasian territories of the falling apart Empire, Georgia declared independence on 26 May 1918. The Social Democratic Party of Georgia won the parliamentary elections and its leader, Noe Zhordania, became prime minister. Despite the Soviet takeover, Noe Jordania was recognised as the legitimate head of the Georgian Government by France, UK, Belgium, and Poland through the 1930s. The country's independence did not last for long. Georgia was under British protection from 1918-1920, which was nominal – as soon as the Red Army invaded Georgia in February 1921 from north and east, the British troops left the Republic from the south. The Georgian army was defeated and the Social Democratic government fled the country.
The significant opposition led a 3-year struggle against the Bolshevik regime that Soviet Russia's Red Army established in Georgia during a military campaign against the Democratic Republic of Georgia. This struggle resulted in the August Uprising of 1924. Aimed at restoring the independence of Georgia from the Soviet Union, the uprising was guided by the Committee for Independence of Georgia. On 28 August the mining town Chiatura in western Georgia started in rebellion.
At first, the rebels achieved considerable success and formed an Interim Government of Georgia chaired by Prince Giorgi Tsereteli. The uprising quickly spread to neighbouring areas and a large part of western Georgia and several districts in eastern Georgia went out of the Soviet control. However, the success of the uprising was short-lived. Additional Red Army troops were promptly sent, blocking the Georgian coastline and attacking the first insurgent towns in western Georgia — Chiatura, Senaki, and Abasha — forcing the rebels into forests and mountains. The Red Army used artillery and aviation to fight the rebels who still continued the resistance, especially in the province of Guria, homeland to many Georgian Social Democratic Party leaders and thus, completely opposed to the Bolshevik rule. Only Tbilisi, Batumi and some large towns, where the Bolsheviks had gained significant authority, remained quiet as did most of the territories compactly settled by ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, in eastern Georgia, a large rebel force under Colonel Kakutsa Cholokashvili attacked the Red Army barracks in Manglisi. On 3 September Colonel Cholokashvili made the last desperate attempt to turn a tide of the rebellion and took Dusheti in a surprise attack. However, he could not hold off a Red Army counter-attack and moved into mountains. The resistance continued for several weeks but the Red Terror destroyed most of the main rebel groups by mid-September. Arrests and executions continued even after the arrested committee members signed the declaration, urging the partisans to put down their arms, in order to put an end to the bloodshed. Stalin vowed that 'all of Georgia must be ploughed under'. The exact number of victims remains unknown. Approximately 3,000 died in the fighting. According to the most recent accounts included in 'The Black Book of Communism' (Harvard University Press, 1999), 12,578 people were put to death from 29 August to 5 September 1924, and about 20,000 were deported to Siberia and Central Asian deserts.
At first, Soviet Georgia was incorporated into a new Transcaucasian Federation, which in 1922 became a founding republic of the Soviet Union. In 1936 the Transcaucasian Federation was dissolved and Georgia became the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
During World War II (Great Patriotic War) about 700,000 Georgians fought in the Red Army against Germany. On 22 June 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. In 1942 the German Army started Operation Edelweiss while trying to advance to the oil field of Azerbaijan. The German movement slowed as it entered the Georgian mountains. The troops under command of a Soviet Georgian Colonel General Konstantin Leselidze exposed great bravery. General Leselidze's tactics managed to defend the Caucasus from Wehrmacht takeover, initiating the liberation of the entire area by Soviet forces. His forces did also claim a foothold on the Kerch Peninsula, north-east of Kerch. A Georgian sergeant of the Soviet Army, Meliton Kantaria is credited to have hoisted a Soviet flag on the Reichstag's dome together with Ukrainian officer Alexei Berest and Russian soldier Mikhail Yegorov, fastening it to Wilhelm I's statue after the battle of Berlin on 1 May 1945.
After Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, a native Georgian, died in 1953, a wave of protest spread against Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinization reforms that involved anti-Georgian actions altogether. The government's tries to abolish the protest led to the death of nearly one hundred students on 9 March 1956.
The actual reason behind all protests and rebels by Georgians has always been people's demand for personal freedom and state independence – in the 1920s, 1930s, 1950s, 1970s, and finally, in 1980s.
By the 1980s majority of Georgians decided that the only way forward was a break from the existing Soviet system. A pro-independence movement has led to another tragedy on 9 April 1989 when the Soviet Russian militants killed 21 Georgian civilians and injured or poisoned hundreds. Preliminarily disarmed Georgian policemen prevented the number of victims, literally barehanded saving the fellow citizens from Soviet soldiers. Now 9 April is an annual public holiday, known as the Day of National Unity.
On 9 April 1991, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Supreme Council of Georgia declared independence after a referendum held on 31 March 1991. On 26 May 1991, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected as the first President of Georgia.
For most of the following years, post-Soviet Georgia suffered from civil conflict, wars in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region, and economic crisis. After the Rose Revolution in 2003, Georgia pursued a pro-Western foreign policy; aimed at NATO and European integration; it introduced a series of democratic and economic reforms that caused mixed results. The country's Western orientation led to the worsening of relations with Russia, ending into the brief Russo-Georgian War in August 2008.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain under Russian control and their status is a matter of international dispute between Georgia and Russia. Russian military bases were established in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia does not allow the European Union Monitoring Mission to enter either of the regions. Russian troops have started the process of demarcation (also known as 'borderization') near South Ossetia-Georgia administrative boundary line and meanwhile gradually advancing the occupation line inside Georgia to enlarge the Russian-held territory. This Creeping Occupation still keeps occurring as well as the facts of kidnapping the Georgian citizens from the unoccupied territory and moving them further into the occupied region. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are widely recognised as integral parts of Georgia and together represent 20% of Georgia's internationally recognised territory. Georgia and a major part of the international community (the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, the US, Canada, Japan, the EU, NATO, OSCE, Council of Europe) have recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be Georgian territory under Russian occupation.
These de facto independent regions gained very limited international recognition from the Russian Federation (2008), Republic of Nicaragua, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Republic of Nauru, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Syria (2018). In total, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been recognised by seven and six UN member states respectively, though Vanuatu withdrew its recognition of Abkhazia in 2013 as did Tuvalu of both in 2014. Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria are not members of the United Nations and they share similar lack of international recognition as do Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgia is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the GUAM Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development.