Thursday, September 8, 2011

GEORGIA: People and History

Georgia's recorded history dates back more than 2,500 years. Georgian, a South Caucasian (or "Kartvelian") language, unrelated to any outside the immediate region, is one of the oldest living languages in the world and has its own distinct alphabet. Located in the picturesque Mtkvari River valley, Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, is more than 1,550 years old. In the early 4th century, Georgia became the second nation in the world to officially adopt Christianity. Georgia has historically been situated on the margins of great empires, and Georgians have lived together in a unified state for only a fraction of their existence as a people. Since at least the 1st century B.C. through the 18th century, much of Georgia's territory was fought over by Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Mongol, and Turkish armies. The zenith of Georgia's power as an independent kingdom came in the 11th and 12th centuries, during the reigns of King David the Builder and Queen Tamar, who rank among the most celebrated of all Georgian rulers.

In 1783, the king of Kartli (in eastern Georgia) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russians, by which Russia agreed to take the kingdom as its protectorate. In 1801, the Russian empire began the piecemeal process of unifying and annexing Georgian territory, and for most of the next 2 centuries (1801-1991) Georgia was ruled from St. Petersburg or Moscow. Exposed to modern European ideas of nationalism under Russian tutelage, Georgians, like the influential writer Ilya Chavchavadze, began calling for greater Georgian independence.

Red Army in Tbilisi, 1921
The independent Republic of Georgia was established on May 26, 1918, in the wake of the Russian Revolution. Pro-Menshevik president Noe Zhordania and a social-democratic government led the country until March 1921, when it was occupied by the Bolshevik Red Army. Georgia became a Soviet Socialist Republic the following year. Several of the Soviet Union's most well-known leaders in the 1920s and 1930s were Georgian, such as Joseph Stalin, Sergo Orjonikidze, and Lavrenti Beria, the head of Stalin’s secret police. During the Soviet period, Georgia was one of the wealthiest and most privileged republics, and its Black Sea coastline was a popular holiday destination for the Soviet elite. On April 9, 1991, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia declared independence from the U.S.S.R.

Georgian soldiers charge against an
Ossetian rebel position, 2008.
Like other former Soviet Republics, Georgia’s newly declared independence was followed by ethnic and civil strife. Secessionists took control of parts of South Ossetia and most of Abkhazia prior to cease-fire agreements brokered in 1992 and 1994, respectively. Georgia began to stabilize in 1995. However, the separatist conflicts in Georgia's regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain unresolved. Periodic flare-ups in tension and violence culminated in a 5-day war in August 2008 between Georgia and Russia. French President Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated a cease-fire between Presidents Mikheil Saakashvili and Dmitriy Medvedev on August 12, 2008, which remains in effect, although Russia has not fulfilled some of its cease-fire commitments, including withdrawal of its forces to pre-war positions. As part of the Saakashvili-Medvedev cease-fire agreement, the European Union established the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM), which patrols the undisputed Georgian side of the administrative boundary lines with Abkhazia and South Ossetia but does not have access into those regions of Georgia. The cease-fire also called for international peace talks on the situation, which have taken place regularly in Geneva since October 2008 among the EU, United Nations (UN), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Georgia, Russia, and the United States, with the participation of de facto representatives from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In August 2008, Russia recognized the independence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As of August 2011, only three other countries had recognized the independence of the two territories. All other countries, including the United States, have confirmed their continuing support for Georgia’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Painting and Red Army photo in the public domain. Georgian soldier photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie via
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Licence. All images obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

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