- This article is about the history of the country Georgia. For the history of the U.S. state of Georgia, see History of Georgia (U.S. state).
The recorded history of Georgia dates back more than 4,000 years and the Georgian language is one of the oldest living languages in the world.
Ancient and medieval Georgia
In the 1970s, archaeological excavations revealed a number of ancient settlements which included houses with galleries from the 5th millennium BC in the Imiris-gora region of (Eastern Georgia). These dwellings were circular or oval in plan, a characteristic feature of which was the central pier and chimney. These features were used and further developed in building Georgian dwellings and houses of the 'Darbazi ' type. Archaeological excavations have also brought to light the remains of settlements at Beshtasheni and Ozni (4th - 3rd millennium BC), and barrow burials (2nd millennium BC) in the province of Trialeti , at Tsalka (Eastern Georgia). Together, they testify to an advanced and well-developed building and architecture culture.
The region was settled as early as the fifth millennium BC by a neolithic culture. In the chalcolithic era of the fourth and third millennia B.C., Georgia and neighboring Armenia were home to the Kura-Araxes culture, which gave way in the second millennium B.C. to the Trialeti culture . The ancient Greeks knew the western Georgia as Colchis, and it featured in the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts, who travelled there in search of the Golden Fleece. The Georgian regions became known as Egrisi in the western coastal plain, and Iberia in the mountainous east, prior to its becoming a unified client state of the Roman Empire in 66 BC after the campaigns of Pompey. It became one of the first states in the world to convert to Christianity in 337 AD, when King of Iberia Marian II established it as the official state religion. In 523, Christianity declared as the official religion in Egrisi (Western Georgia) as well.
Although it was subsequently beset by various invaders, principally Arabs, Mongols, Persians and Turks, the Georgians retained a greater or lesser degree of independence for over 1,000 years. In the 10th century several Georgian principalities were united into the Kingdom of Georgia under the Bagrationi dynasty. It achieved a peak of power and prestige between the 11th and 13th centuries under powerful rulers such as the King David the Builder (Devid IV Agmashenebeli) (reigned 1089-1125) and Tamar (1184-1213), both regarded as saints by the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church. The Kingdom of Georgia of that time included also Armenia, Azerbaijan and North Caucasian territories; Trabzon Empire was created as a satellite state by Tamar. Georgia suffered a lengthy period of decline thereafter, broken up into several kingdoms and principalities and finding itself contested by the Ottoman and Persian empires. In 1801-1810 Georgia was occupied and annexed by the Tsarist Russian Empire.
Georgia under the Russian Empire, 1801-1918
In 1801, the Russian Tsar Alexander I abolished the Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti and exiled its royal family. It was fully absorbed into the Russian Empire by 1804, following which an intense program of russification was undertaken to replace the Georgian social and cultural system with a Russian version. The Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church was also abolished.
Georgian dissatisfaction with Tsarist autocracy and Armenian economic domination led to the development of a national liberation movement in the second half of the 19th century. A large-scale peasant revolt occurred in 1905 which led to political reforms that eased the tensions for a period. During this time, the Marxist Social Democratic Party became the dominant political movement in Georgia, occupying all the Georgian seats in the Russian State Duma established after 1905. Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili (aka Joseph Stalin), a Georgian Bolshevik, became a leader of the revolutionary (and anti-Menshevik) movement in Georgia.
The Russian Revolution of October 1917 plunged Russia into a bloody civil war during which several outlying Russian territories declared independence. Georgia was one of them, proclaiming the establishment of the independent Democratic Republic of Georgia on May 26, 1918. The new country was ruled by the Menshevik faction of the Social Democratic Party, which established a multi-party system in sharp contrast with the "dictatorship of the proletariat" established by the Bolsheviks in Russia. It was recognised as independent by the major European powers in 1918 and by Soviet Russia in May 1920.
In February, 1921 the Red Army invaded Georgia and after a short war occupied the country. Georgian government was forced to flee. Guerilla resistance in 1921-1924 was followed by a large-scale patriotic uprising in August, 1924. Colonel Kakutsa Cholokashvili was one of the most prominent guerilla leader.
Georgia under the Soviet Union, 1921-1990
Georgia was forcibly incorporated into a Transcaucasian Federative Soviet Socialist Republic (TFSSR) comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The Soviet Government forced Georgia to cede several historical Georgian provinces to Turkey (province of Tao-Klarjeti), Azerbaijan (province of Hereti /Saingilo ), Armenia (Lore region) and Russia (part of the Black Sea seacost). Soviet rule was harsh: about 50,000 people were executed and killed in 1921-1924, more than 100,000 were purged under Stalin and his secret police chief, the Georgian Lavrenty Beria in 1935-1938, 1942 and 1945-1950. In 1936, the TFSSR was dissolved and Georgia became the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Reaching the Caucasus oilfields was one of the main objectives of Hitler's invasion of the USSR in August 1941, but the armies of the Axis powers did not get as far as Georgia. It contributed almost 700,000 fighters (350,000 were killed) to the Red Army, however, and was a vital source of textiles and munitions. Stalin's successful appeal for patriotic unity eclipsed Georgian nationalism during the war and diffused it in the years following. Khrushchev's policy of de-Stalinization was followed by a general criticism of the whole Georgian people and culture. On March 9, 1956, hundreds of Georgian students were killed when they demonstrated against Khrushchev.
The decentralisation program introduced by Khrushchev in the mid-1950s was soon exploited by Georgian Communist Party officials to build their own regional power base. A thriving capitalist shadow economy emerged alongside the official state-owned economy, making Georgia one of the most economically successful Soviet republics but unfortunately also greatly increasing corruption.
Although corruption was hardly unknown in the Soviet Union, it became so widespread and blatant in Georgia that it came to be an embarrassment to the authorities in Moscow. The country's interior minister between 1964 and 1972, Eduard Shevardnadze, gained a reputation as a fighter of corruption and engineered the removal of Vasily Mzhavanadze, the corrupt First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. Shevardnadze ascended to the post of First Secretary with the blessings of Moscow. He was an effective and able ruler of Georgia from 1972 to 1985, improving the official economy and dismissing hundreds of corrupt officials.
Soviet power and Georgian nationalism clashed in 1978 when Moscow ordered revision of the constitutional status of the Georgian language as Georgia's official state language. Bowing to pressure from massive street demonstrations on April 14 , 1978 Moscow approved Shevardnadze's reinstatement of the constitutional guarantee the same year. April 14 was established as a Day of the Georgian Language.
Shevardnadze's appointment as Soviet Foreign Minister in 1985 caused him to be replaced as Georgian leader by Jumber Patiashvili, a conservative and generally ineffective Communist who coped poorly with the challenges of Perestroika. Towards the end of the late 1980s there were increasingly violent clashes between the Communist authorities, the resurgent Georgian nationalist movement and nationalist movements in Georgia's minority-populated regions (notably South Ossetia). On April 9, 1989, Soviet troops were used to break up a peaceful demonstration at the government building in Tbilisi. Twenty Georgians were killed and hundreds wounded and poisoned. The event radicalised Georgian politics, prompting many - even some Georgian communists - to conclude that independence was preferable to continued Soviet rule.
Opposition pressure on the communist government was manifested in popular demonstrations and strikes, which ultimately resulted in an open, multiparty and democratic parliamentary election being held on October 28, 1990. They were won by the "Round Table" coalition headed by the leading dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who became the head of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia. On March 31, 1991 Gamsakhurdia wasted no time in organising a referendum on independence, which was approved by 98.9% of the votes. Formal independence from the Soviet Union was declared on April 9, 1991, although it took some time before it was widely recognised by outside powers such as the United States and European countries. Gamsakhurdia's government strongly opposed any vestiges of Russian dominance, such as the remaining Soviet military bases in the republic, and (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) his government declined to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Post-communist Georgia, 1991 - 2003
Gamsakhurdia was elected president on May 26, 1991 with 86% of the votes. He was widely criticised for what was perceived to be an erratic and authoritarian style of government, with nationalists and reformists joining forces in an uneasy anti-Gamsakhurdia coalition. A tense situation was worsened by the large amount of ex-Soviet weaponry available to the quarreling parties and by the growing power of paramilitary groups. The situation came to a head on December 22, 1991, when armed opposition groups launched a violent coup d'etat, besieging Gamsakhurdia and his supporters in government buildings in central Tbilisi. Gamsakhurdia managed to evade his enemies and fled to the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya in January 1992.
The new government invited Eduard Shevardnadze to become the head of a State Council - in effect, president - in March 1992, putting a moderate face on the somewhat unsavoury regime that had been established following Gamsakhurdia's ouster. In August 1992, a separatist dispute in the Georgian autonomous republic of Abkhazia escalated when government forces and paramilitaries were sent into the area to quell separatist activities. The Abkhaz fought back with help from paramilitaries from Russia's North Caucasus regions and alleged covert support from Russian military stationed in a base in Gudauta, Abkhazia and in September 1993 the government forces suffered a catastrophic defeat which led to them being driven out and the entire Georgian population of the region being expelled. Around 14,000 people died and another 300,000 were forced to flee.
Ethnic violence also flared in South Ossetia but was eventually quelled, although at the cost of several hundred casualties and 100,000 refugees fleeing into Russian-controlled North Ossetia. In south-western Georgia, the autonomous republic of Ajaria came under the control of Aslan Abashidze, who managed to rule his republic from 1991 to 2004 as a personal fiefdom in which the Tbilisi government had little influence.
On September 24, 1993, in the wake of the Abkhaz disaster, Zviad Gamsakhurdia returned from exile to organise an uprising against the government. His supporters were able to capitalise on the disarray of the government forces and quickly overran much of western Georgia. This alarmed Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and units of the Russian Army were sent into Georgia to assist the government. Gamsakhurdia's rebellion quickly collapsed and he died on December 31, 1993, apparently after being cornered by his enemies. In a highly controversial agreement, Shevardnadze's government agreed that it would join the CIS as part of the price for military and political support.
Shevardnadze narrowly survived a bomb attack in August 1995 that he blamed on his erstwhile paramilitary allies. He took the opportunity to imprison the paramilitary leader Jaba Ioseliani and ban his Mkhedrioni militia in what was proclaimed as a strike against "mafia forces". However, his government - and his own family - became increasingly associated with pervasive corruption that hampered Georgia's economic growth. He won presidential elections in November 1995 and April 2000 with large majorities, but there were persistent allegations of vote-rigging.
The war in Chechnya caused considerable friction with Russia, which accused Georgia of harbouring Chechen guerrillas. Further friction was caused by Shevardnadze's close relationship with the United States, which saw him as a counterbalance to Russian influence in the strategic Transcaucasus region. Georgia became a major recipient of U.S. foreign and military aid, signed a strategic partnership with NATO and declared an ambition to join both NATO and the EU. In 2002, the United States sent hundreds of Special Operations Forces to assist the local military fight guerrilla fighters. See War on Terrorism/Pankisi Gorge. Perhaps most significantly, the country secured a $3 billion project to build a pipeline carrying oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia (the so-called "Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan" or BTC pipeline).
A powerful coalition of reformists headed by Mikhail Saakashvili, Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Zhvania united to oppose Shevardnadze's government in the November 2, 2003 parliamentary elections. The elections were widely regarded as being blatantly rigged; in response, the opposition organised massive demonstrations in the streets of Tbilisi. After two tense weeks, Shevardnadze resigned on November 23, 2003 and was replaced as president on an interim basis by Burjanadze.
Georgia after Shevardnadze
On January 4, 2004 Mikhail Saakashvili won the Presidential Elections with a huge majority of 96% of the votes cast. Constitutional amendments were rushed through Parliament in February strengthening the powers of the President to dismiss Parliament and creating the post of Prime Minister. Zurab Zhvania was appointed Prime Minister. Nino Burjanadze the interim President, became Speaker of Parliament. The new president faces many problems on coming to office. More than 230,000 internally displaced persons put an enormous strain on the economy. Peace in the separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, overseen by Russian and United Nations peacekeepers and international organizations, remains fragile and will require years of economic development and negotiation to overcome local enmities. Considerable progress has been made in negotiations on the Ossetian-Georgian conflict, and negotiations are continuing in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict.
After the Rose Revolution relations between the Georgian government and semi-separatist Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze deteriorated rapidly thereafter, with Abashidze rejecting Saakashvili's demands for the writ of the Tblisi government to run in Ajaria. Both sides mobilised forces in apparent preparations for a military confrontation. Saakashvili's ultimatums and massive street demonstrations forced Abashidze to resign and flee Georgia.
Relations with Russia remain problematic due to Russia's continuing political, economic and military support to separatist governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian troops still remain garrisoned at two military bases and as peacekeepers in these regions. The separatist question is still unresolved but Saakashvili's public pledge to resolve the matter has already provoked criticism from the separatist regions and Russia.
Georgia remains a very poor country by European standards, not least because of its widespread corruption. The Georgian Government is committed to economic reform in cooperation with the IMF and World Bank, and stakes much of its future on the revival of the ancient Silk Road as the Eurasian corridor, using Georgia's geography as a bridge for transit of goods between Europe and Asia. Saakashvili has pledged to improve the economy in general and specifically to raise pay and pensions, as well as to crack down on corruption and retrieve the ill-gotten gains of figures in the previous government.
Integration into the NATO and the EU remains the main goal of Georgia's foreign policy. On October 29, 2004, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) of the NATO approved the Individual Partnership Action Plan of Georgia (IPAP). Georgia is the first among the NATOís partner countries to manage this task successfully.
Georgia continues to support the coailtion forces in Iraq. On November 8, 2004, 300 extra Georgian troops were sent to Iraq. The Georgian government committed to send a total of 850 troops to Iraq to serve in the protection forces of the UN Mission . Along with increasing Georgian troops in Iraq, the US will train additional 4 thousand Georgian soldiers within frames of the Georgia Train-and-Equip Program (GTEP).
- Georgia - A Country Study, Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/frd/cs/getoc.html
- List of rulers of Georgia http://homepage.mac.com/crowns/go/avframe.html
- W.E.D. Allen, A History of the Georgian People, 1932
- David Braund, Georgia in Antiquity, 1994
- David Lang, The Georgians, 1966
- David Lang, A Modern History of Georgia, 1962
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55