Georgia (country)

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Flag of Georgia (country) Coat of Arms of Georgia (country)
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Motto: ძალა ერთობაშია
(Georgian: Strength is in Unity)
Anthem: Tavisupleba (Freedom)
Location of Georgia (country)
Capital Tbilisi
41°43′ N 44°48′ E
Largest city Tbilisi
Official languages Georgian
Government Republic
Mikhail Saakashvili
Zurab Nogaideli
Nino Burjanadze
 - Date
From the USSR
9 April 1991
 • Total
 • Water (%)
69,700 km² (118th)
 • 2004 est.
 • 1990 census
 • Density
4,500,401 (114th)
5.5 million
67/km² (101)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2005 estimate
$15,522,000,000 (122)
$3,038 (127)
Currency Lari (GEL)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
Internet TLD .ge
Calling code +995

Georgia (Georgian: საქართველო Sakartvelo), known from 1990 to 1995 as the Republic of Georgia, is a country to the east of the Black Sea in the southern Caucasus. A former republic of the Soviet Union, it shares borders with Russia in the north and Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in the south.



Main article: History of Georgia

Two Georgian Kingdoms of late antiquity, Iberia in the east of the country and Egrisi in the west, were among the first nations in the region to adopt Christianity (In 317 AD and 523 AD, respectively). Egrisi often saw battles between rivals Persia and the Byzantine Empire, both of which managed to conquer Western Georgia from time to time. As a result, those Kingdoms were disintegrated into various feudal regions in the early Middle Ages. This made it easy for Arabs to conquer Georgia in the 7th century. The rebellious regions were liberated and united into the Georgian Kingdom at the beginning of the 11th century. Starting in the 12th century the rule of Georgia extended over the significant part of Southern Caucasus, including northeastern parts and almost entire northern coast of what is now Turkey.

This Georgian Kingdom, which was tolerant towards its Muslim and Jewish subjects despite the Kingdom's deeply Christian character, was subordinated by the Mongols in the 13th century. Thereafter, different local rulers fought for their independence from the central Georgian rule, until the total disintegration of the Kingdom in the 15th century. Neighbouring kingdoms exploited the situation and from the 16th century the Persian Empire and the Ottoman Empire subordinated the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively.

The rulers of regions, which remained partly autonomous, organised rebellions on various occasions. Subsequent Persian and Turkish invasions further weakened local kingdoms and regions. This time, Georgian weakness was exploited by the neighbouring Russian Empire. First to fall into Russian hands was the Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti, which was almost totally devastated by Persian invasions in the last two decades of the 18th century. The annexation of eastern Georgia by the Russian Tsarist Empire took place on September 12, 1801. This conquest was officially legitimised by the 1813 Treaty of Gulistan.

All the regions in the west of the country remained fully independent until the next decade. In 1810 the Russian Empire managed to conquer and abolish the Western Georgian Kingdom of Imereti, which had a key role in the diplomatic efforts to maintain Georgian sovereignty in the west of the country and to unite Western Georgian regions. Even after this, it took the Russian Empire another 54 years to take full control of all of Western Georgia. The region of Guria was abolished in 1828, and the region of Samegrelo in 1857. The region of Svaneti was gradually annexed in 1857-1859 and the Principality of Abkhazia in 1864.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 Georgia declared independence on May 26, 1918 in the midst of the Russian Civil War. The parliamentary election was won by the Georgian Social-Democratic Party and its leader, Noe Zhordania, became the prime minister. The country's independence did not last long, however. In February 1921 Georgia was attacked by the Red Army. Georgian troops lost the battle and the Social-Democrat government fled the country. On February 25, 1921 the Red Army entered the capital Tbilisi and installed a puppet communist government led by Georgian Bolshevik Philippe Makharadze. Georgia was incorporated into a Transcaucasian Federative Soviet Socialist Republic uniting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The TFSSR was disaggregated into its component elements in 1936 and Georgia became the Georgian SSR.

The Georgian born radical Ioseb Jughashvili was prominent among the Russian Bolsheviks, who came to power in the Russian Empire after the October Revolution in 1917. Jughashvili was better known by his nom de guerre Stalin (from the Russian word for steel: сталь). Stalin was to rise to the highest position of the Soviet state and to rule ruthlessly.

From 1941 to 1945, during the Second World War, almost 700,000 Georgians fought as Red Army soldiers against Nazi Germany. About 350,000 of them died in the battlefields of the eastern front. Also during this period the Chechen, Ingush, Karachay and the Balkarian peoples from the Northern Caucasus, were deported to Siberia for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. With their respective autonomous republics abolished, the Georgian SSR was briefly granted some of their territory, until 1957.

During the Perestroika reforms of the late 1980s, of which one of the main architects was the USSR's Georgian minister for foreign affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia developed a vigorous multiparty system that strongly favoured independence. The country staged the first democratic, multiparty parliamentary elections in the Soviet Union on October 28, 1990. From November 1990 to March 1991, one of the leaders of the National Liberation movement, Dr. Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1939-1993), was the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia (the Georgian parliament).

On April 9, 1991, shortly before the collapse of the USSR, Georgia declared independence. On May 26, 1991 Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected as a first President of independent Georgia. However, Gamsakhurdia was deposed in a bloody coup d'etat, from December 22, 1991 to January 6, 1992. The coup was instigated by part of the National Guards and a paramilitary organization called "Mkhedrioni" which allegedly was supported by Russian military units stationed in Tbilisi. The country became embroiled in a bitter civil war which lasted almost until 1995. Shevardnadze returned to Georgia in 1992 and joined the leaders of the coup — Kitovani and Ioseliani — to head a triumvirate called the “State Council”.

In 1995 Shevardnadze was officially elected as a president of Georgia. At the same time, two regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, quickly became embroiled in disputes with local separatists that led to widespread inter-ethnic violence and wars. Supported by Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have achieved and maitained de facto independence from Georgia. More than 250,000 Georgians have been ethnically cleansed out of Abkhazia by Abkhaz separatists and Russian volunteers. More than 25,000 Georgians were expelled from Tskhinvali as well, and many Ossetian families were forced to abandon their homes in the Borjomi region and move to Russia. Abkhazian authorities have accused Georgian troops of conducting ethnic cleansing in the territory and in the Republic at large.

In 2003 Shevardnadze himself was deposed in a bloodless coup, known as “Rose Revolution”, led by Mikheil Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze, the former members and leaders of his ruling party. Saakashvili was elected as a president of Georgia in 2004. Restoring Georgia's territorial integrity, reversing the effects of ethnic cleansing and returning refugees to their home places were the main pre-election promises of Saakashvili's government.


Main article: Politics of Georgia See also Foreign relations of Georgia

Following a crisis involving allegations of ballot fraud in the 2003 parliamentary elections, Eduard Shevardnadze resigned as president on November 23, 2003 in the bloodless Rose Revolution. The interim president was the speaker of the outgoing parliament (whose replacement was annulled), Nino Burjanadze. On January 4, 2004 Mikhail Saakashvili, leader of the National Movement - Democrats (NMD) (former United National Movement) won the country's presidential election and was inaugurated on January 25.

Fresh parliamentary elections were held on March 28 where NMD secured the vast majority of the seats (with ca. 75% of the votes) with only one other party reaching the 7% threshold (the Rightist Opposition with ca. 7.5%). The vote is believed to have been one of the freest ever held in independent Georgia although an upsurge of tension between the central government and the Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze affected the elections in this region.

The tension between the Georgian government and that of Ajaria grew increasingly after the elections until late April. Climaxing on May 1 when Abashidze responded to military maneuvers held by Georgia near the region with having the three bridges connecting Ajaria and the rest of Georgia over the Choloki River blown up. On May 5, Abashidze was forced to flee Georgia as mass demonstrations in Batumi called for his resignation and Russia increased their pressure by deploying Security Council secretary Igor Ivanov.

On February 3, 2005, Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania died of carbon monoxide poisoning in an apparent gas leak at the home of Raul Usupov, deputy governor of Kvemo Kartli region. At an emergency cabinet meeting the same day, Giorgi Baramidze was appointed acting prime minister. Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli has been appointed for the post by President Saakashvili.


Main article: Subdivisions of Georgia

Georgia is divided into 53 provinces, 11 cities, 2 autonomous republics and 1 former autonomous district.

Autonomous republics: Abkhazia, Ajaria. The status of the former autonomous administrative district, South Ossetia aka Samachablo, has being negotiated with the Russian supported separatist government there.
Cities: Batumi, Chiatura, Gagra, Gori, Kutaisi, Poti, Rustavi, Sokhumi, Tbilisi, Tkibuli, Tskaltubo, Tskhinvali
Districts: Abasha, Adigeni, Akhalgora, Akhaltsikhe, Akhmeta, Ambrolauri, Aspindza, Baghdati, Bolnisi, Borjomi, Chkhorotsku, Chokhatauri, Dedoplistskaro, Dmanisi, Dusheti, Gardabani, Gurjaani, Java, Kareli, Kaspi, Kharagauli, Khashuri, Khobi, Khoni, Lagodekhi, Lanchkhuti, Lentekhi, Marneuli, Martvili, Mestia, Mtskheta, Ninotsminda, Oni, Ozurgeti, Kazbegi, Kvareli, Sachkhere, Sagarejo, Samtredia, Senaki, Sighnaghi,Telavi, Terjola, Tetritskaro, Tianeti, Tsageri, Tsalenjikha, Tsalka, Vani, Zestaponi, Zugdidi

Origin of the name

Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi (ქართველები), their land Sakartvelo (საქართველო), and their language Kartuli (ქართული). These names are derived from a pagan chief called Kartlos, said to be the father of all Georgians. The foreign name Georgia, used throughout the world, is derived from Persian گرجی Gurji via the Arabic Jurj. Because the spelling was influenced by the Greek root geōrg- (γεωργ-, indicating farming; see also List of traditional Greek place names), the word has been mistakenly supposed to have come from a cognate such as St. George (the country's patron saint), or γεωργία (geōrgía, farming).

The ancient world knew the inhabitants of eastern Georgia as Iberians, from the Caucasian kingdom of Iberia — thus confusing the geographers of antiquity, who thought this name applied only to the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar).

Gurj, the Persian designation for the Georgians, is also the source of Turkish Gürcü (pronounced "Gürdjü") and Russian Грузин Gruzin. The name of the country is Gurjestan in Persian, Gürcistan in Turkish, and Грузия Gruziya in Russian. The Persian name is probably related to the Armenian words for Georgian and Georgia, respectively Vir and Virq. (There are other instances in which a Persian word-initial gu- is derived from an earlier wi- or wa-). Thus, both the Persian and the Armenian words appear to be related to the name Iberia, with loss of the initial i- and substitution of w or v for the b of Iberia.

There is also, in all likelihood, an etymological connection between the name Iberia and the historic province of Georgia called Imereti.

Former symbols

Former Georgian flag
Former Georgian flag
Former Georgian coat of arms
Former Georgian coat of arms

This flag was in use from 1991 to January 25, 2004. It was previously used from 1918 to 1921. For more information, see Flag of Georgia (country).

This coat of arms was used from 1918 to 1921 and from 1991 to 2004.


Main article: Geography of Georgia

In the north, Georgia has a 723km common border with Russia, specifically with the Northern Caucasus federal district. The following Russian republics/subdivisions - from west to east - border Georgia: Krasnodar Krai, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan. Georgia also shares borders with Azerbaijan (322 km.) to the south-east, Armenia (164 km.) to the south, and Turkey (252 km.) to the south-west.

The Karolitskhali, a small river, with the Caucasus Mountains in the background, ca. 1910
The Karolitskhali, a small river, with the Caucasus Mountains in the background, ca. 1910

Mountains are the dominant geographic feature of Georgia. The Likhi Range divides the country into eastern and western halves. Historically, the western portion of Georgia was known as Colchis while the eastern plateau was called Iberia. Due to a complex geographic setting, mountains also isolate the northern region of Svaneti from the rest of Georgia.

The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range separates Georgia from the North Caucasian Republics of the Russian Federation. The southern portion of the country is bounded by the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The main Caucasus Range is much higher in elevation than the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, with the highest peaks rising more than 5,000 meters (16,400ft.) above sea level. The highest mountain in Georgia is Mount Shkhara at 5,201 meters (17,059 feet), and the second highest is Mount Kazbegi (Kazbek) at 5,047 meters (16,554 feet). Other prominent peaks include Tetnuldi (4,974m./16,319ft.), Shota Rustaveli (4,960m./16,273ft.), Mt. Ushba (4,710m./15,453ft.), and Ailama (4,525m./14,842ft.). The region between Kazbegi and Shkhara (a distance of about 200 km. along the Main Caucasus Range) is dominated by numerous glaciers. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains are made up of various, interconnected mountain ranges (largely of volcanic origin) that do not exceed 3,400 meters (approximately 11,000 feet). Prominent features of the area include the Javakheti Volcanic Plateau, numerous lakes, including Tabatskuri and Paravani, as well as mineral water and hot springs.

Major rivers in Georgia include the Rioni and the Mtkvari.

Main cities:

Map of Georgia (the country in the Caucasus)


Aerial View of the Caucasus
Aerial View of the Caucasus

The landscape within the nation's boundaries is quite varied. Western Georgia's landscape ranges from low-land marsh-forests, swamps, and temperate rainforests to eternal snows and glaciers, while the eastern part of the country even contains a small segment of semi-arid plains characteristic of Central Asia. Forests cover around 40% of Georgia's territory while the alpine/sub-alpine zone accounts for roughly around 10% of the land.

Much of the natural habitat in the low-lying areas of Western Georgia has disappeared over the last 100 years due to the agricultural development of the land and urbanization. The large majority of the forests that covered the Colchis plain are now virtually non-existent with the exception of the regions that are included in the national parks and reserves (i.e. Paleostomi Lake area). At present, the forest cover generally remains outside of the low-lying areas and is mainly located along the foothills and the mountains. Western Georgia's forests consist mainly of decidious trees below 600 meters (1,968 ft.) above sea level and comprise of species such as oak, hornbeam, beech, elm, ash, and chestnut. Evergreen species such as box may also be found in many areas. There are significant concentrations of endemic species of plants as well. The west-central slopes of the Meskheti Range in Ajaria as well as several regions in Samegrelo and Abkhazia are covered by temperate rainforests. Between 600-1,500 meters (1,968-4,920 ft.) above sea level, the decidious forest becomes mixed with both broad-leaf and coniferous species making up the plant life. The zone is made up mainly of beech, spruce, and fir forests. From 1,500-1,800 meters (4,920-5,904 ft.), the forest becomes largely coniferous. The tree line generally ends at around 1,800 meters (5,904 ft.) and the alpine zone takes over, which in most areas, extends up to an elevation of 3,000 meters (9,840 ft.) above sea level. The eternal snow and glacier zone lies above the 3,000 meter line.

View of the Caucasus Mountains in Svaneti
View of the Caucasus Mountains in Svaneti

Eastern Georgia's landscape (referring to the territory east of the Likhi Range) is considerably different from that of the west. Although, much like the Colchis plain in the west, nearly all of the low-lying areas of eastern Georgia including the Mtkvari and Alazani River plains have been deforested for agricultural purposes. In addition, due to the region's relatively drier climate, some of the low-lying plains (especially in Kartli and south-eastern Kakheti) were never covered by forests in the first place. The general landscape of eastern Georgia comprises numerous valleys and gorges that are separated by mountains. In contrast with western Georgia, nearly 85% of the forests of the region are deciduous. Coniferous forests only dominate in the Borjomi Gorge and in the extreme western areas. Out of the deciduous species of trees, beech, oak, and hornbeam dominate. In the upper Alazani River Valley, there are yew forests as well. At higher elevations above 1,000 meters (3,280 ft.) above sea level (particularly in the Tusheti, Khevsureti, and Khevi regions), pine and birch forests dominate. In general, the forests in eastern Georgia occur between 500-2,000 (1,640-6,560 ft.) meters above sea level, with the alpine zone extending from 2,000/2,200-3,000/3,500 meters (roughly about 6,560-11,480 ft.). The only remaining large, low-land forests remain in the Alazani Valley of Kakheti. The eternal snow and glacier zone lies above the 3,500 metre (11,480 ft.) line in most areas of eastern Georgia.


The climate of Georgia is extremely diverse, considering the nation's small size. There are two main climatic zones, roughly separating Eastern and Western parts of the country. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range plays an important role in moderating Georgia's climate and protects the nation from the penetration of colder air masses from the north. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains partially protect the region from the influence of dry and hot air masses from the south as well.

Much of western Georgia lies within the humid subtropical zone with annual precipitation ranging from 1000-4000mm. (39-157inches). The precipitation tends to be uniformly distributed throughout the year, although the rainfall can be particularly heavy during the Autumn months. The climate of the region varies significantly with elevation and while much of the lowland areas of western Georgia are relatively warm throughout the year, the foothills and mountainous areas (including both the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains) experience cool, wet summers and snowy winters (snow cover often exceeds 2 meters in many regions).

Eastern Georgia has a transitional climate from humid subtropical to continental. The region's weather patterns are influenced both by dry, Central Asian/Caspian air masses from the east and humid, Black Sea air masses from the west. The penetration of humid air masses from the Black Sea is often blocked by several mountain ranges (Likhi and Surami) that separate the eastern and western parts of the nation. Annual precipitation is considerably less than that of western Georgia and ranges from 400-1600mm. (16-63inches). The wettest periods generally occur during Spring and Autumn while Winter and the Summer months tend to be the driest. Much of eastern Georgia experiences hot summers (especially in the low-lying areas) and relatively cold winters. As in the western parts of the nation, elevation plays an important role in eastern Georgia as well, and climatic conditions above 1500 meters (4920ft.) above sea level are considerably cooler (even colder) than those of the low-lyinig areas. The regions that lie above 2000 meters (6560ft.) above sea level frequently experience frost even during the summer months.


Main article: Economy of Georgia

Georgia's economy has traditionally revolved around Black Sea tourism, cultivation of citrus fruits, tea and grapes; mining of manganese and copper; and output of a small industrial sector producing wine, metals, machinery, chemicals, and textiles. The country imports the bulk of its energy needs, including natural gas and oil products. Its only sizable internal energy resource is hydropower. Despite the severe damage the economy has suffered due to civil strife, Georgia, with the help of the IMF and World Bank, made substantial economic gains since 1995, increasing GDP growth and slashing inflation. The Georgian economy continues to experience large budget deficits due to a failure to collect tax revenues. Georgia also still suffers from energy shortages; it privatized the distribution network in 1998, and deliveries are steadily improving. Georgia is pinning its hopes for long-term recovery on the development of an international transportation corridor through the key Black Sea ports of P'ot'i and Batumi. The growing trade deficit, continuing problems with tax evasion and corruption, and political uncertainties cloud the short-term economic picture. However, revived investment could spur higher economic growth in 2000, perhaps up to 6%.


Main article: Demographics of Georgia

Georgia's current population is 4,677,401 (July 2005 est.), with ethnic Georgians forming a majority of about 83.8%. Azerbaijanis form 6.5% of the population, Armenians 5.7% and Russians 1.5% (most Russians have emigrated since Georgia declared its independence). The Abkhazians in Abkhazia and the Ossetes in South Ossetia (and across the border in North Ossetia) have tried to secede from Georgia since independence. Two other Kartvelian peoples live in Georgia: the Svan and the Mingrelians, with smaller numbers of the Laz people, most of whom live in Turkey. There are numerous smaller groups in the country, including Assyrians, Greeks, Kurds, Tatars, Turks and Ukrainians.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia has suffered a serious population collapse as the rebellion in Abkhazia, the strife in Ajaria and South Ossetia, a fragile economy, and bad job opportunities led hundreds of thousands of Georgians to emigrate in search of work, especially to Russia. That problem is exacerbated by a very low birthrate among the remaining population. A similar problem exists in neighboring Armenia. The population is currently estimated to be a full million less than it was back in 1990, and some observers suggest the actual number is even lower.


Main article: Culture of Georgia See also Georgian language, Georgian alphabet, Music of Georgia

Miscellaneous topics

Further Reading

  • The Abkhazians: A Handbook (Peoples of the Caucasus Handbooks) George Hewitt
  • Bradt Guide: Georgia Tim Burford
  • Claws of the Crab: Georgia and Armenia in Crisis Stephen Brook
  • Enough!: The Rose Revolution In The Republic Of Georgia 2003 Zurab Karumidze and James V. Wertshtor
  • Georgia: A Soverign Country in the Caucasus Roger Rosen
  • Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia 550 BC-AD 562 Braund, David, 1994. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-814473-3
  • Georgia: In the Mountains of Poetry Peter Nasmyth
  • Please Don't Call It Soviet Georgia: A Journey Through a Troubled Paradise Mary Russell
  • The Georgian Feast: The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia Darra Goldstein
  • Lonely Planet World Guide: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan
  • Stories I Stole Wendell Steavenson
  • The Making of the Georgian Nation Ronald Grigor Suny
  • Toward a Patriarchal Republic: The Secession of Georgia Michael P. Johnson

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