Greeks in Georgia

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The Greek diaspora in Georgia, which in academic circles is often considered part of the broader, historic community of Caucasus Greeks, is estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000 people (15,166 according to the latest census[1]) down from about 100,000 in 1989.[2] The community has dwindled due to the large wave of repatriation to Greece (though few had ancestors who were ever citizens of the Greek state),[citation needed] as well as emigration to Russia. The community has established the Union of Greeks in Georgia and there is a Cultural Centre and a newspaper entitled Greek Diaspora.[3]


Greek population 6th century BC

The Greek presence in Georgia, specifically in its western part (ancient Colchis), is attested to the 7th century BC, as part of the Old Greek Diaspora and has traditionally been concentrated in the Black Sea coast. According to one version, which nowadays doesn't enjoy much currency, the English name of the country (which is called Sakartvelo in Georgian) is Greek in origin and means agriculture.[4] The Greeks are known as berdzeni (ბერძენი) in Georgian, a unique exonym, deriving from the Georgian word for "wise," a name commonly attributed to the notion that philosophy was born in Greece.[5][6][7] Medieval Georgians customarily applied this name to the Byzantines. Greek artists and artisans were frequently seen in medieval Georgia. There was also a high degree of intermarriages between noble families, and several Georgian aristocratic houses, such as the Andronikashvili, claimed Greek descent.

Ethnic Greek women and children harvesting tea in Chakva, Georgia, between 1905 and 1915. Photograph by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.

The Greek communities of modern Georgia are relatively newcomers, though. In 1763, 800 Greek households from the Ottoman Empire’s Gümüşhane Province were transplanted by King Heraclius II of Georgia to develop silver and lead mining at Akhtala and Alaverdi (now in Armenia). Their descendants survive in Georgia’s Marneuli district. The next important, and the largest, influx of Anatolian Greeks, fleeing the persecutions by the Ottomans after the Greek War of Independence, came in 1829-30. These were the Christian, but largely Turcophone Greeks known as Urums, who settled in the latter-day Tsalka district on the territory of the depopulated medieval Georgian province of Trialeti, then part of the Russian Empire. The Pontic Greek refugees also settled in the former Russian Caucasus province of Kars Oblast following the Russian empire's acquisition of a large area of northeastern Anatolia from the Ottoman empire in 1878, and also along Georgia’s Black Sea coastline, where they formed a substantial and active community in the maritime towns.[8][9][10] By 1989, the largest Greek communities of Georgia were concentrated in Tsalka, Tbilisi, and Abkhazia, comprising 38.6%, 21.6% and 14.6% of all Georgian Greeks, respectively.[10] Although Georgians and Greeks share many cultural traits, the Greek community of Georgia became more integrated with the Russians in the later centuries of the Russian empire and during the Soviet era.[citation needed] Many of them attended Russian schools, and spoke Russian as their secondary or even primary language. The post-Soviet civil strife and economic crisis forced many Greeks to emigrate abroad permanently, or on seasonal works.[10] As a result, their number dropped to 15.166 (3,792 of them living in Tbilisi) as of the 2002 Georgia census (which does not include the data from a large part of breakaway Abkhazia).

Greeks in Abkhazia[edit]

After World War II, ethnic Greeks of the Abkhaz ASSR were deported on Joseph Stalin's order in 1949/50. They were allowed to return in the late 1950s, however their number never reached pre-deportation level.[11]

Most of the Greeks fled Abkhazia (mostly to Greece and Russia) during and after the 1992-1993 war so that their number dropped from 14,664 in 1989 to just 1,486 in 2003.[12] Greece carried out a humanitarian operation, Operation Golden Fleece, evacuating 1,015 Greeks who had decided to abandon their homes in Abkhazia on August 15, 1993.[13]

Greeks in Tsalka[edit]

Until thirty years ago Greeks made up 70% of the 30,000 strong population of the Georgian city of Tsalka. Today about 2,000 remain, mostly elderly, as most chose to migrate to Greece. Many Greek Georgians returning to the country for Greek Easter find their homes looted or occupied by squatters, mostly immigrants from other regions of the country, who refuse to allow them entry. Consequently the number of Greeks returning to Georgia has decreased. Some have claimed that the difficulties they face in reclaiming the homes are part of a deliberate attempt by the Georgian government to uproot the community in favour of ethnic Georgians.[9] Instances of violence, related to the above have sometimes resulted in the death of elderly Greeks while more have been injured.[9] The Georgian government had to twice dispatch a Special Forces unit to prevent further outbreaks of inter-communal violence. In 2005 the Council of Greeks in Georgia has appealed to the World Council of Hellenes, SAE, registering their fear caused by the increasing instances of previously rare ethnic violence against them. The matter was also discussed in the parliament of Greece.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ State Statistics Department of Georgia: 2002 census (retrieved 5 April 2008)
  2. ^ (Russian) Всесоюзная перепись населения 1989 года. Национальный состав населения по республикам СССР. Грузинская ССР (1989 All-Union Census, ethnic groups by the republics of USSR, Georgian SSR)
  3. ^ Hellenic Republic MFA: The Greek community in Georgia
  4. ^ George Prevelakis,"Finis Greciae or the Return of the Greeks? State and Diaspora in the Context of Globalisation", p.4, UFR de Géographie, Université de Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV).
  5. ^ "Websters thesaurus". Greece. Retrieved October 14, 2006. 
  6. ^ Eastmond, A. (2004). Art and Identity in Thirteenth-Century Byzantium: Hagia Sophia and the Empire of Trebizond. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 137. ISBN 0-7546-3575-9. 
  7. ^ Rapp, Jr., S. H. (Oct–Dec 2000). Sumbat Davitis-dze and the Vocabulary of Political Authority in the Era of Georgian Unification. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 120, No. 4. pp. 570–576. 
  8. ^ The Greeks of Georgia: Migration and socioeconomic problesm
  9. ^ a b c EurasiaNet: Georgia's Greeks: Trying to come home
  10. ^ a b c Gachechiladze, Revaz G. (1995), The New Georgia: Space, Society, Politics, p. 93. Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 0-89096-703-2.
  11. ^ Otto Pohl, J. (1999). Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 119–128. ISBN 0-313-30921-3. 
  12. ^ 2003 Census statistics (Russian)
  13. ^ Kathimerini, The anniversary of Operation Golden Fleece to evacuate diaspora Greeks from war in Abkhazia, Dionyssis Kalamvrezos[dead link]
  14. ^ HRI: The hardships of the Greeks in Tsalka

External links[edit]