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Georgia (country)

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This article is about the Eurasian country. For the U.S. state, see Georgia (U.S. state). For other uses, see Georgia (disambiguation)

Coordinates: 42°00′N 43°30′E / 42.000°N 43.500°E / 42.000; 43.500

Georgia
საქართველო
Sakartvelo
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: 
ძალა ერთობაშია
Dzala Ertobashia
Strength is in Unity
Anthem: 
თავისუფლება
Tavisupleba
Freedom
Location of Georgia shown in Green
Location of Georgia shown in Green
Capital
and largest city
Tbilisi[a]
41°43′N 44°47′E / 41.717°N 44.783°E / 41.717; 44.783
Official languages Georgian[1]
Demonym Georgian
Government Unitary semi-presidential republic[b]
 •  President Giorgi Margvelashvili
 •  Speaker of the Parliament David Usupashvili
 •  Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili
Legislature Parliament
Independence
 •  Kingdom of Colchis 13th century–164 BC 
 •  Kingdom of Iberia 302 BC–580 AD 
 •  Kingdom of Lazica-Egrisi 131 BC–697 AD 
 •  Principality of Iberia 580-880 AD 
 •  Kingdom of Georgia 1008 
 •  Russian Empire occupation 12 September 1801 
 •  from Russian Empire 26 May 1918 
 •  Soviet re-conquest 25 February 1921 
 •  from Soviet Union
Declared
Finalized

9 April 1991
25 December 1991 
Area
 •  Total 69,700 km2 (120th)
26,911 sq mi
Population
 •  2016 estimate 3,720,400[2] (131st)
 •  2014 census 3,713,804[3]
 •  Density 53.5/km2 (137th)
138.6/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2015 estimate
 •  Total $35.6 billion[4] (117th)
 •  Per capita $9,500[5]
GDP (nominal) 2015 estimate
 •  Total $14.372 billion[6]
 •  Per capita $3,863[6]
Gini (2013) 40.0[7]
medium
HDI (2014) Increase 0.754[8]
high · 76th
Currency Georgian Lari () (GEL)
Time zone GET (UTC+4)
Antipodes Pacific Ocean
Drives on the right
Calling code +995
ISO 3166 code GE
Internet TLD .ge .გე
a. ^ The seat of Parliament is in Kutaisi.
b. ^ Moved in 2013 from a president-parliamentary system to a premier-presidential system.

Georgia (Listeni/ˈɔːrə/; Georgian: საქართველო, tr. Sakartvelo, IPA: [sɑkʰɑrtʰvɛlɔ]) is a country located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and West Asia, and generally considered to be part of Europe.[9] Nestled between the Greater Caucasus and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north and northeast by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital and largest city is Tbilisi. Georgia is a unitary, semi-presidential republic, with the government elected through a representative democracy.

During classical antiquity, several independent kingdoms became established in what is now Georgia. The most prominent of these Georgian precursor states, Colchis in the west and Iberia in the east, adopted Christianity as their state religion in the early 4th century. Following a complex period of nation building, a unified Kingdom of Georgia reached the peak of its political and economic strength during the reign of King David IV and Queen Tamar from the 11th to 13th centuries. In the early modern period, Georgia became fractured and fell into decline due to the onslaught of various hostile empires, including the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, and Persia. In 1783, Eastern Georgia forged an alliance with the Russian Empire, which led to the gradual annexation of Georgia by Russia starting in 1801.

Following the Russian collapse in 1917, Georgia established its first-ever republic under German and British protection, but was subsequently invaded by Bolshevik Russia and absorbed into the Soviet Union. After restoring its independence once again in 1991, post-communist Georgia suffered from civil and economic crisis for most of the 1990s. This lasted until the peaceful Rose Revolution, when Georgia pursued a strongly pro-Western foreign policy, introducing a series of democratic and economic reforms aimed at NATO and European integration. The country's Western orientation soon led to the worsening of relations with Russia, culminating in the brief Russo-Georgian War.

Georgia is a member of the Council of Europe, OSCE and Eurocontrol; since 2014, it is also part of the European Union's Free Trade Area. Despite its difficult geopolitical situation, Georgia has achieved significant progress in recent years, "moving from a near-failed state in 2003 to a relatively well-functioning market economy in 2014".[10] The World Bank has named Georgia the World's number one economic reformer,[11][12] and consistently ranks the country at the top of its ease of doing business index. According to Transparency International, Georgia is the least corrupt country in the Black Sea region, including all of its immediate neighbors, as well as nearby EU states.[13] With a developing news media environment, Georgia is also the only country in its immediate neighborhood where the press is not deemed unfree.[14]

Etymology

Main article: Name of Georgia
It is said that Georgians were so named because they particularly revered Saint George.

A definitive etymology of European Georgia has never been established, but there are a number of unconfirmed theories as to its provenance. Jacques de Vitry and Franz Ferdinand von Troilo have explained the name's origin by the popularity of St. George among Georgians.[15] Another theory, popularized by the likes of Jean Chardin, semantically linked "Georgia" to Greek γεωργός ("tiller of the land"). The supporters of this explanation sometimes referred to classical authors, in particular Pliny and Pomponius Mela, who mentioned agricultural tribes called "Georgi", (Pliny, IV.26, VI.14; Mela, De Sita Orb. i.2, &50; ii.1, & 44, 102.) so named to distinguish them from their unsettled and pastoral neighbors on the other side of the river Panticapea.[16]

These explanations for the word Georgia are countered by some in the scholarly community, who point to the Persian word gurğ/gurğān ("wolf"[17]) as the possible root of the word,[18][19] which may itself derive from the ancient Persian appellation of the near-Caspian region, Gorgan ("land of the wolves"[20]). This latter conjecture is not universally accepted either, with some modern scholars asserting that Greek/Persian origin theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive; according to Elguja Khintibidze, present-day term "Georgia" likely came from the confluence of both Greco-Latin and "oriental", i.e. Perso-Arabic etymologies.[21]

The native name is Sakartvelo (საქართველო; "land of Kartvelians"), derived from the core central Georgian region of Kartli, 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 (ქართველები, i.e. "Kartvelians") The medieval Georgian Chronicles present an eponymous ancestor of the Kartvelians, Kartlos, a great-grandson of Japheth. The name Sakartvelo (საქართველო) consists of two parts. Its root, kartvel-i (ქართველ-ი), specifies an inhabitant of the core central-eastern Georgian region of Kartli, or Iberia as it is known in sources of the Eastern Roman Empire.[22] Ancient Greeks (Strabo, Herodotus, Plutarch, Homer, etc.) and Romans (Titus Livius, Tacitus, etc.) referred to early western Georgians as Colchians and eastern Georgians as Iberians (Iberoi in some Greek sources).[23]

History

Prehistory

Main article: Prehistoric Georgia

The territory of modern-day Georgia was inhabited by Homo erectus since the Paleolithic Era. The proto-Georgian tribes first appear in written history in the 12th century BC.[24]

In Greek mythology, western Georgia was home to Medea and the Golden Fleece.
2nd century BC statue from Georgia, displayed at the Georgian National Museum.

The earliest evidence of wine to date has been found in Georgia, where 8000-year old wine jars were uncovered.[25][26] Archaeological finds and references in ancient sources also reveal elements of early political and state formations characterized by advanced metallurgy and goldsmith techniques that date back to the 7th century BC and beyond.[24] In fact, early metallurgy started in Georgia during the 6th millennium BC, associated with the Shulaveri-Shomu culture.[27]

Antiquity

The classical period saw the rise of a number of early Georgian states, the principal of which was Colchis in the west and Iberia in the east. In the 4th century BC, a unified kingdom of Georgia – an early example of advanced state organization under one king and an aristocratic hierarchy – was established.[28]

In Greek mythology, Colchis was home to sorceress Medea and held the famous Golden Fleece, sought by Jason and the Argonauts in the epic tale Argonautica. According to Strabo and several modern scholars, the incorporation of the Golden Fleece into the myth may have derived from the western Georgian practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from the mountain rivers.[29][30] Known to its natives as Egrisi or Lazica, Colchis was also the battlefield of the Lazic War fought between the Byzantine Empire and Sassanid Persia.

In 66 BC, the Roman Empire completed its conquest of the Caucasus region, incorporating Colchis into the Empire as one of its provinces. The political arrangement was different in Colchis' eastern counterpart – Iberia was invaded by Rome but became a vassal kingdom, rather than an integral province. Vassalage proved beneficial to Iberia because it enjoyed significant independence and, with the lowlands frequently raided by fierce mountain tribes, paying a nominal homage to Rome in exchange for protection was viewed as a worthwhile investment.[31] As a result of these processes, the early Georgian kingdoms were intermittently Roman client states and allies for nearly 400 years.[32]

From the first centuries A.D, the cult of Mithras, Greco-Roman mysteries, paganism, Zoroastrianism, idolatry, and various local mythical beliefs were commonly practiced in Georgia. In the 4th century, a Greek-speaking Roman woman, Saint Nino, began preaching Christianity in the kingdom. Having cured the queen of a mysterious illness and convinced her to accept Christianity, St. Nino managed to convert King Mirian, as well. In 337 AD, Mirian officially declared Christianity as the state religion, a move which gave great stimulus to the development of Georgian literature, arts, and ultimately playing a key role in the formation of the unified Georgian nation.[33][34]

King Mirian's acceptance of Christianity effectively tied the kingdom to the neighboring Eastern Roman Empire, which exerted a strong influence on Georgia for nearly a millennium, determining much of its present cultural identity.[32] The acceptance led to the decline of Mithras, Zoroastrianism, pagan and other faiths previously practiced in the pre-Christian era.[35][36]

Middle Ages up to Early Modern Period

Located on the crossroads of protracted Roman-Persian Wars, the early Georgian kingdoms disintegrated into various feudal regions by the early Middle Ages. This made it easy for the remaining Georgian realms to fall prey to the early Muslim conquests in the 7th century. Despite the capture of Tbilisi in 645 AD by Muslims, Kartli-Iberia retained considerable independence under local rulers.[30]

Queen Tamar, the first female to rule Georgia in her own right, presided over the Georgian Golden Age[37]

Having converged into a single realm by the early 11th century, the Kingdom of Georgia reached its peak in the 12th and 13th centuries, in what became known as the Georgian Golden Age.[38] This period of revival was inaugurated by King David IV, the son of George II and Queen Helena, who assumed the throne at the age of 16 in a period of Great Turkish Invasions. As he came of age under the guidance of his court minister, George of Chqondidi, David suppressed dissent of feudal lords and centralized the power in his hands to effectively deal with foreign threats. In 1121, he decisively defeated much larger Turkish armies during the Battle of Didgori and liberated Tbilisi.[39] At the height of its dominance, the Kingdom's influence spanned from the south of modern-day Ukraine in Eastern Europe, to the northern provinces of Persia, while also maintaining religious possessions in the Holy Land and Greece. To highlight his country's increased status, David IV became the first Georgian king to reject the titles bestowed by the Eastern Roman Empire, Georgia’s longtime ally, indicating that Georgia would deal with its powerful friend only on a parity basis.[40]

An important turning point in the Georgian Golden Age was the enthronement of Tamar, the daughter of George III. Tamar became the first female ruler of Georgia, and her 29-year reign is considered the most successful in the nation's history.[41] She managed to shield much of her Empire from further Turkish onslaught and successfully pacified internal tensions, including a coup organized by her Russian husband Yury Bogolyubsky, prince of Novgorod. Additionally, she pursued policies that were considered very enlightened for her time period, such as abolishing state-sanctioned death penalty and torture.[42]

Among the remarkable events of Tamar's reign was the foundation of the Empire of Trebizond on the Black Sea in 1204. This state was established in the northeast of the crumbling Byzantine Empire with the help of the Georgian armies, which supported Alexios I of Trebizond and his brother, David Komnenos, both of whom were Tamar's relatives.[43] By this time Georgia's power had grown to such extent that in the later years of Tamar's rule, the Kingdom was primarily concerned with the protection of the Georgian monastic centers in the Holy Land, eight of which were listed in Jerusalem.[44] French chronicler Jacques de Vitry wrote at the time:[45]

King Vakhtang VI ruled parts of fractured Georgia during Ottoman and Persian invasions. His efforts to secure aid from France and Vatican failed, sealing the fate of his Kingdom.[46]

By the early modern period, Georgia began to gradually decline and fracture due to persistent invasions of nomadic peoples, such as the Mongols, as well as the spread of Black Death by these same nomadic groups. The Mongols were expelled by George V of Georgia, son of Demetrius II of Georgia, who became the last great king of the unified Georgian state. Nevertheless, the invasions continued, not giving the realm enough time to fully recover. Georgia's geopolitical situation further worsened after the Fall of Constantinople, which effectively marked the end of the Eastern Roman Empire and turned Georgia into an isolated Christian enclave, surrounded by hostile Turco-Iranic neighbors. Renewed incursions from 1386 led to the final collapse of the kingdom into anarchy by the end of the 15th century. Large neighboring empires were quick to exploit Georgia's weakness, and from 16th to 18th centuries, the Ottoman Turkey and Iran subjugated the western and eastern regions of Georgia, respectively.

Since at least the mid-15th century, rulers in both western and eastern Georgian kingdoms repeatedly sought aid from Western European powers to no avail.[47][48][49] A notable episode of this type of effort was spearheaded in the early 18th century by a Georgian diplomat called Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, who was sent by his former pupil, King Vakhtang VI of Kartli, to France and the Papal States in order to secure assistance for Georgia. Orbeliani was well received by King Louis XIV of France and Pope Clement XI, but no tangible assistance could be secured.[46] Lack of Western assistance not only left Georgia exposed but sealed the personal fates of Orbeliani and King Vakhtang - pushed by the invading Ottoman Army, both were eventually forced to accept the offer of protection from Peter the Great and escaped to the Russian Empire, from where they never returned.[50] In modern-day Georgia, the story of Orbeliani's diplomatic mission to France would become a symbol of how the West neglects Georgian appeals for protection.[51]

With the death of Nader Shah in 1747, two major Eastern Georgian kingdoms broke free of Iranian control and were reunified as the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti under the energetic king Heraclius (Erekle) II in 1762. He stabilized Eastern Georgia to a degree and was able to guarantee its autonomy throughout the Iranian Zand period.[52]

Georgia in the Russian Empire

In 1783, Russia and the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk. The treaty, which recognized the bond of Orthodox Christianity between the Russian and Georgian people, established Georgia as a protectorate of Russia, and guaranteed Georgia's territorial integrity and the continuation of its reigning Bagrationi dynasty in return for prerogatives in the conduct of Georgian foreign affairs.[53] Georgia at the same time, according the terms of the treaty, abjured any form of dependence on Persia (Iran) or another power, and every new Georgian monarch would require the confirmation and investiture of the Russian tsar.[54]

Due to changes triggered by the unwanted Russian annexation, George XII (left) became the last sitting Georgian monarch, while Anton II (right) the last Georgian Patriarch of the 19th century.

However, despite this commitment to defend Georgia, Russia rendered no assistance when the Iranians invaded in 1795, capturing and sacking Tbilisi while massacring its inhabitants, as the new heir to the throne sought to reassert Iranian hegemony over Georgia.[55] Despite a punitive campaign subsequently launched against Qajar Iran in 1796, this period culminated in the 1801 Russian violation of the Treaty of Georgievsk and annexation of eastern Georgia, followed by the abolition of the royal Bagrationi dynasty, as well as the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Pyotr Bagration, one of the descendants of the abolished house of Bagrationi, would later join the Russian army and rise to be a general by the Napoleonic wars.

On 22 December 1800, Tsar Paul I of Russia, at the alleged request of the Georgian King George XII, signed the proclamation on the incorporation of Georgia (Kartli-Kakheti) within the Russian Empire, which was finalized by a decree on 8 January 1801,[56][57] and confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on 12 September 1801.[58][59] The Georgian envoy in Saint Petersburg reacted with a note of protest that was presented to the Russian vice-chancellor Prince Kurakin.[60] In May 1801, under the oversight of General Carl Heinrich von Knorring, Imperial Russia transferred power in eastern Georgia to the government headed by General Ivan Petrovich Lazarev.[61] The Georgian nobility did not accept the decree until, on 12 April 1802, when Knorring assembled the nobility at the Sioni Cathedral and forced them to take an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia. Those who disagreed were temporarily arrested.[62]

Despite direct Russian control of east Georgia, western Georgian rulers like Princess Ekaterine maintained autonomy through the mid-1800s

Solomon II of Imereti was angry at the Russian annexation of Kartli-Kakheti. He offered a compromise: he would make Imereti a Russian protectorate if the monarchy and autonomy of his neighbor was restored. Russia made no reply. In 1803, the ruler of Mingrelia, a region belonging to Imereti, rebelled against Solomon and acknowledged Russia as his protector instead. When Solomon refused to make Imereti a Russian protectorate too, Pavel Tsitsianov invaded and on 25 April 1804, Solomon signed a treaty making him a Russian vassal.[63]

Notwithstanding the treaty, Solomon proved far from submissive. When war broke out between the Ottomans and Russia, Solomon started secret negotiations with the former. In February 1810, a Russian decree proclaimed that Solomon was dethroned and ordered Imeretians to pledge allegiance to the tsar. A large Russian army invaded the country, but many Imeretians fled to the forests to start a resistance movement. Solomon hoped that Russia, distracted by its wars with the Ottomans and Persia, would allow Imereti to become autonomous. The Russians eventually crushed the guerrilla uprising but they could not catch Solomon. However, Russia's peace treaties with Ottoman Turkey (1812) and Persia (1813) put an end to the king's hopes of foreign support (he had also tried to interest Napoleon). Solomon died in exile in Trabzon in 1815.[64]

In the summer of 1805, Russian troops on the Askerani River near Zagam defeated the Iranian army during the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) and saved Tbilisi from reconquest now that it was officially part of the Imperial territories. Russian suzerainty over eastern Georgia was officially finalized with Iran in 1813 following the Treaty of Gulistan.[65] Following the annexation of eastern Georgia, the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti was annexed by Tsar Alexander I. The last Imeretian king and the last Georgian Bagrationi ruler, Solomon II, died in exile in 1815. From 1803 to 1878, as a result of numerous Russian wars now against Ottoman Turkey, several of Georgia's previously lost territories – such as Adjara – were recovered, and also incorporated into the empire. The principality of Guria was abolished and incorporated into the Empire in 1829, while Svaneti was gradually annexed in 1858. Mingrelia, although a Russian protectorate since 1803, was not absorbed until 1867.[66]

Russian and Georgian societies had much in common: the main religion was Eastern Orthodox Christianity and in both countries a land-owning aristocracy ruled over a population of serfs. These similarities notwithstanding, Russian rule at times proved heavy-handed, arbitrary and insensitive to local law and customs.[67] As a result, the string of annexations in Georgia was marred by tensions, such as the 1841 rebellion in Guria in 1841.[68] In the first half of the 19th century, Georgia remained a restless and poorly integrated part of the empire, but things started to change for better with the appointment of Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov as Viceroy of the Caucasus in 1845. Vorontsov's new policies won over the Georgian nobility, who increasingly adopted Western European way of like, just as the Russian nobility had done in the previous century.[69] Vorontsov's conciliatory efforts towards Georgians was influenced by the ongoing Shamil's rebellion in the North Caucasus, which made some Russians view Georgians as the only bulwark protecting Russia's southern imperial borders.[70]

First Republic under German-British protection

Declaration of independence by the Georgian parliament, 1918

The Russian Revolution of October 1917 plunged the Empire 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 (DRG) on May 26, 1918. The newly formed country was ruled by the Menshevik faction of the Social Democratic Party, which established a moderate, multi-party system in sharp contrast with the "dictatorship of the proletariat" established by the Bolsheviks in Russia. The First Republic was recognized by major Western powers, as well as Soviet Russia itself (Treaty of Moscow (1920)). The Menshevik Georgian Social-Democratic Party won the first parliamentary elections. The party leader, Noe Jordania, became Prime Minister.

To maintain its fledgling sovereignty and keep both Russia and Turkey at bay, Georgia became a protectorate of the German Empire, which sent a contingent of troops under the leadership of General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein.[71] The German involvement was short-lived but effective - Berlin pressured Turkey into respecting Georgia's ethnic borders and by July 1918, Turkey handed over all Georgian ports and railways it had controlled up to that point. Germany also lent millions of Deutschmarks to the new republic. Despite cordial German-Georgian relations, Germany had to retreat from the country shortly after Germans lost in World War I.[72]

German troops in Tbilisi, congregating near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, 1918

Following the German defeat, Georgia came under British protection and influence. A British battalion landed in Poti, Georgia on January 4, 1919 and then Batumi; Britain also took over the management and protection of Georgian railways. Britain's involvement was much different from that of their German counterparts - the sole aim of London's costly intervention was to prevent Bolshevik Russia from acquiring oil fields near Baku and the British General Cooke-Collins appeared to care little as to what happened inside Georgia. There was minimal British investment during this time and much emphasis was made on securing pipelines, trade and natural resources. As a result of this myopic attitude, the British were less liked than the Germans formerly stationed in Georgia, nevertheless, the locals continued to view Britain's presence as a stabilizing force.[73]

The somewhat negative perception of Britain began to change with the appointment of Sir Oliver Wardrop as Ambassador to Tbilisi. Wardrop was much loved by the locals ever since his service as the British consul in the Russian Imperial Georgia throughout the 1880s and 1890s. Wardrop had learned the Georgian language earlier in his career and was a prolific translator of Georgian works. The diplomat's sister, Marjory Wardrop, was herself a scholar of Georgia who brought awareness of the Georgian culture to Britain by producing the first prosaic English translation of the Georgian epic poem The Knight in the Panther's Skin.[73] British presence coincided with a number of important events. The Georgian–Armenian War, which erupted over parts of Georgia populated by Armenians, ended in truce due to British intervention. In 1918–1919, Georgian general Giorgi Mazniashvili led an attack against the White Army led by Moiseev and Denikin in order to claim the Black Sea coastline from Tuapse to Sochi and Adler for independent Georgia.[74]

Georgia in the Soviet Union

Due to the terms of the controversial Moscow Treaty, Britain had to withdraw from Georgia in 1920. With both Germany and Britain now out of the picture, the Red Army attacked Georgia in February 1921.[75] The Georgian army was defeated and the Social-Democratic government exiled to France. On 25 February 1921, the Red Army entered Tbilisi and installed a communist government loyal to Moscow, led by Georgian Bolshevik Filipp Makharadze.

Despite Soviet takeover, Noe Jordania was recognized as the legitimate head of the Georgian Government by France, Britain, Belgium, and Poland through the 1930s.[76]

Nevertheless, there remained significant opposition to the Bolsheviks, and this culminated in the August Uprising of 1924. Soviet rule was firmly established only after this uprising was suppressed.[77] Georgia was incorporated into the Transcaucasian SFSR, which united Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Later, in 1936, the TSFSR was disaggregated into its component elements and Georgia became the Georgian SSR.

The 11th Red Army of the Russian SFSR holds a military parade, 25 February 1921 in Tbilisi

Joseph Stalin, an ethnic Georgian born Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili (იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი) in Gori, was prominent among the Bolsheviks. Stalin was to rise to the highest position, leading the Soviet Union from 3 April 1922 until his death on 5 March 1953.

From 1941 to 1945, during World War II, almost 700,000 Georgians fought in the Red Army against Nazi Germany. There were also a few who fought on the German side. About 350,000 Georgians died in the battlefields of the Eastern Front.[78]

On 9 April 1989, a peaceful demonstration in Tbilisi ended with several people being killed by Soviet troops. Before the October 1990 elections to the national assembly, the Umaghlesi Sabcho (Supreme Council) – the first polls in the USSR held on a formal multi-party basis – the political landscape was reshaped again. While the more radical groups boycotted the elections and convened an alternative forum (the National Congress) with alleged support of Moscow,[citation needed] another part of the anticommunist opposition united into the Round Table—Free Georgia around the former dissidents like Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The latter won the elections by a clear margin, with 155 out of 250 parliamentary seats, whereas the ruling Communist Party (CP) received only 64 seats. All other parties failed to get over the 5 percent threshold and were thus allotted only some single-member constituency seats.

Georgia after restoration of independence

On 9 April 1991, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia declared independence. On 26 May 1991, Gamsakhurdia was elected as the first President of independent Georgia. Gamsakhurdia stoked Georgian nationalism and vowed to assert Tbilisi's authority over regions such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia that had been classified as autonomous oblasts under the Soviet Union.

He was soon deposed in a bloody coup d'état, from 22 December 1991 to 6 January 1992. The coup was instigated by part of the National Guards and a paramilitary organization called "Mkhedrioni" ("horsemen"). The country became embroiled in a bitter civil war, which lasted until nearly 1995. Eduard Shevardnadze (Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1985 to 1991) returned to Georgia in 1992 and joined the leaders of the coup — Tengiz Kitovani and Jaba Ioseliani — to head a triumvirate called "The State Council".

Simmering disputes within two regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, between local separatists and the majority Georgian populations, erupted into widespread inter-ethnic violence and wars. Supported by Russia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia achieved de facto independence from Georgia, with Georgia retaining control only in small areas of the disputed territories. In 1995, Shevardnadze was officially elected as president of Georgia.

The Rose Revolution, 2003

Roughly 230,000 to 250,000 Georgians[79] were massacred or expelled from Abkhazia by Abkhaz separatists and North Caucasian volunteers (including Chechens) in 1992–1993. Around 23,000 Georgians[80] fled South Ossetia as well, and many Ossetian families were forced to abandon their homes in the Borjomi region and moved to Russia.

In 2003, Shevardnadze (who won re-election in 2000) was deposed by the Rose Revolution, after Georgian opposition and international monitors asserted that the November 2 parliamentary elections were marred by fraud.[81] The revolution was led by Mikheil Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze, former members and leaders of Shevardnadze's ruling party. Mikheil Saakashvili was elected as President of Georgia in 2004.

Following the Rose Revolution, a series of reforms were launched to strengthen the country's military and economic capabilities. The new government's efforts to reassert Georgian authority in the southwestern autonomous republic of Ajaria led to a major crisis early in 2004. Success in Ajaria encouraged Saakashvili to intensify his efforts, but without success, in breakaway South Ossetia.

These events, along with accusations of Georgian involvement in the Second Chechen War,[82] resulted in a severe deterioration of relations with Russia, fuelled also by Russia's open assistance and support to the two secessionist areas. Despite these increasingly difficult relations, in May 2005 Georgia and Russia reached a bilateral agreement[83] by which Russian military bases (dating back to the Soviet era) in Batumi and Akhalkalaki were withdrawn. Russia withdrew all personnel and equipment from these sites by December 2007[84] while failing to withdraw from the Gudauta base in Abkhazia, which it was required to vacate after the adoption of the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty during the 1999 Istanbul summit.[85]

Russo-Georgian War and since

Main article: Russo-Georgian War

Tensions between Georgia and Russia began escalating in April 2008.[86][87][88] South Ossetian separatists committed the first act of violence when they blew up a Georgian military vehicle on 1 August 2008. The explosion wounded five Georgian peacekeepers. In response,[89] Georgian snipers assaulted the South Ossetian militiamen during the evening.[90] Ossetian separatists began shelling Georgian villages on 1 August, with a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers and other troops in the region.[86][90][91] Serious incidents happened in the following week after Ossetian attacks on Georgian villages and positions in South Ossetia.[92][93]

Georgians greeting the U.S. Navy with flowers as it delivers aid to Georgia during the 2008 war

At around 19:00 on 7 August 2008, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili announced a unilateral ceasefire and no-response order.[94] However, Ossetian separatists intensified their attacks on Georgian villages located in the South Ossetian conflict zone. Georgian troops returned fire and advanced towards the capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, during the night of 8 August.[95][96] According to Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer, the Ossetians were intentionally provoking the Georgians, so Russia would use the Georgian response as a pretext for premeditated military invasion.[97] According to Georgian intelligence,[98] and several Russian media reports, parts of the regular (non-peacekeeping) Russian Army had already moved to South Ossetian territory through the Roki Tunnel before the Georgian military operation.[99]

The centre of Tskhinvali was reached by 1,500 men of the Georgian ground forces by 10:00 on 8 August.[100] One Georgian diplomat told Kommersant on the same day that by taking control of Tskhinvali they wanted to demonstrate that Georgia wouldn't tolerate killing of Georgian citizens.[101] Russia falsely accused Georgia of "aggression" against South Ossetia,[102] and launched a large-scale invasion of Georgia under the guise of peacekeeping operation on 8 August.[92] Russian military captured Tskhinvali in five days and expelled Georgian forces. Russia also launched airstrikes against military infrastructure in Georgia.[103] Abkhaz forces opened a second front by attacking the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgia.[104] Russian forces occupied the Georgian cities of Zugdidi,[105] Senaki,[106] Poti,[107] and Gori (the last one after the ceasefire was negotiated).[108] Russian Black Sea Fleet blockaded the Georgian coast.[92]

Both during and after the war, South Ossetian forces and irregular militia conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Georgians in South Ossetia,[109] with Georgian villages around Tskhinvali being destroyed after the war had ended.[110] The war displaced 192,000 people,[111] and while many were able to return to their homes after the war, a year later around 30,000 ethnic Georgians remained displaced.[112] In an interview published in Kommersant, South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said he would not allow Georgians to return.[113][114]

President of France Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated a ceasefire agreement on 12 August 2008.[115] On 17 August, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russian forces would begin to pull out of Georgia the following day.[116] Russian forces withdrew from the buffer zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 8 October and control over them was transferred to the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia.[117]

Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as separate republics on 26 August 2008.[118] In response to Russia's action, the Georgian government severed diplomatic relations with Russia.[119] Since the war, Georgia has maintained that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are Russian-occupied Georgian territories.[120][121]

Government and politics

Georgia is a representative democratic semi-presidential republic, with the President as the head of state, and Prime Minister as the head of government. The executive branch of power is made up of the President and the Cabinet of Georgia. The Cabinet is composed of ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, and appointed by the President. Notably, the ministers of defense and interior are not members of the Cabinet and are subordinated directly to the President of Georgia. Giorgi Margvelashvili is the current President of Georgia after winning 62.12% of the vote in the 2013 election. Since 2013, Irakli Garibashvili has been the prime minister of Georgia.

Legislative authority is vested in the Parliament of Georgia. It is unicameral and has 150 members, known as deputies, of whom 75 are elected by plurality to represent single-member district, and 75 are chosen to represent parties by proportional representation. Members of parliament are elected for four-year terms. Five parties and electoral blocs had representatives elected to the parliament in the 2008 elections: the United National Movement (governing party), The Joint Opposition, the Christian-Democrats, the Labour Party and Republican Party.[citation needed] On 26 May 2012, Saakashvili inaugurated a new Parliament building in the western city of Kutaisi, in an effort to decentralise power and shift some political control closer to Abkhazia.[122]

Although considerable progress was made since the Rose revolution, former President Mikheil Saakashvili stated in 2008 that Georgia is still not a "full-fledged, very well-formed, crystalized society."[123] The political system remains in the process of transition, with frequent adjustments to the balance of power between the President and Parliament, and opposition proposals ranging from transforming the country into parliamentary republic to re-establishing the monarchy.[124][125] Observers note the deficit of trust in relations between the Government and the opposition.[126]

Different opinions exist regarding the degree of political freedom in Georgia. Saakashvili believed in 2008 that the country is "on the road to becoming a European democracy."[123] Freedom House lists Georgia as a partly free country.[127]

In preparation for 2012 parliamentary elections, Parliament adopted a new electoral code on 27 December 2011 that incorporated many recommendations from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Venice Commission. However, the new code failed to address the Venice Commission’s primary recommendation to strengthen the equality of the vote by reconstituting single-mandate election districts to be comparable in size. On December 28, Parliament amended the Law on Political Unions to regulate campaign and political party financing. Local and international observers raised concerns about several amendments, including the vagueness of the criteria for determining political bribery and which individuals and organizations would be subject to the law. As of March 2012, Parliament was discussing further amendments to address these concerns.[128]

The elections in October 2012 resulted in the victory for the opposition "Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia" coalition, which President Saakashvili acknowledged on the following day.[129]

Foreign relations

Pro-NATO poster in Tbilisi.

Georgia maintains good relations with its direct neighbours (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey) and is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Community of Democratic Choice, the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, and the Asian Development Bank.[citation needed] Georgia also maintains political, economic, and military relations with Japan, Uruguay,[130] South Korea,[131] Israel,[132] Sri Lanka,[133] Ukraine, and many other countries.

The growing U.S. and European Union influence in Georgia, notably through proposed EU and NATO membership, the U.S. Train and Equip military assistance program, and the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline have frequently strained Tbilisi's relations with Moscow. Georgia's decision to boost its presence in the coalition forces in Iraq was an important initiative.[134]

Georgia is currently working to become a full member of NATO. In August 2004, the Individual Partnership Action Plan of Georgia was submitted officially to NATO. On 29 October 2004, the North Atlantic Council of NATO approved the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) of Georgia, and Georgia moved on to the second stage of Euro-Atlantic Integration. In 2005, by the decision of the President of Georgia, a state commission was set up to implement the Individual Partnership Action Plan, which presents an interdepartmental group headed by the Prime Minister. The Commission was tasked with coordinating and controlling the implementation of the Individual Partnership Action Plan.

On 14 February 2005, the agreement on the appointment of Partnership for Peace (PfP) liaison officer between Georgia and NATO came into force, whereby a liaison officer for the South Caucasus was assigned to Georgia. On March 2, 2005, the agreement was signed on the provision of the host nation support to and transit of NATO forces and NATO personnel. On March 6–9, 2006, the IPAP implementation interim assessment team arrived in Tbilisi. On April 13, 2006, the discussion of the assessment report on implementation of the Individual Partnership Action Plan was held at NATO Headquarters, within 26+1 format.[135] In 2006, the Georgian parliament voted unanimously for the bill which calls for integration of Georgia into NATO. The majority of Georgians and politicians in Georgia support the push for NATO membership.

George W. Bush became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the country.[136] The street leading to Tbilisi International Airport has since been dubbed George W. Bush Avenue.[137] On October 2, 2006, Georgia and the European Union signed a joint statement on the agreed text of the Georgia-European Union Action Plan within the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The Action Plan was formally approved at the EU-Georgia Cooperation Council session on 14 November 2006, in Brussels.[138]

Military

Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan

Georgia's military is organized into land and air forces. They are collectively known as the Georgian Armed Forces (GAF).[139] The mission and functions of the GAF are based on the Constitution of Georgia, Georgia’s Law on Defense and National Military Strategy, and international agreements to which Georgia is signatory. They are performed under the guidance and authority of the Ministry of Defense.

As a staunch American ally, Georgia contributed thousands of troops during wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, with roughly 2,000 soldiers Georgia was the third largest troop contributor after the U.S. and the United Kingdom.[140] The country subsequently joined the NATO forces in Afghanistan and by 2012 became the largest non-NATO[141] and the largest per capita[142][143] troop contributor to the International Security Assistance Force, with over 1,560 personnel on the ground as of May 2013. Since the beginning of their mission, more than 11,000 Georgian soldiers have served in Afghanistan.[144]

As of 2015, 31 Georgian servicemen have died,[145] all in the Helmand campaign, and 435 were wounded, including 35 amputees.[146][147]

Law enforcement

Georgian police's new patrol car Ford Taurus Police Interceptor

In Georgia, law enforcement is conducted and provided for by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. In recent years, the Patrol Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has undergone a radical transformation, with the police having now absorbed a great many duties previously performed by dedicated independent government agencies. New duties performed by the police include border security and customs functions and contracted security provision; the latter function is performed by the dedicated 'security police'. Intelligence collecting in the interests of national security is now the remit of the Georgian Intelligence Service.

In 2005, President Mikhail Saakashvili fired the entire traffic police force (numbering around 30,000 police officers) of the Georgian National Police due to corruption.[148][149] A new force was then subsequently built around new recruits.[148] The US State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law-Enforcement Affairs has provided assistance to the training efforts and continues to act in an advisory capacity.[150]

The new Patruli force was first introduced in the summer of 2005 to replace the traffic police, a force which was accused of widespread corruption.[151] The police introduced an 022 emergency dispatch service in 2004.[152]

Human rights

Human rights in Georgia are guaranteed by the country's constitution. There is an independent human rights public defender elected by the Parliament of Georgia to ensure such rights are enforced.[153] Georgia has ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 2005. NGO "Tolerance", in its alternative report about its implementation, speaks of rapid decreasing of the number of Azerbaijani schools and cases of appointing headmasters to Azerbaijani schools who don't speak the Azerbaijani language.[154]

The government came under criticism for its alleged use of excessive force on 26 May 2011 when it dispersed protesters led by Nino Burjanadze, among others, with tear gas and rubber bullets after they refused to clear Rustaveli avenue for an independence day parade despite the expiration of their demonstration permit and despite being offered to choose an alternative venue.[155][156][157][158] While human rights activists maintained that the protests were peaceful, the government pointed out that many protesters were masked and armed with heavy sticks and molotov cocktails.[159] Georgian opposition leader Nino Burjanadze said the accusations of planning a coup were baseless, and that the protesters' actions were legitimate.[158][160]

Geography and climate

Svaneti region, northwestern Georgia

Georgia is situated in the South Caucasus,[161][162] between latitudes 41° and 44° N, and longitudes 40° and 47° E, with an area of 67,900 km2 (26,216 sq mi). It is a very mountainous country. The Likhi Range divides the country into eastern and western halves.[163] Historically, the western portion of Georgia was known as Colchis while the eastern plateau was called Iberia. Because of a complex geographic setting, mountains also isolate the northern region of Svaneti from the rest of Georgia.

The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range forms the northern border of Georgia.[163] The main roads through the mountain range into Russian territory lead through the Roki Tunnel between Shida Kartli and North Ossetia and the Darial Gorge (in the Georgian region of Khevi). The Roki Tunnel was vital for the Russian military in the 2008 South Ossetia war because it is the only direct route through the Caucasus Mountains. The southern portion of the country is bounded by the Lesser Caucasus Mountains.[163] The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range is much higher in elevation than the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, with the highest peaks rising more than 5,000 meters (16,404 ft) above sea level.

The highest mountain in Georgia is Mount Shkhara at 5,068 meters (16,627 ft), and the second highest is Mount Janga (Dzhangi-Tau) at 5,059 m (16,598 ft) above sea level. Other prominent peaks include Mount Kazbek at 5,047 m (16,558 ft), Shota Rustaveli 4,860 m (15,945 ft), Tetnuldi 4,858 m (15,938 ft), Mt. Ushba 4,700 m (15,420 ft), and Ailama 4,547 m (14,918 ft).[163] Out of the abovementioned peaks, only Kazbek is of volcanic origin. The region between Kazbek and Shkhara (a distance of about 200 km (124 mi) along the Main Caucasus Range) is dominated by numerous glaciers. Out of the 2,100 glaciers that exist in the Caucasus today, approximately 30% are located within Georgia.

Tusheti region in northeast Georgia

The term Lesser Caucasus Mountains is often used to describe the mountainous (highland) areas of southern Georgia that are connected to the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range by the Likhi Range.[163] The area can be split into two separate sub-regions; the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, which run parallel to the Greater Caucasus Range, and the Southern Georgia Volcanic Highland, which lies immediately to the south of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains.

The overall region can be characterized as being made up of various, interconnected mountain ranges (largely of volcanic origin) and plateaus that do not exceed 3,400 meters (11,155 ft) in elevation. Prominent features of the area include the Javakheti Volcanic Plateau, lakes, including Tabatskuri and Paravani, as well as mineral water and hot springs. Two major rivers in Georgia are the Rioni and the Mtkvari. The Southern Georgia Volcanic Highland is a young and unstable geologic region with high seismic activity and has experienced some of the most significant earthquakes that have been recorded in Georgia.

The Krubera Cave is the deepest known cave in the world. It is located in the Arabika Massif of the Gagra Range, in Abkhazia. In 2001, a Russian–Ukrainian team had set the world depth record for a cave at 1,710 meters (5,610 ft). In 2004, the penetrated depth was increased on each of three expeditions, when a Ukrainian team crossed the 2,000-meter (6,562 ft) mark for the first time in the history of speleology. In October 2005, an unexplored part was found by the CAVEX team, further increasing the known depth of the cave. This expedition confirmed the known depth of the cave at 2,140 meters (7,021 ft).

Topography

Ushba, a prominent peak in Georgia

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. Forests cover around 40% of Georgia's territory while the alpine/subalpine zone accounts for roughly around 10 percent of the land.

Much of the natural habitat in the low-lying areas of western Georgia has disappeared during the past 100 years because of 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 (e.g. Lake Paliastomi 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 deciduous trees below 600 meters (1,969 ft) above sea level and contain species such as oak, hornbeam, beech, elm, ash, and chestnut. Evergreen species such as box may also be found in many areas. Ca. 1000 of all 4000 higher plants of Georgia are endemic in this country.[164]

View of the cave city of Vardzia and the valley of the Kura River below

The west-central slopes of the Meskheti Range in Ajaria as well as several locations in Samegrelo and Abkhazia are covered by temperate rain forests. Between 600–1,000 metres (1,969–3,281 ft) above sea level, the deciduous 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 metres (4,921–5,906 ft), the forest becomes largely coniferous. The tree line generally ends at around 1,800 metres (5,906 ft) and the alpine zone takes over, which in most areas, extends up to an elevation of 3,000 metres (9,843 ft) above sea level. The eternal snow and glacier zone lies above the 3,000 metre line.

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, because of 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 percent 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. Other deciduous species include several varieties of maple, aspen, ash, and hazelnut. The Upper Alazani River Valley contains yew forests.

At higher elevations above 1,000 metres (3,281 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 metres (1,640–6,562 ft) above sea level, with the alpine zone extending from 2,000–2,300 to 3,000–3,500 metres (6,562–7,546 to 9,843–11,483 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 (11,483 ft) line in most areas of eastern Georgia.

Climate

The climate of Georgia is extremely diverse, considering the nation's small size. There are two main climatic zones, roughly corresponding to the 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.

Black Sea coast of western Georgia, with the skyline of Batumi on the horizon.

Much of western Georgia lies within the northern periphery of the humid subtropical zone with annual precipitation ranging from 1,000–4,000 mm (39.4–157.5 in). 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). Ajaria is the wettest region of the Caucasus, where the Mt. Mtirala rainforest, east of Kobuleti, receives around 4,500 mm (177.2 in) of precipitation per year.

Eastern Georgia has a transitional climate from humid subtropical to continental. The region's weather patterns are influenced both by dry 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 mountain ranges (Likhi and Meskheti) that separate the eastern and western parts of the nation. Annual precipitation is considerably less than that of western Georgia and ranges from 400–1,600 mm (15.7–63.0 in).

The wettest periods generally occur during spring and autumn, while winter and 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 where climatic conditions above 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) are considerably colder than in the low-lying areas. The regions that lie above 2,000 metres (6,562 ft) frequently experience frost even during the summer months.

Biodiversity

Because of its high landscape diversity and low latitude, Georgia is home to about 1,000 species of vertebrates, (330 birds, 160 fish, 48 reptiles, and 11 amphibians). A number of large carnivores live in the forests, namely Brown bears, wolves, lynxes and Caucasian Leopards. The common pheasant (also known as the Colchian Pheasant) is an endemic bird of Georgia which has been widely introduced throughout the rest of the world as an important game bird. The species number of invertebrates is considered to be very high but data is distributed across a high number of publications. The spider checklist of Georgia, for example, includes 501 species.[165]

Slightly more than 6,500 species of fungi, including lichen-forming species, have been recorded from Georgia,[166][167] but this number is far from complete. The true total number of fungal species occurring in Georgia, including species not yet recorded, is likely to be far higher, given the generally accepted estimate that only about 7 percent of all fungi worldwide have so far been discovered.[168] Although the amount of available information is still very small, a first effort has been made to estimate the number of fungal species endemic to Georgia, and 2595 species have been tentatively identified as possible endemics of the country.[169] 1729 species of plants have been recorded from Georgia in association with fungi.[167] The true number of plant species occurring in Georgia is likely to be substantially higher.

Economy

The Georgian Railways represent a vital artery linking the Black Sea and Caspian Sea - the shortest route between Europe and Central Asia.

Archaeological research demonstrates that Georgia has been involved in commerce with many lands and empires since ancient times, largely due its location on the Black Sea and later on the historical Silk Road. Gold, silver, copper and iron have been mined in the Caucasus Mountains. Georgian wine making is a very old tradition and a key branch of the country's economy. The country has sizable hydropower resources.[170] Throughout Georgia's modern history agriculture and tourism have been principal economic sectors, because of the country's climate and topography.[171]

For much of the 20th century, Georgia's economy was within the Soviet model of command economy. Since the fall of the USSR in 1991, Georgia embarked on a major structural reform designed to transition to a free market economy. As with all other post-Soviet states, Georgia faced a severe economic collapse. The civil war and military conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia aggravated the crisis. The agriculture and industry output diminished. By 1994 the gross domestic product had shrunk to a quarter of that of 1989.[172] The first financial help from the West came in 1995, when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund granted Georgia a credit of USD 206 million and Germany granted DM 50 million.

The production of wine is a traditional component of the Georgian economy.

Since the early 21st century visible positive developments have been observed in the economy of Georgia. In 2007, Georgia's real GDP growth rate reached 12 percent making Georgia one of the fastest growing economies in Eastern Europe.[171] The World Bank dubbed Georgia "the number one economic reformer in the world" because it has in one year improved from rank 112th to 18th in terms of ease of doing business.[173] The country has a high unemployment rate of 12.6% and has fairly low median income compared to European countries.

The 2006 ban on imports of Georgian wine to Russia, one of Georgia's biggest trading partners, and break of financial links was described by the IMF Mission as an "external shock".[174] In addition, Russia increased the price of gas for Georgia. Around the same time, the National Bank of Georgia stated that ongoing inflation in the country was mainly triggered by external reasons, including Russia’s economic embargo.[175] The Georgian authorities expected that the current account deficit due to the embargo in 2007 would be financed by "higher foreign exchange proceeds generated by the large inflow of foreign direct investment" and an increase in tourist revenues.[176] The country has also maintained a solid credit in international market securities.[177] Georgia is becoming more integrated into the global trading network: its 2006 imports and exports account for 10% and 18% of GDP respectively.[171] Georgia's main imports are natural gas, oil products, machinery and parts, and transport equipment.

The most visited ski resort of Georgia, Gudauri.

Tourism is an increasingly significant part of the Georgian economy. About a million tourists brought US$313 million to the country in 2006.[178] According to the government, there are 103 resorts in different climatic zones in Georgia. Tourist attractions include more than 2000 mineral springs, over 12,000 historical and cultural monuments, four of which are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi and Gelati Monastery, historical monuments of Mtskheta, and Upper Svaneti).[179]

Georgia is developing into an international transport corridor through Batumi and Poti ports, an oil pipeline from Baku through Tbilisi to Ceyhan, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) and a parallel gas pipeline, the South Caucasus Pipeline.

Since coming to power Saakashvili administration accomplished a series of reforms aimed at improving tax collection. Among other things a flat income tax was introduced in 2004.[180] As a result, budget revenues have increased fourfold and a once large budget deficit has turned into surplus.[181][182][183]

As of 2001, 54 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line but by 2006 poverty decreased to 34 percent. In 2005, the average monthly income of a household was GEL 347 (about USD $200).[184] 2013 estimates place Georgia's nominal GDP at US$15.98 billion. Georgia's economy is becoming more devoted to services (now representing 65 percent of GDP), moving away from the agricultural sector (10.9 percent).[185]

In regards to telecommunication infrastructure, Georgia is ranked second to last among its bordering neighbors in the World Economic Forum's Network Readiness Index (NRI) – an indicator for determining the development level of a country’s information and communication technologies. Georgia ranked number 60 overall in the 2014 NRI ranking, up from 65 in 2013.[186]

Transport

A green directional sign on the ს 1 motorway, denoting it as such.

Today transport in Georgia is provided by means of rail, road, shipping and air travel. Total length of roads excluding occupied territories is 19,060 kilometers and railways - 1,576 km.[187] Positioned in the Caucasus and on the coast of the Black Sea, Georgia is a key country through which energy imports to the European Union from neighbouring Azerbaijan pass. Traditionally the country was located on an important north-south trade route between European Russia and the Near East and Turkey.

In recent years Georgia has invested large amounts of money in the modernization of its transport networks. The construction of new highways has been prioritized and, as such, major cities like Tbilisi have seen the quality of their roads improve dramatically; despite this however, the quality of inter-city routes remains poor and to date only one motorway-standard road has been constructed - the ს 1.[188]

The Georgian railways represent an important transport artery for the Caucasus as they make up the largest proportion of a route linking the Black and Caspian Seas, this in turn has allowed them to benefit in recent years from increased energy exports from neighbouring Azerbaijan to the European Union, Ukraine and Turkey.[189] Passenger services are operated by the state-owned Georgian Railways whilst freight operations are carried out by a number of licensed operators. Since 2004 the Georgian Railways have been undergoing a rolling program of fleet-renewal and managerial restructuring which is aimed at making the service provided more efficient and comfortable for passengers.[190] Infrastructural development has also been high on the agenda for the railways, with the key Tbilisi railway junction expected to undergo major reorganisation in the near future.[191] Additional projects also include the construction of the economically important Kars–Tbilisi–Baku railway, which for the first time will connect much of the Caucasus with Turkey by standard gauge railway.[192]

Air and maritime transport is developing in Georgia, with the former mainly used by passengers and the latter for transport of freight. Georgia currently has four international airports; the largest of which is by far Tbilisi International Airport, hub for Georgian Airways, which offers connections to many large European cities. Other airports in the country are largely underdeveloped or lack scheduled traffic, although, as of late, efforts have been made to solve both these problems.[193] There are a number of seaports along Georgia's Black Sea coast, the largest and most busy of which is the Port of Batumi; whilst the town is itself a seaside resort, the port is a major cargo terminal in the Caucasus and is often used by neighbouring Azerbaijan as a transit point for making energy deliveries to Europe. Scheduled and chartered passenger ferry services link Georgia with Ukraine and Turkey.

Administrative divisions

Map of Georgia highlighting the disputed territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region (South Ossetia), both of which are de facto independent from the central government of Georgia.

Georgia is divided into 9 regions, 1 city, and 2 autonomous republics.[5] These in turn are subdivided into 69 districts.

Georgia contains two official autonomous regions, of which one has declared independence. In addition, another territory not officially autonomous has also declared independence. Officially autonomous within Georgia,[194] the de facto independent region of Abkhazia declared independence in 1999.[195] South Ossetia is officially known by Georgia as the Tskinvali region, as it views "South Ossetia" as implying political bonds with Russian North Ossetia.[196] It was called South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast when Georgia was part of Soviet Union. Its autonomous status was revoked in 1990. De facto separate since Georgian independence, offers were made to give South Ossetia autonomy again, but in 2006 an unrecognised referendum in the area resulted in a vote for independence.[196]

In both Abkhazia and South Ossetia large numbers of people had been given Russian passports, some through a process of forced passportization by Russian authorities.[197] This was used as a justification for Russian invasion of Georgia during the 2008 South Ossetia war after which Russia recognised the region's independence.[198] Georgia considers the regions as occupied by Russia.[120][199] Both republics have received minimal international recognition.

Adjara under local strongman Aslan Abashidze maintained close ties with Russia and allowed a Russian military base to be maintained in Batumi. Upon the election of Mikheil Saakashvili in 2004 tensions rose between Adjara and the Georgian government, leading to demonstrations in Adjara and the resignation and flight of Abashidze. The region retains autonomy although, in 2007, the Georgian Constitutional Court was moved from T'bilisi to Batumi and the Russian military base was returned to Georgia.[200]

Demographics

"Languages of Georgia" redirects here. For languages of the U.S. state of Georgia, see Georgia (U.S. state) § Languages.

Georgians do not fit into any of the main ethno-linguistic categories of Europe or Asia. The Georgian language, the most pervasive of the Kartvelian languages, is neither Indo-European, Turkic nor Semitic. According to some sources, the present day Georgian or Kartvelian nation is thought to have resulted from the fusion of aboriginal, autochthonous inhabitants with immigrants who moved into South Caucasus from the direction of Anatolia in remote antiquity.[201]

Ethno-linguistic groups in the Caucasus region[202]

Ethnic Georgians form about 86.8 percent of Georgia's current population of 3,713,804 (2014 census).[203][a] Other ethnic groups include Abkhazians, Armenians, Assyrians, Azerbaijanis, Greeks, Jews, Kists, Ossetians, Russians, Ukrainians, Yezidis and others.[203][a] The Georgian Jews are one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. Once Georgia was also home to significant ethnic German communities, but most Germans were deported during World War II.

The 1989 census recorded 341,000 ethnic Russians, or 6.3 percent of the population,[204] 52,000 Ukrainians and 100,000 Greeks in Georgia.[205] Since 1990, 1.5 million Georgian nationals have left.[205] At least 1 million immigrants from Georgia legally or illegally reside in Russia.[206] Georgia's net migration rate is −4.54, excluding Georgian nationals who live abroad.[citation needed] Georgia has nonetheless been inhabited by immigrants from all over the world throughout its independence. According to 2014 statistics, Georgia gets most of its immigrants from Russia, 51.6 percent of all immigrants.[207][a]

In the early 1990s, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, violent separatist conflicts broke out in the autonomous region of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region. Many Ossetians living in Georgia left the country, mainly to Russia's North Ossetia.[208] On the other hand, more than 150,000 Georgians left Abkhazia after the breakout of hostilities in 1993.[209] Of the Meskhetian Turks who were forcibly relocated in 1944 only a tiny fraction returned to Georgia as of 2008.[210]

The most widespread language group is the Kartvelian family, which includes Georgian, Svan, Mingrelian and Laz.[211] The official languages of Georgia are Georgian, with Abkhaz official within the autonomous region of Abkhazia. Georgian is the primary language of 87.7 percent of the population, followed by 6.2 percent speaking Azerbaijani, 3.9 percent Armenian, 1.2 percent Russian, and 1 percent other languages.[212][a]



Religion






Circle frame.svg

Main religions (2014)[214]

  Orthodox Christian (83.4%)
  Muslim (10.7%)
  Others (2%)

Today 83.4 percent of the population practices Eastern Orthodox Christiniaty, with the majority of these adhering to the national Georgian Orthodox Church.[215][a] The Georgian Orthodox Church is one of the world's most ancient Christian Churches, and claims apostolic foundation by Saint Andrew.[216] In the first half of the 4th century, Christianity was adopted as the state religion of Iberia (present-day Kartli, or eastern Georgia), following the missionary work of Saint Nino of Cappadocia.[217][218] The Church gained autocephaly during the early Middle Ages; it was abolished during the Russian domination of the country, restored in 1917 and fully recognised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1990.

The special status of the Georgian Orthodox Church is officially recognised in the Constitution of Georgia and the Concordat of 2002, although religious institutions are separate from the state, and every citizen has the right of religion.

Religious minorities of Georgia include Muslims (10.7 percent), Armenian Christians (2.9 percent) and Roman Catholics (0.5 percent).[215][a] 0.7 percent of those recorded in the 2014 census declared themselves to be adherents of other religions, 1.2 percent refused or not stated their religion and 0.5 percent declared no religion at all.[215][a]

Islam is represented by both Azerbaijani Shia Muslims (in the south-east) ethnic Georgian Sunni Muslims in Adjara, and Laz-speaking Sunni Muslims as well as Sunni Meskhetian Turks along the border with Turkey. There are also smaller communities of Greek Muslims (of Pontic Greek origin) and Armenian Muslims, both of whom are descended from Ottoman-era converts to Turkish Islam from Eastern Anatolia who settled in Georgia following the Lala Mustafa Pasha's Caucasian campaign that led to the Ottoman conquest of the country in 1578. Georgian Jews trace the history of their community to the 6th century BC; their numbers have dwindled in the last decades due to high levels of immigration to Israel.[219]

Despite the long history of religious harmony in Georgia,[220] there have been instances of religious discrimination and violence against "nontraditional faiths", such as Jehovah's Witnesses, by followers of the defrocked Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili.[221]

Public School Number 1 of Tbilisi

In addition to traditional religious organizations, Georgia retains secular and irreligious segments of society (0.5 percent),[222] as well as a significant portion of religiously affiliated individuals who do not actively practice their faith.[223]

Education

The education system of Georgia has undergone sweeping modernizing, although controversial, reforms since 2004.[224][225] Education in Georgia is mandatory for all children aged 6–14.[226] The school system is divided into elementary (six years; age level 6–12), basic (three years; age level 12–15), and secondary (three years; age level 15–18), or alternatively vocational studies (two years). Students with a secondary school certificate have access to higher education. Only the students who have passed the Unified National Examinations may enroll in a state-accredited higher education institution, based on ranking of the scores received at the exams.

Most of these institutions offer three levels of study: a Bachelor's Program (three to four years); a Master's Program (two years), and a Doctoral Program (three years). There is also a Certified Specialist's Program that represents a single-level higher education program lasting from three to six years.[226][227] As of 2008, 20 higher education institutions are accredited by the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia.[228] Gross primary enrollment ratio was 94 percent for the period of 2001–2006.[229]

Tbilisi has become the main artery of the Georgian educational system, particularly since the creation of the First Georgian Republic in 1918 permitted the establishment of modern, Georgian-language educational institutions. Tbilisi is the home to several major institutions of higher education in Georgia, notably the Tbilisi State Medical University, which was founded as Tbilisi Medical Institute in 1918, and the Tbilisi State University (TSU), which was established in 1918 and remains the oldest university in the entire Caucasus region.[230] With enrollment of over 35,000 students, the number of faculty and staff (collaborators) at TSU is approximately 5,000. Georgia's main and largest technical university, Georgian Technical University, as well as the The University of Georgia (Tbilisi), Caucasus University and Free University of Tbilisi are also in Tbilisi.

Culture

A phiale depicting Antinous unearthed near modern-day Tbilisi, Georgian National Museum

Georgian culture evolved over thousands of years with its foundations in the Iberian and Colchian civilizations,[231] continuing with the rise of the unified Georgian Kingdom under the single monarchy of the Bagrationi. Georgian culture enjoyed a golden age and renaissance of classical literature, arts, philosophy, architecture and science in the 11th century.[232]

The Georgian language, and the Classical Georgian literature of the poet Shota Rustaveli, were revived in the 19th century after a long period of turmoil, laying the foundations of the romantics and novelists of the modern era such as Grigol Orbeliani, Nikoloz Baratashvili, Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli and Vazha Pshavela.[233] Georgian culture was influenced by Classical Greece, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, various successive Persian empires (notably the Achaemenid Empire[234][235]) and by the Russian Empire.

Georgians have their own unique three alphabets which according to traditional accounts were invented by King Pharnavaz I of Iberia in the 3rd century BC.[236][237]

Georgia is known for its rich folklore, unique traditional music, theatre, cinema, and art. Georgians are renowned for their love of music, dance, theatre and cinema. In the 20th century there have been notable Georgian painters such as Niko Pirosmani, Lado Gudiashvili, Elene Akhvlediani; ballet choreographers such as George Balanchine, Vakhtang Chabukiani, and Nino Ananiashvili; poets such as Galaktion Tabidze, Lado Asatiani, and Mukhran Machavariani; and theatre and film directors such as Robert Sturua, Tengiz Abuladze, Giorgi Danelia and Otar Ioseliani.[233]

Architecture and arts

Georgian architecture has been influenced by many civilizations. There are several different architectural styles for castles, towers, other fortifications, and churches. The Upper Svaneti fortifications, and the castle town of Shatili in Khevsureti, are some of the finest examples of medieval Georgian castle architecture. Other significant architectural aspects of Georgia include Rustaveli avenue in Tbilisi in the Hausmann style, and the Old Town District.

As Georgia's Black Sea coast continues to develop, modern high-rises are making headway into Batumi's traditionally classical cityscapes.

Georgian ecclesiastic art is one of the most notable aspects of Georgian Christian architecture, which combines the classical dome style with the original basilica style, forming what is known as the Georgian cross-dome style. Cross-dome architecture developed in Georgia during the 9th century; before that, most Georgian churches were basilicas. Other examples of Georgian ecclesiastic architecture can be found outside Georgia: Bachkovo Monastery in Bulgaria (built in 1083 by the Georgian military commander Grigorii Bakuriani), Iviron monastery in Greece (built by Georgians in the 10th century), and the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem (built by Georgians in the 9th century).

The art of Georgia spans the prehistoric, the ancient Greek, Roman, medieval, ecclesiastic, iconic and modern visual arts. One of the most famous late 19th/early 20th century Georgian artists was primitivist painter Niko Pirosmani.

Media

Main article: Media of Georgia

Television, magazines, and newspapers in Georgia are all operated by both state-owned and for-profit corporations which depend on advertising, subscription, and other sales-related revenues. The Constitution of Georgia guarantees freedom of speech. As a country in transition, the Georgian media system is under transformation.

The media environment of Georgia remains the freest and most diverse in the South Caucasus,[238] despite the long-term politicisation and polarisation affecting the sector. The political struggle for control over the public broadcaster have left it without a direction in 2014 too.[239]

A large percentage of Georgian households have a television, and most have at least one radio. Most of Georgia's media companies are headquartered in its capital and largest city, Tbilisi.

Music

Georgia has a rich and vibrant musical tradition, primarily known for its early development of polyphony. Georgian polyphony is based on three vocal parts, a unique tuning system based on perfect fifths, and a harmonic structure rich in parallel fifths and dissonances. Each region in Georgia has its own traditional music; Persian influenced drones and ostinato-like soloists in the east, complex improvised harmonies in the west, and solid moving chords in Svanetie.

Cuisine

Main article: Georgian cuisine
Georgian signature dish khinkali with beer

Georgian cuisine and wine have evolved through the centuries, adapting traditions in each era. One of the most unusual traditions of dining is supra, or Georgian table, which is also a way of socialising with friends and family. The head of supra is known as tamada. He also conducts the highly philosophical toasts, and makes sure that everyone is enjoying themselves. Various historical regions of Georgia are known for their particular dishes: for example, khinkali (meat dumplings), from eastern mountainous Georgia, and khachapuri, mainly from Imereti, Samegrelo and Adjara. In addition to traditional Georgian dishes, the foods of other countries have been brought to Georgia by immigrants from Russia, Greece, and recently China.

Sports

Main article: Sport in Georgia

The most popular sports in Georgia are football, basketball, rugby union, wrestling, judo, and weightlifting. Historically, Georgia has been famous for its physical education; the Romans were fascinated with Georgians' physical qualities after seeing the training techniques of ancient Iberia.[240] Wrestling remains a historically important sport of Georgia, and some historians think that the Greco-Roman style of wrestling incorporates many Georgian elements.[241]

Within Georgia, one of the most popularized styles of wrestling is the Kakhetian style. There were a number of other styles in the past that are not as widely used today. For example, the Khevsureti region of Georgia has three different styles of wrestling. Other popular sports in 19th century Georgia were polo, and Lelo, a traditional Georgian game later replaced by rugby union.

The first and only race circuit in the Caucasian region is located in Georgia. Rustavi International Motorpark originally built in 1978 was re-opened in 2012 after total reconstruction[242] costing $20 million. The track satisfies the FIA Grade 2 requirements and currently hosts the Legends car racing series and Formula Alfa competitions.[243]

Basketball was always one of the notable sports in Georgia, and Georgia had a few very famous Soviet Union national team members, such as Otar Korkia, Mikhail Korkia, Zurab Sakandelidze and Levan Moseshvili. Dinamo Tbilisi won the prestigious Euroleague competition in 1962. Georgia had five players in the NBA: Vladimir Stepania, Jake Tsakalidis, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Tornike Shengelia and current Milwaukee Bucks member Zaza Pachulia. Other notable basketball players are two times Euroleague champion Giorgi Shermadini and Euroleague players Manuchar Markoishvili and Viktor Sanikidze. Sport is regaining its popularity in the country in recent years. Georgia national basketball team qualified to EuroBasket during the last three tournaments since 2011.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Data without occupied territories — Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region.

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