Georgia - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Georgia
Formation 1991 / 1991
Population 4.2 million / 156 people per sq mile (60 people per sq km)
Total area 26,911 sq. miles (69,700 sq. km)
Languages Georgian*, Russian, Azeri, Armenian, Mingrelian, Ossetian, Abkhazian
Religions Georgian Orthodox 74%, Russian Orthodox 10%, Muslim 10%, Other 6%
Ethnic mix Georgian 84%, Armenian 6%, Azeri 6%, Russian 2%, Other 1%, Ossetian 1%
Government Presidential system
Currency Lari = 100 tetri
Literacy rate 99%
Calorie consumption 2813 kilocalories
Ongoing archaeological investigations since the 1980s in the Caucasus region have identified several important caves. The Caucasus Mountains are a promising region for archaeological exploration and may provide significant information about the Paleolithic peoples who inhabited the many caves and rock shelters found there. In Russia farther north in the Caucasus there are also numerous megaliths (a large usually rough stone used in prehistoric cultures as a monument or building block) that are just beginning to be mapped and studied. So far only limited excavations have been undertaken, and even fewer completely explored and analyzed. What is so far known, however, suggests that the Caucasus may fill in gaps in the progress of early Homo sapiens as they moved out of Africa into the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, the development of Homo sapiens neandertalensis, as well as linking the arrival of Homo sapiens with the disappearance of the Neandertals.
Some idea of just how long humans have dwelled in the region of the Caucasus can be inferred from the Neandertal remains found at Barakai and Matouozka Caves in the northwest, as well as the important discovery of artifacts and Homo erectus remains, close to two million years old, at Dmanisi in Georgia. The Caucasus Mountains form a natural barrier among the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, so various hominid species would have to have traversed them at some point during the lengthy process of dispersion.
In the eighth century B.C.E. the Greeks colonized areas of what is now western Georgia. Around the seventh century Anatolian tribes from Turkey moved into the eastern regions, assimilated with the people already there, and formed the kingdom of Iberia. Between 550 and 300, control of the area shifted among various foreign regimes, primarily the Persians, Macedonians, and the Seleucids. In 189 the Romans defeated the Seleucids and allowed the local residents to set up independent Armenian states, which united a century later to form a stronghold of the Roman Empire, with a domain extending from the Caspian Sea to central Turkey, and including a sizable portion of modern-day Georgia.
In 330 C.E. King Marian III of Georgia embraced Christianity, and Georgia became a Christian kingdom. Around 400 the expanding Byzantine Empire occupied the regions of western Armenia, including western Georgia, and Persia gained control of the eastern area of Iberia. Muslim Arabs took control in the mid-seventh century, establishing an emirate in Tbilisi. In 978 the United Kingdom of Georgia came into existence, and all the principalities of Georgia, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the north Caucausian territories, were unified under the kingdom by the ruling Bagrationi Dynasty of Georgia.
In 1060, however, the Seljuk Turks established their authority over most of Armenia. A large number of Armenians fled to Georgia, launched an attack, and recovered Tbilisi from the Turks in 1122, extending Georgia’s borders from western Azerbaijan to eastern Turkey. However in 1236 invading Mongols, led by Tamerlane (also Timur Lenk, 1336–1406), ended this golden period of the Georgian Empire.
Subsequent centuries saw numerous attempts by Turkey and Persia to seize Georgia. In the 18th century Georgia, looking for support and protection against Turkey and Persia, agreed to be annexed by Russia. In the 19th century Georgia was absorbed into Russia entirely.
World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917 prompted Georgia to break away from Soviet Russia. In May 1918, the Georgian Menshevik Party declared Georgia’s independence. Although this independence was recognized by the Soviet government in 1920, the Red Army invaded Georgia in 1921 and annexed it. Georgia was again declared a Russian republic. In 1936 it became a separate union republic, still governed by Russia. As the Soviet Union was breaking up, Georgians stepped up protests and rebellion against Soviet rule; in April 1991 Georgia declared itself independent once more. Its independence was legitimized, however, only after the complete disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991.
Post-independence the unpopular regime of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1939–93) was overthrown, and in October 1992 Eduard Shevardnadze (b. 1928) was elected president. In 1993 Georgia joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a confederation of 12 former Soviet republics, including Georgia, Russia, and Uzbekistan. In the presidential elections in January 2004, Mikhail Saakashvili (b. 1967) was elected president.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Situated in southwestern Asia, Georgia lies between Turkey and Russia, bordering the Black Sea. It shares its southern border with Turkey and Armenia, with Azerbaijan in the east and Russia in the north.
The Greater Caucasus and Lesser Caucasus ranges dominate its northern and eastern regions. Georgia controls much of the Caucasus Mountains and the routes through them. The Abkhazia and Ajara autonomous republics and South Ossetia are a part of the Republic of Georgia. Its capital Tbilisi is the largest city.
The topography of Georgia is diverse, with mountainous ranges in the north and eastern regions, a narrow lowland area along the Black Sea, and plains in the east. Its highest point is Mt.
Shkhara at 17,060 feet. Georgian terrain is highly seismic and prone to earthquakes.
The climate of Georgia is warm and pleasant, subtropical and humid along the Black Sea coast. With the Caucasus range to its north and east, protecting it from northern winds and cold interference, the eastern plains tend to have a continental climate, while the highest mountains have snow year-round. The average temperature in winter is 34° F, and summer temperatures average 77° F.
The economy of Georgia suffered a tremendous setback due to warfare, corruption, and the effects of Russia’s economic instability. Its economic growth was negative in the early 1990s, because of the terrible condition of its infrastructure and the failure of economic reorganization toward a market economy Numerous industries collapsed after independence, and despite having a potential for cultivation in the lowlands, farming was grossly inefficient due to post-Soviet misallocation of land and materials.
The primary occupation in Georgia is agriculture.
The warmer regions produce tea, citrus fruits, tobacco, wine grapes, and rice. Mulberry trees are also grown to feed the worms for silk production. Livestock such as sheep, pigs, and poultry are common.
Georgia has rich deposits of manganese, copper, tungsten, coal, lignite, barites, iron, molybdenum, oil, and peat. There are also sizable deposits of marble, dolomite, talc, and clay. The coastal climate and soils allow for tea and citrus cultivation. Industry in Georgia is heavily dependent on raw materials from other Commonwealth of Independent States republics and from abroad. It primarily manufactures semifinished metals, vehicles, textiles, and chemicals. Despite its great potential to generate hydroelectric power, it has to rely on fuel and energy imports to cater to the domestic demands for power and energy. Georgia has to import 95 percent of its fuel requirements, mainly oil and natural gas. The nation exports citrus fruits, tea, machinery, ferrous and nonferrous metals, and textiles to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Russia, and Turkey. Machinery and machine parts, energy and fuels, transportation equipment, and textiles are imported mainly from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. Its chief trade partners are its neighbors Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
According to a 2001 estimate 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is 17 percent. Despite the severe setbacks to the economy due to civil strife, with the aid of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Georgia has successfully achieved positive gross domestic product growth and slowed the rate of inflation.
The Georgian government lacks sufficient structures to collect tax revenues. It also has a severe energy shortfall. The start of construction on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the BakuTbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline is expected to attract investment and provide job opportunities.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The Republic of Georgia has a rich cultural heritage, a mix of European and Asian cultures. Georgian society is dominated by ethnic Georgians but is also home to other ethnic groups, including Russians, Armenians, Azeri, Ossetians (descendants of the Scythians and Alans), and Abkhaz. Georgia, along with its Caucasian neighbors Azerbaijan and Armenia, is a relatively young country.
Although some believe the country derives its name from its patron saint St. George, the name Georgia actually originates from the Arabic and Persian words kurj and gurj, terms that were used to refer to Georgians by Arabs and Persians. In the Persian language, Georgia was referred to as Gurjistan, the land of the Gurjs, or Georgians. Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi, their land Sakartvelo, and their language Kartuli. These names are derived from a pagan chieftain called Kartlos, said to be the father of all Georgians.
Georgian, the official language of the country, is widely spoken throughout the country, albeit with varied dialects. The Russian, Azeri, and Armenian languages are also spoken in some pockets of the country. In the Abkhazia region of Georgia, the local language Abkhaz is the official language. The Georgian language does not use the Cyrillic alphabet like most of its neighbors but has its own alphabet consisting of 33 symbols, including 28 consonants and 5 vowels.
Georgians value close family ties, and often many generations live together in the same house. Elders are revered, and every person is expected to show modesty, respect, and love toward family and friends.
Though predominantly Georgian Orthodox, Georgians enjoy freedom of religion, and many people adhere to other Christian churches, such as Russian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic, as well as Islam. People of all faiths are free to enter Georgian Orthodox churches, but women must cover their heads.
Georgian culture is reflected in its folk songs and dances. Folk songs have been passed from one generation to the next over the centuries. Different regions of Georgia have their own folk songs and, although most Georgian songs use three-part harmony, some labor songs sung in the Ajaria and Guria region use four-part harmony. In Western Georgia, gankivani (a kind of yodel) and krimanchuli (polyphonic-singing) are very popular. Many groups in Georgia are trying to preserve their folk music and to create interest among the younger generation in their traditional music. Today most of the folk songs are sung during supra. Supra is a ritual banquet, which is an essential part of all the major life events such as births, weddings, and funerals.
Some traditional Georgian dishes include khashi (a brothlike dish made from beef entrails), mcvadi (pork or mutton with tomatoes), lobio (kidney beans), pkhali (a vegetable dish made from beet leaves, pomegranate seeds, walnut paste, and spices), khachapuri (pie), kupati (roasted sausages), and khinkali (mutton dumplings).
Wine (especially white and dry red wines) and beer are the preferred beverages. Georgians do not drink wine without making a toast. Some of the more popular wines include mukhuzani (bitter but pleasant-tasting), ojaleshi (sweet), and kindzmarauli (garnet-red, honey flavored). Fruit juices and soft drinks are also popular.
Children are an integral part of society in Georgia, and the birth of a child is a joyous occasion for the entire community. In the Abkhazia region, residents believe that a child belongs not just to his or her parents but to all the members of the family. Until 1920 when Georgia came under Soviet control, Abkhazians neither celebrated their birthdays nor kept track of their ages. Their language has words for various stages of life, but no ages are specified for when these stages begin and end.
In Georgia, couples get married first in a civil ceremony that is legally binding and then participate in a solemn Orthodox church wedding. Lavish receptions following the church service are the norm, with much feasting, singing, and folk dancing.
In the Abkhazia region of Georgia, the groom, along with his senior relatives and friends, goes to the bride’s house on the day of the wedding. There, the wedding party is treated to a lavish feast, and friends and family members wish the bride and the groom well by giving speeches and making toasts in their honor. After the party the bride rides in a car or on horseback to the groom’s house. Her bridesmaids and a male relative escort her to ensure that she is respected there. In accordance with tradition the wedding takes place at the groom’s house, and the bride’s family does not attend the wedding.
During the wedding feast at the groom’s home, the bride and groom are housed in separate rooms and kept away from the guests.
When the guests are allowed to see the bride and groom, tradition requires that neither the bride nor the groom express any kind of emotion (not even a smile) in front of elders during the wedding; to do so is considered immodest. To show their respect for elders and tradition as well as to display their sense of modesty and discipline, the newlyweds do not spend the first night together after the wedding.
For a considerable period of time after marriage, it is traditional for the couple to wake up before or sleep later than everyone else in the house They do this to ensure that the family members do not see them enter or emerge from their bedroom, as that would be considered immodest.
Women do not take their husband’s surname after marriage and are protected by their father and brothers even after marriage.
In Georgia it is customary for close relatives to gather around a dying person. A bowl of clean water is placed near the bed (near a window) of the dying person. It is believed that this enables the soul to cleanse itself after leaving the body. Death is followed by a simple burial.
People visit the grieving family on the third, fourth, and fifth days after the death of the family member. Then the priest presides over the funeral feast in memory of the deceased. The mourning period lasts for a year and ends one year later on the date of the death.
On anniversaries and religious days such as All Souls’ Day, family members visit the cemeteries and offer prayers, flowers, and candles at the graves of their deceased relatives and even share suppers near the graves.