Georgia has one of the world’s richest and oldest history, stretching back to the prehistoric times. The rise of the early Georgian states of Colchis and Iberia in c.2000 BC formed the unique Georgian civilization which achieved its renaissance and golden age in 12-13th century. The history of Georgia was marked by invasions and subjugation by foreign empires. However, throughout the long history of turmoil, the Georgian statehood and the Georgian nation has endured and preserved its national identity.
The region was settled sometime between 6000 and 5000 B.C. by a neolithic culture. Numerous excavations in tell settlements of the "Sulaveri-Somutepe-Group" have been conducted since the 1960s. In the 1970s, archaeological excavations revealed a number of ancient settlements that included houses with galleries, carbon-dated to the 5th millennium BC in the Imiris-gora region of Eastern Georgia. These dwellings were circular or oval in plan, a characteristic feature being the central pier and chimney. These features were used and further developed in building Georgian dwellings and houses of the 'Darbazi' type. In the chalcolithic era of the fourth and third millennia B.C., Georgia and Asia Minor were home to the Kura-Araxes culture, giving way in the second millennium BC. to the Trialeti culture. Archaeological excavations have brought to light the remains of settlements at Beshtasheni and Ozni (4th - 3rd millennium BC), and barrow burials (carbon dated to the 2nd millennium BC) in the province of Trialeti, at Tsalka (Eastern Georgia). Together, they testify to an advanced and well-developed culture of building and architecture.
Between 2100 and 750 B.C., the area survived the invasions by the Hittites, Urartians, Medes, Proto-Persians and Cimmerians. At the same period, the ethnic unity of Proto-Kartvelians broke up into several branches, among them Svans, Zans/Chans and East-Kartvelians. That finally led to the formation of modern Kartvelian languages: Georgian (originating from East Kartvelian vernaculars), Svan, Megrelian and Laz (the latter two originating from Zan dialects). By that time Svans were dominant in modern Svanetia and Abkhazia, Zans inhabited modern Georgian province of Samegrelo, while East-Kartvelians formed the majority in modern eastern Georgia. As a result of cultural and geographic delimitation, two core areas of future Georgian culture and statehood formed in western and eastern Georgia by the end of the 8th century B.C. The first two Georgian states emerged in the west known as the Kingdom of Colchis and in the east as Kingdom of Iberia.
Early Georgian Kingdoms of Cholchis and Iberia
A second Georgian tribal union emerged in the 13 th century BC on the Black Sea coast under the Kingdom of Colchis in western Georgia. The ancient Greeks knew of Colchis, and it featured in the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts, who travelled there in search of the Golden Fleece. Starting around 2000 BC, northwestern Colchis was inhabited by the Svan and Zan peoples of the Kartvelian tribes. Another important ethnic element of ancient Colchis were Greeks who between 1000 and 550 BC established many trading colonies in the coastal area, among them Naessus, Pitiys, Dioscurias, Guenos, Phasis (modern Poti), Apsaros, and Rhizos (modern Rize in Turkey). In the eastern part of Georgia there was a struggle for the leadership among the various Georgian confederations during the 6th – 4th centuries BC which was finally won by the Kartlian tribes from the region of Mtskheta. According to the Georgian tradition, the Kingdom of Kartli (known as Iberia in the Greek-Roman literature) was founded around 300 BC by Parnavaz I, the first ruler of the Parnavazid dynasty.
Between 653 and 333 BC, both Colchis and Iberia survived successive invasions by the Median Empire, and later the Persian Empire. At the end of the 3d century B.C southern Iberia witnessed the invading armies of Alexander the Great, who established a vast Greco-Macedonian empire to the south of the Caucasus. Neither Iberia nor Colchis were incorporated into the empire of Alexander or any of the successor Hellenistic states of the Middle East. However, the culture of ancient Greece still had a considerable influence on the region, and Greek was widely spoken in the cities of Colchis. In Iberia Greek influence was less noticeable and Aramaic was widely spoken.
Between the early 2nd century BC and the late 2nd century A.D. both Colchis and Iberia, together with the neighboring countries, become an arena of long and devastating conflicts between major and local powers such as Rome, Armenia and the short-lived Kingdom of Pontus. In 189 BC the rapidly growing Kingdom of Armenia took over more than half of Iberia, conquering the southern and southeastern provinces of Gogharena, Taokhia and Genyokhiaas, as well as some other territories. Between 120 and 63 BC, Armenia’s ally Mithridate VI Eupator of Pontus, conquered all of Colchis and incorporated it into his kingdom, embracing almost all of Asia Minor as well as the eastern and northern Black Sea coastal areas.
Roman Conquest of Iberia and Colchis
This close association with Armenia brought upon the country an invasion (65 BC) by the Roman general Pompey, who was then at war with Mithradates VI of Pontus, and Armenia; but Rome did not establish her power permanently over Iberia. Nineteen years later, the Romans again marched (36 BC) on Iberia forcing King Pharnavaz II to join their campaign against Albania.
During this time Armenia and Pontus were actively expanding at the expense of Rome, taking over its Eastern Mediterranean possessions. However, the success of the anti-Roman alliance did not last long. As a result of the brilliant Roman campaigns of Pompey and Lucullus from the west, and the Parthian invasion from the south, Armenia lost a significant part of its conquests by 65 BC, devolving into a Roman-Parthian dependency. At the same time, the Kingdom of Pontus was completely destroyed by the Romans and all its territory including Colchis were incorporated into the Roman Empire as her provinces. The former Kingdom of Colchis was reorganized by the Romans into the province of Lazicum ruled by Roman legati. The following 600 years of Georgian history were marked by struggle between Rome and Persia(Iran) including Parthians and Sassanids who were fighting long wars against each other for the domination in the Middle East including Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Albania, and Iberia. In the 2nd century AD, Iberia strengthened her position in the area, especially during the reign of King Pharsman II who achieved full independence from Rome and reconquered some of the previously lost territories from declining Armenia. In the early 3rd century, Rome had to give up Albania and most of Armenia to Sassanid Iran. The province of Lazicum was given a degree of autonomy that by the end of the century developed into full independence with the formation of a new Kingdom of Lazica-Egrisi on the territories of smaller principalities of the Zans, Svans, Apsyls, and Sanyghs. This new Western Georgian state survived more than 250 years until in 562 when it was absorbed by the Byzantine Empire.
Adoption of Christianity
Before adoption of Christianity, the cult of Mithras and Zoroastrianism were commonly practiced in Iberia from the first centuries AD. The cult of Mithras, distinguished by its syncretic character and thus complementary to local cults, especially the cult of the Sun, gradually came to merge with ancient Georgian beliefs. The western Georgian Kingdom of Iberia became one of the first states in the world to convert to Christianity in 327 AD, when the King of Iberia Mirian II established it as the official state religion. However, the date varies based on numerous accounts and historical documents, which indicate Iberia adopting Christianity as a state religion in AD 317, 324, etc. According to Georgian chronicles, St. Nino of Cappadocia converted Georgia to Christianity in AD 330 during the time of Constantine the Great. By the middle of the 4th century though, both Lazica (formerly the Kingdom of Colchis) and Iberia adopted Christianity as their official religion. During the 4th and most of the 5th centuries, Iberia (know also as the Kingdom of Kartli) was under Persian control. The Kingdom was abolished and the country was ruled by the governors appointed by the Shahs. At the end of the 5th century though, Prince Vakhtang I Gorgasali orchestrated an anti-Persian uprising and restored Iberian statehood, proclaiming himself the King. After this, the armies of Vakhtang launched several campaigns against both Persia and the Byzantine Empire. However, his struggle for the independence and unity of the Georgian state did not have lasting success. After Vakhtang’s death in 502, and the short reign of his son Dachi (502-514), Iberia was reincorporated into Persia as a province once again. However this time the Iberian nobility were granted the privilege of electing the governors, who in Georgian were called erismtavari. By the late 7th century, the Byzantine-Persian rivalry for the Middle East had given way to Arab conquest of the region.
Unification of the Georgian State
The first decades of the 9th century saw the rise of a new Georgian state in Tao-Klarjeti. Ashot Courapalate of the royal family of Bagrationi liberated from the Arabs the territories of former southern Iberia, including the Principalities of Tao and Klarjeti, as well as the Earldoms of Shavsheti, Khikhata, Samtskhe, Trialeti, Javakheti and Ashotsi, which were formally a part of the Byzantine Empire, under the name of “Curopalatinate of Iberia”. In practice, however, the region functioned as a fully independent country with its capital in Artanuji. The hereditary title of Curopalate was kept by the Bagrationi family, whose representatives ruled Tao-Klarjeti for almost a century. Curopalate David Bagrationi expanded his domain by annexing the city of Theodossiopolis (Karin, Karnukalaki) and the Armenian province of Basiani, and by imposing a protectorate over the Armenian provinces of Kharqi, Apakhuni, Mantsikert, and Khlat, formerly controlled by the Kaysithe Arab Emirs.
The first united Georgian monarchy was formed at the end of the 10th century when Curopalate David invaded the Earldom of Kartli-Iberia. Three years later, after the death of his uncle Theodosius the Blind, King of Egrisi-Abkhazia, Bagrat III inherited the Abkhazian throne. In 1001 Bagrat added Tao-Klarjeti (Curopalatinate of Iberia) to his domain as a result of David’s death. In 1008-1010, Bagrat annexed Kakheti and Ereti, thus becoming the first king of a united Georgia in both the east and west.
The second half of the 11th century was marked by the disastrous invasion of the Seljuk Turks, who by the end of the 1040s had succeeded in building a vast nomadic empire including most of Central Asia and Persia. In 1071, the Seljuk army destroyed the united Byzantine-Armenian and Georgian forces in the battle of Mantsikert. By 1081, all of Armenia, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and most of Georgia had been conquered and devastated by the Seljuks. In Georgia, only the mountainous areas of Abkhazia, Svanetia, Racha, and Khevi-Khevsureti remained out of Seljuk control and served as a relatively safe havens for numerous refugees. The rest of the country was dominated by the conquerors who were engaged in destroying the cities and fortresses, looting the villages, and massacring both the aristocracy and the farming population. In fact, by the end of the 1080s, Georgians were outnumbered in the region by the invaders.
Although they were subsequently beset by various other invaders, principally Arabs, Mongols, Persians, and Turks, the Georgians retained a greater or lesser degree of independence for over 1,000 years. Thus after 1008, all Georgian principalities were united into the unified Kingdom of Georgia (1008-1466) under the Bagrationi dynasty, which had been established by Ashot I (Ashot the Great) in the end of the 8th century.
King David IV the Builder and Georgian Reconquista
Seljuk invaders in Georgia was led by the young King David IV of the Bagrationi royal family, who inherited the throne in 1089 at the age of 16 after the abdication of his father George II Bagrationi. Soon after coming to power, David created the regular army and peasant militia in order to be able to resist Seljuk colonization of his country. The First Crusade (1096-1099) and the Crusaders’ offensive against Seljuk Turks in Anatolia and Syria favored David’s successful campaigns in Georgia. By the end of 1099 David had stopped paying tribute to the Seljuks and had liberated most of the Georgian lands, with the exception of Tbilisi and Ereti. In 1103 he reorganized the Georgian Orthodox Church and closely linked it with the state by appointing as Catholicos (Arch-Bishop) a Crown Chancellor (Mtsihnobart Ukhutsesi) of Georgia. In 1103–1105 the Georgian army took over Ereti and made successful raids into still Seljuk-controlled Shirvan. Between 1110 and 1118 David took Lori, Samshvilde, Rustavi and other fortresses of lower Kartli and Tashiri, thus turning Tbilisi into an isolated Seljuk enclave.
In 1118-1119, having considerable amounts of free, unsettled land as a result of the withdrawal of Turkish nomads, and desperately needing qualified manpower for the army, King David invited some 40 000 Kypchak warriors from North Caucasus to settle in Georgia with their families. In 1120 the ruler of Alania recognized himself as King David’s vassal and afterwards sent thousands of Alans (allegedly modern day Ossetians) to cross the main Caucasus range into Georgia, where they settled in Kartli. The Georgian Royal army also welcomed mercenaries from Germany, Italy, and Scandinavia (all those westerners were defined in Georgia as “the Franks”) as well as from Kievan Rus.
In 1121, the Seljuk Sultan Mahmud declared Jihad on Georgia and sent a strong army under one of his famous generals Al-Ghazee to fight the Georgians. Although significantly outnumbered by the Turks, the Georgians managed to defeat the invaders at the Didgori battle, and in 1122 they took over Tbilisi, making it Georgia’s capital. Three years later the Georgians conquered Shirvan. As a result, the mostly Christian-populated Ghishi-Kabala area in western Shirvan (a relic of the once prosperous Albanian Kingdom) was annexed by Georgia while the rest of already Islamicized Shirvan became Georgia’s client-state. In the same year a large portion of Armenia was liberated by David’s troops and fell into Georgian hands as well. Thus in 1124 David also became the King of Armenians, incorporating Northern Armenia into the lands of the Georgian Crown. In 1125 King David died, leaving Georgia with the status of a strong regional power. In Georgia, King David is called Agmashenebeli (English: the builder).
David Agmashenebeli’s successors (Kings Demeter I, David V and George III) continued the policy of Georgia’s expansion by subordinating most of the mountain clans and tribes of North Caucasia and further securing Georgian positions in Shirvan. However, the most glorious sovereign of Georgia of that period was definitely Queen Tamar (David’s great-granddaughter)
Queen Tamar the Great and the Golden Age 1184 -1213
The reign of Queen Tamar represented the peak of Georgia’s might in the whole history of the nation. In 1194-1204 Tamar’s armies crushed new Turkish invasions from the south-east and south and launched several successful campaigns into Turkish-controlled Southern Armenia. As a result, most of Southern Armenia, including the cities of Karin, Erzinjan, Khelat, Mush and Van, came under Georgian control. Although it was not included in the lands of the Georgian Crown, and was left under the nominal rule of local Turkish Emirs and Sultans, Southern Armenia became a protectorate of the Kingdom of Georgia.
The temporary fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1204 to the Crusaders left Georgia as the strongest Christian state in the whole East Mediterranean area. The same year Queen Tamar sent her troops to take over the former Byzantine Lazona and Paryadria with the cities of Atina, Riza, Trebizond, Querasunt, Amysos, Kotyora, Heraclea and Sinopa. In 1205, the occupied territory was transformed into the Empire of Trebizond and Tamar's relative Prince Alexios Komnenos was crowned as Emperor. The Empire of Trebizond was heavily dependent on Georgia for more than two hundred years. In 1210 Georgian armies invaded northern Persia (modern day Iranian Azerbaijan) and took the cities of Marand, Tabriz, Ardabil, Zanjan and Qazvin, placing part of the conquered territory under a Georgian protectorate. This was the maximum territorial extent of Georgia throughout her history. Queen Tamar was addressed as “The Queen of Abkhazians, Kartvels, Rans, Kakhs and Armenians, Shirvan-Shakhine and Shakh-in-Shakhine, The Sovereign of the East and West”. Georgian historians often refer to her as “Queen Tamar the Great”.
The period between the early 12th and the early 13th centuries, and especially the era of Tamar the Great, can truly be considered as the golden age of Georgia. Besides the political and military achievements, it was marked by the development of Georgian culture, including architecture, literature, philosophy and sciences.
Добавлено (03.07.2007, 02:16)
Mongol invasion and decline of the Georgian Kingdom
In the 13th century, the South Caucasus and Asia Minor faced the invasion of the Mongols. 20 years later, in spite of fierce resistance by Georgian-Armenian forces and their allies, the whole area including most of Georgia, all Armenian lands and Central Anatolia fell to the Mongols.
In 1243, Queen Rusudan of Georgia signed a peace treaty with the Mongols in accordance with which Georgia lost her client-states, ceded western Shirvan, Nakhichevan and some other territories and agreed to pay tribute to the Mongols as well as to let them occupy and de-facto rule more than half of the remaining territory. Although Mongol-occupied Tbilisi remained an official capital of the kingdom, the Queen refused to return there and stayed in Kutaisi until her death in 1245. In addition to all the above hardships, even the part of the kingdom that remained free of the Mongols started disintegrating: The Crown started losing control over the warlords of Samtskhe (southern provinces of Georgia) who established their own relations with the Mongols and by the year 1266 practically seceded from Georgia.
The period between 1259 and 1330 was marked by the struggle of the Georgians against the Mongol Ilkhan Empire for full independence. The first anti-Mongol uprising started in 1259 under the leadership of King David Narine who in fact waged his war for almost thirty years. The Anti-Mongol strife went on under the Kings Demeter II (1270 - 1289) and David VIII (1293 - 1311). Finally, it was King George V the Magnificent (1314 - 1346) who managed to play on the decline of the Ilkhan Empire, stopped paying tribute to the Mongols, restored the pre-1220 state borders of Georgia, and returned the Empire of Trebizond into Georgia’s sphere of influence.
In 1386-1403 the Kingdom of Georgia faced eight Turco-Mongolic invasions under the leadership of Tamerlane. Except in Abkhazia and Svanetia, the invasions devastated Georgia's economy, population, and urban centers.
Добавлено (03.07.2007, 02:11)
Ottoman invasion of Georgia
In 15th century the whole area changed dramatically in all possible aspects: linguistic, cultural, political, etc. During that period the Kingdom of Georgia turned into an isolated, fractured Christian enclave, a relic of the faded East Roman epoch surrounded by Muslim, predominantly Turco-Iranian-Arabic world.
By the middle of the 15th century, most of Georgia’s old neighbor-states disappeared from the map within less than a hundred years. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 sealed the Black Sea and cut the remnants of Christian states of the area from Europe and the rest of the Christian world. Georgia remained connected to the West through contact with the Genoese colonies of the Crimea.
Annexation of Georgia by the Russian Empire
In 1769-1772, a handful of Russian troops of General Totleben battled against Turkish invaders in the Georgian kingdoms of Imereti and Kartl-Kakheti.
In 1783 Russia and the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti (which was devastated by Turkish and Persian invasions ) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, according to which Kartl-Kakheti was to protection by Russia.
On January 8, 1801 Tsar Paul I of Russia signed a decree on the incorporation of Georgia (Kartli-Kakheti) within the Russian Empire which was confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on September 12, 1801. The Georgian envoy in Sankt Petersburg Garsevan Chavchavadze reacted with a note of protest that was presented to the Russian vice-chancellor Alexander Kurakin. In May 1801 Russian General Carl Heinrich Knorring dethroned the Georgian heir to the throne David Batonishvili and deployed a government headed by General Ivan Petrovich Lasarev.
A part of the Georgian nobility didn't accept the decree until April 1802 when General Knorring compassed the nobility in Tbilisi's Sioni Cathedral and forced them to take an oath on the imperial crown of Russia. Those who disagreed were arrested temporarily.
The country was fully absorbed into the Russian Empire by 1804. In the summer 1805 Russian troops on the river Askerani and near Zagam defeated the Persian army, saving Tbilisi from its attack. In 1810, the kingdom of Imereti (Western Georgia) was annexed by the Russian Empire after the suppression of King Solomon II's resistance. From 1803 to 1878, as a result of numerous Russian wars against Turkey and Iran, several formerly Georgian territories were annexed to the Russian Empire. These areas (Batumi, Artvin, Akhaltsikhe, Poti, and Abkhazia) now represent the majority of the territory of the present state of Georgia.
Georgian dissatisfaction with Tsarist autocracy and Armenian economic domination led to the development of a national liberation movement in the second half of the 19th century. A large-scale peasant revolt occurred in 1905 which led to political reforms that eased the tensions for a period. During this time, the Marxist Social Democratic Party became the dominant political movement in Georgia, occupying all the Georgian seats in the Russian State Duma established after 1905. Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili (also known as Joseph Stalin), a Georgian Bolshevik, became a leader of the revolutionary (and anti-Menshevik) movement in Georgia.
After the long period of Russian annexation and eventual abolition of Georgian monarchy and autocephalous status of the Georgian church by the Russian empire, Georgia plunged into cultural and national disintegration. Georgian churches and monasteries were governed by the Russian clergy who outlawed the Georgian liturgy and desecrated medieval Georgian frescos on various churches all across Georgia Between the years of 1855 to 1907, the Georgian patriotic movement was launched under the leadership of Prince Ilia Chavchavadze, world renowned poet, novelist and orator. Chavchavadze financed new Georgian schools and supported the Georgian national theatre. In 1877 he launched the newspaper Iveria which played an important part in reviving Georgian national consciousness. His strive for national awakening was welcomed by the leading Georgian intellectuals of that time, Giorgi Tsereteli, Ivane Machabeli, Akaki Tsereteli, Niko Nikoladze, Alexander Kazbegi, Iakob Gogebashvili, etc.
The Georgian inteligencia made the statement which supported Prince Chavchavadzes aims for Georgian independence by declaring:
"Our patriotism is of course of an entire different kind: it consists solely in a sacred feeling towards our mother land: ... in it there is no hate for other nations, no desire to enslave anybody, no urge to impoverish anybody. Out patriots desire to restore Georgia's right to self-government and their own civic rights, to preserve their national characteristics and culture, without which no people can exist as a society of human beings.
The last decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a Georgian literary revival in which there emerged writers of a stature unequalled since the Golden Age of Rustaveli seven hundred years before. Ilia Chavchavadze himself excelled alike in lyric and ballad poetry, in the novel, the short story and the essay. Apart from Ilia, the most universal literary genius of the age was Akaki Tsereteli, known as "the immortal nightingale of the Georgian people." Along with Niko Nikoladze and Iaskog Gogebashvili, these literary figures of Georgia contributed significantly in national revival and of the Georgian culture therefore designated by the people as the founding fathers of modern Georgia.
The Democratic Republic of Georgia, 1918 - 1921
The Russian Revolution of October 1917 plunged Russia into a bloody civil war during which several outlying Russian territories declared independence. Georgia was one of them, proclaiming the establishment of the independent Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) on May 26, 1918. The new country was ruled by the Menshevik faction of the Social Democratic Party, which established a multi-party system in sharp contrast with the "dictatorship of the proletariat" established by the Bolsheviks in Russia. It was recognised by Soviet Russia (Treaty of Moscow (1920)) and the major Western powers in 1921
In February, 1921 the Red Army invaded Georgia and after a short war occupied the country. The Georgian government was forced to flee. Guerilla resistance in 1921-1924 was followed by a large-scale patriotic uprising in August, 1924. Colonel Kakutsa Cholokashvili was one of the most prominent guerilla leaders in this phase.
Georgia under the Soviet Union, 1921 - 1990
During the Georgian Affair of 1922, Georgia was forcibly incorporated into the Transcaucasian SFSR comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The Soviet Government forced Georgia to cede several areas to Turkey (the province of Tao-Klarjeti and part of Batumi province), Azerbaijan (the province of Hereti/Saingilo), Armenia (the Lore region) and Russia (part of the Black Sea seacost and a northeastern corner of Khevi, eastern Georgia). Soviet rule was harsh: about 50,000 people were executed and killed in 1921-1924, more than 150,000 were purged under Stalin and his secret police chief, the Georgian Lavrenty Beria in 1935-1938, 1942 and 1945-1951. In 1936, the TFSSR was dissolved and Georgia became the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Reaching the Caucasus oilfields was one of the main objectives of Hitler's invasion of the USSR in August 1941, but the armies of the Axis powers did not get as far as Georgia. The country contributed almost 700,000 fighters (350,000 were killed) to the Red Army, and was a vital source of textiles and munitions. However, a number of Georgians fought on the side of the German armed forces, forming the Georgian Legion.
Stalin's successful appeal for patriotic unity eclipsed Georgian nationalism during the war and diffused it in the years following. Khrushchev's policy of de-Stalinization was followed by a general criticism of the whole Georgian people and culture. On March 9, 1956, hundreds of Georgian students were killed when they demonstrated against Khrushchev.
The decentralisation program introduced by Khrushchev in the mid-1950s was soon exploited by Georgian Communist Party officials to build their own regional power base. A thriving capitalist shadow economy emerged alongside the official state-owned economy, making Georgia one of the most economically successful Soviet republics but unfortunately also greatly increasing corruption.
Although corruption was hardly unknown in the Soviet Union, it became so widespread and blatant in Georgia that it came to be an embarrassment to the authorities in Moscow. The country's interior minister between 1964 and 1972, Eduard Shevardnadze, gained a reputation as a fighter of corruption and engineered the removal of Vasil Mzhavanadze, the corrupt First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. Shevardnadze ascended to the post of First Secretary with the blessings of Moscow. He was an effective and able ruler of Georgia from 1972 to 1985, improving the official economy and dismissing hundreds of corrupt officials. Soviet power and Georgian nationalism clashed in 1978 when Moscow ordered revision of the constitutional status of the Georgian language as Georgia's official state language. Bowing to pressure from mass street demonstrations on April 14, 1978 Moscow approved Shevardnadze's reinstatement of the constitutional guarantee the same year. April 14 was established as a Day of the Georgian Language.
Shevardnadze's appointment as Soviet Foreign Minister in 1985 caused him to be replaced as Georgian leader by Jumber Patiashvili, a conservative and generally ineffective Communist who coped poorly with the challenges of Perestroika. Towards the end of the late 1980s there were increasingly violent clashes between the Communist authorities, the resurgent Georgian nationalist movement and nationalist movements in Georgia's minority-populated regions (notably South Ossetia). On April 9, 1989, Soviet troops were used to break up a peaceful demonstration at the government building in Tbilisi. Twenty Georgians were killed and hundreds wounded and poisoned. The event radicalised Georgian politics, prompting many - even some Georgian communists - to conclude that independence was preferable to continued Soviet rule.
Post-communist Georgia, 1990 - 2003
Opposition pressure on the communist government was manifested in popular demonstrations and strikes, which ultimately resulted in an open, multiparty and democratic parliamentary election being held on October 28, 1990. They were won by the "Round Table" coalition headed by the leading dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who became the head of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia. On March 31, 1991 Gamsakhurdia wasted no time in organising a referendum on independence, which was approved by 98.9% of the votes. Formal independence from the Soviet Union was declared on April 9, 1991, although it took some time before it was widely recognised by outside powers such as the United States and European countries. Gamsakhurdia's government strongly opposed any vestiges of Russian dominance, such as the remaining Soviet military bases in the republic, and (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) his government declined to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Gamsakhurdia was elected president on May 26, 1991 with 86% of the vote. He was subsequently widely criticised for what was perceived to be an erratic and authoritarian style of government, with nationalists and reformists joining forces in an uneasy anti-Gamsakhurdia coalition. A tense situation was worsened by the large amount of ex-Soviet weaponry available to the quarreling parties and by the growing power of paramilitary groups. The situation came to a head on December 22, 1991, when armed opposition groups launched a violent military coup d'etat, besieging Gamsakhurdia and his supporters in government buildings in central Tbilisi. Gamsakhurdia managed to evade his enemies and fled to the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya in January 1992.
The new government invited Eduard Shevardnadze to become the head of a State Council - in effect, president - in March 1992, putting a moderate face on the somewhat unsavoury regime that had been established following Gamsakhurdia's ouster. In August 1992, a separatist dispute in the Georgian autonomous republic of Abkhazia escalated when government forces and paramilitaries were sent into the area to quell separatist activities. The Abkhaz fought back with help from paramilitaries from Russia's North Caucasus regions and alleged covert support from Russian military stationed in a base in Gudauta, Abkhazia and in September 1993 the government forces suffered a catastrophic defeat which led to them being driven out and the entire Georgian population of the region being expelled. Around 14,000 people died and another 300,000 were forced to flee. Ethnic violence also flared in South Ossetia but was eventually quelled, although at the cost of several hundred casualties and 100,000 refugees fleeing into Russian-controlled North Ossetia. In south-western Georgia, the autonomous republic of Ajaria came under the control of Aslan Abashidze, who managed to rule his republic from 1991 to 2004 as a personal fiefdom in which the Tbilisi government had little influence.
On September 24, 1993, in the wake of the Abkhaz disaster, Zviad Gamsakhurdia returned from exile to organise an uprising against the government. His supporters were able to capitalise on the disarray of the government forces and quickly overran much of western Georgia. This alarmed Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and units of the Russian Army were sent into Georgia to assist the government. Gamsakhurdia's rebellion quickly collapsed and he died on December 31, 1993, apparently after being cornered by his enemies. In a highly controversial agreement, Shevardnadze's government agreed that it would join the CIS as part of the price for military and political support.
Shevardnadze narrowly survived a bomb attack in August 1995 that he blamed on his erstwhile paramilitary allies. He took the opportunity to imprison the paramilitary leader Jaba Ioseliani and ban his Mkhedrioni militia in what was proclaimed as a strike against "mafia forces". However, his government - and his own family - became increasingly associated with pervasive corruption that hampered Georgia's economic growth. He won presidential elections in November 1995 and April 2000 with large majorities, but there were persistent allegations of vote-rigging.
The war in Chechnya caused considerable friction with Russia, which accused Georgia of harbouring Chechen guerrillas. Further friction was caused by Shevardnadze's close relationship with the United States, which saw him as a counterbalance to Russian influence in the strategic Transcaucasus region. Georgia became a major recipient of U.S. foreign and military aid, signed a strategic partnership with NATO and declared an ambition to join both NATO and the EU. In 2002, the United States sent hundreds of Special Operations Forces to assist the local military fight guerrilla fighters. See War on Terrorism/Pankisi Gorge. Perhaps most significantly, the country secured a $3 billion project to build a pipeline carrying oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia (the so-called "Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan" or BTC pipeline).
Georgia after Shevardnadze
A powerful coalition of reformists headed by Mikhail Saakashvili, Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Zhvania united to oppose Shevardnadze's government in the November 2, 2003 parliamentary elections. The elections were widely regarded as being blatantly rigged; in response, the opposition organised massive demonstrations in the streets of Tbilisi. After two tense weeks, Shevardnadze resigned on November 23, 2003 and was replaced as president on an interim basis by Burjanadze.
On January 4, 2004 Mikhail Saakashvili won the Presidential Elections with a huge majority of 96% of the votes cast. Constitutional amendments were rushed through Parliament in February strengthening the powers of the President to dismiss Parliament and creating the post of Prime Minister. Zurab Zhvania was appointed Prime Minister. Nino Burjanadze, the interim President, became Speaker of Parliament.
The new president faces many problems on coming to office. More than 230,000 internally displaced persons put an enormous strain on the economy. Peace in the separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, overseen by Russian and United Nations peacekeepers and international organizations, remains fragile and will require years of economic development and negotiation to overcome local enmities. Considerable progress has been made in negotiations on the Ossetian-Georgian conflict, and negotiations are continuing in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict. After the Rose Revolution relations between the Georgian government and semi-separatist Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze deteriorated rapidly thereafter, with Abashidze rejecting Saakashvili's demands for the writ of the Tbilisi government to run in Ajaria. Both sides mobilised forces in apparent preparations for a military confrontation. Saakashvili's ultimatums and massive street demonstrations forced Abashidze to resign and flee Georgia.
Relations with Russia remain problematic due to Russia's continuing political, economic and military support to separatist governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian troops still remain garrisoned at two military bases and as peacekeepers in these regions. The separatist question is still unresolved but Saakashvili's public pledge to resolve the matter has already provoked criticism from the separatist regions and Russia.
Georgia remains a very poor country by European standards, not least because of its widespread corruption. The Georgian Government is committed to economic reform in cooperation with the IMF and World Bank, and stakes much of its future on the revival of the ancient Silk Road as the Eurasian corridor, using Georgia's geography as a bridge for transit of goods between Europe and Asia. Saakashvili has pledged to improve the economy in general and specifically to raise pay and pensions, as well as to crack down on corruption and retrieve the ill-gotten gains of figures in the previous government. In August 2004, several clashes occurred in South Ossetia.
Integration into the NATO and the EU remains the main goal of Georgia's foreign policy. On October 29, 2004, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) of the NATO approved the Individual Partnership Action Plan of Georgia (IPAP). Georgia is the first among the NATO’s partner countries to manage this task successfully.
Georgia continues to support the coalition forces in Iraq. On November 8, 2004, 300 extra Georgian troops were sent to Iraq. The Georgian government committed to send a total of 850 troops to Iraq to serve in the protection forces of the U.N. Mission. Along with increasing Georgian troops in Iraq, the US will train additional 4 thousand Georgian soldiers within frames of the Georgia Train-and-Equip Program (GTEP).
In February, 2005 Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania died, and Zurab Nogaideli was appointed as the new Prime Minister.
On 9-10 May 2005 Georgia was visited by the US President George W. Bush, who met Mikheil Saakashvili and a group of Georgian parliamentarians, and addressed tens of thousands of the Georgian people at Tbilisi Freedom Square .
Saakashvili is still (2006) under significant pressure to deliver on his promised reforms. Organisations such as Amnesty International have serious concerns over human rights, and discontent over unemployment, pensions and corruption, and the continuing dispute over Abkhazia, have greatly diminished Saakashvili's popularity in the country.
Georgia's relationships with Russia are at it lowest point in modern history due to Georgian-Russian espionage controversy and related events.