Site Information:  Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union



Public Affairs Source: Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Public Communication Description: Washington, DC Date: May 27, 19925/27/92 Category: Site Information Region: Eurasia Country: Georgia, USSR (former) Subject: History, Democratization, Trade/Economics, Cultural Exchange Map: Central, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Republics [TEXT]


Georgia is a modern state with an ancient history. Located in the Caucasus Mountains on the southeastern shores of the Black Sea, it is one of the smallest of the republics. Ancestors of today's Georgians have probably lived in this region of the Caucasus since the Stone Age. The area became part of the Roman Empire by 65 BC, and Georgia converted to Christianity in the 4th century AD. For the next 3 centuries, it became involved in the conflicts between the Byzantine and Persian Empires. After 654 AD, local authority was exercised by Arab caliphs, who established an emirate in Tiflis (Tbilisi). In the early 11th century, King Bagrat united all the principalities of eastern and western Georgia into one state. Under Queen Tamara (1184-1213), Georgia reached its zenith of power; her realm stretched from Azerbaijan on the east to Circassia to the northwest, forming a pan-Caucasian empire. From 1220 onward, Mongols and others invaded the area and took control of the eastern region. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 further isolated Georgia from Western Christendom, and the next 3 centuries witnessed repeated invasions by the Turks and Persians, leading to the partition of the country between Turkish sultans and Persian shahs. A few outstanding rulers, such as Vakhtang VI (1711-24) kept the national spirit alive. In 1801, Czar Alexander I annexed Georgia to the Russian empire, ensuring a measure of order and stability. Georgians played a vital role in the revolutions of 1917, and after the overthrow of Alexander Kerensky, an independent Menshevik government was set up in Georgia under the presidency of Noe Zhordania. The Red Army crushed that government in 1921. From 1922 to 1936, Georgia, with Armenia and Azerbaijan, formed the Soviet Transcaucasian Republic. The Soviet constitution of 1936, however, dissolved that federation and established the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. Georgia declared its independence on August 23, 1991. Georgia is a land of spectacular geographic and climatic contrasts. To the north is the main Caucasus range, which includes Mount Elbruz (18,510 feet) and Mount Kazbek (16,558 feet), capped with perpetual snow. To the south, it is bounded by the Lesser Caucasus range and the Armenian highlands. Between is a series of fertile plains and valleys with temperate climate and high agricultural potential. The low-lying regions along the Black Sea are sub-tropical, with palm trees and lush vegetation. Eastern Georgia, which includes Tbilisi, comprises the ancient kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti; its climate resembles the upland Mediterranean regions of Spain and Italy. Numerous rivers provide water for irrigation and hydroelectric power, and extensive deciduous and coniferous forests shelter a wide range of wild fauna, including bears, boars, roedeer, lynxes, foxes, wolves, reindeer and wild cats. Today, Georgia has a well-developed industrial base, together with a diversified and mechanized agriculture. Among other things, it produces iron and steel, nitrogen, manganese, cotton, silk and woolen fabrics. Bamboo, tung oil, eucalyptus, tobacco, and citrus fruits, are produced near the Black Sea. Vineyards in the eastern region produce wines that are exported to Europe and America. Not until the 1980s did the region's population approach its 13th- century peak of about 5 million. Two-thirds of the people are Georgians; minorities include Armenians, Russians, and Azerbaijanis.

Principal Government Officials

Chairman of the State Council: Eduard Shevardnadze Deputy Chairman of State Council: Jaba Ioseliani Acting Prime Minister:Tengiz Sigua Minister of Defense: Tengiz Kitovani Minister of Foreign Affairs: Alexander Chikvaidze Capital: Tbilisi Located in a mountain-ringed basin on the Kura River, Tbilisi is an ancient city founded as early as the 4th century BC and continuously occupied ever since. In 1936, it became the capital of the separate republic of Georgia. Among its many famous landmarks are the Zion Cathedral, the Anchiskat Basilica, and the Metekhi Castle.

"Land of the Kartvelians"

The Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi and their country Sakart- velo, or "land of the Kartvelians." The term "Georgia" derives from the Arabic and Persian Gurji and is connected with the Russian Gruziya. Ancient legends, such as that of Prometheus chained to a Caucasian mountain peak for bringing fire to mankind, help confirm the role of Caucasian metal workers in ancient technology. The tale of Medea and the Golden Fleece, set in Colchis, refers to Georgia's ancient riches in precious metals. In classical times, the Greeks knew western Georgia as the fabled wealthy area of Colchis or Lazica and eastern Georgia as Iberia, which gave rise to confusion with the ancient Iberia in Spain. Georgia has long had a written language. Ancient chroniclers carefully wrote the nation's annals with the distinctive script devised in the 5th century. Queen Tamara's reign was the Golden Age of Georgian culture. She inspired the national bard Shota Rustaveli, author of the great romantic epic, The Man in the Panther's Skin.