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Georgia

jôr´j, Georgian Sakartvelo, Rus. Gruziya, officially Republic of Georgia, republic (2005 est. pop. 4,677,000), c.26,900 sq mi (69,700 sq km), in W Transcaucasia. Georgia borders on the Black Sea in the west, on Turkey and Armenia in the south, on Azerbaijan in the east, and on Russia in the north. Tbilisi is the capital and by far the largest city.

Land and People

Situated on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus and in the Lesser Caucasus, Georgia is largely ruggedly mountainous. The Suram Mts. separate the Rion (Rioni) and Kura river valleys. The perpetually snowcapped Mt. Kazbek, the tallest peak within Georgia, rises to 16,541 ft (5,042 m). The climate is humid subtropical in the Black Sea lowland of Mingrelia, alpine in the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, and dry in the Kura steppes in the east. Included in Georgia are the Abkhazia, the Adjarian Autonomous Republic (Adjaria), and South Ossetia (see Ossetia). In addition to Tbilisi, other important cities are Rustavi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Sukhumi, and Poti.

More than two thirds of the population are Georgians—a people who speak a language related to the Ibero-Caucasian family of languages. Armenians, Azeris, and Russians are the other major ethnic groups, with Ossetians, Abkhazians, and Adjars in smaller numbers. The Georgian church, to which most of the ethnic Georgians belong, is an independent Eastern Orthodox congregation. Georgian is the official language. There has been a standard Georgian literary language since about the 5th cent. (see Georgian literature). Russian is also widely spoken. Educational and cultural institutions include the university at Tbilisi (est. 1918) and the Georgian Academy of Sciences.

Economy

Agriculture is a leading occupation in Georgia, whose warmer districts produce large quantities of tea and citrus fruits; tobacco, wine grapes, rice, and mulberry trees (for silk) are also grown. Sheep, pigs, and poultry are raised. Georgia is rich in minerals, notably manganese (mined mostly at Chiatura and in Imeritia) and copper; tungsten, coal, lignite, barites, iron, molybdenum, oil, and peat are also found. There are sizable deposits of marble, dolomite, talc, and clays for use in construction.

Georgia had a large and varied industrial sector. Its chief manufactures included transport equipment, electric motors, machine tools, iron and steel, railroad and mining equipment, chemicals, textiles, wine, and building materials, but many industries collapsed after independence, and economic redevelopment has been hindered by warfare, corruption, and the effects of Russia's economic troubles. The Black Sea shore is dotted with resorts and spas that attract numerous tourists. The construction of an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to a Black Sea terminal at Supsa, Georgia, promised greater foreign investment in the economy. The Black Sea coast railway, the line from Batumi through Tbilisi to Baky; the Georgian Military Road; and the Ossetian Military Road are the country's main transportation arteries. Although Georgia has abundant hydroelectric energy, it must import the bulk of its fuel. The chief trade partners are Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.

Government

Georgia is a multiparty republic operating under the constitution of 1995 as amended. The executive branch is headed by the president, who is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and has direct control over those governmental bodies responsible for national security; the prime minister is reponsible for managing the nation's economic policies. There is a popularly elected 235-member parliament. Some of the members are directly elected by districts; the rest are elected on a proportional basis. The country is divided into 53 administrative divisions, or rayons, and nine cities.

History

Early History through Soviet Rule

Georgia developed as a kingdom about the 4th cent. BC Mtskheta was its earliest capital; coastal Georgia was the Colchis of the ancient Greeks. The Persian Sassanids, who ruled the country from the 3d cent. AD, were expelled c.400. In the 4th cent. Christianity was introduced in Georgia. In the 9th cent. the rule of the Bagrationi family began. Alp Arslan held the region in the 11th cent., but King David IV (or David II, known as David the Builder) expelled the Seljuk Turks, united the Georgians, and reestablished their independence.

In the 12th and 13th cent. Georgia under Queen Thamar (1184–1213) reached its greatest expansion (it then included the whole of Transcaucasia) and cultural flowering. From that period dates the national poem, The Man in the Panther's Skin, by Shota Rustaveli. Ravaged (13th cent.) by the Mongols, Georgia revived but was again sacked by Timur (c.1386–1403). In the 15th cent. King Alexander I divided Georgia into three kingdoms (Imertia, Kakhetia, and Karthlia) among his sons, and the period of decline set in.

In the 16th cent. Georgia became an object of struggle between Turkey and Persia. In 1555, W Georgia passed under Turkish suzerainty and E Georgia (Kakhetia and Karthlia) under Persian rule. In the 18th cent. kings of Kakhetia tried to unite Georgia, but, pressed by the Turks and the Persians, accepted (1783) vassalage to Russia in exchange for assistance. The last king, George XIII, threatened by Persia, abdicated (1801) in favor of the czar and ceded Kakhetia and Karthlia to Russia. Between 1803 and 1829 Russia also acquired from Turkey the western parts of Georgia (Abkhazia, Mingrelia, Imeritia, and Guria).

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Georgian Menshevik party (see Bolshevism and Menshevism) proclaimed (May, 1918) Georgia's independence. The Soviet government in Moscow recognized (May, 1920) the independence, but in 1921 the Red Army invaded Georgia, and in Feb., 1921, it was proclaimed a Soviet republic. It joined the USSR in 1922 as a member of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, and in 1936 it became a separate union republic. Parts of Georgia were held by the Germans during World War II. After the war, Stalin, who was himself a Georgian, ordered the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Georgians as suspected collaborators. In Apr., 1989, a protest against Soviet rule in Georgia led Soviet troops to fire on demonstrators, killing 20 and injuring hundreds.

A New Nation

Georgia declared its independence in Apr., 1991, but was not generally recognized as an independent state until the USSR disintegrated in Dec., 1991. Once it achieved independence, Georgia, which had prospered economically as part of the USSR, struggled with social and economic disintegration.

In Jan., 1992, a rebellion against the increasingly dictatorial regime of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia led to his ouster. He escaped to W Georgia and instigated a counterrebellion. Forces in the South Ossetian Autonomous Republic and Abkhazian Autonomous Republic also revolted, the former demanding union with Russia's North Ossetia and the latter demanding independence. A cease-fire with the Ossetians was signed in July, 1992.

In Oct., 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister and leader of the Democratic Reform movement, was elected speaker of parliament, a position tantamount to president. He faced civil war and a deteriorating economy. In 1993, Georgia reluctantly joined the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States. Georgian military forces, with Russian help, ultimately prevailed against the rebels led by Gamsakhurdia, who died in 1993. Also in 1993, separatists won control of the Abkhazian capital, Sukumi, and within Abkhazia they conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing, driving out ethnic Georgians; a cease-fire was negotiated in 1994, but peace talks stalled and fighting has erupted periodically.

In Dec., 1995, Shevardnadze easily won election as president under a new constitution; he was the target of assassination attempts in 1995 and 1998. Pope John Paul II made a visit to Georgia in Nov., 1999, but received a cool reception from its Orthodox hierarchy. President Shevardnadze was reelected as expected in Apr., 2000, but by a lopsided margin that led foreign observers to accuse the government of vote tampering. Corruption hindered economic recovery and strapped government finances, all of which led to unhappiness with Shevardnadze's rule.

Parliamentary elections early in Nov., 2003, were regarded as seriously flawed by most observers and sparked opposition demonstrations that forced the president's resignation before the end of the month. Nino Burdzhanadze, the parliament speaker, became interim president. Presidential elections in Jan., 2004, resulted in a landslide for the main opposition candidate, Mikhail Saakashvili, a former justice minister under Shevardnadze. Constitutional changes in February strengthened the president's powers, and in March, prior to new parliamentary elections, Saakashvili sparked a confrontation with the autonomous region of Adjaria that led in May to the reestablishment there of the central government's authority, which had weakened under Shevardnadze. In the elections, Saakashvili's coalition won two thirds of the vote and 90% of the seats.

There was a subsequent increase in tension with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, In the former, fighting erupted for several weeks during the summer and also strained relations with Russia; in the latter disputes late in 2004 over election results further aggravated Russian relations. Since 2004 there has also been an increase in tensions between ethnic Armenians in Georgia and the central government over perceived discrimination against Armenian speakers.

An national energy crisis occurred in Jan., 2006, when a gas pipeline explosion in North Ossetia, Russia, curtailed natural gas supplies in Georgia, with some Georgians believing that it had been engineered by Russia. In Feb., 2006, Georgia's parliament called for Russian peacekeepers to be removed from South Ossetia and replaced by an international force; the call was repeated later in the year and extended to Abkhazia. A Russian ban (Apr., 2006) on the importation of Georgian (and Moldovan) wines and brandies, ostensibly for sanitary reasons, was similarly regarded with suspicion.

Relations with Russia have been strained since independence. Russia continues to maintain three military bases in Georgia. A 1999 agreement called for closing two of four bases in 2001, but a force that Russia described as peacekeepers remained at Gudauta in Abkhazia, providing support for separatists there. A new agreement in 2005 called for Russia to withdraw from its two other remaining bases by 2008. Russia also has been supportive of South Ossetian separatists. Georgia was accused by Russia of sheltering Chechen insurgents (particularly in the Pankisi Gorge near Chechnya) and providing them with support, and Russia threatened unilateral military strikes in areas bordering Chechnya. In Oct., 2002, however, Georgia and Russia agreed to establish joint patrols to prevent border crossings by Chechens.

Tensions with Abkhazia rose again in July, 2006, when Georgia forcibly disarmed the militia that had controlled the Kodori Gorge, part of Abkhazia still aligned with Georgia. In Sept., 2006, a number of opposition politicians were arrested and charged with plotting a coup, and later in the month several Russian officials and Georgians were arrested on charges of spying. Those arrests turned the sour Russian-Georgian relations into a bitter confrontation as Russia halted all transport and postal links with Georgia and subsequently expelled several hundred Georgians as illegal immigrants. The sharp escalation in rhetoric was particularly pronounced on Russia's side; the arrested Russians were subsequently expelled.

In the Oct., 2006, local elections the president's National Movement party won a solid victory. In December, tensions with Russia continued as the Russian Duma expressed support for Abkhazian and Ossetian separatists, and the Russian energy giant Gazprom increased the price Georgia paid for gas, leading Georgia to seek alternative suppliers. The same month, Georgia's parliament passed constitutional amendments that would, in 2008, lengthen legislators' terms and shorten the president's term so that all would be elected at the same time. The tense relations with Russia moderated somewhat in early 2007.

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