The Georgians are the nation with a long history and traditions. Historically, the nation was formed on the territory of modern Georgia. The Georgian territory was the subject of a large demographic homogeneity, due to its distance from the main ways of Georgian invasions and migrations, so that modern Georgians are direct descendants of indigenous Caucasian isthmus. However, this territory has not been independent till today. The people have overcome lots of difficulties on their way of gaining independence. As a result of being a part of the Russian Empire and afterwards - the Soviet Union, Georgians have become the nation that has lots of things in common with the Russians. This, however, does not prevent the Georgians from being recognized truly unique people. Since the relationships with Russia have greatly impacted Georgians as the nation, the burning issue is to determine the Georgians as an independent nation.
Background of the nation
The Georgians are the people that live on the territory of Georgia. The majority of the Georgians are Orthodox Christians, with a Muslim minority. Georgians are the descendants of the tribes which have inhabited, since ancient times, basically the same territory as is occupied by Georgia today. “The Georgian people have emerged from the three major ethnic groups that are closely related: Karts, Megrelian and Svan. Each of them was formed as a result of a long process of consolidation with the smaller tribes.”1
The single Georgian nation emerged from the tribes in the first century BC. The tribes were on the stage of decomposition and formation of the primitive relations within a class society. At this time, the large tribal unions (e.g. Diaohi and Kolkhi), were unstable due to the lack of productive forces development and absence of strong economic ties. Furthermore, “depending on local culture, way of life and dialectal differences, Georgians were determined by the following ethnic groups: kartliytsy, kakhetians with ingiloi, kiziktsy, push, pshavi, khevsurs, mtiuly with hood-makartsami, mohevtsy, imeretia, rachintsy, lechhumtsy, svans, megrels, laz (tanks), adzharians and hurwitz.”2
Georgians are the people well-known for cultural remains. The earliest monuments of the Georgian literary belong to the Vth century BC. Literary heritage of Georgia includes the epic poem The Knight in the Panther's Skin, written by Shota Rustaveli; Georgian language glossary; works of Ilia Chavchavadze, Alexander Kazbegi, Acacius Tsereteli, Galaktion Tabidze, Konstantin Gamsakhurdia, Nico Lordkipanidze, Mikhail Javakhishvili and Anna Kalandadze; colorful works of prose and poetry - the poem Merano, written by Nikoloza Baratashvili; 40 epic works of Vazha Pshavela (Spencer).
Georgia is famous for its wall paintings of the VII-XIII centuries. They have been preserved in Helatskomu monastery, Atenskomu Zion, the churches in Betaniyi, Kyntsvisy. Widespread the popularity of Georgian painters, such as Niko Pirosmanishvili (Pirosmani), Hiho Habashvili, David Kakabadze, Lado Hudiashvili, Sanadze Cornelius, Helen Ahvlediani, Sergey Kobuladze, Simon Virsaladze and Catherine Bahdavadze (Gvosdev, Nikolas).
Georgian art is unique for its elegance, as well as combining local and European styles. Such artists as Hudiashvili Lado, David and Helen Kakabadze Ahvlediani, worked in Paris in the 1920s. Popular for the whole world are the Georgian sculptors Elhudzha Amashukeli, Ochiauri and Irakli Zurab Tsereteli (Gvosdev, Nikolas).
Early history of the nation
Appearance of human life on the territory of Georgia can be traced back to the earliest stages of human development. Finding a place in Udabno (eastern Georgia) in 1939, the remnants of the anthropoid ape – udabnopiteka - suggested that the Caucasus was one of the foci formations of the primitive man. “In Georgia, the artifacts from the Stone Age and the early Paleolithic period such as dozens of caves, sites of Ache lean and Mousterian period in Abkhazia, Imaret, South Ossetia, Lower Kartli and Kakheti were identified.”3
In the Middle Bronze Age, the process of decomposition of the tribal system has led to the formation of large associations of tribes. In the VIII-VII century BC, Assyrians came to Caucasus and pushed the northern tribes. Greek historian Herodotus noted that the Assyrian king Sargon II moved to Colchis Kingdom, the part of the Israeli population which he brought from Palestine in 722 BC.
“The western Georgian kingdoms of Colchis and Kartli east (Iberian) kingdom were formed around VI BC. Both of them had political and economic relations with the Greek and Achaemenid Parthian states.”4 Strabo and Pliny, well-known historians, wrote that both countries were flourishing. In the first century BC, Colchis was captured by the Romans (Pompey the Great). Around 330 BC, in the eastern kingdom of Kartli, Christianity has already been introduced (Gvosdev, Nikolas).
Georgian-Russian relations before 1801
By the beginning of the XVIth century, Georgia had been divided into small feudal states which were in the constant state of war with two great Muslim empires - Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Iran. In the second half of the XVIth century, the third empire - the Russian Empire - appeared.
The diplomatic relations between Moscow and Kakheti began to develop in 1558. “In 1589, Tsar Fedor Ivanovich I offered the kingdom his own defense.”5 However, Russia, at that time, was too far to compete on equal terms with Iran and Turkey in the Caucasus. Thus, no help from Moscow has been reported. The real interest of Russia in Transcaucasia appeared only at the beginning of the XVIIIth century. “In 1722, during the Persian campaign, Peter I made an alliance with the king of Kartli Vakhtang VI.”6 However, the two armies could not unite. As a result, Russian troops retreated northward, leaving Kartli defenseless against Iran. Vakhtang was forced to flee and died in exile in Russia (Braund, 1996).
The successor of Vakhtang, the king of Kartli and Kakheti, Irakli II, appealed to Russia with the request of protection from Turkey and Iran. Catherine II, who fought with Turkey, on the one hand, was interested in an ally; however, on the other, was reluctant to send the major troops into Georgia (Braund, 1996). Thus, during 1769-1772, the small Russian detachment, under the command of General Totleben, had been fighting against the Turks on the side of Georgia. In 1783, Heraclius signed George's treaty with Russia, establishing Russian protectorate over the kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti in exchange for the military protection of Russia. However, in 1787, when the next Russian-Turkish war began, Russian troops abandoned Georgia, leaving it unprotected. In 1795, the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Aga Khan Qajar invaded Georgia and destroyed Tbilisi (Toumanoff).
Georgia as a part of Russian Empery
The first few decades, Georgia, as a part of the Russian Empire, was under its military control. Russia had the war with Turkey and Iran. “The chief of the Russian army in the Caucasus was, at the same time, the Georgian governor.”7 Russia gradually expanded its territory in the Caucasus expensing the rivals, and incorporating the large parts of neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan. At the same time, Russian authorities sought to integrate Georgia into the Empire. Russian and Georgian society had much in common: Orthodoxy as the main religion, serfdom, and the layer of landowners (landlords).
Nevertheless, Russian authorities did not pay sufficient attention to the peculiarities of Georgia, its local laws and traditions (Gvosdev, Nikolas). “In 1811, the autocephaly (independence) of the Georgian Orthodox Church was repealed. Catholicos Anthony II was deported to Russia, and Georgia became the exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.”8
The policy of the tsarist government repealed the part of the Georgian nobility. A group of young nobles, inspired by the Decembrist uprising in 1825 and the Polish uprising in 1830, organized a conspiracy to overthrow the royal government in Georgia. Their plan was to invite all members of the royal power in the Caucasus to the ball, and kill them. The plot was discovered on December 10, 1832. All participants were sent to the remote region of Russia. In 1841, there was a peasant uprising. Following the appointment of the Caucasian viceroy Prince Vorontsov, in 1845 the policy was changed. Vorontsov managed to attract Georgia and make it more European (Toumanoff).
In the early XIX century, Georgia was still a feudal society. The country was controlled by the families of the rulers of the Georgian principalities and kingdoms. However, this type of government was overthrown by the Russian authorities. The leaders were sent into exile (Gvosdev, Nikolas). The level under the ruling families was middle class, which was about five percent of the whole population. They carefully guarded their power and privileges. They owned most of the land on which the serfs were working. The last bulk of the Georgian population consisted of the people that lived in utter poverty and on the verge of starvation, as the agrarian economy got undermined during the wars with Iran and Turkey. Hunger often caused the revolts, like the great peasant uprising in Kakheti in 1812 (Braund, 1996). A small portion of the population lived in cities, where commerce and trade were predominantly controlled by Armenians, whose ancestors came to Georgia from Asia in the middle Ages. In the period of evolution of capitalism, the Armenians were among the first who saw their advantage and quickly joined the thriving middle class. The active economic position of the Armenian population partly explains the manifestations of the discontent on the part of local residents caused by ethnic factors (Gvosdev, Nikolas).
In 1861, the institute of serfdom was abolished in Russia. Alexander II had planned to abolish it in Georgia, but it was not possible without loss of newly acquired loyalty to the Georgian nobility, whose wealth depended on serf labor. The task to negotiate and find a compromise solution was given to Dmitry Kipiani, the liberal. In October 13, 1865, the king signed a decree to release the first fortress in Georgia, although serfdom completely disappeared only in the 1870s. The serfs became free peasants, and were able to move freely; marry according to their own choice; and participate in political activities (Toumanoff). Landowners retained rights to all their lands. However, only a part of the land remained in their full ownership, the other was given to the leased serfs who had been living for centuries on it. Having provided the rent payment in a sufficient amount, they received land ownership (Spencer).
Influence of the Russian Empire on Georgians
The inclusion of Georgia into the Russian Empire changed Georgian`s political and cultural orientation. If earlier the country had followed the Middle East, now it turned to Europe. Accordingly, Georgia became open to new European ideas. At the same time, it was discovered that many social problems in Georgia were similar to those in Russia. Thus, the political movements that emerged in Russia in the XIX century, found the followers in Georgia.
In the 1830s, Georgian literature experienced a strong impact of Romanticism. The greatest Georgian poets - Alexander Chavchavadze, Grigol Orbeliani and, in particular, Nikoloz Baratashvili - became members of this movement (Spencer). “A recurrent theme of their work was an appeal to the historical past in searching the golden age.”9 To illustrate, Baratashvili`s poem, The Fate of Georgia, expresses his mixed feelings about the alliance with Russia. Georgia was also a frequent topic in the works of the representatives of Russian Romanticism. For example, in 1829 Pushkin visited Georgia. As a result, the Georgian motifs got clearly visible in several of his works. In addition, most Lermontov`s works contain Caucasian subjects (Gvosdev, Nikolas).
“In the middle of the XIXth century, romanticism gave way to a more politically oriented national movement. It had originated among a new generation of Georgian students, receiving education in the St. Petersburg`s University.”10 Their club was called "tergdaleuli" (according to the Terek River, separating Russia and Georgia). A key figure of the movement was Ilia Chavchavadze, who is considered to be one of the greatest Georgian writers. The aim of the movement was to improve the situation with Georgians in the Russian oriented system (Chartolani, 1964). The movement fought for the cultural issues, in particularly, the language reform and the folklore study (Spencer).
The second generation of Georgian nationalists ("meoredasi", literally "second group") was less conservative than Chavchavadze`s. They focused on the growing urban population. This movement aimed at improving the capabilities of the Georgian population in competition with the dominant Armenian and Russian cities. A key figure of the movement was Niko Nikoladze, who was devoted to Western liberal values. Nikoladze saw the future of Georgia in the Caucasian Federation, which was to include Armenia and Azerbaijan (Ronald, 1994).
By the 1870s, in Georgia, there had formed the third, more radical political force. Its members drew attention to the social problems and identified themselves with similar movements in the rest of Russia (Spencer). The first was the Russian populism, which did not get sufficient support in Georgia. Socialism and Marxism, in particular, was much more successful (Gvosdev, Nikolas).
Georgia as a part of the Soviet Union
In 1921, Georgia became a Soviet republic. In December 1922, Georgia, along with Armenia and Azerbaijan, was incorporated into the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (ZSFRR) as part of the USSR. In 1936, ZSFRR was eliminated, and Georgia became one of the union republics of the USSR (Spencer).
In 1920, within the reconstruction of the economy the construction of 20 large industrial enterprises was launched. In 1926, the industry and agriculture had reached the level of 1913. What is more, the transport system got restored. The program to eradicate illiteracy was being performed, the social status of skilled workers was increased, and research and teaching institutions were established. However, the hopes for Georgian political autonomy within the Soviet Union were destroyed by Stalin's policies (Lang).
In 1941-1945, on the fronts of World War II about 300 thousand Georgians were killed (Lang). “In 1944 approximately 100 thousand Meskhetians (mixed group of Muslim Georgians and Turks) were deported from South Georgia to Central Asia on the basis of the false accusations of collaboration with the Germans, who never actually crossed the Great Caucasus.”11
After Stalin`s death and Beria's execution in 1953 the Soviet terror stopped in Georgia. Many Georgians treated their countryman Joseph Stalin with respect. “During 1953-1972, the first governing of the Secretary of Georgian Central Committee VP Mzhavanadze, in the republic dominated nationalism and corruption.”12 Mzhavanadze was removed from office. When Shevardnadze, the former chairman of the KGB of Georgia, came to the power instead of Mzhavanadze, the movement of dissidents got popular in Georgia, which was led by Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Merab Kostava (Lang).
The course aimed at restructuring announced in late 1980s and led by MS Gorbachev, was a result of rapid changes in the leaders of the Communist Party of Georgia. In April 9, 1989 in Tbilisi, the Soviet troops brutally suppressed a demonstration in support of Georgian independence. During this action, 20 young Georgians were killed. In multiparty elections, in October 1990, Zviad Gamsakhurdia won and become the ruler of Georgia (Chartolani, 1964).
With a majority of seats in newly formed Supreme Council which met in November 1990, supporters of Gamsakhurdia elected him a speaker. At the first meeting, the Supreme Council adopted the decision to liquidate the autonomous region of South Ossetia, declared unlawful conscription of Georgians in the Soviet armed forces and established an independent National Guard. In March 1991, the Georgian government refused to hold a referendum on the future of the USSR, instead: a referendum on the Georgian independence was held. The referendum was attended by 95% of the electorate, with 93% of those who took part in the referendum voting for independence. In April 9, 1991 Supreme Council passed the Act on the restoration of state independence of Georgia (Ronald, 1994).
To conclude, the Georgians are the nation with a long history. The first findings of the nation can be traced back to the 1st century BC. The territory, which is occupied by Georgia today, has not been always independent. Facts claim that Georgia was a part of the Russian Empire and afterwards – the Soviet Union. Thus, these memberships had a great influence on further development of the Georgians as a nation.
Georgia was a part of the Russian Empire from 1801 to 1917. From the XVth up to the XVIIth century, Georgia was fragmented between Muslim Iran and Turkey. Alliance with Russia against Turkey and Iran was very attractive to Georgia, and in 1783 Kartli and Kakheti, the largest cities of Georgia, signed the Georgia`s treaty according to which Georgia got under Russian protectorate. However, in 1801 Georgia was annexed by Russia and converted into a province. For more than a century, Georgia remained a part of Russia until the end of the empire in 1917 and the collapse of state in 1918. Importantly, it was the Russian government that restored peace in Georgia and protected it from external threats; yet, the Russian rule has an iron hand and does not consider the national peculiarities of Georgia. The Russian government has led to unprecedented changes in the social structure and economy of Georgia. The abolition of serfdom freed peasants, the growth of capitalism led to a sharp increase in urban population and the working class creation, which was accompanied by uprisings and strikes. The culmination of this process was the revolution of 1905. Mensheviks became the leading political force. In 1918, for a short time Georgia became independent, however, not due to the efforts of the Mensheviks and the nationalists, but to the collapse of the Russian Empire.
To sum up, being a part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, the Georgians gained a lot of advantages. Firstly, democratic processes in the Soviet Union have had a significant impact on Georgia. These processes have led to the beginning of opposition movements’ formation, the process dominated by anti-communist sentiments. Secondly, Georgians have gained a lot in the cultural field. In particular, due to Russia’s impact, Georgia revealed such writers as Alexander Chavchavadze, Grigol Orbeliani and Nikoloz Baratashvili all representing the Romantic Movement. The idea of independence kept alive always in the minds of Georgians, due to their works. Thirdly, the Russian Empire helped Georgia to resolve external conflicts. As a result, the Georgians kept the unity.
Thus, even being a part of Russia, Georgians managed to preserve their identity and have not dissolved into Russians. The best proof to this is the persistence of the traditional folklore: historical legends, ballads, tales, proverbs, and songs - labor, ritual, heroic, lyric, drinking, singing, laments, folk dances (lekuri, horumi, gandagan, etc.). What is more, Georgians have their own born and burial traditions, types of clothes and traditional food, dances and songs, which have nothing common with the Russian.
That is why, Georgians have gained only advantages of being a part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Still, the main plus was gaining the independence, on the example of the Russian democratic movement, without ruining their identity.