Georgian (Gruz) is the collective name for the closely related peoples and tribes originally inhabiting the mountains and plains of southwest Caucasia. There are 4 main groups: Georgian proper (originating in East Georgia), Mingrelians (central West Georgia), Lazes (southwestern mountains, now largely in Turkey) and the Svanetians (southwest Caucasus). Georgians proper are subdivided into a variety of sub-groups: Kartlis, Kakhetians, Mesketians, Dzhavakhis, Ingilois, Tushetians, Khevsurs, Pshavs, Mokhevs, Mtiulis (the eastern groups); Imerelis, Racha, Lechkums, Guris, Adjars (the western groups). Georgians do not call themselves Georgians but Kartvelebi and their land Sakartvelo. These names are derived from a pagan god called Kartlos, said to be the father of all Georgians. The foreign name Georgia, used throughout Western Europe, is mistakenly believed to come from the country's patron saint, St. George. Actually it is derived from the names Kurj or Gurj, by which they are known to the Arabs and modern Persians.

The Georgian nation holds a unique place among the former Soviet nationalities, with its long history and rich culture. Georgia is strategically situated between the East and the West, and has been frequently invaded by foreign armies up through history. Georgians are descendants of some of the earliest inhabitants of the Caucasus. Their ethnic formation appears to have taken place 2500 to 3000 years ago in the area which constitutes present-day Georgia, through a mixture of native inhabitants and the incoming Anatolian peoples.

Two states emerged; the Colchis kingdom in west Georgia, and Kartli in east Georgia. Both states became Roman vassals in 64 B.C. The two states became Christian in 337 A.D. and 520 A.D., respectively. In the following centuries, they became deeply involved in the struggle between Byzantium and Persia, until the Arabs conquered the area in the 7th c.

The following two centuries saw much unrest, with Georgian revolting against the Arabs, Arab reprisals, Khazar and Abkhaz invasions and attempts at separate state formations by Georgian sub-groups. Unification of Georgia began with the Bagratid dynasty in the 9th c., peaking with the establishment of the first united Georgian kingdom (Sakartvelo) in 1008. In the 12th c., Georgia, with its new capital Tbilisi, became the most powerful state in Caucasia.

The Mongol Invasion in the 13th c. terminated this Golden Age, however. By 1243, the entire country had succumbed. There was a brief revival for Georgia in the 14th c., as the Mongols weakened and Georgia profited from good trade relations with Genoa and Venice. But the invasions of Tamerlane in the years 1386-1403 and the fall of Constantinople caused new stagnation.

In the folowing centuries, Georgia disintegrated into three separate Bagratid kingdoms and five principalities, and the Georgians became involved in the Turko-Persian wars. The Russians exploited this opportinity and the main Georgian state came under Russian "protection" with the Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783, and was annexed two decades later. Further annexations followed; Imeretia in 1810, Guria in 1829, Svanetia in 1858, Abkhazia in 1864 and Mingrelia in 1866. During the century from the first Russian annexations to the 1917 revolution, Armenians controlled the economy, and the Russians occupied the administrative hierarchy. This situation led to a Georgian intellectual and cultural national awakening, and a nationalist movement was founded by Prince Ilya Tchavtchavadze. Towards the end of the century, this movement was radicalized by Marxist ideas, influencing among others the young Josef Dzhugashvili (later to be known as Stalin).

At the time of the Russian revolution in 1917, the Georgian social democratic movement was strong, and there were ambitions of an independent Georgia. It was not until the outbreak of the Civil War in March 1918, however, that the leaders of the three major South Caucasian peoples seceeded to form the Transcaucasian republic. This republic lasted only until May the same year, however, when it was broken up into the three separate republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. This Georgian state kept its independence until 1921, dominated by Menshevik Social Democrats. In February 1921, the Red Army moved in and established a Soviet government. The Transcaucasian SFSR was created, including Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and it was integrated into the Soviet union in 1922. In 1936, this arrangement was broken up, and Georgia was established as a constituent unit of the Soviet Union. The Georgian SSR was dominated by Lavrentiy Beriya until Stalin's death in 1953. Harsh purges were organised by Stalin, Beria and Ordzhonikidze against the party elite of Georgia. However, Georgia was allowed to keep Georgian as the official language of the republic. This secured the power of the national political elite in the post-Stalin era.

Under the Soviet regime, Georgia experienced rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. The Georgians were greatly affected by this social revolution, their national development being shaped by the struggle between external "modernizing" forces and nationalist forces within Georgia. There were frequent conflicts with Soviet authorities, the most serious ones in 1924, 1956 and 1978.

In the 1960s and 70s, the Georgian Communist Party elite grew more nationalistic, and after the Helsinki accords of 1973, watch-dog groups pressed for national rights. By the end of the 1970s, KGB had put an end to nationalist and dissident activities, and with the new Soviet Constitution of 1977, an attempt was made to omit the articles stipulating Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani as official languages in these national republics. This caused the 1978 riots, and the Georgian party boss since 1972, Shevardnadze, reached a compromise with the central Soviet authorities securing the official status of the Georgian language.

Gorbachov's Glasnost policies gave rise to Georgian nationalism, and in 1987 dissidents formed the Ilya Tchavtchavadze society for reforms and national revival. Another and more radical group rejected any compromise with Soviet authorities and started working for an independent Georgian state with focus on moral regeneration and with strong ties to the Georgian Orthodox church. On the 9th of April 1989, Soviet troops broke up a massive demonstration for independence, that had started as an anti-Abkhaz protest. Protests continued into 1990, when the National Forum was established in May. The Forum Congress voted to take steps to establish an alternative parliament and a transitional government and work for Georgia's secession from the Soviet Union. The independence movement was strongly nationalistic, causing tensions with Abkhaz and Osetian minorities in Georgia.

In April 1991, Georgia declared independence, after a referendum showing overwhelming support. Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected President, but soon turned to dictatorial solutions, oppressing opposition and ethnic minorities. By the end of 1992, civil war had broken out between supporters and opponents of Gamsakhurdia. Fighting had already been going on for months in Abkhazia and Ossetia due to ethnic conflicts. By march 1992, a military council had deposed Gamsakhurdia, and chose Eduard Shevardnadze as chairman. In 1995, he was elected President of Georgia in popular elections. Since independence there is a tendency among Georgians in Russia to want to move to Georgia, and the Georgian government actively supports immigration.

Meshketian Turks
The Meshketian Turks are a contemporary example of ethnogenesis, as there was no such group in the Soviet Union as late as the 1950s. This group gradually emerged as a result of some of Stalin's deportations. Late in 1944, Stalin charged several different ethnic groups from the Meshki region of Georgia and Armenia of collaborating with the Nazi Germans, and between 100.000 and 150.000 of them were deported to Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The largest of these ethnic groups was a group of Sunni Muslim Turks. Other groups included the Karapapakhs (Ali Illahi Muslim), the Khemsils (Sunni Muslim), two groups of Kurds (one Sunni, one Ali Illahi Muslim) and small numbers of azeri-speaking Turkmen, and some Abkhaz and Adjars.

In the after-war years, these groups all found themselves living in poverty in Central Asia. Their suffering made them more anti-Russian, more religious, and brought the different groups closer together. Because they all spoke Turkish languages and were all Muslims, and they were soon able to overcome their dialect-like language-differences and the differences between Sunni and Ali Illahi Muslims. And thus, a new ethnic group of Meshketian Turks began to emerge. The Meshketian Turks are still confined to Central Asia, and they have become militantly Muslim and increasingly nationalistic in perspective.

Gorbachov's Glasnost brought an opportunity for some of them to return to Meshketia, but the permission was not official, and their land was now inhabited by other Caucasian groups. Since 1990, the Meshketian Turks have also increasingly been targets of ethnic violence and discrimination in Central Asia.

A USSR commission was established to try to solve the Meshketian problem. They did not find a way for the Meshketian Turks to return to Meshketia, but some were offered the opportunity to settle in Central Russia (Tver, Smolensk, Oryol, Kursk, Belgorod and Voronezh oblast), and in Krasnodar and Stavropol kray. An increasing number of Meskhetian Turks want to emigrate to Turkey.

Source: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs [NUPI] - Centre for Russian Studies
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