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About the etymology of the word - Georgia

Georgians call themselves Kartveli (Kartvelebi pl.) and their land Sakartvelo, According to the Georgian historical sources, these names are derived from a pagan god called Kartlos, said to be the father of all Georgians. The Classical world knew the inhabitants of eastern Georgia as Iberians, and the country – Iberia (or Iveria). West Georgian tribes were known as Colchians and the country – Colchis (kolkha, kolkheti). Georgians called Iberia – Kartli, and Colchis – Egrisi (which was later replaced by Lazika, Abkhazeti, Imereti).

The foreign name Georgia, used throughout Western Europe, is believed to come from the country's patron saint, St. George (displayed on coat of arms and flags of Georgia). Actually it is derived from the Greek geo (earth), because when the Greeks came to Georgia they saw the Georgians working the land. Another theory purports that the name comes from the names Kurj or Gurj, by which they are known to the Arabs, Turks and Persians. They call Georgia Giurjistan (Gurjistan). The Russian name Gruzia is derived from Giurjistan.

In Georgian understanding, Sakartvelo means united lends of all Georgians. Georgia has the same meaning and it is not a synonym of Kartli (Iberia). In 18th century sometimes Georgia (and Gruzia) meant the united Kartli-Kakhetian (east Georgian) kingdom.

History of Georgia

  "The Georgiens are very warlike and strong people and have numerous knights and warriors... In spite of existing in a totally hostile environment of infidels, they remain fearless. On the contrary – others are afraid of them and do not easily risk to offend them in any way. They are called Georgians, according to the name of the Holy Knight, St. George, whose name they esteem and respect immensely, particularly prior to the battles they are going to join…” Bernhard von Breidenbach, XV century German author (7, pp.77-78)

Georgian tribes have always lived in this region of the Caucasus. Archaeological excavations have revealed a number of ancient settlements, which included houses with galleries from the 5th millennium BC.  

The First early-class Georgian Union “Diaukhi” (Taokhi) was created in the XII c. B.C. at the sources of the Chorokhi-river and the Euphrates-river. In the IX-VIII c. B.C. Diaukhi was destructed and conquered by the strong kingdom of Urartu. 

The Second Georgian Union “Colches” (kolkha or kolkheti in Georgian) was created  In the VIII c. B.C. at the shores of the Black Sea  (the Greeks knew the region as Colches, while Georgians called it Egrisi. Colches is featured in the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts, who traveled there in search of the Golden Fleece). Colches was populated by Georgian tribes - Karts, Megrels, Chans and Svans, the capital was city Aia (present-day Kutaisi).  The advanced economy and favorable geographic and natural conditions of Colchis attracted the Greeks; they colonized the Black Sea coast, setting up several settlements including; Gyenos (Ochamchire), Dioscuras (Sukhumi), Anakopia (Akhali Atoni) and Pityus (Bichvinta), Phasis (present-day Poti). The kingdom of Colches minted its own silver coins known as "white Colchians coins" (Kolkhuri Tetri in Georgian). 

After the collapse of Diaukhi, Georgian "Meskhetian" tribes  gradually moved north-east and formed their settlement - Mtskheta in the very heart of Kartli. During the same period an intensive consolidation of the Kartlian tribes largely inhabiting eastern and southern Georgia occurred. At the end of the IV c. B.C., Parnavaz, the king of East Georgian Kingdom - Iberia ("Kartli" -in Georgian language) - unified the territory from the Caucasus Range down to the source of the Euphrates-River. The Kingdom of Egrisi (Colches) also fell under the influence of the Iberia. That contributed to closer contacts among the Georgian tribes and formation of single Georgian (Kartvelian) ethnic entity. Mtskheta became the capital of this Kingdom.  

Georgian historical source "Kartlis Tskhovreba" (“The life-story of Kartli”, written in mid centuries), ascribes creation of Georgian alphabet to Parnavaz I, in the III c. B.C. 

Christianity started to spread in Georgia from the I century (preached by Apostles Andrew and Simon).

According to the legend, Christianity was reintroduced to Kartli (Iberia) by the Preacher Nino from Cappadokia. Iberia became one of the first states in the world to convert to Christianity in AD 317 (or 337), when King of Iberia Mirian III established it as the official state religion. King Vakhtang Gorgasali further strengthened the Kartli (Iberia) and Christian church, making it autocephalic in 467 A.D. He secured permission from Constantinople to promote the status of the bishop of Mtskheta to that of Cathollcos. 

The Passion of St. Shushanik was written in the 5th century. Another such work by an anonymous author, The Martyrdom of Evstate Mtskheteli is from the 6th century. The oldest books translated then were the Gospels and the Old Testament. 

In the 4th-6th centuries the Georgian people mainly fought against Persian and Byzantine conquerors to preserve independence. Direct wars between Iberia and Iran began after Iran conquered the neighboring countries of Armenia and Albania. King Vakhtang Gorgasali, who was regarded as a strong clever warrior, united the Trans-Caucasus against the Iranians. He turned the fortress at Tbilisi into a city. Despite his best efforts, Persians killed him in the sixth century. At the and of 6th century, local feudal administrative-state government or Saerismtavro was instituted in Kartli (Iberia). This early feudal state actually served as the basis for the creation of the future united Georgian monarchy. The nobles who ruled Kartli  were first representatives of Bagrationi royal family, dynasty of Georgian kings which ruled Georgia till the 19th century. Erismtavars (in Georgian means the head of nation) of Kartli - Guaram, Adarnase, Stefanoz I and Stefanoz II built many churches and fortresses in the country, inc. the famous Jvari church in Mtskheta. They also developed local monetary system and minted silver coins with Christian symbolic and Georgian inscriptions on them. The invasions of the Arabs in the middle of the VII century and their sway undermined considerably the economic development of the country. Kartli (Iberia) was suffering the most. The forces fighting against the Arabs united their efforts under the banner of Christianity. The selfless struggle waged by the Georgians ultimately resulted in a gradual shrinking of the sphere of Arab influence. But the Arab Invasions caused the creation of new Georgian kingdoms, the most important of which was Tao-Klarjeti Kingdom. At the same time, the west Georgian kingdom - Egrisi was named Abkhazeti Kingdom (Abkhazian Kingdom).

At the second half of the X c, the necessary political, social-economical and ethnical pre-conditions appeared for consolidation of Georgia as a single whole Kingdom. Due to this, King Bagrat III, managed to amalgamate the large part of the country. The Capital of politically consolidated Georgia became Kutaisi. The first king of the consolidated Georgia worn the title of "King of the Abkhazians, Kartvels, Hers and Kakhs" Approximately in the same period of time the term "Sakartvelo", which means the "Entire Country of Georgians", came Into being. ("Sakartvelo" Is the Georgian word for "Georgia").

Georgian kingdom achieved a peak of power and prestige between the 11th and 13th centuries under powerful rulers such as the King David the Builder (David IV Agmashenebeli) (reigned 1089-1125) and Queen Tamar (1184-1213), both regarded as saints by the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church. During this period the capital of Georgia was Tbilisi and territory of Georgian Kingdom expanded from Nicopsia (a city between modern Sokhi and Tuapse) to Derbent (on the Caspian Sea) and from North Caucasus to Mt. Ararat. Georgian army gained several magnificent victories over the coalition of Seljuk and other  Muslim armies,  but decisive was the Didigori battle In 1121, when 450.000 Seljuks were crushed by 55.000 Georgians. The power of and wealthy of Georgia was partially diminished by the Invasions of Mongols at the and of 13th century. Only in the 14th century king George V (1314-1346), called the Brilliant, finally drove the Mongols out. He centralized royal power, revived the economy, and established close international commercial ties, mainly with Byzantium, but also with Venice and Genoa.

A unique Georgian Christian Culture flourished in 10-13 centuries. This was the era of great building projects such as Gelati, Svetitskhoveli, Vardzia and the flourishing of a literary tradition revered to this day. In 12th century  Shota Rustaveli dedicated his great epic poem "the Knight in the Tiger's Skin" to Queen Tamar. 

Georgia suffered a lengthy period of decline after 15th century, when it was divided into three - Kartli, Kakheti and Imereti Kingdoms and principality of Samtskhe. All the kingdoms were ruled by the kings of Bagrationi royal family but King of Kartli was considered as superior over them. The Peace of Amasia in 1555, between Ottoman Turks and the Safarid Persians, divided Georgia into spheres of influence, giving the west to Turkey and the east to Iran. Turkish and Iranian invasions became almost permanent. From 1632 to 1744 the shahs of Iran set Islamized Bagrationis on the throne of Kartli. In the second half of the 18th century Kartli and Kakheti kingdoms strengthened and united in one kingdom, but Imereti kingdom weakened and lost control over the principalities of Abkhazeti, Megrelia (Samegrelo) and  Guria (The suzerainty of Imerety  was partially restored in the middle of 18th century). Samtskhe principality was occupied by Turkey in the 17th century. On July 24, 1783, Russian Emperor Catherine II and King of East-Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti  Erekle II, signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, which made Kartli-Kakheti a protectorate of Russia. Russia did not live up to the conditions of that treaty when Catherine withdrew her troops from Georgia and King Erekle was forced to face a vastly superior force led by Iranian Shah Agha Mohamed Khan, who demanded the denunciation of the Georgievsk Treaty. On the battlefields at Krtsanisi, 5 000 Georgians were defeated by 35 000 Iranians. Tbilisi was destroyed and the population massacred. 

Erekle II's successor King George XII asked Russian emperor to stand by its commitments of the Georgievsk treaty. But after his death,  in January of 1801, Russian Emperor Paul I signed a manifesto which annexed East Georgia to Russia, in violation of the 1783 treaty. In 1810 the King of Imereti Solomon II was forced by the Russians to flee to Turkey, and Imereti came under Russian rule, although Mengrelian and  Abkhazian principalities preserved certain autonomy till 1864. The annexation of Georgia by the Russian Empire put an end to the independent existence of the Georgian Kingdoms and principalities and Georgia lost her age-old statehood. Under Russian rule the Georgian church lost its autocephaly and was turned into a exarchate of the Russian synod. Georgian churches were redecorated in Russian style and intense program of Russification was undertaken to replace the Georgian social and cultural system with a Russian version. On the other hand, in spite of the colonial policy of Russia, Georgia found herself protected against constant invasions. Conditions became favorable for population growth and economic progress. 

Georgian dissatisfaction with Russian Tsarist autocracy led to numerous uprisings which took place in the first half of the 19th century in various parts of Georgia. 

The national liberation movement in the second half of the 19th century was led by public figure Ilia Chavchavadze.  

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 on May 26, 1918. The new country was ruled by the Menshevik fraction 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 recognized as independent by the major European powers in 1918 and by Soviet Russia in May 1920.

In February 1921, the Russian Red Army (supported by ethnical Georgians - Josef Jugashvili (Stalin) and Sergo Orjonikidze) invaded Georgia and after a short war occupied the country. Georgian government was forced to flee. Partisan’s resistance in 1921-1924 was followed by a large patriotic rebellion in August, 1924. Georgia was forcibly incorporated it into a TransCaucasian Federative Soviet Socialist Republic (TFSSR) comprising Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan (capital Tbilisi). In 1936, the TSFSR was dissolved and Georgia became the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

In 1941-45, during Second World War, almost 700 000 Georgians fought as the Red Army soldiers against the Nazi Germany. About 300 000 (6% of whole population) of them died in the battlefields of eastern front. One Georgian division (mainly consisted of Georgian emigrants in France and Germany) fought on the Germany side. Their intention was to liberate Georgia from the Soviet rule.

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.

On April 9, 1989, Soviet troops were used to break up a peaceful demonstration at the government building in Tbilisi. More then twenty Georgians were killed. The event radicalized Georgian politics, prompting many - even some Georgian communists - to conclude that independence was preferable to continued Soviet rule.

Democratic parliamentary election was 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 organized 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 recognized by outside powers such as the UN and EU.

In December, 1991, armed anti-Gamsakhurdia coalition besieged 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.  He was elected as president after several months. In 1992, Georgia became the 179th member of the United Nations. 

Developments in Georgia in 1993-1994 were dominated by the war in Abkhazia between Georgian State Army and Abkhaz (Apsua) separatist supported by Russian military forces and volunteers from north Caucasus. More then 200 000 ethnic Georgians had to flee from Abkhazia in 1994.  The statuses of former Autonomous republic of Abkhazia and Autonomous Region of South Ossetia are still undetermined, peaceful negotiations are in progress. 

On November 23, 2003, President Shevardnadze resigned after peaceful revolution (Rose Revolution) and was replaced as president on an interim basis by Nino Burjanadze.

On January 4, 2004 Mikhail Saakashvili won the Presidential Elections with a huge majority of 96% of the votes cast.





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