Georgia is a country rich in history and unrivaled in natural beauty. Archaeologists uncovered the earliest evidence of wine making (7000–5000 BC) in Georgia, as well as the remains of the oldest (1.8 million years) hominids discovered outside of Africa. Unfortunately, we in the West receive very little exposure to this area of land between the Black and Caspian oceans. However, this is rapidly changing.
Georgians are neither Russians, Turks, or Persians, and they have no ethnic ties to anybody else. However, there are hypotheses that Georgians are related to Basques, Corsicans, and North Caucasians. Georgia is a multi-ethnic state; the Kartveli are the largest ethnic group, but other important Georgian ethnic groups include the Mingreli, Laz, and Svan (all of whom speak Georgian languages distinct from the national language, Kartuli). Georgian is a separate language group, unconnected to Indo-European or Semitic languages. For ages, Georgians have been engaged in conflicts with the world’s most powerful empires (Mongol, Persian, Ottoman, Russian, and so on). This little nation was attacked and destroyed many times. Georgians, on the other hand, have managed to maintain their cultural and traditional identity for over 9,000 years. The landscape is densely fortified with historic towered walls, several of which contain ancient churches (including one of Christendom’s oldest) and monasteries.
With the preaching of St Nino of Cappadocia, Christianity was brought into Georgia in the first century and became the official national state religion in the mid fourth century (Georgia was the third country to embrace Christianity, following Armenia and Ethiopia). The Georgian cross is easily identified since it was fashioned by St Nino from grape vines and her own hair. As a result, the grape and the vine play significant roles in Georgian iconography.
Georgians would have a historical cultural leaning toward the West rather than the Muslims in the area as a result of their conversion to Christianity (Turkey and Persia to the South). Regardless, Georgian culture is at a crossroads of civilizations. Its culture and customs are the result of its neighbors’ impact as well as its own distinct civilisation.
Georgia was known as the “Riviera of the Soviet Union” during the Soviet period, and it was famous for its food and wine. Russians may like vodka, but the Soviet aristocracy preferred Georgian wines. Georgia inundated Russian markets with high-quality tea, wine, and fruits during the Soviet period. The Georgian Black Sea coast, in particular (Abkhazia and Adjaria), has subtropical weather and lovely beaches (imagine pine trees and mountains covering the coast line).
Georgia, on the Soviet Union’s periphery, also contributed significantly to the collapse of the Soviet Union via nationalist demands for independence (and the Georgians have catalyzed the dissolution of empires before). Georgia, situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and western portions of Asia, served as one of the Silk Road’s major routes and today plays a vital geopolitical role. It has grown in significance as a strategic transit nation in recent years, housing vital oil and gas pipelines connecting Azerbaijan to Europe through Turkey.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, this great country is still in transition. Tense ties with Russia (and growing goodwill with the United States and the European Union) have caused Russia to shut its markets to Georgian goods, negatively impacting the Georgian economy. Russia has blocked its border with Georgia since 2006, and Russia’s allies, the separatist territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have also closed their borders with Georgia and have maintained a tight economic embargo on it since then. In 2008, the country went to war with Russia over South Ossetia, which resulted in Georgia losing 17 percent of its territory, Russia diplomatically recognizing both separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the severance of diplomatic relations with Russia, which had a serious economic impact. Despite the fact that the nations’ struggle has caused considerable animosity and even hatred, the majority of Georgians despise the Russian government but have a positive view of ordinary Russians.
Georgians have very strong traditions of hospitality, chivalry, and personal honor standards. They think that visitors are sent by God. Among all the qualities, friendship is the most valued. It is commemorated in Shota Rustaveli’s 12th century national epic, The Knight in the Tiger’s Skin (“” or “Vepkhistqaosani”), where a person’s value is determined by the depth of his friendships. Georgians are strong, passionate, and fiercely independent, but they are intimately linked by a common feeling of belonging to a larger Georgian family. Women are held in high regard in society and are treated with chivalric reverence. The Mother of Georgia (kartlis deda) monument, which rises in the hills above Tbilisi, probably best represents the national character: in her left hand, she holds a bowl of wine with which she welcomes her friends, while in her right, she has a sword drawn against her enemies.
Georgia, with an area of 67,900 km2, is located in the South Caucasus between latitudes 41° and 44° N and longitudes 40° and 47° E. (26,216 sq mi). It’s a hilly country. The Likhi Range separates the nation into two parts, one in the east and one in the west. Historically, Georgia’s western plateau was known as Colchis, while the eastern plateau was known as Iberia. Mountains also separate the northern area of Svaneti from the rest of Georgia due to its complicated geographical location.
Georgia’s northern boundary is formed by the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range. The major routes entering Russian territory pass via the Roki Tunnel between Shida Kartli and North Ossetia, as well as the Darial Gorge (in the Georgian region of Khevi). Because it is the only straight path over the Caucasus Mountains, the Roki Tunnel was critical for the Russian military during the 2008 South Ossetia conflict. The country’s southern border is formed by the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range is much greater in height than the Lesser Caucasus Mountain Range, with the tallest peaks reaching more than 5,000 meters (16,404 ft) above sea level.
Mount Shkhara is Georgia’s highest peak at 5,068 meters (16,627 feet), while Mount Janga (Dzhangi-Tau) is the second highest at 5,059 meters (16,598 feet). Mount Kazbek, at 5,047 m (16,558 ft), Shota Rustaveli, at 4,860 m (15,945 ft), Tetnuldi, at 4,858 m (15,938 ft), Mt. Ushba, at 4,700 m (15,420 ft), and Ailama, at 4,547 m (14,918 ft). Only Kazbek is of volcanic origin among the peaks listed above. Numerous glaciers dominate the area between Kazbek and Shkhara (approximately 200 km (124 mi) along the Main Caucasus Range). Georgia is home to about one-third of the Caucasus’s 2,100 glaciers.
The Lesser Caucasus Mountains are the hilly (highland) regions of southern Georgia linked to the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range via the Likhi Range. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains, which run parallel to the Greater Caucasus Range, and the Southern Georgia Volcanic Highland, which is directly to the south of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, are two distinct sub-regions of the area.
The area as a whole is made up of different, linked mountain ranges (mostly of volcanic origin) and plateaus with elevations that do not surpass 3,400 meters (11,155 ft). The Javakheti Volcanic Plateau, lakes such as Tabatskuri and Paravani, mineral water, and hot springs are all prominent characteristics of the region. The Rioni and Mtkvari rivers are significant rivers in Georgia. The Southern Georgia Volcanic Highland is a young and unstable geologic area with strong seismic activity that has seen some of Georgia’s most major earthquakes.
The Krubera Cave is the world’s deepest known cave. It is situated in Abkhazia, in the Arabika Massif of the Gagra Range. In 2001, a Russian–Ukrainian team established the global cave depth record of 1,710 meters (5,610 ft). When a Ukrainian team reached the 2,000-meter (6,562 ft) barrier for the first time in speleology history in 2004, the penetrated depth was increased on each of three trips. The CAVEX team discovered an undiscovered section of the cave in October 2005, increasing the cave’s known depth. This trip verified the cave’s reported depth of 2,140 meters (7,021 ft).
Georgia’s climate is very varied, especially given the country’s tiny size. There are two major climate zones, approximately matching to the country’s eastern and western regions. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range moderates Georgia’s temperature and shields the country from the intrusion of colder air masses from the north. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains shield the area from the effects of dry, hot air masses from the south.
Much of western Georgia is located on the northern rim of the humid subtropical zone, with annual precipitation ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 mm (39.4 to 157.5 in). Precipitation is generally evenly distributed throughout the year, but it may be especially heavy during the autumn months. The temperature of the region varies considerably with elevation, and although most of western Georgia’s lowland parts are generally warm all year, the foothills and higher areas (including both the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains) have cold, rainy summers and snowy winters (snow cover often exceeds 2 meters in many regions). Ajaria is the Caucasus’ wettest area, with the Mt. Mtirala rainforest east of Kobuleti receiving approximately 4,500 mm (177.2 in) of precipitation each year.
Eastern Georgia has a climate that ranges from humid subtropical to continental. Weather patterns in the area are affected by both dry Caspian air masses from the east and humid Black Sea air masses from the west. The passage of humid air masses from the Black Sea is often obstructed by mountain ranges (Likhi and Meskheti) that divide the country’s eastern and western halves. Annual precipitation is much lower than in western Georgia, ranging from 400–1,600 mm (15.7–63.0 in).
Spring and fall are often the wettest months, whereas winter and summer are typically the driest. Summers in most of eastern Georgia are hot (particularly in low-lying regions) while winters are quite chilly. Elevation, like in the western regions of the country, is essential in eastern Georgia, where climatic conditions over 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) are much cooler than in low-lying places. Even in the summer, areas over 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) often encounter frost.
Georgians, like other original Caucasian peoples, do not fit into any of Europe’s or Asia’s major ethnic groups. Georgian, the most widely spoken Kartvelian language, is neither Indo-European, Turkic, nor Semitic. The modern Georgian or Kartvelian nation is believed to have arisen from the union of aboriginal, autochthonous people with immigrants who migrated into South Caucasus from Anatolia in distant antiquity.
Ethnic Georgians account for about 86.8 percent of Georgia’s current population of 3,713,804 people (2014 census). Abkhazians, Armenians, Assyrians, Azerbaijanis, Greeks, Jews, Kists, Ossetians, Russians, Ukrainians, Yezidis, and others are among the various ethnic groups. Georgian Jews are one of the world’s oldest Jewish groups. Georgia formerly had large ethnic German populations, but most Germans were deported after WWII.
Georgia had 341,000 ethnic Russians, or 6.3 percent of the population, 52,000 Ukrainians, and 100,000 Greeks according to the 1989 census. Since 1990, 1.5 million Georgians have fled the country. At least one million Georgians live in Russia, either legally or illegally. Georgia’s net migration rate, excluding Georgian citizens living abroad, is 4.54 percent. Despite this, Georgia has been populated by immigrants from all over the globe since its independence. According to 2014 data, Georgia receives the majority of its immigrants from Russia, accounting for 51.6 percent of all immigrants.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, violent separatist wars erupted in the autonomous regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. Many Ossetians in Georgia fled, mostly to Russia’s North Ossetia. On the other side, since the outbreak of hostilities in Abkhazia in 1993, more than 150,000 Georgians have fled the region. As of 2008, just a small percentage of the Meskhetian Turks who were forcefully evacuated in 1944 have returned to Georgia.
The Kartvelian language family, which includes Georgian, Svan, Mingrelian, and Laz, is the most prevalent. Georgia’s official languages are Georgian and Abkhaz, which has official status inside the autonomous territory of Abkhazia. Georgian is the predominant language of 87.7% of the population, with the remaining 6.2 percent speaking Azerbaijani, 3.9 percent Armenian, 1.2 percent Russian, and 1% speaking other languages.
Today, 83.4 percent of the population follows Eastern Orthodox Christianity, with the bulk of these followers belonging to the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Georgian Orthodox Church is one of the world’s oldest Christian churches, with Saint Andrew as its apostolic founder. Following the missionary efforts of Saint Nino of Cappadocia, Christianity was accepted as the official religion of Iberia (present-day Kartli, or eastern Georgia) in the first part of the fourth century. The Church acquired autocephaly in the early Middle Ages, was abolished under Russian rule, restored in 1917, and fully recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1990.
Although religious organizations are independent from the state and every person has the right to religion, the Georgian Orthodox Church has a unique position that is formally recognized in the Georgian Constitution and the Concordat of 2002.
Muslims (10.7 percent), Armenian Christians (2.9 percent), and Roman Catholics are among Georgia’s religious minorities (0.5 percent). Other faiths were claimed by 0.7 percent of individuals registered in the 2014 census, 1.2 percent declined or did not identify their religion, and 0.5 percent reported no religion at all.
Islam is represented by Azerbaijani Shia Muslims (in the south-east), ethnic Georgian Sunni Muslims in Adjara, Laz-speaking Sunni Muslims, and Sunni Meskhetian Turks near the Turkish border. There are also smaller communities of Greek Muslims (of Pontic Greek origin) and Armenian Muslims, both of whom are descended from Ottoman-era converts to Turkish Islam from Eastern Anatolia who settled in Georgia following Lala Mustafa Pasha’s Caucasian campaign, which resulted in the Ottoman conquest of the country in 1578. Georgian Jews date back to the 6th century BC, although their numbers have decreased in recent decades owing to high levels of immigration to Israel.
Despite Georgia’s long history of religious peace, followers of defrocked Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili have engaged in religious discrimination and violence against “nontraditional religions,” such as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In addition to conventional religious groups, Georgia has a sizable secular and irreligious population (0.5 percent), as well as a sizable number of religiously connected people who do not actively practice their religion.
Archaeological research shows that Georgia has been engaged in trade with numerous countries and empires from ancient times, owing to its position on the Black Sea and, subsequently, the historical Silk Road. The Caucasus Mountains have been mined for gold, silver, copper, and iron. Georgian winemaking is a centuries-old tradition and an important part of the country’s economy. The nation has significant hydroelectric resources. Because of the country’s climate and geography, agriculture and tourism have been major economic sectors in Georgia throughout its modern history.
For most of the twentieth century, Georgia’s economy was based on the Soviet command economy model. Georgia has been undergoing significant structural reforms in order to transition to a free market economy since the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Georgia, like all other post-Soviet nations, experienced a catastrophic economic collapse. The situation was exacerbated by the civil war and military engagements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Agriculture and industrial production both fell. By 1994, the gross domestic output had fallen to one-quarter of what it had been in 1989. The first Western financial assistance came in 1995, when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund gave Georgia a credit of USD 206 million and Germany provided DM 50 million.
Since the early twenty-first century, noticeable positive improvements in Georgia’s economy have been noticed. Georgia’s real GDP growth rate in 2007 surpassed 12%, making it one of the fastest growing economies in Eastern Europe. Georgia was named “the world’s number one economic reformer” by the World Bank because it went from 112th to 18th in terms of ease of doing business in one year. In comparison to other European nations, the country has a high unemployment rate of 12.6 percent and a very low median income.
The IMF Mission characterized the 2006 restriction on Georgian wine shipments to Russia, one of Georgia’s most important trade partners, as a “external shock.” Furthermore, Russia raised the price of gas for Georgia. Around the same time, the National Bank of Georgia claimed that the country’s continuing inflation was mostly caused by external factors, such as Russia’s economic blockade. [ Georgian officials anticipated that the current account deficit caused by the embargo in 2007 would be offset by “increased foreign currency profits produced by the substantial influx of foreign direct investment” and an increase in tourism income. In addition, the government has maintained a strong credit rating in foreign market securities. Georgia is becoming increasingly linked into the global trade network, with imports and exports accounting for 10% and 18% of GDP in 2006, respectively. Natural gas, oil products, machinery and components, and transportation equipment are Georgia’s major imports.
Tourism is becoming an increasingly important component of the Georgian economy. In 2006, about a million visitors spent $313 million in the nation. Georgia, according to the government, has 103 resorts in various climatic zones. There are approximately 2,000 natural springs and over 12,000 historical and cultural sites, four of which are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi and Gelati Monastery, historical monuments of Mtskheta, and Upper Svaneti).
Georgia is transforming itself into an international transport corridor through the ports of Batumi and Poti, an oil pipeline from Baku to Ceyhan via Tbilisi, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC), and a parallel gas pipeline, the South Caucasus Pipeline.
Since taking office, the Saakashvili government has implemented a number of measures aimed at increasing tax collection. In 2004, a flat income tax was implemented, among other things. As a consequence, budget receipts have quadrupled, and a previously significant budget deficit has transformed into a surplus.
In 2001, 54 percent of the population was poor, but by 2006, that figure had dropped to 34 percent. In 2005, the average monthly family income was GEL 347 (about USD $200). According to 2013 estimates, Georgia’s nominal GDP is $15.98 billion USD. Georgia’s economy is shifting away from agriculture and toward services (which currently account for 65 percent of GDP) (10.9 percent).
In terms of telecommunication infrastructure, Georgia ranks second to last among its neighbors in the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index (NRI) – an indicator used to determine a country’s degree of progress in information and communication technology. Georgia was rated 60th overall in the 2014 NRI rating, up from 65th in 2013.