History

Geographically Georgia is divided into two parts: eastern and western, each of which developed its own distinct culture – Kolkhian (west) and Iberian (east). In the 4th century B.C. King Parnavaz I established the first eastern Georgian state – the Kingdom of Kartli. The Parnavazian Dynasty in Kartli lasted until 65 B.C. This period proved to be of utmost significance to Georgia. Some sources in Georgian historical chronicles date the creation of the Georgian alphabet back to King Pharnavaz I’s reign.

Christianity first reached Georgia in the 1st century A.D. The Apostles Andrew the First called, Simon the Zealot and Matthias were the first to preach the teachings of the Christ here. In approximately 330 AD St. Nino of Cappadocia came to Georgia in order to spread Christianity. She converted King Mirian, who then declared it the state religion. It is in this period when cultural life began to thrive in Georgia. The activities of renowned scholars and philosophers of those times Petre Iberieli and Ioane Lazi command special tribute as well.

In the 4th century AD, schools of rhetoric and philosophy based in Pazisi (modern Poti) were engaged in translating ancient books and manuscripts. Original hagiographic literature was also written in Georgian. The Martyrdom of St. Shushanik was written in the 5th century, followed by The Martyrdom of Evstate Mtskheteli in the 6th century. Kartli was once again invaded by the Persians in the 5th century, during the reign of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Gorgasali is notable for moving the capital of the country from Mtskheta to Tbilisi and implementing a number of church reforms. It was in the 11th-12th centuries when Georgia flourished the most. In 1089 King George II Davit IV went on to become one of the nation’s greatest monarchs. Considered one of the greatest political figures in the nation’s history, Georgians have dubbed this reformer and unifier “Agmashenebeli” (“The Builder”).

In 1103, Davit the Builder summoned the heads of the churches from all over the country to an ecclesiastical gathering later known as the Ruisi-Urbnisi Church Council. Under King Davit’s leadership a regular army was created which enabled him to defeat the Turks and expel them from the Georgian land. He brought about 40,000 Kipchaghs from the North Caucasus and settled them in Georgia in order to increase the might of the Georgian army; he also punished treacherous and wicked feudal lords and appointed people who were loyal to him and devoted to the country to positions of authority.

This period of prosperity in Georgia continued during the reign of Queen Tamar as well (1184-1213). At that time, Georgia was not only able to defend itself from the Turkish invaders but the country was already capable of defeating and driving out infidels from other South Caucasus kingdoms as well. The victories gained in the Battles of Shamkori (1195) and Basiani (1202) are considered highlights of Georgian history. It was during the reign of Queen Tamar that Georgia became the most powerful country in Asia Minor.

The 11th and 12th centuries witnessed a Golden Age in Georgia. This was the time when Shota Rustaveli penned his masterpiece “The Knight in Panther’s Skin”. In the 1340s Georgia was conquered by the Mongol hordes. The leaders of the country were overcome by the invaders. The country’s economy was devastated and the thriving cities were reduced to ruins. In the years 1386-1403 Tamerlaine the Great raided Georgia eight times, devastating irrigation canals and laying waste to the country’s entire agriculture system. People fled to the mountains for safe harbour. Continuous invasions compelled the country to split into separate parts. Economic recession and treachery among feudal lords resulted in the division of Georgia into three separate kingdoms: Kakheti, Kartli and Imereti. In the 18th century, King Vakhtang VI attempted to save the country from economic and political collapse. With the help of Antimoz Iverieli he established the first Georgian printing house. The first book printed there in 1712 was “The Knight in Panther’s Skin”. In the years 1723-1735 Turkish invaders occupied Georgia yet again.

In 1744-1798, Erekle II (nick-named “Patara Kakhi”) occupied the royal throne in the eastern part of Georgia. He took energetic steps towards unifying and strengthening the country. As Erekle proved unable to defend Georgia from invaders with his own forces, he took the decision to appeal to Orthodox Russia for support. In 1783, the Treaty of Georgievsk was concluded between the Russian Empire and the kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti. According to this pact Georgian kings were to recognize the power of Russian Empire, thought it stipulated that Russia was not to interfere in Georgia’s internal affairs. The Imeretian and Mengrelian kingdoms soon shared a similar fate. In 1891, Georgia was all but completely annexed by the Russian Empire. The Russians ignored Georgian habits and traditions and sought to eradicate Georgian language and culture. Almost all frescos in all Georgian cathedrals were white-washed and both the status of the Patriarch and the autocephaly of the Georgian Church were abolished.

In February of 1917 the Democratic Republic of Georgia with a provisional government was established. In March of the same year, Georgian church regained its autocephaly and a new patriarch, Kirion, was elected. On 26 May 1920 Russia recognized Georgia’s independence, which was followed by the de facto acknowledgement of the country by Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan. In February of 1921, Tbilisi was occupied by the Red Army and the government of Georgia was forced to flee. From 1921 to 1991 the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia was one of the 15 constituent republics of the Soviet Union.

Recent History

Georgia was one of the first Soviet republics to take steps towards independence. This process was accelerated by the events of 9 April 1989, when Soviet Soldiers brutally crushed a peaceful rally in Tbilisi, killing 21 protestors. Elections held on 28 October 1990 put an end to Soviet Georgia. The Round Table – Free Georgia party, headed by former dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia won a convincing victory. On 31 March 1991, a referendum on the restoration of the country’s independence was overwhelmingly approved. Georgia’s Declaration of Independence was adopted at a session of the Supreme Council on 9 April 1991. On 26 May 1991, the first presidential elections were held. Zviad Gamsakhurdia won 87% of the vote and became the first president of independent Georgia.