Georgia's recorded history dates back more than 2,500 years. Georgian -- a South Caucasian (or “Kartvelian”) language unrelated to any other outside the immediate region -- is one of the oldest living languages in the world, and it has its own distinctive alphabet. Tbilisi, located in the picturesque Mtkvari River valley, is more than 1,500 years old. In the early 4th century Georgia adopted
Christianity, only the second nation in the world to do so officially, and Orthodox Christianity -- in combination with a unique language and alphabet -- proved to be key factors in preserving Georgia’s separate identity for so many centuries. Georgia has historically found itself on the margins of great empires, and Georgians have lived together in a unified state for only a small fraction of
their existence as a people. Much of Georgia's territory was fought over by Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Mongol, and Turkish armies from at least the 1st century B.C. through the 18th century. The zenith of Georgia’s power as an independent kingdom came in the 11th and 12th centuries, during the reigns of King David the Builder and Queen Tamara, who still rank among the most celebrated of all
Georgian rulers. In 1783 the king of Kartli (in eastern Georgia) signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russians, by which Russia agreed to take the kingdom as its protectorate.
In 1801, the Russian empire began the piecemeal process of unifying and annexing Georgian territory, and for most of the next two centuries (1801-1991) Georgia found itself ruled from St. Petersburg and Moscow. Exposed to modern European ideas of nationalism under Russian tutelage, Georgians like the writer Ilya Chavchavadze began calling for greater Georgian independence. In the wake of the
collapse of tsarist rule and war with the Turks, the first Republic of Georgia was established on May 26, 1918, and the country enjoyed a brief period of independence under the Menshevik president, Noe Zhordania. However, in March 1921, the Russian Red Army re-occupied the country, and Georgia became a republic of the Soviet Union. Several of the Soviet Union’s most notorious leaders in the 1920s
and 1930s were Georgian, such as Joseph Stalin, Sergo Orjonikidze, and Lavrenti Beria. In the postwar period, Georgia was perceived as one of the wealthiest and most privileged of Soviet republics, and many Russians treated the country’s Black Sea coast as a kind of Soviet Riviera. On April 9, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia declared independence from the U.S.S.R.
Beset by ethnic and civil strife from independence in 1991, Georgia began to stabilize in 1995. However, almost 300,000 internally displaced persons present an enormous strain on the country. Peace remains fragile in the separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- overseen by Commonwealth of Independent States' (essentially Russian) peacekeepers, the United Nations Observer Mission in
Georgia (UNOMIG), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Considerable progress has been made in negotiations on the Ossetian-Georgian conflict. Negotiations are continuing on the stalemated Georgia-Abkhazia conflict under the aegis of the United Nations.
After surviving assassination attempts in August 1995 and February 1998, then-President Shevardnadze consolidated his leadership and declared an ambitious reform agenda. Elections on November 5, 1995, described at the time as the freest and fairest in the Caucasus or Central Asia, gave him the presidency and resulted in a progressive parliament led by sophisticated reformers. Since 1998,
however, the reform process has encountered serious obstacles and made limited progress.
Following the seriously flawed November 2, 2003 parliamentary elections, popular street demonstrations led to the November 23, 2003 resignation of former President Eduard Shevardnadze. Nino Burjanadze, as Speaker of the Parliament, assumed the duties of Interim President. As a result, National Movement and the Burjanadze-Democrats emerged as the leading parties in Georgia. The former
pro-government coalition For a New Georgia effectively dissolved. The Revival Party led by Jemal Gogitidze is overwhelmingly based in Ajara and is firmly under the control of that region’s governor, Aslan Abashidze. Revival, New Rights, the Labor Party, and the Industrialist are significant opposition parties.
The political status of the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is unresolved. Isolated outbreaks of violence continue to erupt in Abkhazia. About 300,000 people displaced by these conflicts have yet to return to home.
Renewed fighting in neighboring Chechnya (Russia) in late 1999 generated concerns that the conflict will spill over into Georgia. Several thousand Chechen refugees moved into Georgia's Pankisi Gorge in late 1999, adding to the refugee/internally displaced population. The Abkhaz separatist dispute also continues to absorb much of the government's attention. While a cease-fire is in effect,
about 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were driven from their homes during the conflict constitute a vocal lobby. The government has offered the region considerable autonomy in order to encourage a settlement, which would allow the IDPs, the majority of whom are ethnic Georgians from the Gali region, to return home, but the Abkhaz insist on independence.