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All About Georgia: FSF Cultural Exploration

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

Georgia Overview

Georgia is a nation in Eastern Europe, located on the Southern slope of the Caucasus Mountains. Within the country there exist smaller regional ethno-cultural identities, each with their own unique traditions and customs. Some of these groups have experienced long periods of isolation and thus continue to maintain some of the oldest cultural heritages in the entire world. This diversity, in addition to being situated along the historic silk road, contributes to Georgia having one of the most unique and hospitable cultures in the world.

Georgia’s History

Georgian history can be traced back to the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia. In the 4th century, it became one of the first countries to embrace Christianity. This was followed by the country fighting to maintain its independence through to the 6th century against Persian and Byzantine conquerors. Egrisi repelled invasion attempts by the Byzantines while the Iberians held off the Persians. At the end of the 5th century, Prince Vakhtang I Gorgasali initiated an anti-Persian uprising, and he restored Iberian statehood by proclaiming himself as King. However, his struggle to unify and ensure the independence of the Georgian state failed to produce long lasting effects. The King fell in battle early in the 6th century and after his death the Iranians began to act zealously. Yet, this time the Iberian nobility were given the privilege of electing their governors. By the late 7th century, the Byzantine-Persian struggle for the Middle East led to Arab conquest of the region.

The first united Georgian monarchy was formed at the end of the 10th century when Curopalate David invaded the Earldom of Kartli-Iberia to become the first king of a united Georgia in both the east and the west. Georgia peaked in terms of political and economic strength during the reign of King David and Queen Tamar in the 11th and 12th centuries. The second half of the 11th century saw the strategically significant invasion of the Seljuk Turks. By the end of the 1040s they had built a nomadic empire, which included most of central Asia and Persia. By 1081, all of Armenia, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria and most of Georgia had been conquered and devastated by the Seljuks.

Between 1801 and 1918 the country of Georgia was part of the Russian Empire. At first the Russian authorities intended to integrate Georgia into the rest of the Empire, but Russian rule soon proved to be too domineering to meet the local customs and ideals of the Georgian people. This led to a conspiracy by the Georgian elite in 1832 and a revolution in 1841. This changed when Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov came into office as Viceroy of the Caucasus in 1845. Count Vorontsov’s new administration strategies successfully attracted the Georgian elite, who became progressively Europeanized. However, many Georgians were left living in poverty, vulnerable to exposure and starvation.

Georgia declared independence in 1918 in the midst of the Russian Civil War. The Georgian Social-Democratic Party won the parliamentary election, and their leader became prime minister. Georgia’s independence did not last long as a Georgian-Armenian war erupted in parts of Georgia populated mostly by Armenians in 1918. Later that year, Georgian general Giorgi Mazniashvili led an attack against the White Army to claim the Black Sea coastline.

Georgia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1921 and was one of one of fifteen its federal republics until 1991. Under Soviet rule, Georgia suffered from civil unrest and economic crises. The Dissidential movement for restoration of Georgian statehood started to gain popularity in the 1960s. On April 9, 1989, a peaceful anti-Soviet demonstration in Tbilisi ended with 20 Georgians being killed by Soviet troops. The legacy of this event helped radicalize Georgia's opposition to Soviet power. On the second anniversary of the tragedy, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia proclaimed Georgian independence and sovereignty from the Soviet Union.

Zviad Gamsakhurdia became the first President of independent Georgia in 1991. He was soon overthrown, leading to conflict and civil war. Georgia recovered in 1995, but failed to overcome ethnic tensions. Disputes between local separatists and the majority Georgian populations within Abkhazia and South Ossetia erupted into inter-ethnic violence and wars. In 2003, President Shevardnadze was deposed by the Rose Revolution, after accusations of fraudulent elections. Following this, a series of reforms were launched to strengthen Georgia’s military and economic capabilities. The new government’s efforts to reassert Georgian authority in the southwestern republic of Ajaria only exacerbated tensions. Georgia engaged in military conflict with Russian backed separatist in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008. Georgian forces were defeated and made to retreat, allowing Russian forces to enter Tbilisi and occupy many villages unopposed. Russian troops withdrew from Gori and Poti, but remained in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which it recognized as independent countries. Georgia, on the other hand, still considers these territories to be under Russian occupation.

Georgian Societal Values

Georgia has earned a reputation for being a friendly nation. There’s even a monument, Mother of Georgia, dedicated to hospitality and friendship that overlooks the capital, Tbilisi. Those visiting a Georgian home, regardless of relative status, are offered food and drink, and the hosts make sure that guests feel as comfortable as they would be in their own home. This is exemplified in the Georgian tradition of hosting big dinners called “Supras”, during which a table is fully decorated by different dishes, and people sit around it for hours. The organizer of the Supra is called the Tamada or the toast-maker who is in charge of keeping the audience engaged at the table.

People ascribe great importance to kinship. Relatives up to the third or even fourth generation are considered close, and are expected to share each other’s joy and sorrow. Many families regularly meet at important social events such as weddings and funerals. Attending such events is considered obligatory for all members of the family in most cases. The kinship system played an important role in cushioning the effects of the economic crisis when the social welfare system was disrupted. However, it may also contribute to clientelism, protectionism, and organized crime. Most urban households are nuclear families, while rural, mountainous areas more often have extended families living together. In this case the father of the family may control the resources, and assign tasks on the farm, while the mother is responsible for keeping the household. Younger members gradually split off, building a separate house in the neighborhood.

Georgia has egalitarian attitudes regarding gender-roles. Explicit divisions in labor based on gender can only be seen in areas of hard physical labor such as mining. This allows women to both play the role of breadwinner and housewife. Most urban women work when they have the opportunity, although few are found in government positions. Women are also unable to become priests in the Orthodox church or a mullah among Muslims. They are, however, favored in national legislation. Georgia law provides for a woman's right to take the children after a divorce. Women also receive pregnancy leaves and earlier retirements and are not subject to military conscription. Although men dominate both public and family life, most housework is done by women, traditional stereotypes of gender-defined social roles are changing.

Georgia Culture: Conclusion

Georgia is an incredibly diverse European nation. While this diversity has contributed to conflict within the country, it has also contributed to the creation of a highly tolerant cultural heritage. Part of this is being friendly by showing hospitality to others. This also contributes to the continuation of strong kin groups throughout the country who strengthen their bonds by sharing their happiness and hardships together. It has also allowed the country to have more egalitarian attitudes towards women relative to its neighbors. These factors come together to make Georgia into a warm and accepting nation.


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