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Georgia - GEOGRAPHY
Located in the region known as the Caucasus or Caucasia, Georgia is a small country of approximately 69,875 square kilometers--about the size of West Virginia. To the north and northeast, Georgia borders the Russian republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia (all of which began to seek autonomy from Russia in 1992). Neighbors to the south are Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. The shoreline of the Black Sea constitutes Georgia's entire western border.
Despite its small area, Georgia has one of the most varied topographies of the former Soviet republics. Georgia lies mostly in the Caucasus Mountains, and its northern boundary is partly defined by the Greater Caucasus range. The Lesser Caucasus range, which runs parallel to the Turkish and Armenian borders, and the Surami and Imereti ranges, which connect the Greater Caucasus and the Lesser Caucasus, create natural barriers that are partly responsible for cultural and linguistic differences among regions. Because of their elevation and a poorly developed transportation infrastructure, many mountain villages are virtually isolated from the outside world during the winter. Earthquakes and landslides in mountainous areas present a significant threat to life and property. Among the most recent natural disasters were massive rock- and mudslides in Ajaria in 1989 that displaced thousands in southwestern Georgia, and two earthquakes in 1991 that destroyed several villages in northcentral Georgia and South Ossetia.
Georgia has about 25,000 rivers, many of which power small hydroelectric stations. Drainage is into the Black Sea to the west and through Azerbaijan to the Caspian Sea to the east. The largest river is the Mtkvari (formerly known by its Azerbaijani name, Kura, which is still used in Azerbaijan), which flows 1,364 kilometers from northeast Turkey across the plains of eastern Georgia, through the capital, Tbilisi, and into the Caspian Sea. The Rioni River, the largest river in western Georgia, rises in the Greater Caucasus and empties into the Black Sea at the port of Poti. Soviet engineers turned the river lowlands along the Black Sea coast into prime subtropical agricultural land, embanked and straightened many stretches of river, and built an extensive system of canals. Deep mountain gorges form topographical belts within the Greater Caucasus.
Georgia's climate is affected by subtropical influences from the west and mediterranean influences from the east. The Greater Caucasus range moderates local climate by serving as a barrier against cold air from the north. Warm, moist air from the Black Sea moves easily into the coastal lowlands from the west. Climatic zones are determined by distance from the Black Sea and by altitude. Along the Black Sea coast, from Abkhazia to the Turkish border, and in the region known as the Kolkhida Lowlands inland from the coast, the dominant subtropical climate features high humidity and heavy precipitation (1,000 to 2,000 millimeters per year; the Black Sea port of Batumi receives 2,500 millimeters per year). Several varieties of palm trees grow in these regions, where the midwinter average temperature is 5° C and the midsummer average is 22° C.
The plains of eastern Georgia are shielded from the influence of the Black Sea by mountains that provide a more continental climate. Summer temperatures average 20° C to 24° C, winter temperatures 2° C to 4° C. Humidity is lower, and rainfall averages 500 to 800 millimeters per year. Alpine and highland regions in the east and west, as well as a semiarid region on the Iori Plateau to the southeast, have distinct microclimates.
At higher elevations, precipitation is sometimes twice as heavy as in the eastern plains. In the west, the climate is subtropical to about 650 meters; above that altitude (and to the north and east) is a band of moist and moderately warm weather, then a band of cool and wet conditions. Alpine conditions begin at about 2,100 meters, and above 3,600 meters snow and ice are present year-round.
More about the <>Geography of Georgia.
Beginning in the 1980s, Black Sea pollution has greatly harmed Georgia's tourist industry. Inadequate sewage treatment is the main cause of that condition. In Batumi, for example, only 18 percent of wastewater is treated before release into the sea. An estimated 70 percent of surface water contains health-endangering bacteria to which Georgia's high rate of intestinal disease is attributed.
The war in Abkhazia did substantial damage to the ecological habitats unique to that region. In other respects, experts considered Georgia's environmental problems less serious than those of more industrialized former Soviet republics. Solving Georgia's environmental problems was not a high priority of the national government in the post-Soviet years, however; in 1993 the minister for protection of the environment resigned to protest this inactivity. In January 1994, the Cabinet of Ministers announced a new, interdepartmental environmental monitoring system to centralize separate programs under the direction of the Ministry of Protection of the Environment. The system would include a central environmental and information and research agency. The Green Party used its small contingent in the parliament to press environmental issues in 1993.
More about the <>Geography of Georgia.
Over many centuries, Georgia gained a reputation for tolerance of minority religions and ethnic groups from elsewhere, but the postcommunist era was a time of sharp conflict among groups long considered part of the national fabric. Modern Georgia is populated by several ethnic groups, but by far the most numerous of them is the Georgians. In the early 1990s, the population was increasing slowly, and armed hostilities were causing large-scale emigration from certain regions. The ethnic background of some groups, such as the Abkhaz, was a matter of sharp dispute. Population Characteristics
According to the Soviet Union's 1989 census, the total population of Georgia was 5.3 million. The estimated population in 1993 was 5.6 million. Between 1979 and 1989, the population grew by 8.5 percent, with growth rates of 16.7 percent among the urban population and 0.3 percent in rural areas. In 1993 the overall growth rate was 0.8 percent. About 55.8 percent of the population was classified as urban; Tbilisi, the capital and largest city, had more than 1.2 million inhabitants, or approximately 23 percent of the national total. The capital's population grew by 18.1 percent between 1979 and 1989, mainly because of migration from rural areas. Kutaisi, the second largest city, had a population of about 235,000.
In 1991 Georgia's birth rate was seventeen per 1,000 population, its death rate nine per 1,000. Life expectancy was seventy-five years for females and sixty-seven years for males. In 1990 the infant mortality rate was 196 per 10,000 live births. Average family size in 1989 was 4.1, with larger families predominantly located in rural areas. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Georgian population was aging slowly; the cohort under age nineteen shrank slightly and the cohort over sixty increased slightly as percentages of the entire population during that period. The Georgian and Abkhazian populations were the subjects of substantial international study by anthropologists and gerontologists because of the relatively high number of centenarians among them.
Regional ethnic distribution is a major cause of the problems Georgia faces along its borders and within its territory. Russians, who make up the third largest ethnic group in the country (6.7 percent of the total population in 1989), do not constitute a majority in any district. The highest concentration of Russians is in Abkhazia, but the overall dispersion of the Russian population restricts political representation of the Russians' interests.
Azerbaijanis are a majority of the population in the districts of Marneuli and Bolnisi, south of Tbilisi on the Azerbaijan border, while Armenians are a majority in the Akhalkalaki, Ninotsminda, and Dmanisi districts immediately to the west of the Azerbaijani-dominated regions and just north of the Armenian border. Despite the proximity and intermingling of Armenian and Azerbaijani populations in Georgia, in the early 1990s few conflicts in Georgia reflected the hostility of the Armenian and Azerbaijani nations over the territory of NagornoKarabakh. Organizations in Georgia representing the interests of the Armenian and Azerbaijani populations had relatively few conflicts with authorities in Tbilisi in the first postcommunist years.
Under Soviet rule, a large part of Georgian territory was divided into autonomous regions that included concentrations of non-Georgian peoples. The largest such region was the Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Abkhazian ASSR; after Georgian independence, the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic). The distribution of territory and the past policies of tsarist and Soviet rule meant that in 1989 the Abkhaz made up only 17.8 percent of the population of the autonomous republic named for them (compared with 44 percent Georgians and 16 percent Russians). The Abkhaz constituted less than 2 percent of the total population of Georgia. Although Georgian was the prevailing language of the region as early as the eighth century A.D., Abkhazia was a separate Soviet republic from 1921 until 1930, when it was incorporated into Georgia as an autonomous republic.
In the thirteenth century, Ossetians arrived on the south side of the Caucasus Mountains, in Georgian territory, when the Mongols drove them from what is now the North Ossetian Autonomous Republic of Russia. In 1922 the South Ossetian Autonomous Region was formed within the new Transcaucasian republic of the Soviet Union. The autonomous region was abolished officially by the Georgian government in 1990, then reinstated in 1992. South Ossetia includes many all-Georgian villages, and the Ossetian population is concentrated in the cities of Tskhinvali and Java. Overall, in the 1980s the population in South Ossetia was 66 percent Ossetian and 29 percent Georgian. In 1989 more than 60 percent of the Ossetian population of Georgia lived outside South Ossetia.
The Ajarian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Ajarian ASSR) in southwest Georgia was redesignated the Ajarian Autonomous Republic in 1992. The existence of that republic reflects the religious and cultural differences that developed when the Ottoman Empire occupied part of Georgia in the sixteenth century and converted the local population to Islam. The Ajarian region was not included in Georgia until the Treaty of Berlin separated it from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. An autonomous republic within Georgia was declared in 1921. Because the Ajarian population is indistinguishable from Georgians in language and belongs to the same ethnic group, it generally considers itself Georgian. Eventually "Ajarian" was dropped from the ethnic categories in the Soviet national census. Thus, in the 1979 census the ethnic breakdown of the region showed about 80 percent Georgians (including Ajars) and 10 percent Russians. Nevertheless, the autonomous republic remains an administrative subdivision of the Republic of Georgia, local elites having fought hard to preserve the special status that this distinction affords them.
The so-called Meskhetian Turks are another potential source of ethnic discord. Forcibly exiled from southern Georgia to Uzbekistan by Stalin during World War II, many of the estimated 200,000 Meskhetian Turks outside Georgia sought to return to their homes in Georgia after 1990. Many Georgians argued that the Meskhetian Turks had lost their links to Georgia and hence had no rights that would justify the large-scale upheaval resettlement would cause. However, Shevardnadze argued that Georgians had a moral obligation to allow this group to return.
Among the leading ethnic groups, the fastest growth between 1979 and 1989 occurred in the Azerbaijani population and the Kurds, whose numbers increased by 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively. This trend worried Georgians, even though both groups combined made up less than 7 percent of the republic's population. Over the same period, the dominant Georgians' share of the population increased from 68.8 percent to 70.1 percent. Ethnic shifts after 1989--particularly the emigration of Russians, Ukrainians, and Ossetians--were largely responsible for the Georgians' increased share of the population.
More about the <>Population of Georgia.
For centuries, Georgia's geographic position has opened it to religious and cultural influences from the West, Persia, Turkey, and Russia. The resultant diversity continues to characterize the cultural and religious life of modern Georgia. However, the Georgian language displays unique qualities that cannot be attributed to any outside influence. Language
Even more than religion, the issue of language was deeply entwined with political struggles in Georgia under communist rule. As elsewhere, language became a key factor in ethnic selfidentification under the uniformity of the communist system. Written in a unique alphabet that began to exhibit distinctions from the Greek alphabet in the fifth century A.D., Georgian is linguistically distant from Turkic and Indo-European languages. In the Soviet period, Georgians fought relentlessly to prevent what they perceived as the encroachment of Russian on their native language. Even the republic's Soviet-era constitutions specified Georgian as the state language. In 1978 Moscow failed to impose a constitutional change giving Russian equal status with Georgian as an official language when Shevardnadze yielded to mass demonstrations against the amendment. Nevertheless, the Russian language predominated in official documents and communications from the central government. In 1991 the Gamsakhurdia government reestablished the primacy of Georgian, to the dismay of minorities that did not use the language. In 1993 some 71 percent of the population used Georgian as their first language. Russian was the first languages of 9 percent, Armenian of 7 percent, and Azerbaijani of 6 percent.
The wide variety of peoples inhabiting Georgia has meant a correspondingly rich array of active religions. The dominant religion is Christianity, and the Georgian Orthodox Church is by far the largest church. The conversion of the Georgians in A.D. 330 placed them among the first peoples to accept Christianity. According to tradition, a holy slave woman, who became known as Saint Nino, cured Queen Nana of Iberia of an unknown illness, and King Marian III accepted Christianity when a second miracle occurred during a royal hunting trip. The Georgians' new faith, which replaced Greek pagan and Zoroastrian beliefs, was to place them permanently on the front line of conflict between the Islamic and Christian worlds. As was true elsewhere, the Christian church in Georgia was crucial to the development of a written language, and most of the earliest written works were religious texts. After Georgia was annexed by the Russian Empire, the Russian Orthodox Church took over the Georgian church in 1811. The colorful frescoes and wall paintings typical of Georgian cathedrals were whitewashed by the Russian occupiers.
The Georgian church regained its autonomy only when Russian rule ended in 1918. Neither the Georgian Menshevik government nor the Bolshevik regime that followed considered revitalization of the Georgian church an important goal, however. Soviet rule brought severe purges of the Georgian church hierarchy and constant repression of Orthodox worship. As elsewhere in the Soviet Union, many churches were destroyed or converted into secular buildings. This history of repression encouraged the incorporation of religious identity into the strong nationalist movement in twentieth-century Georgia and the quest of Georgians for religious expression outside the official, governmentcontrolled church. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, opposition leaders, especially Zviad Gamsakhurdia, criticized corruption in the church hierarchy. When Ilia II became the patriarch (catholicos) of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the late 1970s, he brought order and a new morality to church affairs, and Georgian Orthodoxy experienced a revival. In 1988 Moscow permitted the patriarch to begin consecrating and reopening closed churches, and a large-scale restoration process began. In 1993 some 65 percent of Georgians were Georgian Orthodox, 11 percent were Muslim, 10 percent Russian Orthodox, and 8 percent Armenian Apostolic.
Non-Orthodox religions traditionally have received tolerant treatment in Georgia. Jewish communities exist throughout the country, with major concentrations in the two largest cities, Tbilisi and Kutaisi. Azerbaijani groups have practiced Islam in Georgia for centuries, as have the Abkhazian and Ajarian groups concentrated in their respective autonomous republics. The Armenian Apostolic Church, whose doctrine differs in some ways from that of Georgian Orthodoxy, has autocephalous status.
In many art forms, Georgia has a tradition spanning millennia. The golden age of the Georgian Empire (early twelfth century to early thirteenth century) was the time of greatest development in many forms, and subsequent centuries of occupation and political domination brought decline or dilution. Folk music and dance, however, remain an important part of Georgia's unique culture, and Georgians have made significant contributions to theater and film in the late twentieth century.
Among literary works written in Georgian, Shota Rustaveli's long poem The Knight in the Panther Skin occupies a unique position as the Georgian national epic. Supposedly Rustaveli was a government official during the reign of Queen Tamar (1184- 1212), late in the golden age. In describing the questing adventures of three hero-knights, the poem includes rich philosophical musings that have become proverbs in Georgian. Even during communist rule, the main street of the Georgian capital was named after Rustaveli.
Starting in its earliest days, Georgia developed a unique architectural style that is most visible in religious structures dating as far back as the sixth century A.D. The cupola structure typical of Georgian churches probably was based on circular domestic dwellings that existed as early as 3000 B.C. Roman, Greek, and Syrian architecture also influenced this style. Persian occupation added a new element, and in the nineteenth century Russian domination created a hybrid architectural style visible in many buildings in Tbilisi. The so-called Stalinist architecture of the mid-twentieth century also left its mark on the capital.
Like literature, Georgian mural painting reached a zenith during the golden age of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Featuring both religious and secular themes, many monuments of this and the later Byzantine- and Persian-influenced periods were destroyed by the Russians in the nineteenth century. Examples of Georgian religious painting remain in some of the old churches. Stone carving and metalworking traditions had developed in antiquity, when Roman and Greek techniques were incorporated. In the golden age, sculpture was applied most often to the outside of buildings. In the twentieth century, several Georgian sculptors have gained international recognition. Among them is Elguja Amasukheli, whose monuments are landmarks in Tbilisi. Metalworking was well established in the Caucasus among the ancestors of the Georgians as early as the Bronze Age (second millennium B.C.). This art form, applied to both religious and secular subjects, declined in the Middle Ages.
Georgia is known for its rich and unique folk dance and music. The Georgian State Dance Company, founded in the 1940s, has traveled around the world performing spectacular renditions of traditional Georgian dances. Unique in folk-dancing tradition, Georgian male performers dance on their toes without the help of special blocked shoes. Georgian folk music, featuring complex, three-part, polyphonic harmonies, has long been a subject of special interest among musicologists. Men and women sing in separate ensembles with entirely different repertoires. Most Georgian folk songs are peculiar to individual regions of Georgia. The inspiration is most often the church, work in the fields, or special occasions. The Rustavi Choir, formed in 1968, is the best known Georgian group performing a traditional repertoire.
In modern Georgia, folk songs are most frequently sung around the table. The ceremonial dinner (supra), a frequent occurrence in Georgian homes, is a highly ritualized event that itself forms a direct link to Georgia's past. On such occasions, rounds of standardized and improvised toasts typically extend long into the night. Georgian cuisine, which includes a variety of delicate sauces and sharp spices, is also an important part of the culture that links the generations. In the Soviet period, the best restaurants in the large cities of other republics were often Georgian.
In the postwar era, Georgian filmmaking and theater developed an outstanding reputation in the Soviet Union. Several Georgian filmmakers achieved international recognition in this period. Perhaps the single most important film of the perestroika period was Tengiz Abuladze's Repentance. This powerful work, which won international acclaim when released in 1987, showed the consequences of Stalin's Great Terror of the 1930s through a depiction of the reign of a fictional local dictator. In 1993, despite chaotic political conditions, Tbilisi hosted the Golden Eagle Film Festival of the Black Sea Basin Countries, Georgia's first international film festival. Georgians also excel in theater. The Tbilisi-based Rustaveli Theater has been acclaimed internationally for its stagings (in Georgian) of the works of William Shakespeare and German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. )
In 1992 Georgia retained the basic structure of education, health, and social welfare programs established in the Soviet era, although major reforms were being discussed. Georgia's requests for aid from the West have included technical assistance in streamlining its social welfare system, which heavily burdens the economy and generally fails to help those in greatest need. Education
In the Soviet era, the Georgian population achieved one of the highest education levels in the Soviet Union. In 1989 some 15.1 percent of adults in Georgia had graduated from a university or completed some other form of higher education. About 57.4 percent had completed secondary school or obtained a specialized secondary education. Georgia also had an extensive network of 230 scientific and research institutes employing more than 70,000 people in 1990. The Soviet system of free and compulsory schooling had eradicated illiteracy by the 1980s, and Georgia had the Soviet Union's highest ratio of residents with a higher or specialized secondary education.
During Soviet rule, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ( CPSU) controlled the operation of the Georgian education system. Theoretically, education was inseparable from politics, and the schools were deemed an important tool in remaking society along Marxist-Leninist lines. Central ministries for primary and secondary education and for higher and specialized education transmitted policy decisions to the ministries in the republics for implementation in local and regional systems. Even at the local level, most administrators were party members. The combination of party organs and government agencies overseeing education at all levels formed a huge bureaucracy that made significant reform impossible. By the mid-1980s, an education crisis was openly recognized everywhere in the Soviet Union.
In the early 1990s, Soviet education institutions were still in place in Georgia, although Soviet-style political propaganda and authoritarian teaching methods gradually disappeared. Most Georgian children attended general school (grades one to eleven), beginning at age seven. In 1988 some 86,400 students were enrolled in Georgia's nineteen institutions of higher learning. Universities are located in Batumi, Kutaisi, Sukhumi, and Tbilisi. In the early 1990s, private education institutes began to appear. Higher education was provided almost exclusively in Georgian, although 25 percent of general classes were taught in a minority language. Abkhazian and Ossetian children were taught in their native language until fifth grade, when they began instruction in Georgian or Russian.
The Soviet system of health care, which embraced all the republics, included extensive networks of state-run hospitals, clinics, and emergency first aid stations. The huge government health bureaucracy in Moscow set basic policies for the entire country, then transmitted them to the health ministries of the republics. In the republics, programs were set up by regional and local health authorities. The emphasis was on meeting national standards and quotas for patient visits, treatments provided, and hospital beds occupied, with little consideration of regional differences or requirements.
Under this system, the average Georgian would go first to one of the polyclinics serving all the residents of a particular area. In the mid-1980s, polyclinics provided about 90 percent of medical care, offering very basic diagnostic services. In addition, most workplaces had their own clinics, which minimized time lost from work for medical reasons. The hospital system provided more complex diagnosis and treatment, although overcrowding often resulted from the admission of patients with minor complaints. Crowding was exacerbated by official standards requiring hospital treatment of a certain duration for every type of complaint.
The Soviet system placed special emphasis on treatment of women and children; many specialized treatment, diagnostic, and advanced-study centers offered pediatric, obstetric, and gynecological care. Maternity services and prenatal care were readily accessible. Emergency first aid was provided by specialized ambulance teams, most of which had only very basic equipment. Severe cases went to special emergency hospitals because regular hospitals lacked emergency rooms. Although this system worked efficiently in urban centers such as Tbilisi, it did not reach remote areas. Most Georgians cared for elderly family members at home, and nursing care was generally mediocre. Georgian health spas were a vital part of the Soviet Union's well-known sanatorium system, access to which was a privilege of employment in most state enterprises.
When the Soviet Union dissolved, it left a legacy of health problems to the respective republics, which faced the necessity of organizating separate health systems under conditions of scarce resources. By 1990 the Soviet health system had become drastically underfunded, and the incidence of disease and accidents was increased by poor living standards and environmental hazards. Nominally equal availability of medical treatment and materials was undermined by the privileged status of elite groups that had access to the country's best medical facilities. In 1990 the former republics also differed substantially in health conditions and availability of care. Subsequent membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States, to which Georgia committed itself in late 1993, did not affect this inequality.
According to most standard indicators, in 1991 the health and medical care of the Georgian population were among the best in the Soviet Union. The rate at which tuberculosis was diagnosed, 28.9 cases per 100,000 population in 1990, was third lowest, and Georgia's 140.9 cancer diagnoses per 100,000 population in 1990 was the lowest rate among the Soviet republics. Georgia also led in physicians per capita, with 59.2 per 10,000 population, and in dentists per capita. However, hospital bed availability, 110.7 per 10,000 population in 1990, placed Georgia in the bottom half among Soviet republics, and infant mortality, 15.9 per 1,000 live births in 1990, was at the average for republics outside Central Asia.
Although illegal drugs were available and Georgia increasingly found itself on the international drug-trading route in the early 1990s, the drug culture was confined to a small percentage of the population. The relatively high rate of delinquency among Georgian youth, however, was frequently associated with alcohol abuse.
In 1993 the Republic AIDS and Immunodeficiency Center in Tbilisi reported that sixteen cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) had been detected; five victims were nonGeorgians and were deported. Of the remaining eleven, two had contracted AIDS through drug use and one through a medical procedure. Despite the small number of cases, the AIDS epidemic has caused considerable alarm in the Georgian medical community, which formed a physicians' anti-AIDS association in 1993. The AIDS center, located in a makeshift facility in Tbilisi, conducts AIDS research and oversees testing in twenty-nine laboratories throughout Georgia, stressing efforts among high-risk groups.
Like other former Soviet republics, Georgia began devising health care reform strategies in 1992. Budget expenditures for health increased drastically once the Soviet welfare system collapsed. Theoretical elements of Georgian health reform were compulsory medical insurance, privatization and foreign investment in institutions providing health care, and stronger emphasis on preventive medicine. Little progress was made in the first two years of the reform process, however. In Georgia political instability and civil war have destroyed medical facilities while increasing the need for emergency care and creating a large-scale refugee problem.
In 1985 some 47 percent of Georgia's budget went to support the food, health, and education needs of the population. Social services included partial payment for maternity leave for up to eighteen months and unpaid maternity leave for up to three years. State pensions were automatic after twenty years of work for women and twenty-five years for men. As inflation rose in the postcommunist era, however, a large percentage of older Georgians continued working because their pensions could not support them. In 1991 the social security fund--supported mainly by a payroll tax--provided pensions for 1.3 million persons. The fund also paid benefits for sick leave and rest homes, as well as allowances for families with young children.
In 1992 subsidies were in place for basic commodities, pensions, unemployment benefits, and allowances for single mothers and children. At that time, a payroll tax of 3 percent was designated to support the national unemployment fund. Deficits in the social security fund were nominally covered by the state budget, but budget shortfalls elsewhere shifted that responsibility to the banking system. In 1992 increased benefit payments and the decision not to increase the payroll tax eroded the financial base of the fund.
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