Georgia Country Guide
Georgia is a country that lies in the Caucasus Mountains region, just east of Turkey and north of Iran. Russia lies to the north, Armenia and Azerbaijan to the south and east. Its name has nothing to do with any of the English kings named George, or with the American state of that name. No one really knows where the name comes from—a Middle Persian word meaning land of the wolves is one of many suggested etymologies—but in the language of its own people (which we shall discuss below), the country is known as Sakartvelo (საქართველო).
The Georgian language belongs to the Kartvelian family, a family distinct from all the major language groups in the region—Semito-Hamitic (to which Arabic belongs), Indo-European (which includes Russian, Persian, and Armenian), and Turko-Tartar (of which Turkish is the dominant language; Azerbaijani is also a member). Georgian is written in an alphabet which is probably derived ultimately from some form of the 5th century Aramaic script but is unlike any other. The name of the country’s capital, for instance, is spelled თბილისი in Georgian. Some characteristics of the language include an extensively- conjugated verb system in which transitive verbs have an inherent “it” or “them” included in their meaning, and a no less complex system of noun declension, with seven cases! Prefixes and suffixes are used extensively.
In the north-western corner of the country is a region called Abkhazia, where the people speak another, unrelated language whose alphabet is a form of Cyrillic. Its people have declared independence, but so far it is recognized by only six nations, including Russia.
Tbilisi (Тифлис in Russian), the nation’s capital, is located on the broad Kura River, which starts in far eastern Turkey and empties into the Caspian Sea. It is a very attractive city with an ancient history dating back to the fifth century, when the Georgian state became one of the first (along with Armenia) to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Over the centuries, Tbilisi passed back and forth among the Arabs, Persians, and Turks, who fought constantly for control of the region. The city is full of religious architecture, but few of these buildings are over 150 years old, as many were sacked and destroyed by invaders. There is, however, the Anchiskhati Church built in the 500s, and the Kvashveti is a copy of a building that was constructed during the 1100s. Tbilisi also has an Orthodox synagogue constructed in 1910, where men and women are seated separately; and sulphur baths dot the city.
Georgia’s second largest city, Kutaisi, is in the Colchis region, where Jason supposedly went to fetch the Golden Fleece. Its Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Despite the constant raging wars of the Middle Ages, Georgia developed a rich literature during that era. One of the language’s greatest masterpieces is the Knight in the Panther’s Skin, an epic like the Iliad.