Is Georgia a country? Is Georgia in the Caucasus? How many breakaway territories are there in Georgia? Here’s everything you need to know about Georgia and its geopolitics before you travel!
Mention ‘Georgia’ and it’s not uncommon for people to think of the deep American South and the US State of the same name. But there’s another Georgia, the Georgia of the Caucasus, and a Georgia where wine was being fermented and history made thousands of years before the US even declared its independence.
Located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, the Republic of Georgia is a country that defies easy categorisation with its complex geopolitical situation, but it’s a destination that’s fast becoming one of the go-to destinations in the Caucasus.
With its unique alphabet, distinct language and landscapes that range from the snowy peaks of the Caucasus Mountains to the lush valleys crossed by the Kura River, Georgia is a nation that has carved out its own identity in a region often defined by its larger neighbours.
In this article, we’ll delve into the various facets that make Georgia not just a country but a fascinating destination to visit. Whether you’re interested in its complex history, its breakaway territories or its delectable culinary heritage, this guide aims to provide everything you need to know about the Republic of Georgia and its geopolitics. Is Georgia a country? Yes, but keep reading, to find out more.
Table of Contents
Is Georgia a country?
The short answer is that yes, the Republic of Georgia is a country located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It shares borders with Russia to the north, Azerbaijan to the southeast, Armenia to the south and Turkey to the southwest. To the west, it has a coastline along the Black Sea, while the capital and largest city is Tbilisi. Not to be confused with the U.S. state of the same name, the nation of Georgia has a complex history that stretches back to ancient times.
The country has its own unique alphabet and language, Georgian, which is one of the oldest languages in the world. It is also renowned for its culinary traditions, featuring an array of dishes often flavoured with distinctive spices and herbs (try the Lobio, Kharcho and Shkmeruli, to name just a few of the dishes!).
Georgia is a sovereign nation. It regained its independence from the Soviet Union on April 9, 1991, following a referendum in which an overwhelming majority of Georgians voted for independence. Since then, Georgia has operated as an independent state with its own government, legislature and judiciary.
However, it’s important to note that Georgia faces challenges to its sovereignty, primarily due to conflicts in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both regions have declared independence from Georgia, and while they are not universally recognised as independent states, they are effectively outside the control of the Georgian government. Russia’s military presence in these regions further complicates the situation and poses challenges to Georgia’s territorial integrity.
Despite these issues, Georgia is a member of the United Nations and many other international organisations. It maintains diplomatic relations with a vast majority of countries and is recognised as a sovereign state in the international community. The country has also been pursuing closer ties with Western institutions, such as the European Union and NATO, as part of its foreign policy objectives.
So, while Georgia is a sovereign country, its sovereignty is partially compromised due to ongoing conflicts and territorial disputes. Nonetheless, it functions as an independent nation in the realms of diplomacy, governance and international law.
Read more: Top Things To Do In Georgia!
Where is Georgia?
Georgia is situated at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, with a land area of roughly 70,000 square kilometres and a population numbering some 4 million people. It is bordered by Russia to the north, Azerbaijan to the southeast, Armenia to the south and Turkey to the southwest. Geographically, it’s a land of contrasts, featuring the towering peaks of the Greater Caucasus mountain range in the north, the Lesser Caucasus mountains in the south, and fertile valleys and a Black Sea coastline in between. The capital city is Tbilisi, which lies along the banks of the Kura (or Mtkvari) River.
The country’s location has historically made it a significant crossroads for trade and culture, influenced by various civilisations, rating from the Greeks to the Ottomans, over the millennia. Its strategic position has also rendered it subject to numerous invasions, but it has retained a distinct identity, language and cultural heritage despite this.
Read more: Top Things To Do In Tbilisi!
Facts about Georgia
To help you understand Georgia, here are the most important facts to know about this sovereign nation:
- Official Name: Republic of Georgia
- Capital: Tbilisi
- Area: Approximately 69,700 square kilometres
- Population: Around 4 million
- Official Language: Georgian
- Currency: Georgian Lari (GEL)
- Location: Eastern Europe and Western Asia
- Borders: Russia (North), Azerbaijan (Southeast), Armenia (South), Turkey (Southwest)
- Coastline: Black Sea (West)
- Major Rivers: Kura, Rioni
- Mountain Ranges: Greater Caucasus (North), Lesser Caucasus (South)
- Political System: Parliamentary Republic
- Head of State: President
- Head of Government: Prime Minister
- Legislative Body: Parliament of Georgia
- GDP: $15.1 billion USD
- Major Industries: Agriculture, tourism, mining and energy
- Religion: Predominantly Eastern Orthodox Christianity
- Famous Foods: Khachapuri (cheese-filled bread), khinkali (dumplings)
- Early Civilisations: Colchis and Kartli (Iberia)
- Religion Introduced: Christianity in the 4th century CE
- Medieval Period: Georgian Golden Age in the 12th and 13th centuries
- Modern History: Annexed by Russia in the 19th century, gained independence in 1918, incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1921, regained independence in 1991.
- Ongoing Conflicts: Abkhazia and South Ossetia
- Political Climate: Democracy with ongoing reforms
- External Relations: Geopolitical tension with Russia, striving for closer ties with the European Union and NATO
A brief history of Georgia
The history of Georgia is a complex narrative filled with periods of independence, conquest and cultural resilience. Georgia’s strategic position has made it a significant crossroads for both trade and military campaigns, which has in turn influenced its historical trajectory. Here’s a brief history of Georgia:
The territory of modern-day Georgia has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era, with evidence of early human settlements scattered across the region. By the early 1st millennium BCE, the Kingdom of Colchis had emerged in what is now western Georgia. Colchis was notably mentioned in Greek mythology as the destination of Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece.
Antiquity and Middle Ages
Georgia was first unified as a political entity under the Kingdom of Iberia in the 4th century BCE. Over subsequent centuries, the region would be influenced by the Romans, Persian and Byzantines. Christianity arrived in Georgia in the early 4th century CE, making it one of the world’s oldest Christian nations. The adoption of Christianity had a profound effect on Georgian culture and helped to forge a distinct identity separate from neighbouring empires.
The Medieval era saw the emergence of the Georgian Golden Age, especially during the reign of Queen Tamar (r. 1184–1213). This period was marked by cultural, architectural, and literary achievements, as well as territorial expansion.
Ottoman and Persian Rule
From the late 15th century onwards, Georgia found itself squeezed between the emerging Ottoman Empire to the west and the Safavid Empire to the east. Over the next few centuries, the country was repeatedly invaded and divided into spheres of influence.
In the early 19th century, seeking protection against Ottoman and Persian incursions, Georgia entered into an alliance with Russia. However, this alliance soon turned into an annexation, and by 1801, Georgia was formally integrated into the Russian Empire. The country remained under Russian rule until the 1917 Russian Revolution provided an opportunity for independence.
Short-Lived Independence and Soviet Era
Georgia declared its independence in 1918 but was invaded by the Soviet Red Army in 1921, leading to its incorporation into the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, Georgia was subject to Moscow’s policies, although it also experienced industrialisation and development in certain sectors.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 provided another opportunity for Georgian independence. The early years were marked by economic collapse, civil strife, and conflicts in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Despite these challenges, Georgia has been striving to establish a democratic system and align itself with Western institutions, including seeking membership in the European Union and NATO.
Read more: Exploring Georgia: Batumi on the Black Sea
Why did Georgia declare independence from the Soviet Union?
Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but long before this, Georgia had a complex history of gaining and losing independence. It initially emerged as a unified kingdom in ancient times but faced numerous invasions and periods of foreign rule, especially from the Ottomans and Persians.
Here are key moments related to Georgian independence:
- Early Independence: The first unified Georgian state, the Kingdom of Iberia, came into existence in the 4th century BCE. Over the subsequent centuries, various Georgian kingdoms maintained varying degrees of independence or autonomy.
- Russian Annexation: In the early 19th century, the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti sought protection from Ottoman and Persian aggressions by aligning itself with the Russian Empire. However, this alliance led to its annexation by Russia in 1801.
- Independence from Russia (1918): Following the collapse of the Russian Empire due to the Bolshevik Revolution, Georgia declared independence on May 26, 1918, forming the Democratic Republic of Georgia. Unfortunately, this independence was short-lived.
- Soviet Era: In 1921, Georgia was invaded by the Soviet Red Army and became part of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, which later dissolved into separate Soviet republics. Georgia was one of them, known as the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.
- Modern Independence: As the Soviet Union started to collapse, Georgia again declared independence on April 9, 1991. The formal dissolution of the USSR later that year confirmed Georgia’s status as an independent nation.
- Post-Soviet Era: Since regaining its independence in 1991, Georgia has faced numerous challenges including civil unrest, economic difficulties, and territorial conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nevertheless, the country has been moving towards democratic governance and economic development and has sought closer ties with Western institutions like the European Union and NATO.
So, in modern history, Georgia declared independence twice: first in 1918, which was short-lived, and then in 1991, which it has maintained to the present day. The desire for independence in Georgia has been shaped by a complex mix of historical, cultural and geopolitical factors.
Here are some key reasons:
- Historical Background: Georgia has a long history of statehood dating back to ancient times. Over the centuries, it has been invaded and occupied by various empires including the Ottomans and Persians. The nation has always valued its unique identity, language, and Orthodox Christian faith, which often clashed with foreign rule. This fostered a deep-rooted aspiration for self-governance and independence.
- Russian Rule: Georgia became part of the Russian Empire in the early 19th century. While initially seen as protection against Ottoman and Persian invasions, Russian rule increasingly became restrictive, stifling local customs, governance, and religious practices. Nationalist sentiments grew over time, reaching a peak during periods of loosened control, such as the decline of the Russian Empire and later, the weakening of the Soviet Union.
- Soviet Experience: Under Soviet rule, Georgia was subject to policies that many Georgians considered repressive. Though the country did experience modernisation, the suppression of local traditions, the quashing of revolts, and forced collectivisation caused widespread discontent. Over the years, various movements and protests, such as the April 9, 1989 demonstrations, signified the public’s yearning for independence.
- National Identity: Georgian culture, language, and religion have been key facets of its national identity. During periods of foreign rule, these aspects were often undermined or suppressed, creating a longing for a state where Georgian identity could be freely expressed and preserved.
- Political and Economic Aspirations: By the end of the Soviet era, the inefficiencies and economic struggles of the Communist system were evident. Independence was seen as a pathway to political reform, economic liberalisation, and potential prosperity, independent of Moscow’s influence.
- Global Context: The collapse of the Soviet Union was part of a global wave of democratic movements and decolonisation. The idea that nations have the right to self-determination gained ground, inspiring Georgians and affirming their own quests for independence.
- Geopolitical Orientation: After gaining independence, Georgia sought to align itself with Western institutions like the European Union and NATO. This was seen as a means to bolster its security, economy, and democratic governance.
In summary, the desire for independence in Georgia was fuelled by a blend of historical grievances, the aspiration for self-determination, cultural preservation and hopes for a better political and economic future.
What’s the capital of Georgia?
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is not just a political centre but also a cultural and historical hub. Situated on the banks of the Kura River, the city is enveloped by hills and mountains that make its landscape dramatically appealing. Founded in the 5th century, Tbilisi has been a witness to various empires, invasions and shifts in rulership. This tumultuous history has left its mark on the city’s architecture, a curious blend of styles ranging from Byzantine and Neoclassical to Modernist and Soviet.
The Old Town, known locally as Dzveli Tbilisi, is a fascinating area where narrow, winding streets are filled with traditional wooden houses and expansive balconies. This part of the city stands in contrast to the more modern sections where glass and steel structures dominate the skyline. Landmarks like the Holy Trinity Cathedral and the Narikala Fortress offer glimpses into the city’s historical richness, while spaces like the Rike Park provide opportunities for leisure and relaxation.
Tbilisi also serves as the nerve centre for Georgia’s political activities, housing the primary institutions of governance, including the Parliament and the residences of the President and Prime Minister. Beyond its role as an administrative nucleus, Tbilisi has a burgeoning arts scene, featuring galleries, a puppet theatre and live music venues that explore both traditional Georgian and contemporary art forms.
What type of government does Georgia have?
Georgia is a parliamentary republic. In this system, the President serves as the head of state, while the Prime Minister is the head of government. The President’s role is largely ceremonial, and the real political power is vested in the Parliament and the Prime Minister.
Key elements of Georgia’s Government include:
- Parliament: The legislative body is unicameral, known as the Parliament of Georgia. It is responsible for making laws, approving the budget, and overseeing the executive branch. Members of Parliament are elected through a mixed electoral system that combines proportional representation and single-member constituencies.
- Prime Minister: The Prime Minister is appointed by the Parliament and is responsible for running the government on a day-to-day basis. The Prime Minister appoints government ministers, subject to approval by the Parliament.
- President: The President is elected by direct popular vote for a term of five years and can serve a maximum of two terms. The President represents Georgia in foreign relations and performs other ceremonial duties but has limited powers in domestic governance.
- Judiciary: Georgia has an independent judiciary, which includes the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and lower courts. The judiciary is tasked with interpreting the law and has undergone significant reforms to enhance its independence and efficiency.
- Local Governance: The country is divided into regions, which have their own administrative structures. Local governance is a mix of appointed officials and elected councils, aiming to bring governance closer to the people.
- Constitutional and Legal Framework: The Constitution of Georgia, adopted in 1995 and amended several times since provides the legal foundation for the country’s democratic governance. It outlines the roles, responsibilities, and limitations of each branch of government.
Is Georgia in the European Union?
Georgia is not a member of the European Union (EU). However, the country has been actively seeking closer ties with the EU and other Western institutions.
In June 2014, Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the EU, which came into force on July 1, 2016. This agreement aims to bring Georgia closer to the EU through political association and economic integration. One of the significant components of this agreement is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), which allows Georgia preferential access to the EU market for its goods and services.
In addition to the Association Agreement, Georgian citizens have benefited from visa-free travel to the Schengen Area since March 28, 2017. This has eased travel restrictions and facilitated people-to-people contacts between Georgia and EU member states.
While these are significant steps toward closer integration, full EU membership is a long-term goal that requires extensive reforms in various sectors, including governance, judiciary, and economy, to meet the EU’s criteria for accession.
Georgia is also part of the Eastern Partnership, an initiative aimed at strengthening relations between the EU and six Eastern European partners, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
In summary, although Georgia is not an EU member, it has been building closer relations through various agreements and initiatives, aiming for long-term political association and economic integration.
How many regions are there in Georgia?
Georgia is divided into nine regions, known as ‘mkhare’ in Georgian. These regions are:
- Kvemo Kartli
- Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti
- Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti
- Shida Kartli
In addition to these nine regions, Georgia also has two autonomous republics:
It’s worth noting that two regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia (part of Shida Kartli), have declared independence and are not under the control of the Georgian government. While internationally recognised as part of Georgia, they function as de facto independent entities with a Russian military presence. Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, has a special administrative status and is not part of any region.
These divisions serve as administrative and territorial units, each with its own government to handle local issues. They vary considerably in terms of geography, culture, and economic development, reflecting the diverse nature of the country.
What are Georgia’s breakaway territories?
Georgia has two regions that have declared independence and function as de facto independent entities: Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These territories are not under the control of the Georgian government, and their status is a subject of international dispute.
- Abkhazia: Located in the northwest of Georgia along the Black Sea coast, Abkhazia declared independence following a war with Georgia in the early 1990s. It has its own government and military but is internationally recognised as part of Georgia by most countries. Russia, however, recognised Abkhazia’s independence in 2008, following the Russo-Georgian War, and maintains a military presence there.
- South Ossetia: Situated in the north-central part of Georgia, South Ossetia also fought a war with Georgia in the early 1990s and declared independence. Like Abkhazia, it is recognised as an independent state only by Russia and a few other nations. South Ossetia is also host to Russian military bases.
Both regions have been the subject of negotiations and diplomatic efforts, often involving international organisations, but as of my last update, no lasting resolution has been reached. The presence of Russian troops in both regions has also complicated efforts to resolve the conflicts. These breakaway territories pose significant challenges to Georgia’s territorial integrity and have implications for its foreign policy, including its aspirations to join Western institutions like the European Union and NATO.
Therefore, while Abkhazia and South Ossetia are technically part of Georgia according to international law, they function as separate entities with limited international recognition.
What languages are spoken in Georgia?
In Georgia, the primary and official language is Georgian. Georgian is a Kartvelian language and is unique in its alphabet and grammatical structure, which are distinct from any other major language. It is the first language for the vast majority of the population and is used in government, media, education, and daily communication.
While Georgian is the dominant language, there are also minority languages spoken in different regions of the country:
- Mingrelian: Spoken mainly in the Samegrelo region in the west. It’s closely related to Georgian and is sometimes considered a dialect, although many linguists treat it as a separate language.
- Svan: Used in the Svaneti region in the northwestern part of the country. Like Mingrelian, it is a Kartvelian language but is less mutually intelligible with Georgian.
- Russian: Given Georgia’s history as part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, Russian is widely understood, especially among the older population. However, its prevalence has decreased among younger Georgians.
- Abkhaz: In the autonomous region of Abkhazia, which is a de facto independent entity but internationally recognised as part of Georgia, Abkhaz is spoken along with Georgian and Russian.
- Ossetian: Spoken in South Ossetia, another region with disputed status, Ossetian is an Indo-Iranian language.
- Armenian and Azerbaijani: These languages are spoken in communities near the borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively.
- English: Increasingly taught as a second language in schools and often used in business settings.
Georgia’s linguistic landscape reflects its complex history and diverse cultural influences. However, Georgian remains the cornerstone of national identity and is a unifying factor in the country.
What’s Georgian cuisine like?
The culinary tradition of Georgia is as diverse as its history and culture, offering a fascinating blend of flavours that draw from both Eastern and Western influences. The use of a variety of spices, herbs and other flavouring agents like walnuts and pomegranate juice sets Georgian food apart. Here are some of the best elements of Georgian cuisine to try:
- Khachapuri: This is perhaps the most famous dish—a cheese-filled bread that comes in various regional variations. Some are boat-shaped with an egg on top, while others are circular and filled with cheese.
- Khinkali: These are Georgian dumplings usually filled with meat and spices. The top is twisted into a knot, which is traditionally left uneaten.
- Kebabs and Grilled Meats: Meat plays a significant role, and dishes like mtsvadi (Georgian barbecue) are popular, often flavoured with marigold and blue fenugreek.
- Vegetable Dishes: Georgians also make a wide range of vegetable dishes, often flavoured with walnuts and spices. Eggplant, spinach, and beans are commonly used.
- Wine: Georgia has one of the oldest wine-producing traditions in the world, and wine is central to Georgian social rituals. There are various indigenous grape varieties, and the traditional winemaking process often involves fermenting the grape juice with its skin in clay jars buried underground.
- Supra: The Georgian feast, or “supra,” is an integral part of the culture. It’s not just about the food but also about the tradition of toasting and the role of the “tamada” or toastmaster, who guides the guests through a series of toasts that are meant to provoke thought, gratitude, and camaraderie.
FAQ: Is Georgia a Country?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic: ‘Is Georgia a country?’:
Q1: Is Georgia a country or a part of another nation?
A1: Georgia is a sovereign country located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north, Turkey and Armenia to the south, Azerbaijan to the southeast, and the Black Sea to the west. It is not a part of any other nation.
Q2: What type of government does Georgia have?
A2: Georgia is a parliamentary republic. The President serves as the ceremonial head of state, while the Prime Minister is the head of government. The legislative authority rests with the Parliament of Georgia.
Q3: Is Georgia a member of the European Union?
A3: No, Georgia is not a member of the European Union (EU). However, it has signed an Association Agreement with the EU and aims to strengthen its ties with the organisation.
Q4: Are there disputed territories within Georgia?
A4: Yes, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are two regions that have declared independence but are internationally recognised as part of Georgia. Both regions are not under the control of the Georgian government and have de facto independence supported by Russia.
Q5: What is the official language of Georgia?
A5: The official language is Georgian, a Kartvelian language unique to the country. Some regions have minority languages, and Russian is also widely spoken, particularly among older generations.
Q6: What currency is used in Georgia?
A6: The currency used in Georgia is the Georgian Lari (GEL).
Q7: What is the capital city?
A7: Tbilisi is the capital and largest city of Georgia, located on the banks of the Kura River.
Q8: Is Georgia safe to visit?
A8: While generally safe for tourists, it’s advisable to exercise caution and stay updated on the current political situation. Areas near the borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia are considered risky due to ongoing disputes.
Q9: What is Georgia known for?
A9: Georgia is known for its diverse landscapes, rich history, and ancient traditions, including its unique alphabet and language. The country is also famous for its wine-making tradition, one of the oldest in the world.
Q10: What religions are practised in Georgia?
A10: The dominant religion is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and the Georgian Orthodox Church plays a significant role in the country’s cultural and spiritual life.
Q11: Is Georgia the same as the U.S. state of Georgia?
A12: No, Georgia is a country in Eurasia, whereas the U.S. state of Georgia is one of the 50 states in the United States of America. They are geographically and politically distinct entities.