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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Russia Increases its grip on Georgia's Abkhazia and S. Ossetia.

HISTORY IN THE NEWS:



History never dies. It is reborn every minute of every day.

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The past and the present, no matter how divergent they seemed...were slowly being stitched together again. This, to me, is the effect of the Caucasus. I am not suggesting that the echo of history in the early twenty-first century is so precise that nineteenth century differences have been erased, but the reverberations are considerable... ” -Nicholas Griffin in CAUCASUS, Mountain Men and Holy Wars.


HISTORY IN THE NEWS: DEEDICATED TO THE ORIGINS OF CONTEMPORARY EVENTS AROUND THE WORLD.

TAG: Georgia treasures an eight-century old memory of independence while Russia moves toward reassertion of two centuries of rule over Georgia by creating closer ties with breakaway regions of the Georgian Republic.

IN THE NEWS:
RUSSIA PLANS TO ESTABLISH ITSELF LEGALLY IN THE RESTIVE ABKHAZIA AND SOUTH OSSETIA REGIONS OF GEORGIA, A MOVE WHICH GEORGIA SAYS IS A VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW. NATO AND THE U.S. HAVE OBJECTED. THE MOVE, AUTHORIZED BY RUSSIAN PRESIDENT PUTIN, AUTHORIZES LINKS WHICH AMOUNT TO RECOGNITION OF SEPARATIST ELEMENTS IN BOTH REGIONS. RUSSIA CLAIMS TO BE PROTECTING RUSSIAN MINORITIES THERE. PRESIDENT SAAKASHVILI CONVENES AN EMERGENCY SESSION OF GEORGIA'S SECURITY COUNCIL, ACCUSING RUSSIA OF ATTEMPTS TO ANNEX THE TWO REGIONS.

REARVIEW MIRROR :
*350 BC (circa) Kingdom of Georgia with capital at Mtskhet.
*1184-1212- Queen Thamar rules Georgia expanding it into a Caucasian empire. Georgia reaches its greatest cultural development and geographic extent, including all of Transcaucasia. The national poem: 'The Man in the Panther's Skin' is written by Shota Rustaveli.
*1813- treaty of Gulistan- after Russian victory, Persia cedes Georgia, Daghestan and Shemakha to Russia.
*1936- Georgia becomes a separate Soviet republic. Abkhazia becomes an autonomous republic within Georgia.


Photo: Georgia's Caucasus mountain range

Georgia's Caucasus mountain range. Photograph by Randy Olson.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Georgia can attribute its periods of independence as well as long periods of foreign rule to its geopolitical situation at the crossroads between Persia, Russia and Turkey. Decisively situated on the trade route between the Black and Caspian seas and on historical routes of migration and invasion, its periods of independence have arisen from its position as a richly endowed outlier of three great empires while being the junction of all of them. This situation was best exploited during the middle ages when Georgia's own empire expanded throughout the Caucasus. Its period of greatness died with the Mongol invasions. Over the following centuries rivalry between Turkey, Persia and Russia resulted in its partition among all three and finally its absorption into Russia as a protectorate under Czar Alexander I. So it remained through the 19th century. Russia would never willingly let it go and Georgians, remembering their independence never submitted willingly. The USSR ruled Georgia as a Soviet Republic. With the collapse of the Soviet Union Georgia has become independent once again but has found itself cursed with the triple of evils of internal corruption, the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia-and Russian attempts to reassert control in the separatists areas and within Georgia itself.

IN A NUTSHELL:
With the old empires of Turkey and Persia no longer a threat, Georgia's historical contest with the Russian empire has resumed. Georgia was briefly independent from Russia in 1918 but its last real independence came to an end in 1783, the year that the Christian kingdom sought protection with Christian Russia from the designs of Turkey and Persia. The process was concluded with the treaty of Gulistan in 1813 by which Persia recognized Georgia as part of Russia. After almost two centuries as an outpost of the Russian empire, Georgia has once again broken free and its moves to align itself with the west via talks with Europe, NATO, the U.S. etc. have helped to revive east-west tensions- as the old fault-line between Christian north and Muslim south is transformed into the fault-line of a resurgent cold war rivalry.

THEN AND NOW:
In the 18th century, the kings of Georgia struggled to reunite a fractured country ruled in the west by Turkey and in the East by Persia. Today Georgia is once again whole, with boundaries approximating the heart of its medieval empire.

CONTENTS: SCROLL DOWN FOR:
DISTANT BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS
RELEVANT DATES
RECENT BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS
PREVIOUS ENTRIES
REMOTE BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS
LOCATION OF NOTE:
PROFILE:
CROSS-CENTURY SUMMARY
EYEWTNESS
PRESENT SITUATION
PLUS CA CHANGE
CURIOSITY
TIMELINE FOR THE HISTORY OF

DISTANT BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS: In 1918, Georgia's Menshevik party took advantage of the Russian revolution to declare its independence. Two years later, the Bolsheviks recognized Georgia, only to annex it in 1921, subduing all resistance with the Red Army and making Georgia a Soviet Republic. In 1922, it was joined to Azbaijan and Armenia as part of the Transcaucasian Republic. Georgia became a separate republic again in 1938 while Abkhazia was made an autonomous republic within Georgia. During World War Two, Georgia was partially occupied by the Germans and Stalin carried out mass deportations of Georgians suspected of collaborating. The 1950s and 60s saw the rapid rise of Evard Shevardnadze in the Georgian Communist party and in by 1970 he was investigating Georgian mafia syndicates. His work earned him promotion by Premier Brezhnev to First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. Shevardnadze became the most reform-minded party boss in the Soviet Union. He made the acquaintance of Gorbachev whose rise to power he supported in return for which, Gorbachev made him foreign minister. His abilities and reform-mindedness were to benefit an independent Georgia.


Tbilisi, ca. 1890-1900
Tbilisi, ca. 1890-1900

RELEVANT DATES:
1783- pressured by the Turks and Persians, Georgia seeks help and becomes a protectorate of the Russian Empire.
-Russian attempts to suppress Georgian culture and language lead to a series uprisings.
-Czar Paul I ignores Turkish expansion and allows Tbilisi to be sacked by the Ottomans.
1801- Georgia's last king, George XIII, abdicates under pressure from Russia and cedes Kakhetia and Karthlia to the Czar Alexander I. The Russians rebuild Tibilisi
Russia Takes Georgia from Persia and Turkey.
1803-1829- Russia acquires western Georgia from Turkey: Abkhazia, Mingrelia, Imeritia and Guria.
1804-1813- war between Russia and Persia.
1813- treaty of Gulistan- after Russian victory, Persia cedes Georgia, Daghestan and Shemakha to Russia.
Georgia Independent under Mensheviks.
1918- May- under the Georgian Menshevik party, Georgia declares its independence.
1936- Georgia becomes a separate Soviet republic. Abkhazia becomes an autonomous republic within Georgia.
Bloody Soviet Repression of Independence Protests.
1989- April- bloody suppression of riots for independence; 20 killed by Soviet troops.
1990- the ‘Round Table’ party coalition led by Viad Gamsakhurdia, encouraged by Gorbachev’s reforms, wins elections on a nationalist platform.
-Shevardnadze resigns as Soviet foreign minister.
Georgia wins independence.
1991- April- under Gamsakhurdia, Georgia wins independence despite protest from the Muslim majority in Abkhazia which don’t want to be part of Georgia.
-Gamsakhurdia’s government falls into deep corruption and his refusal to leave office despite opposition from the National Guard pushes the country to civil war.
The Fall of President Gamsakurdia.
-Gamsakhurdia is deposed and parliament is suspended.
-Abkhazia’s separatist Muslims with the help of Chechen fighters, stave off attacks from a Georgian army already weakened by civil war.
-negotiations with Abkhazia break down and a ceasefire is enforced by Russian and UN peacekeeping troops.
-Shevardnadze returns to post of Soviet foreign minister after the attempted coup against Gorbachev in August.
-Dec. 31- dissolution of the Soviet Union.
1992- January- with the collapse of his government, Gamsakhurdia flees Georgia and is replaced by Edvard Shevardnadze.
-Gamasakhurdia takes up arms in west Georgia.
-March 10- Shevardnadze appointed chairman of State Council.
Shevardnadze President of Georgia; confronts S. Ossetia and Abkhazia
1992- Sept.- Shevardnadze appointed president of the new Republic of Georgia. He fights mafia corruption, civil war and the attempted separation of Abkhazia.
-rebellion by the South Ossetian Autonomous Republic, demanding union with Russian North Ossetia.
1993- Dec 31- death of Gamsakhurdia. But his supporters continue to offer resistance.
-President Shevardnadze allows Russia to keep 20,000 troops in Georgia and to use the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti .
-Shevardnadze fails to control the restive Abkhazia region and manages to stay in power only with Russian assistance.
-Georgia joins the Commonwealth of Independent States of the former Soviet Union.
1994- Georgia experiences acute economic difficulties, its GDP 25% of what it was in 1991. Lack of pay causes mutinies in the armed forces. It stabilizes only with Russian economic assistance and Shevardnadze’s controls on spending, corruption and the black market.
-Shevardnadze agrees to a degree of autonomy for Abkhazia.
1995- Shevardnadze is re-elected.
1999- Georgia is admitted to the Council Of Europe.
-Shevardnadze inaugurates an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan.
2000- Russian troops begin to withdraw from Georgia.
-Shevardnadze is re-elected.
Russia Attempts Continued influence inside Georgia.
2001- tensions rise after Russia fails to honour promises to closes two of his bases in Georgia.
-Russia tightens immigration from Georgia, reducing desperately needed remittances from Georgians working in Russia.
Oct.- Russia charges Georgia with harbouring Chechen rebels. Georgia denies it.
Nov.- Shevardnadze fires his government for failing to attack corruption.
Putin Threatens Georgia over Chechen Rebels.
2002- Sept. Putin threatens military action if Georgia fails to deal with Chechen rebels.
Oct. -Georgia finally agrees to help Russia by getting rid of Chechen rebels who are then killed, captured or sent to Russia.
Shevardnadze deposed, Saakashvili ushered in by Rose Revolution.
November- Shevardnadze is ousted in the 'Rose Revolution' after reports of irregularities in elections.
2004- Mikhail Saakashvili elected president.
-in re-run of Georgian elections, Saakashvili's Demicratic front wins landslide victory.
Separatism Continues in S. Ossetia and Abkhazia.
August- clashes between Georgian troops and forces in South Ossetia.
October- elections in Abkhazia between pro and ant-Moscow candidates- Georgia refuses to recognize Abkhazian elections.
2005- January- Sergei Bagapsh wins elections in Abkhazia.
-Georgia offers South Ossetia autonomy but independence is demanded instead. Georgia offers same conditions for autonomy for Abkhazia if exiled Georgians are allowed to return to the region.
May- President Bush visits Georgia, calling it a 'beacon of liberty'.
July- under a May agreement, Russia starts to pull troops out of Soviet-era bases in Georgia.
Trade and Power Vendetta between Russia and Georgia.
2006- January- Explosions of gas and electrity power supply lines on Russian side of border are explained by Moscow as the work of Chechen separatists. Saakashvili lays blame on Moscow.
April-May- Russia bans imports of Georgian wine and mineral water on health grounds; Saakashvili claims the move is politically motivated.
-Georgia demands that Russian peace-keepers from South Ossetia and Abkhazia be replaced by international peace-keepers.
Sept- tensions with Russia are raised as helicopter carrying Georgian defense minister is fired on over south Ossetia.
Sept-Oct- Georgia detains Russians on espionage charges. Russia cuts transport links and expels Georgians from Russia.
Nov- South Ossetia votes for independence in a referendum Georgia refuses to recognize.
2007- Russia says it has withdrawn remaining troops from Georgia but retains some troops in breakaway areas of South Ossetia and Abkhzia.
2008- January- snap election is called; Saakashvili is re-elected.
NATO leaders and US president Bush agree to consider NATO membership for Georgia. The proposal rankles Russia's Presdient Putin

RECENT BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS. In the 1980s, the relaxed climate under Premier Gorbachev let to independence protests in Georgia which resulted in turn in the killing of twenty demonstrators by Soviet troops in April, 1989. Gorbachev's Georgian foreign minister, Edvard Schevardnadze, resigned his post in Moscow, fearing that Gorbachev was conceding too much to the hard-line Communists. But the forces of liberalization were getting out of his control. Back in Georgia, Viad Gamsakhurdia's nationalist 'Round Table Party' won elections in 1990. In April, 1991, Georgia won its independence, weathering protests from militants in Abkhazia who didn't want to be part of any Georgian nation. Further problems arrived with Gamsakhurdia's descent into corruption and his refusal to resign despite pressure from the Georgian National Guard. With the eruption of civil conflict he was finally deposed and parliament suspended. Anti-Georgian separatist Abkhazia Muslims, meanwhile, with support from the Chechens resisted offensives from the Georgian army. A ceasefire was finaly enforced by Russia and the UN. There followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December. Promptly, Schevardnaze returned to a Georgian power vacuum on the heels of Gamsakurdia who had fled into exile. Shevardnadze assumed control of the State Council on March 10, 1992 and was appointed president in September only to find himself beset with a burgeoning Georgian mafia, Abkhazia separatism and civil conflict with Gamsakhurdia loyalists. To make matters worse, the Autonomous Republic of South Ossetia agitated to join Russian North Ossetia. In an attempt to placate Russia, Shevardnadze allowed Russia to maintain a base in Georgia and gave it access to the Black Sea port of Poti in return for heavy Russian subsidies to the ailing Georgian economy and political support from Moscow. After agreeing to limited autonomy for Abkhazia, Shevardnadze was re-elected in 1995. In 1999, Georgia was admitted to the council of Europe and Shevardnadze opened an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan. With gardual improvements and the withdrawal of Russian troops in 2000, Shevardnadze was again re-elected but tensions re-emerged when Russia refused the final closure of two of its bases. Relations deteriorated further when Russia imposed restrictions on economic relations with Georgia and accused Georgia of harbouring Chechen rebels. In September, 2002, President Putin threatened military action of Georgia didn't deal with the alleged presence of Chechen militants and Georgia finally complied, killing or capturing Chechen rebels. In 2003, a trans-Georgian pipeline was begin, linking Baku, Azerbaijan to Turkey. In November of that year, Shevardnadze was finally driven out of power after reports of electoral regularities. In 2004 Mikhail Saakashvili was elected president. Problems erupted with another breakway region, Ajaria, upon which Georgia imposed sanctions. In May, Ajaria's president, Aslan Abashidze, fearing a Georgian invasion, blew up bridges to Georgia. Saakashvili ordered Abashidze to comply with the constitution or face removal, after which the Ajarian president resigned and left the country. This was followed hard by clashes in July, 2004, between Georgian troops and forces in South Ossetia and elections in Abkhazia between pro and anti-Moscow parties, a vote which Georgia refused to recognize but un January, 2005, Sergei Bagapsh went on to win the elections in Abkhazia. Saakashvili offered both South Ossetia and Abkhazia formal autonomy if exiled Georgians were allowed to return to the two regions. In May, Georgia's delicate position on the map of the world emerged when President Bush visited, calling Georgia a 'beacon of liberty'. That summer, Russia began pulling the last of its toops out of Georgia. But the wounds would not heal: in January, 2006, electricity and gas lines on the Russian side of the border were blown up, plunging Georgia into a deep freeze, with Moscow blaming the act on Chechen separatists. Georgia accused Moscow of political-economic retaliation. Russia continued its campaign by banning imports of Georgian wine on health grounds. Georgia retaliated by demanding that Russian peace keepers in South Ossetia be replaced by an international force. In September, Georgia again pointed to Russia when its defence minister was fired on in a helicopter over South Ossetia; things heated up further that fall when Georgia detained Russians on charges of espionage. Russia cut transport links to Georgia and expelled Georgian nationals from Russian soil. In November, Georgia refused to recognize a pro-independence referendum in South Ossetia. In September of the following year, 2007, Saakashvili was accused of corruption and plotting the murder of an opponent, sparking massive demonstrations. He declared a state of emergency. Russia, meanwhile, has retained its very last troops in the breakaway areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In Tbilisi, the Saakashvili government has become increasingly repressive in the face of mass protests, even as the president managed to get himself re-elected in a snap election last January. This spring, Russia has objected over moves by NATO to tighten Georgia's ties with the west with prospective membership. Now Russia is tightening its own ties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia.


View of Tbilisi by the French traveller Jean Chardin, 1671
REMOTE BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS. As early as 350 BC, there was a Kingdom of Georgia with capital at Mtskheta which promply fell to one of the Seleucid generals of Alexander the Great. The Georgian aristocrat Pharnavaz wrested the kingdom back to independence. Around 250 AD it fell under Persian Sassanid rule after which Christianity made its way into the region and around 400 the Sassanids were finally expelled. In the following century, Georgia was ruled by Justinian's eastern Roman Empire and a branch of the Armenian Bagratid dynasty. In the 7th and 8th centuries, Tbilisi was a frontier with Arab Islam, sometimes under Muslim control. In 1050 the region came under rule by the Seljuk Turks of Alp Arslan. Georgia's King David II expelled the Seljuks, united the country and made it independent. Georgia reached is cultural zenith in 1184-1212 under Queen Thamar who brought all of Transcaucasia under Georgian rule. But soon, in the 1240s, it fell to Mongols and then to Tamerlane between 1386 to 1403. In the fifteenth century Georgia's Alexander I divided the kingdom into three for his three sons: Imertia, Kakhetia, and Karthlia. The devolution brought in a period of decline. In the following century, it fell to rivalry between Persia and Turkey. By 1555, west Georgia was under Turkish suzerainty and East Georgia, (Kakhetia, Karthlia) under Persian rule. In the 18th century, kings of Georgia tried to reunite and re-establish the kingdom. But it was not to last. In 1783, beseiged by Turks and Persians, Georgia sought refuge as a protectorate of the Russian Empire. No sooner had it done so, of course, than Russian attempts to suppress Georgian culture and language lead to uprisings. But Czar Paul I, unwary of Turkish expansion, allowed Tbilisi to be sacked y Constantinople. Russia had learned its lesson; in 1801, Petersburg pressured the last king of Georgia, George XIII, to abdicate. Kakhetia and Karthlia were ceded directly to Czar Alexander I and the Russians rebuilt Tibilisieo. Over the period from 1803 to1829, Russia acquired western Georgia- Abkhazia, Mingrelia, Imeritia and Guria- from Turkey. During that time, form 1804 to 1813, a war between Russia and Persia ended with Russian victory. In 1813, by treaty of Gulistan- Persia ceded Daghestan, Shemakha and Gerogia itself and for good- to Russia.

LOCATION OF NOTE: Tbilisi: throughout history, Tbilisi has sat astride the main trade route connecting the Black and Caspian Seas as well as commanding the intersection of the great north-south, east-west invasions and migrations. In the 4th century BC, the Persian Achaeminid military governor built a hill fortress on the present site of Tbilisi. By the 5th century AD, the capital of the Georgian kingdom was transferred from Tblisi to Mtskheta. In the following century, Tblisi rose to prominence again as the seat of the Iberians. The Zion cathedral and the Anchiskhat Basilica suvrive from that period. From the 8th to the 11th centuries it was a hub of Muslim power when Arabs, Khazars, Seljuks and Ottomans ruled the city in turn. When the Georgian kingdom was independent, from 1096 to 1225, Tbilisi was the capital. But then it was ruled by Mongols, Iranians and Turks from the 13th to the 18th century. The Metekhi castle and fortress (1278-89) are still standing. The Russians took the city in 1800 and from there the Czar ruled the Caucasus. During the latter half of the 19th century, Tbilisi became a centre for the Russian revolutionary underground and played a role in the Revolution of 1905. Swiftly after 1917, however, it became the heart of the anti-Bolshevik Transcaucasian Federation. That lasted only a year before Georgia became independent and then was absorbed into the Soviet Union. When Georgia became a separate Soviet Republic in 1936, Tbilisi was the capital. In 1989, Soviet troops shot down protesters demonstrating for Georgian independence in Tbilisi. The 1991 coup that resulted in the resignation of Zviad Gamsakhurdia destroyed the down town area.

PROFILE:
Queen Thamar of Georgia (1184-1213) The greatest of the Georgian monarchs. Elcest daughter of George III. In Georgian tradition she carried the title 'King'. Upon her acccession, a goup of nobles confronted her, demandingr a parliament. She arrested their leader, they rose in revolt and she negotiated a compromise, granting limited parliamentary powers. In 1185, the nobles arranged for her to marry a Russian prince whom she divorced in 1187 for his debauchery. The following year she decided on a Georgian noble, David Soslani, from Ossetia. Her former husband, meanwhile, lead noble followes in two unsuccessful coups. She then turned her attention to external matters and marched against the Seljuk Turks defeating them once by 1193. She defeated an Azerbaijan-led Muslim alliance at Shamkor in 1194 and the Shamkor region was made into a vassal state. The Seljuks of Asia Minor were alarmed and marched against Georgia. In 1203, David Soslani led a Georgian army to defeat the march larger army of theSeljuks at the battle of Basian. In 1202-04, Georgia annexed Armenia. In the south-west, on the Black Sea, she annexed Trebizond, which became an empire made up of Bysantine refugees from the Crusaders and Muslims. Expansion into northern Perisa followed in 1210. In 1212, Tamar put down a rebellion in mountainous east Georgia. She died in 1213, having brought Georgia to the zenith of its cultural and relgious development.

Image:Queen Tamar - Vardzia fresco.jpg
Queen Thamar- mural from Vardzia Monastery.

CROSS-CENTURY SUMMARY: Lying between two seas and hemmed in between Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Persia, it was natural that Georgia should begin as an independent state and, from time to time lose and recover her independence throughout a long and turbulent history. She was often as not a vassal of one of the larger powers. The memory of nationhood would never die. Georgia's early history was dominated by periodic Persian rule, though Christianity had arrived by 400 AD. Rule by the Seljuk Turks in the early middle ages finally gave way to Georgian independence and eventually to imperial expansion under Queen Thamar (1184-1213) when Georgian cultural, political and religious development reached a height. The Mongol Invasions of the 13th century began a long period of decline which saw a tug of war over Georgia between Turkey and Persia in the 16th century, with Persia ruling the east and Turkey the west. Georgian attempts at unity and independence in the 18th century led to appeals to Russia for support. The rivalry was now between Turkey and Russia, followed by a contest between Persia and Russia and by the early 19th century Georgia was under Russian control. The Russian revolution brought lip-service to Georgian independence but by 1934, Georgia was a Soviet Republic, formally under the control of Moscow. The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to Georgian independence under President Gamsakurdia. But his corruption and misrule led to the reforming ex-foreign minister of the Soviet Union, Edvard Shavardnadze taking his place. Shavardnadze took on the local mafia, government corruption, the break-away regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as Russian attempts to reassert control. Shevardnaze was driven from power after allegations of election irregularities and the supposed democratic 'Rose Revolution' ushered in President Mikhail Saakshvili. Saakashvili, while fighting off separatist movements and Russian meddling in Abkhazia and South Ossetia has resorted to increasingly autocratic rule amid reports of deep corruption. On the international front NATO has expressed intentions of admitting Georgia, raising the ire Russia's Vladimir Putin who suspects Georgia of being a potential outpost of western aggression on Russian borders.

EYE-WITNESS: "Tbilisi has a beauty and formality that make it seem both regimented and more gentlemanly in comparison to Baku. The Kura River winds through the middle of the city. Churches stand on her high banks, bridges have balustrades, iron-cased balconies lean out from buildings, stretching for river views. There are more then enough Soviet structures to jar the mind from kingdoms lost and treasured queens, but Tbilisi seems reasonably unmarked for a city that was the epicentre of its country's bloody revolution less than a decade ago. On the far side of the city, sitting above the capital on a steep and dusty hill is a network of unnamed streets that resemble the layered labyrinths of a Moroccan casbah. A small boy seems to recognize the name of the man we are looking for and climbs into the front seat to guide us. Along an alley, past the black dog and the rooster, through a courtyard, by the children, up four steps and away from the dipped eyes of surprised old women. Over a concrete slab where an old man sits with broken glasses balanced on the end of his nose and up twenty steps..." from CAUCASUS, Mountain men and Holy Wars by Nicholas Griffin, 2000.

PRESENT SITUATION: Russian president Vladimir Putin is sending mixed signals to Georgia, easing some restrictions, tightening up others and creating closer ties with Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has warned Russia not to overstep its bounds and asked Georgia to improve the quality of life in the breakaway regions- while Georgia has appealed for firm support from NATO, the US and the European Union.

PLUS CA CHANGE: Russia has found different ways of paying lip-service to Georgia's independence. The empire to the north had long held Georgia as a protectorate. Temporarily, the Bolsheviks recognized an independent Georgian state in 1920. Even when Stalin made it a Soviet Republic in 1934, there was a pretense of cultural autonomy, as there was with all the non-Russian republics. Ambivalence has marked relations between Georgia and Russia for 200 years- and it appears it will continue to do so.

CURIOSITY: Edvard Shevardnadze, post-Soviet Georgia's second president, had previously been Russian Premier Gorbachev's Foreign Minister. A native Georgian, Shevardnadze worked his way up in the Georgian Communist Party by fighting crime and the Georgian mafia.

TIMELINE FOR THE HISTORY OF GEORGIA:

The Persians

350 BC (circa) Kingdom of Georgia with capital at Mtskhet.

250 AD (circa) Georgia ruled by the Persian Sassanids.

-Christianity introduced in Georgia.

400 - the Sassanids explelled from Georgia.

527- Georgia part of the Eastern Roman Empire of Justinian

550 (circa) Georgia ruled by a branch of the Armenian Bagratids.

660- Tbilisi conquered by Muslims.

800- frontier with Islam pushed back south of Tbilisi.

Medieval Kingdom of Georgia

1050- the region is taken by the Seljuk Turks under Alp Arslan. King David II expels the Seljuks, unites the country and makes it independent.

1184-1212- Queen Thamar rules Georgia expanding it into a Caucasian empire. Georgia reaches its greatest cultural development and geographic extent, including all of Transcaucasia. The national poem: 'The Man in the Panther's Skin' is written by Shota Rustaveli.

Georgia Falls to the Mongols.

1240s- Georgia is ransacked and taken by the Mongols.

Tamerlane

1386-1403- Georgia is overrun by Tamerlane.

1450 (circa) King Alexander I divides Georgia into 3 kingdoms: Imertia, Kakhetia, and Karthlia for his 3 sons. Decline sets in.

Turko-Perisan Rvialry over Georgia.

1550 (circa) Turkey and Persia are rivals for rule of Georgia.

1555- West Georgia us under Turkish suzerainty. East Georgia, (Kakhetia, Karthlia) is under Persian rule.

1750 (circa) Kings of Georgia try to unite the country.

Georgia Seeks the Protection of Russia

1783- pressured by the Turks and Persians, Georgia seeks help and becomes a protectorate of the Russian Empire.

-Russian attempts to suppress Georgian culture and language lead to a series uprisings.

-Czar Paul I ignores Turkish expansion and allows Tbilisi to be sacked by the Ottomans.

1801- Georgia's last king, George XIII, abdicates under pressure from Russia and cedes Kakhetia and Karthlia to the Czar Alexander I. The Russians rebuild Tbilisi

Russia Takes Georgia from Persia and Turkey.

1803-1829- Russia acquires western Georgia from Turkey: Abkhazia, Mingrelia, Imeritia and Guria.

1804-1813- war between Russia and Persia.

1813- treaty of Gulistan- after Russian victory, Persia cedes Georgia, Daghestan and Shemakha to Russia.

Georgia Independent under Mensheviks.

1918- May- under the Georgian Menshevik party, Georgia declares its independence.

1920- the Soviets recognize Georgian independence

Georgia is Absorbed into the Soviet Union.

1921- Georgian resistance is suppressed by the Red Army. Georgia becomes a Soviet republic.

1922- together with Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia becomes part of the Soviet Transcaucasian Republic.

1936- Georgia becomes a separate Soviet republic. Abkhazia becomes an autonomous republic within Georgia.

Stalin Deports suspected pro-German Georgian Collaborators.

1940-1945- parts of Georgia held by the Germans.

-Stalin orders deportation of hundreds of thousands of Georgians suspected of collaborating with Germany.

The Rise of Edvard Shevardnadze.

1957- Edvard Shevardnadze becomes leader of the Communist Youth league for Georgia.

1964- Shevardnadze becomes deputy leader of the Georgian Ministry of Public Order

1965-72- Shevardnadze becomes First Minister of the Georgian Ministry of Public Order where he works against the Georgian Mafia.

-Shevardnadze reports the mafia activities of local Georgian Party boss V.P. Mzhavanadze to Premier Brezhnev.

1972- Shevardnaze is appointed first secretary of the the Communist Party of Georgia instead of Mzhavanadze. He becomes the most radical Soviet reformer of his time.

1978- as a candidate member of the politburo, Schevardnadze supports the rise of Gorbachev whom he has known since the 1960s.

-Gorbachev replaces Gromyko with Shevardnadze as foreign minister.

Bloody Soviet Repression of Independence Protests.

1989- April- bloody suppression of riots for independence; 20 killed by Soviet troops.

1990- the ‘Round Table’ party coalition led by Viad Gamsakhurdia, encouraged by Gorbachev’s reforms, wins elections on a nationalist platform.

-Shevardnadze resigns as Soviet foreign minister.

Georgia wins independence.

1991- April- under Gamsakhurdia, Georgia wins independence despite protest from the Muslim majority in Abkhazia which don’t want to be part of Georgia.

-Gamsakhurdia’s government falls into deep corruption and his refusal to leave office despite opposition from the National Guard pushes the country to civil war.

The Fall of President Gamsakurdia.

-Gamsakhurdia is deposed and parliament is suspended.

-Abkhazia’s separatist Muslims with the help of Chechen fighters, stave off attacks from a Georgian army already weakened by civil war.

-negotiations with Abkhazia break down and a ceasefire is enforced by Russian and UN peacekeeping troops.

-Shevardnadze returns to post of Soviet foreign minister after the attempted coup against Gorbachev in August.

-Dec. 31- dissolution of the Soviet Union.

1992- January- with the collapse of his government, Gamsakhurdia flees Georgia and is replaced by Edvard Shevardnadze.

-Gamasakhurdia takes up arms in west Georgia.

-March 10- Shevardnadze appointed chairman of State Council.

Shevardnadze President of Georgia; confronts S. Ossetia and Abkhazia

1992- Sept.- Shevardnadze appointed president of the new Republic of Georgia. He fights mafia corruption, civil war and the attempted separation of Abkhazia.

-rebellion by the South Ossetian Autonomous Republic, demanding union with Russian North Ossetia.

1993- Dec 31- death of Gamsakhurdia. But his supporters continue to offer resistance.

-President Shevardnadze allows Russia to keep 20,000 troops in Georgia and to use the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti .

-Shevardnadze fails to control the restive Abkhazia region and manages to stay in power only with Russian assistance.

-Georgia joins the Commonwealth of Independent States of the former Soviet Union.

1994- Georgia experiences acute economic difficulties, its GDP 25% of what it was in 1991. Lack of pay causes mutinies in the armed forces. It stabilizes only with Russian economic assistance and Shevardnadze’s controls on spending, corruption and the black market.

-Shevardnadze agrees to a degree of autonomy for Abkhazia.

1995- Shevardnadze is re-elected.

1999- Georgia is admitted to the Council Of Europe.

-Shevardnadze inaugurates an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan.

2000- Russian troops begin to withdraw from Georgia.

-Shevardnadze is re-elected.

Russia Attempts Continued influence inside Georgia.

2001- tensions rise after Russia fails to honour promises to close two of its bases in Georgia.

-Russia tightens immigration from Georgia, reducing desperately needed remittances from Georgians working in Russia.

Oct.- Russia charges Georgia with harbouring Chechen rebels. Georgia denies it.

Nov.- Shevardnadze fires his government for failing to attack corruption.

Putin Threatens Georgia over Chechen Rebels.

2002- Sept. Putin threatens military action if Georgia fails to deal with Chechen rebels.

Oct. -Georgia finally agrees to help Russia by getting rid of Chechen rebels who are then killed, captured or sent to Russia.

2003- May -pipeline begun from Baku, Azerbaijan, through Georgia to Ceyhan in Turkey.

Shevardnadze deposed, Saakashvili ushered in by Rose Revolution.

November- Shevardnadze is ousted in the 'Rose Revolution' after reports of irregularities in elections.

2004- Mikhail Saakashvili elected president.

2004- March- having difficulty with the leadership of Ajaria, Tbilisi closes the border and imposes sanctions.

-in re-run of Georgian elections, Saakashvili's Democratic front wins landslide victory.

May- Ajaria leader Aslan Abashidze claims Georgia is about to invade and blows up connecting bridges. Saakashvili orders Abashidze to comply with the constitution or face removal. Abashidze resigns and leaves the country.

Separatism Continues in S. Ossetia and Abkhazia.

August- clashes between Georgian troops and forces in South Ossetia.

October- elections in Abkhazia between pro and ant-Moscow candidates- Georgia refuses to recognize Abkhazian elections.

2005- January- Sergei Bagapsh wins elections in Abkhazia.

-Georgia offers South Ossetia autonomy but independence is demanded instead. Georgia offers same conditions for autonomy for Abkhazia if exiled Georgians are allowed to return to the region.

May- President Bush visits Georgia, calling it a 'beacon of liberty'.

July- under a May agreement, Russia starts to pull troops out of Soviet-era bases in Georgia.

Trade and Power Vendetta between Russia and Georgia.

2006- January- Explosions of gas and electricity power supply lines on Russian side of border are explained by Moscow as the work of Chechen separatists. Saakashvili lays blame on Moscow.

April-May- Russia bans imports of Georgian wine and mineral water on health grounds; Saakashvili claims the move is politically motivated.

-Georgia demands that Russian peace-keepers arriving in South Ossetia have visas.

July- Baku-Tbilisi oil pipeline is opened.

-Georgia demands that Russian peace-keepers from South Ossetia and Abkhazia be replaced by international peace-keepers.

Sept- tensions with Russia are raised as helicopter carrying Georgian defense minister is fired on over south Ossetia.

Sept-Oct- Georgia detains Russians on espionage charges. Russia cuts transport links and expels Georgians from Russia.

Nov- South Ossetia votes for independence in a referendum Georgia refuses to recognize.

Saakashvili meets Unrest, Allegations of Corruption with Repression.

2007- Sept.- former Georgian defense minister accuses Saakashivili of corruption and plotting a murder; accusations spark mass demonstrations.

November- Georgia declares state of emergency as protests increase, demanding Saakashvili's resignation.

-Russia says it has withdrawn remaining troops from Georgia but retains some troops in breakaway areas of South Ossetia and Abkhzia.

December- the Crisis Group warns of increasing authoritarianism and Human Rights Watch observes abuses in the government's dealing with increasing protests.

2008- January- snap election is called; Saakashvili is re-elected.
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