Monday, July 14, 2008

Georgia as Crucible and Crossroads

During the International Symposium of Georgia Arts, there were constant reminders that Georgia is a crucible and crossroads of European and Asian culture: the haunting choral singing, the churches abuzz with chanting and incense, the dagger throwing dancers, the wines and chivalric toasts, the Bronze Age treasures... The Chavchavadze family estate provides a concise explanation of the historical role of Georgia in the region:

Georgia has emerged as the birthplace of the first Europeans and is often called the "cradle of European civilization." Remains of the earliest hominids, outside of Africa, were unearthed in 1991 at Dmanisi, Georgia. Srveral skulls and a full skeleton were found; they are estimated to be about 1.8 million years old thus representing an evolutionary bridge between man’s ape like forebears and ourselves.

The next major chapter in Georgia’s history is related to a treasure trove of gold and silver objects discovered in Vani, a templar city located in Western Georgia. The items, which date from the 8th to the 1st Century BC, are linked to the prosperous settlement of Colchis which might have been colonized or might have been a trading center. They are also linked to the legendary Greek hero, Jason, and the Argonauts. Vani produced vast arrays of exquisite artifacts including potterykat, gold and silver jewelry, graceful bronze sculptures, and a vast variety of funerary pieces. The pieces are characterized by advanced metallurgical techniques and Greek and Persian influences.

During the last century of pre-Christian Georgia, the Georgian Kingdom was tied to Rome. In 330 AD, King Mariam III adopted Christianity which strengthened Georgia’s ties to the Byzantine Empire. In 645 AD, neighboring Arabs captured Tbilisi. In 813, the Bagradids, a royal family of Armenian descent, ruled a part of Georgia, and in the 11th Century Bagrat V united East and West Georgia.

In 1099-1125, David IV (David the Builder) transformed the country by defeating the Turks and expanded Georgia’s territory Southward into Armenia and Eastward to the Caspian Sea. The golden age that he ushered in concluded when Queen Tamar’s reign ended in 1212. The Mongols invaded Georgia in 1236. The capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453 began three centuries of Turkish domination in Georgia.

In the late 1700s, Erekle II united the Eastern provinces of Kartli and Kakheti. He soon turned to Russia to gain protection from the unpopular Turks. In 1801, Tsar Alexander I of Russia abolished the Kingdom of Kartli and Kakhetia and Russian prescence steadily increased. after 1000 years, the Bagradid Dynasty ended its reign. In 1810, Tsar Alexander annexed the Western Kingdom of Imereti. As a result of several Russian wars against Turkey and Persia, other territories were annexed to Georgia, a part of the Russian’s strategic base in the Caucasus.

In 1918 Georgia declared independence and was under British protection from 1918-1920.In 1921, the Red Army invaded Georgia and from 1922-1936, Georgia became a part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Republic. In 1936, the federated republic was split up as Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The three countries remained separate Soviet Social Republics of the Soviet Union until the end of 1991.

In 1989, Georgian nationalism again began to resurge. In 1991, Georgia became an independent state. At present, it is the focus of conflicting interests between the U.S. and Russia. It is also facing a challenge from two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have close ties to Russia. Nonetheless, Georgia aspires to join Nthe North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

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