Most Important Things to Know About the Country of Georgia

A Geographic Overview

Medieval towers of Ushguli Georgia
Medieval towers of Ushguli.

 

Luis Dafos/Getty Images

Technically located in Asia but having a European feel, the country of Georgia is a republic that was formerly part of the Soviet Union. It obtained its independence on April 9, 1991, when the USSR disbanded. Prior to that, it was called the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Key Takeaways: The Country of Georgia

  • The country of about 5 million borders the Black Sea and has a subtropical climate at lower elevations.
  • Georgia's mountainous region provides it with diversity in its climates, based on elevation.
  • Parts of the country have been in dispute almost since the moment it won its independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Capital and Major Cities

More than half of the population of the country lives in urban areas.

The capital and major cities include:

Capital: Tbilisi, population 1 million (2018 est.)

The ancient capital city lies on in a gorge of the Kura River.

Other major cities: Batumi, Kutaisi

Government

The government of Georgia is a republic, and it has a unicameral (one chamber) legislature (parliament). The leader of Georgia is president Giorgi Margvelashvili, with Giorgi Kvirikashvili serving as prime minister.

People of Georgia

The population of Georgia is about 4.9 million people but there is a declining population growth rate, coming in at 1.76 fertility rate (2.1 is the population replacement level).

Major ethnic groups in Georgia include the Georgians, at almost 87 percent; Azeri, 6 percent (from Azerbaijan); and Armenian, at 4.5 percent. All others make up the remainder, including Russians, Ossetians, Yazidis, Ukrainians, Kists (an ethnic group primarily living in the Pankisi Gorge region), and Greeks.

Languages

The languages spoken in Georgia include Georgian, which is the country's official language. The Georgian language is thought to have origins in ancient Aramaic and sounds (and looks) distinctly unlike any other languages. The BBC notes, "Some consonants, for example, are pronounced from the back of the throat with a sudden guttural puff of air." Other languages spoken in Georgia include Azeri, Armenian, and Russian, but the official language of the Abkhazia region is Abkhaz.

Religion

The country of Georgia is 84 percent Orthodox Christian and 10 percent Muslim. Christianity became the official religion in the fourth century, though its location near the Ottoman and Persian empires and Mongols made it a battleground for influence there.

Geography

Georgia is strategically located in the Caucasus mountains, and its highest point is Mount Shkhara, at 16,627 feet (5,068 m). The country occasionally suffers from earthquakes, and one-third of the country is forested. Coming in at 26,911 square miles (69,700 sq km), it is slightly smaller than South Carolina and borders Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey, and the Black Sea.

As would be expected, population density decreases with an increase in altitude, as the climate becomes more inhospitable and atmosphere thinner. Less than 2 percent of the population of the world lives above 8,000 feet.

Climate

Georgia has a pleasant Mediterranean, subtropical kind of climate in lower elevations and at the coast due to its latitudinal location along the Black Sea and protection from cold weather from the north via the Caucasus mountains.

Those mountains also give the country additional climates based on elevation, as at moderately high elevations, there is an alpine climate, without much of a summer. At the highest, there is snow and ice year-round. The country's southeastern regions are the driest, as the rain amounts increase the closer one gets to the sea.

Economy

Georgia, with its pro-Western views and developing economy, hopes to join both NATO and the European Union. Its currency is the Georgian lari. Its agricultural products include grapes (and wine), sugar beets, tobacco, plants for essential oils, citrus fruits, and hazelnuts. People also raise bees, silkworms, poultry, sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. About half of the economy comes from agricultural products, employing about one-quarter of the working population. Mining includes manganese, coal, talc, marble, copper, and gold, and the country also has various small industries, such as chemicals/fertilizer.

History

In the first century, Georgia was under the dominion of the Roman Empire. After time spent under the Persian, Arab, and the Turkish empires, it had its own golden age in the 11th through 13th centuries. Then the Mongols came. Next, the Persian and Ottoman Empires each wanted to dominate the area. In the 1800s, it was the Russian Empire that took over. After a brief period of independence following the Russian Revolution, the country was absorbed into the USSR in 1921.

In 2008, Russia and Georgia fought five days over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in the north. It and Abkhazia have long been outside of the control of the Georgian government. They have their own de-facto governments, are supported by Russia, and thousands of Russian troops are still occupying the region.

South Ossetia had claimed independence from Georgia in the 1990s, creating a need for peacekeeping troops there after some sporadic fighting. Abkhazia had also declared its independence, though both regions are technically still part of Georgia as far as most of the world is concerned.

Russia has recognized their independence but also has built military bases there that fly the Russian flag, and its military has put up border fencing around people's homes, through people's fields, and in the middle of towns. The village of Khurvaleti (700 people) is split between Russian-controlled land and that which is under Georgian control.