Georgia is a relatively small country on the rather vague border between Europe and Asia. For this reason, its designation as “caucasian” might seem a bit odd to those familiar with the more colloquial sense of the word. Nevertheless, we find the Caucasus range between the Black and Caspian Seas, in Southwestern Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Georgia shares a border with these other caucasian territories, and with Turkey as well.
Unlike many of their neighbors, Georgians have been Christians for ages and ages. They adopted Christianity early in the 4th century, shortly after Armenia became the first Christian nation. The Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) has long been a central part of Georgian identity, and a powerful force in the political sphere. Even through countless invasions and occupations, Georgians maintained their religion. After the fall of the USSR, under which religion was practically illegal, the GOC quickly regained its visibility and strength.
By no means has Christianity monopolized the development of Georgian culture, however. Evidence of Persian, Turkish, Central Asian, and Eastern European influence is clear in Georgian cuisine, music, art, and architecture. In this tremendously diverse region, Georgia has manage to create a unique culture out of elements from the competing empires surrounding their homeland, blended with indigenous traditions (like polyphonic singing) and values.
On the other hand, the Georgian language occupies a category all its own. Though some words come from their neighbors, Georgian is not classified as an Indo-European, Semitic, or Turkic language. Rather, it makes up the bulk of the Kartvelian language group, alongside Svan, Mingrelian, and Laz. Though Georgian has few speakers worldwide, in comparison to other languages in the region, it seems widespread. It even has its own alphabet, quite unlike any other, supposedly dating back to the 3rd century BC. But like anywhere else, the boundary between history, myth, and legend is somewhat murky.
Georgia’s two main, well-known (in the Soviet and post-Soviet world) exports are mineral water and wine. Evidence shows that viticulture has flourished in Georgia since 4000 BC, giving the vineyards a significant head start, and giving Georgians an advantage over other wine-producing regions. Luckily, Russia has recently lifted a 7-year embargo, re-opening business with the largest market for Georgian produce. In a similarly sticky issue, the Black Sea coast drew apparatchik tourists from many other Soviet republics; much of this coastline now lies within the de facto Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia.
Some other Georgian exports include Stalin, Balanchine, tea, and manganese. Also notable is the rocky yet improving relationship between Georgia and Russia since the disintegration of the USSR, especially concerning the 2008 war between these two countries, and the recent election of a pro-Russian leader, and the ongoing difficulties with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgia has long been known for hospitality, beautiful scenery, and a fiercely independent spirit. But only recently has Georgia come into the global spotlight, with its economic potential and strategic location. Modern education reforms bring native English speakers to the country, to share their language skills and foreign perspective with the people, giving the next generation of Georgians access to the largely English-speaking internet and international job market. Considering that Russian has been the second language here for centuries, this shift signals an important change for Georgia. The next few decades will show us exactly what this change means.