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Thread: Caucasus series

  1. #1

    Caucasus series

    Just for fun and my own understanding I've decided to do a bit of in depth reading about Caucasus area. I think this region on the border between Europe is one of the most fascinating and complex in terms of history as well as ethnic and religious diversity. I'll post here maps, short history and the latest situation in three independent countries (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) as well as Russian autonomous provinces of Dagestan, North Ossetia-Alania, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Adygea and perhaps few neighbouring areas of Russia proper.


    Today it will be all about Georgia.




    First I guess about the name. The native name is Sakartvelo and the English name is apparently of Persian origin and has nothing to do with any George.

    Basic geography:


    - 69,700 sq km, 3.7 million inhabitants
    - South of the Great Caucasus mountains thus in Asia albeit culturally more European
    - Bordered by Russia in the north, Azerbaijan in the east, Armenia and Turkey in the south and the Black Sea in the west
    - Largest city and the capital is Tbilisi
    - Highest point 5,201 m (17,060 ft)

    Principal historical facts:

    - Ancestors of modern Georgians have lived in the area since at least 12th century BC and probably much earlier
    - In classical antiquity consisted of early states of Colchis (Black sea coast) and Iberia (inland)
    - Colchis is were Argonauts went for the Golden Fleece
    - Coastal areas conquered by the Roman Republic in 66 BC. It's a contested area between the Roman/Byzantine empire and Sassanid Persia for the next seven centuries
    - Officially Christian since 337 AD (among the earliest in the World)
    - The golden age of independent Kingdom of Georgia 11-13th century (king David IV)
    - Independent kingdom disintegrates in the 15th century after persistent nomad and Muslim attacks
    - 16-18th century divided between Persia and Ottoman empire
    - Part of the Russian empire and then USSR from 1800 till the collapse of the latter
    - Joseph Stalin (born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in Gori, 1878) was a Georgian and so were several other prominent Bolsheviks
    - Independent republic since 1991

    Language and religion:

    - Georgian is the principal language of Kartvelian language family which is spoken only in Caucasus and is not related to any other larger language family
    - The language is written in their own script introduced in the 5th century AD and based on Greek
    - 84% Orthodox Christian, 11% Sunni Muslim, 3% Armenian Apostolic

    Example of Georgian writing: მეგრელები შეადგენენ ქართველთა შტოსა. სხვა ქართველებისაგან ბევრით არაფრით განსხვავდებიან. მეგრელი იმერელსა და გურულს ისე ძლიერ ემსგავსება, რომ ქართლელი და კახელი ამათ ერთმანეთში


    Ok, those are the really basic facts and one can of course find a lot more than that in Wikipedia and elsewhere. Now to some newer stuff...

    The main adversary of today's Georgia is Russia which right after the collapse of USSR helped two provinces which are formally still counted as part of Georgia to secede from the newly independent country. Relations with all other neighbours are good and the borders are open (not at all obvious in the region!!!).

    The biggest of the break away provinces is called Abkhazia (capital: Sukhumi).



    Historically this region has been inhabited by Abkhaz speakers which are part of the North Caucasian language family unrelated to Georgian. However in recent centuries also a large number of Georgians, Armenians and Russians had moved there. Religiously Abkhazians are also Orthodox Christians. The Demographic composition has changed drastically after 1992-1993 Abkhaz-Georgian war with now barely half the population (ca 250,000) left from what lived there in 1989. Now it's an satellite of Russia and likely to remain as such in a foreseeable future.

    The second and much smaller region is called South Ossetia and is related to much larger North Ossetia-Alania to be discussed at a later date.



    Only about 50,000 inhabitants (also much diminished since 1989) live in this Russian controlled enclave. About 90% of population are Ossetians. These people are also Orthodox Christians. Ossetic is an Eastern Iranian language (Indo European family) and the only Iranian language also native to Europe (in North Ossetia). Now this area is even more firmly part of Russia than Abkhazia which pretends to be independent.

    Besides these two break away regions the ethnic composition of Georgia proper is also not completely uniform. Southernmost parts of Georgia are majority Armenian and two closely related languages/dialects (Mingrelian and Svan) exist in the North Western part of the country (next to Abkhazia).

    Another autonomous province which has stayed part of the country is called Adjara and is located on the shores of the Black sea bordering Turkey. Here the cultural difference is not so much ethnic (>90% Georgian), but religious as ca 40% of the population are Muslim. It's the only province with a large Muslim minority.



    Politically it's a democracy, flawed but less so than any of its neighbours. Economically the country has struggled after the collapse of USSR. About 20% of population (mostly ethnic minorities, but also native Georgians) has been lost due to emigration. There is no serious industry and the poverty levels are relatively high, particularly in the country side. However during the last decade the situation has improved considerably so there is a cause for some optimism. Tourisms has become particularly important lately (I've been as well) - there is a lot to see from a cultural point of view plus mountains are high and beaches beautiful.

    And finally I'll close with a song from a British-Georgian singer I happen to like

    Roger forever

  2. #2

    Re: Caucasus series

    Forgot to add that the most common Georgian surnames end with -shvili (child), -dze (son) and eli/uli (from).
    Roger forever

  3. #3
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    Re: Caucasus series

    I am really looking forward to this series, suliso. I have a cursory knowledge of the Caucasus states, again because Kiva has field partners located in all three (though not in Azerbaijan anymore due to currency devaluation), which has led me to do a decent amount of independent research, but it will be great to learn so much more about them. Thanks for doing this.
    Become a Kiva lender and help people lift themselves out of poverty. To find loans that are safe, secular, and mostly short in term, go to the A+ Convenience Store at http://starfish.dynalias.org/starred...venience-store. Or, if you would like to support repeat borrowers with a proven track record of repayment, check out CraigsList at http://starfish.dynalias.org/starred/craigslist. Happy lending!

  4. #4

    Re: Caucasus series

    What a treat, Suliso. I look forward to reading more.
    "A friend knows how to allow for mere quantity in your talk, and will only reply to the quality." William Dean Howells

  5. #5

    Re: Caucasus series

    And jus as I was contemplating moving on to the next country, there are some major news coming out of Georgia!!!

    Georgian Orthodox Church caught in 'poisoning plot'


    Georgian police have arrested a priest suspected of plotting to poison a top figure in the Georgian Orthodox Church.
    Prosecutors said cyanide was found in Fr Giorgi Mamaladze's luggage when he was detained at Tblisi airport on Friday, before he could fly to Germany.
    The head of the Georgian Church, Patriarch Ilia II, is being treated in hospital in Germany. Ilia might have been the target, but that is not clear.
    The government said Georgia had "averted a major disaster".
    "A treacherous attack on the Church has been prevented," said Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.
    The patriarch underwent successful gallbladder surgery on Monday.

    Fr Mamaladze heads the Church's property department and manages a medical centre in Georgia.
    Speaking on Georgian Rustavi-2 TV, Prosecutor-General Irakli Shotadze said a home-made gun was found when police searched Fr Mamaladze's home.
    The priest had asked someone - not identified - to sell him cyanide, and that person had tipped off the police, Mr Shotadze said.
    Patriarch Ilia, 84, has run the Georgian Orthodox Church since 1977. Repressed in Soviet times, the Church has enjoyed a big revival since Georgian independence in 1991.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38966787
    Roger forever

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    Re: Caucasus series

    How unorthodox...
    Become a Kiva lender and help people lift themselves out of poverty. To find loans that are safe, secular, and mostly short in term, go to the A+ Convenience Store at http://starfish.dynalias.org/starred...venience-store. Or, if you would like to support repeat borrowers with a proven track record of repayment, check out CraigsList at http://starfish.dynalias.org/starred/craigslist. Happy lending!

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    Re: Caucasus series

    Thanks for doing this, Suliso!

    Just based on my personal experience, Georgia has some of the most amazing food, wine, and people. I would venture Georgians, on average, are the most engaging, interesting people I've encountered.

    Also, a few of my friends have been going travelling to Georgia and posting photos and it's jumped up towards the top of my wishlist. Sample Google image search .


  8. #8

    Re: Caucasus series

    Quote Originally Posted by mmmm8 View Post
    Just based on my personal experience, Georgia has some of the most amazing food, wine, and people. I would venture Georgians, on average, are the most engaging, interesting people I've encountered.
    Definitely! I was there 4 years ago. Besides Tbilisi and surroundings we also went to Batumi and Gergeti which is a village under mount Kazbegi (5047 m, on the Russian border). It's a really beautiful area if you like mountains and one of the most famous churches in Georgia is located there (a challenging climb up though). Unfortunately I don't have my photos on this computer, but I think they probably wouldn't be as good as the one below anyway.



    When I was there it was also extremely cheap. A friend of mine went last summer and said it has become more expensive, but food is still great and people friendly.

    I've heard Armenia is interesting as well, would like to someday go there as well.
    Roger forever

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    Re: Caucasus series

    Quote Originally Posted by mmmm8 View Post
    I really needed to see those pictures, M8. I have only been exposed to the extremely poor side of Georgia--mostly farmers, bakers, people trying to start trading in clothes or fruits and vegetables, taxi drivers, people trying to repair horribly dilapidated housing, etc. When that's all you see--basically, despair--it's easy to think that's all there is.
    Become a Kiva lender and help people lift themselves out of poverty. To find loans that are safe, secular, and mostly short in term, go to the A+ Convenience Store at http://starfish.dynalias.org/starred...venience-store. Or, if you would like to support repeat borrowers with a proven track record of repayment, check out CraigsList at http://starfish.dynalias.org/starred/craigslist. Happy lending!

  10. #10

    Re: Caucasus series

    Quote Originally Posted by dryrunguy View Post
    I really needed to see those pictures, M8. I have only been exposed to the extremely poor side of Georgia--mostly farmers, bakers, people trying to start trading in clothes or fruits and vegetables, taxi drivers, people trying to repair horribly dilapidated housing, etc. When that's all you see--basically, despair--it's easy to think that's all there is.
    The country is poor, but not really THAT poor. We are not talking about Haiti or Afghanistan type of poverty here. Tbilisi in particular even four years ago was in a middle of a building and renovation boom with some really fancy buildings and what seemed like a robust middle class. Batumi is also a swanky resort these days, a bit kitschy but still. Country side does look poor by European standards, though. By the way it's also very safe, just as good as Western Europe in this regard.
    Roger forever

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    Re: Caucasus series

    Quote Originally Posted by dryrunguy View Post
    I really needed to see those pictures, M8. I have only been exposed to the extremely poor side of Georgia--mostly farmers, bakers, people trying to start trading in clothes or fruits and vegetables, taxi drivers, people trying to repair horribly dilapidated housing, etc. When that's all you see--basically, despair--it's easy to think that's all there is.

    That's interesting, because I've mostly only been exposed to the other side - vinyard owners, restaurateurs, intellectuals and artists (and that's mostly middle-class). Probably every Georgian I've met was extremely well-educated and cosmopolitan, even among immigrants here who've had to go into lesser professions. Obviously, there's a rural side that's struggling like in many other countries, but even the rural side has been portrayed in Russian/Soviet culture as a whimsical place where wine and music flow, so that's the image I live with.


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    Re: Caucasus series

    Quote Originally Posted by suliso View Post

    I've heard Armenia is interesting as well, would like to someday go there as well.
    Armenia is interesting, too, but I like Georgian food and accents better

    Azerbaijan would be next on my list of the three, just because Baku is so rich from oil, it's probably a good time to visit it before something happens to their economy (of course, that's what they were saying in the early 20th century and the $ is still there).


  13. #13

    Re: Caucasus series

    Admittedly Azerbaijan is not high on my "want to visit" list, but on the other hand I also now the least about it. Never met any Azeris and I have no idea what their food is like...
    Roger forever

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    Re: Caucasus series

    Quote Originally Posted by suliso View Post
    Admittedly Azerbaijan is not high on my "want to visit" list, but on the other hand I also now the least about it. Never met any Azeris and I have no idea what their food is like...
    Very close to Armenian food. The main differences between the two, off the top of my head are (1) oil money; (2) religious influences; (3) Azerbaijan is a little closer culturally to Iran; (4) They might go to war again.


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    Re: Caucasus series

    Quote Originally Posted by suliso View Post
    The country is poor, but not really THAT poor. We are not talking about Haiti or Afghanistan type of poverty here. Tbilisi in particular even four years ago was in a middle of a building and renovation boom with some really fancy buildings and what seemed like a robust middle class. Batumi is also a swanky resort these days, a bit kitschy but still. Country side does look poor by European standards, though. By the way it's also very safe, just as good as Western Europe in this regard.
    To give you a piece of my frame of reference, this guy in Akaurta was one of my first Georgian borrowers (https://www.kiva.org/lend/656032--how can you NOT love a guy named Gulu?) and remains one of my favorite loans ever. I assume this picture was taken from inside his apartment. I should note, the 14-month repayment term for Georgian loans of this size is fairly rare. The overwhelming majority of borrowers for loans of this size (and even smaller) get loans in the 26-month to 39-month range--because that's a term they can actually afford. And of course, those longer terms tend to be unpopular with lenders looking for short-term loans (6-7 months) so they get their money back faster to relend it. So a lot of loans funded by Credo (the only partner working in Georgia) expire, which means that the field partner ends up fielding all the risk for those loans rather than sharing the risk with lenders, which is what happened in Gulu's case. (I was so moved by Gulu's sitation and his desire to move from agriculture to trading in fruits and vegetables that I actually contributed $150 to his loan. And I got it all back on time, with only $0.03 in currency exchange loss.)

    Credo is doing some great work there. They have a Start Up Program for people starting a brand new business or seeking to expand a small business. They have a Second Chance Program for borrowers with dodgy credit histories where, in addition to the loan, borrowers get a lot of business and financial management training. They also just started a new Higher Education Program--that for some reason thus far has only featured young male borrowers, no women--where the loan terms are more like small student loans, anywhere from about 50-90 months, depending on the borrower. Those aren't funding particularly well, though.

    But to speak to your point about comparative poverty... His loan for a little over $2000 constituted roughly 25% of the annual per capita income in Georgia. So while a country like Georgia still has a lot of poor people, many parts of Georgian society are doing okay.
    Become a Kiva lender and help people lift themselves out of poverty. To find loans that are safe, secular, and mostly short in term, go to the A+ Convenience Store at http://starfish.dynalias.org/starred...venience-store. Or, if you would like to support repeat borrowers with a proven track record of repayment, check out CraigsList at http://starfish.dynalias.org/starred/craigslist. Happy lending!

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