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Georgians possess perhaps the oldest culture among the major nationalities of the Soviet Union. The ancestral Georgian tribes appeared in the Caucasus probably during the second millennium B.C. These tribes began to unite into larger political entities in the first millennium B.C., and by the sixth century B.C. the first Georgian kingdom was established. From the first century A.D. until the early twelfth century, Georgians endured a succession of conquests by the Romans, Iranians, Arabs, and Seljuk Turks. After each conquest, Georgians were able to regain their independence, reaching a golden age during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, when Georgian power extended to include other parts of the Caucasus. Between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, Georgia was invaded first by Chinggis Khan's and then by Tamerlane's hordes. The destruction wrought by these invasions and internal feuding between the Georgian rulers and their vassals led to the disintegration of Georgia at the end of the fifteenth century. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the Georgians faced two new powerful foes, Turkey and Iran. Unable to resist the threat of either, the Georgians sought the aid of their Russian neighbors and in 1783 signed a treaty of friendship with imperial Russia, which guaranteed Georgia's independence and territorial integrity. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, Russia began the process of annexation of Georgian lands, which was completed in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The nineteenth-century nationalist reawakening that swept the Russian Empire and aroused its nationalities had a much stronger socialist content in Georgia than in any other non-Russian part of the empire. From the beginning, it was closely identified with Marxism (see Glossary), particularly the Menshevik (see Glossary) branch of Russian Marxism. In 1918 Georgian Mensheviks, who were in control of the revolutionary ferment in Georgia, declared Georgian independence. In 1921 the Red Army invaded Georgia in support of a Bolshevik coup there and established it as a Soviet republic; in December 1922 the Georgian Republic entered the union of Soviet republics as part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. The Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic was established as a union republic of the Soviet Union in 1936.
According to the 1989 census, Georgians numbered almost 4 million, and 95 percent of them lived in the Georgian Republic. Only the Baltic nationalities were as concentrated in their own republics. Within its borders were also two autonomous republics, the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic and the Adzhar Autonomous Republic, and one autonomous oblast, the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast.
In 1989 over 5.4 million people lived in this densely populated republic, of whom about 69 percent were Georgians. Armenians, Russians, and Azerbaydzhanis were the largest national minorities in the republic. Since 1970 the number of Russians in the republic has steadily decreased.
Georgians speak an Ibero-Caucasian language that belongs to the Caucasian group of languages. Like the Armenian language, the Georgian language has a distinct alphabet. The overwhelming majority of Georgians living in the Soviet Union and 99.7 percent of Georgians in their own republic considered Georgian their native tongue in 1989.
Georgians constitute one of the most highly educated nationalities in the Soviet Union. In 1971 Jews were the only nationality having a greater number of students in higher education institutions, and Georgians had the third highest number of scientific workers relative to their share of the population. Yet the Georgian Republic was one of the least urbanized. In 1987 only 55 percent of Georgian residents lived in towns and cities, and as of 1970 only 44 percent of all Georgians in the Soviet Union lived in urban areas. Among the major cities in the Georgian Republic were Tbilisi, the capital with 1.3 million people, and Kutaisi with 230,000; three other cities had populations over 100,000.
Traditionally, Georgians have been very active participants in the CPSU. In 1983 Georgians ranked first, ahead of the Russians, in the size of party membership relative to their share of the total population. The most famous Georgian CPSU member was Joseph V. Stalin, whose surname was Dzhugashvili. Other prominent Georgians were the Bolshevik leader Sergo Ordzhonikidze and the longtime chief of the secret police, Lavrenty Beria. Eduard A. Shevardnadze, a full member of the Politburo and minister of foreign affairs in the 1980s, was also a Georgian.
Data as of May 1989
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