Georgia Table of Contents
For centuries, Georgia's geographic position has opened it to religious and cultural influences from the West, Persia, Turkey, and Russia. The resultant diversity continues to characterize the cultural and religious life of modern Georgia. However, the Georgian language displays unique qualities that cannot be attributed to any outside influence.
Even more than religion, the issue of language was deeply entwined with political struggles in Georgia under communist rule. As elsewhere, language became a key factor in ethnic selfidentification under the uniformity of the communist system. Written in a unique alphabet that began to exhibit distinctions from the Greek alphabet in the fifth century A.D., Georgian is linguistically distant from Turkic and Indo-European languages. In the Soviet period, Georgians fought relentlessly to prevent what they perceived as the encroachment of Russian on their native language. Even the republic's Soviet-era constitutions specified Georgian as the state language. In 1978 Moscow failed to impose a constitutional change giving Russian equal status with Georgian as an official language when Shevardnadze yielded to mass demonstrations against the amendment (see Within the Soviet Union , this ch.). Nevertheless, the Russian language predominated in official documents and communications from the central government. In 1991 the Gamsakhurdia government reestablished the primacy of Georgian, to the dismay of minorities that did not use the language. In 1993 some 71 percent of the population used Georgian as their first language. Russian was the first languages of 9 percent, Armenian of 7 percent, and Azerbaijani of 6 percent.
Data as of March 1994