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Culture of Georgia

Identification. The term "Georgian" does not derive from Saint George but from the ancient Persian Gurg or Gorg, meaning wolf, "supposedly a totemic symbol, or from the Greek georgios ("farmer," "cultivator of land").

Location and Geography. Georgia is on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountains, forming a natural border with the north Caucasian republics of the Russian Federation. The country, occupying approximately 27,000 square miles (69,900 square kilometers), stretches along the Greater Caucasus ridge, bordered by the Black Sea to the west, the Armenian and Turkish highlands to the South, and Azerbaijan to the east. The topography is varied. The northern region is characterized by high mountains, and the central and southern parts, while mountainous, are much lower and are covered with alpine fields and forests. In the east, the rivers all join the Mtkvari (Kura), forming the Caspian basin, while in the west, the rivers, of which the Rioni and Enguri are the largest, run into the Black Sea.

The climate is temperate and is more mild and humid along the western marine coast. Mountains create temperature zones that vary with elevation. The eastern plains and highlands, which are isolated from the sea, have a continental climate, while year-round snow and glaciers are found in the highest mountains. Climatic zones range from moderately humid Mediterranean, to dry-continental Arab-Caspian, and to cooler mountainous regions. Almost half the land is in agricultural use, with much of the remainder consisting of forests and high mountains. Land use varies with local climatic and soil patterns.

Tbilisi, the capital, was founded by King Vakhtang Gorgasali in the fifth century, and continues to be the most important political and cultural center of the country. Tbilisi is located in the culturally dominant eastern region, Kartli, on the banks of the Mtkvari (Kura), on the ancient crossroads of one of the great silk roads between Europe and Asia.

This proportion has changed as a result of emigration among ethnic minorities, especially Russians, Jews, Greeks, and Armenians. Most ethnic Georgians were distributed throughout the country, while Abkhazians moved mostly to Russian cities and Ossetians took refuge in Northern Ossetia.

Linguistic Affiliation. The majority language is Georgian, which belongs to the Kartvelian (South Caucasian) language group. However, some subgroups speak other languages in the same linguistic group. The literary language comes from the Kartlian dialect spoken in the historically dominant eastern kingdom of Kartli. Georgian is the only Kartvelian language that is written and taught, and is the literary language used by all Georgians.


History and Ethnic Relations


Emergence of the Nation. Cultural unity was influenced by political unification and fragmentation. In the southern and eastern regions, the state of Kartli (Iberia) united tribes that spoke the Kartvelian language. The first attempt to unite the country occurred under King Parnavaz of Kartli at the beginning of the third centuryB.C.E. Georgia adopted Christianity in 334, when King Mirian III of Kartli-Iberia, following the instructions of Saint Nino of Cappadocia, declared it the state religion. The alphabet probably was created soon afterward to translate holy texts, replacing Aramaic and Greek scripts and producing both the hieratic script and the contemporary secular alphabet. The first Georgian inscriptions appeared in Jerusalem in the fifth century, followed by the first known literary text, the Martyrdom of Saint Shushanik. At about that time, King Vakhtang briefly united eastern and western Georgia. Several centuries later, the new dynasty of the Bagrations took control of the Inner Kartli and the city of Uplistsikhe, and in 978, King Bagrat III


Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space


Settlements tend to be dominated by a church built on a hill nearby if not in the center. However, in the Soviet period, many churches were destroyed or turned into storehouses. Newly built churches are mostly poor replicas of older examples, primitive expressions of a declining tradition. Little is left of the medieval structure of small urban settlements surrounded by a citadel wall.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The greatest culinary divide is between the western and eastern region. In the west, there is a greater emphasis on vegetarian food, predominantly prepared with walnuts. Herbs and spices, especially tarragon, basil, coriander, feuille Grec, and pepper make western Georgian food hot and spicy. Cheese usually is made from cow's milk and is eaten with either corn bread or a corn and flour porridge. Khachapuri, a kind of cheese pizza, is common.

In the eastern area, the food is heavier, with more of an accent on mutton and pork. Wheat bread is preferred to corn, and sheep's cheese from

The municipal buildings in Gori

The municipal buildings in Gori. Local governments have small budgets and limited power but may be fairly independent in their policies.

Tusheti is popular. Among people in the mountains, the most popular food is khinkali, a cooked meat dumpling that usually is accompanied by beer. The most popular vegetables are tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, pumpkins, eggplant, beans, cucumbers, and cabbage. The most popular sauce, tkemali, is made of wild plums; other sauces are based on walnuts with spices, or pomegranate juice. Wine is drunk everywhere, and stronger alcoholic beverages include araki, which is made of grapes and other fruit with honey. Fish, especially trout, is eaten universally. A wide variety of locally grown fruit is supplemented by wild and cultured berries, watermelons and other melons. Dried fruit and nuts covered with a mixture of grape juice and wheat or corn flour are eaten in the winter. Jams are prepared from fruit, unripe walnuts, watermelon, eggplant, and green tomatoes.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The systems of social stratification changed significantly because of the increasing income gap between the impoverished masses and former white-collar workers, and the new rich, who have used financial and social capital to accumulate capital through privatization or trade, or have taken advantage of corruption in the state bureaucracy. Another change is linked to the restructuring of the political and economic system from the Soviet centralized type to a free market, although frequently the same Soviet bureaucrats and Communist officials have become capitalists and advocates of a liberal economy. Much of the new capital is concentrated in Tbilisi, Batumi, and the Black Sea port of Poti and thus is dominated by ethnic Georgians. The Armenian and Jewish economic elite that once played an important role, especially in Tbilisi, has lost its position because of emigration or because they maintain a lower profile.

Political Life

Government. Georgia is a presidential republic. The president is also the head of the executive branch, although the ministers are formally headed by the state minister. The single-chamber (225 members strong) parliament is elected in a mixed majoritarian-proportional system. The last parliamentary elections were won by the president's Citizens' Union of Georgia. The other two parties in the parliament are the Union of Industrialists and the Union of Georgia's Revival. The judicial branch, which was weak in the communist era, is in the process of being reformed. Local governments are partly elected and partly appointed from Tbilisi and have little formal power and small budgets. Depending on personal authority and local conditions, they may be fairly independent in their policies.

Georgian capital of Tbilisi

The Georgian capital of Tbilisi, which was founded in the fifth century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali.

weak judiciary system have made it difficult to fight crime. The general public is dissatisfied with the existing situation and with the system of law. Sometimes, especially in rural areas with a strong tradition of customary law, the community itself or a victim's relatives will take the law into their own hands and punish the perpetrator of a particularly shocking crime.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The state welfare system is inefficient, and has few resources. Pensions provide only a fifth of the minimum sustenance level, are poorly targeted, and cover too many beneficiaries. Much of the assistance goes to internally displaced persons from Abkhazia. A number of international and intergovernmental organizations are attempting to improve the welfare system.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

There are thousands of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but few of them are active and successful. NGOs participate in defending human rights and freedom of expression as well as environmental protection. However, as virtually all NGOs are funded by western sources, they have to adapt to the preferences and style of foreign funders, which often have only a vague understanding of the real needs of the country.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is based on the free will of the partners and rarely is prearranged, although that sometimes happens in rural areas, especially in the Muslim population. Mutual attraction is the most common reason for marriage, although for older couples, economic benefits or comfort may be more important. In Muslim areas, unofficial polygamy exists in rare cases. There is a significant incidence of early marriage, but there is a general tendency for later marriage. Married persons who maintain a joint household have equal rights to their possessions.

Socialization

Infant Care. Customary practices in the care of infants have been abandoned, such as the practice of rearing young infants in a special type of cradle that restricted the movement of a child. Children are the focal point of the family, and much attention is paid to their education and development, especially in the educated classes. Because kindergartens are less available today, retired grandparents often care for the children.

 

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