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Georgia

 

 

Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Situated at the juncture of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the east by Azerbaijan. Georgia covers a territory of 69,700 km² and its population is more than 4.6 million. Georgia's constitution is that of a representative democracy, organized as a unitarysemi-presidential republic. It is currently a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Community of Democratic Choice, the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, and the Asian Development Bank. The country aspires to join NATO and the European Union.

The history of Georgia can be traced back to the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, and it was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity, in the 4th century. Georgia reached the peak of its political and economic strength during the reign of King David and Queen Tamar in 11th and 12th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, Georgia was annexed by the Russian Empire. After a brief period of independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia was annexed by the Soviet Red Army in 1921 and in 1922 Georgia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, which lasted until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Like many post-communist countries, Georgia suffered from the economic crisis and civil unrest during the 1990s. After the Rose Revolution, the new political leadership introduced democratic reforms but the foreign investment and economic growth which followed initially have slackened substantially since.

Georgia contains two de facto independent regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia considers the regions to be occupied by Russia.

Ethnic Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi, their land Sakartvelo (meaning "a place for Kartvelians"), and their language Kartuli. According to the ancient Georgian Chronicles, the ancestor of the Kartvelian people was Kartlos, the great grandson of the Biblical Japheth.

Ancient Greeks (StraboHerodotusPlutarchHomer, etc.) and Romans (Titus LiviusCornelius Tacitus, etc.) referred to early eastern Georgians as Iberians (Iberoi in some Greek sources) and western Georgians as Colchians.

Like most native Caucasian peoples, the Georgians do not fit into any of the main ethnic categories of Europe and Asia. The Georgian language, the most pervasive of the South Caucasian languages, is neither Indo-European, Turkic nor Semitic. The present day Georgian or Kartvelian nation no doubt results from the fusion of aboriginal, autochthonous-inhabitants with immigrants who infiltrated into Transcaucasia from the direction of Anatolia in remote antiquity.The ancient Jewish chronicle by Josephus mentions Georgians as Iberes who were also called Thobel Tubal.

The terms Georgia and Georgians appeared in Western Europe in numerous early medieval annals. The French chronicler Jacques de Vitry and the English traveler Sir John Mandeville wrote that Georgians are called Georgian because they especially revere Saint George. Notably, in January 2004 the country adopted the five-cross flag, featuring theSaint George's Cross; it has been argued that the flag was used in Georgia from the 5th century throughout the Middle Ages.

 The territory of modern-day Georgia has been continuously inhabited since the early Stone Age. The classic period saw the rise of the early Georgian states of Colchis and Iberia. The proto-Georgian tribes first appear in written history in the 12th century BC. Archaeological finds and references in ancient sources reveal elements of early political and state formations characterized by advanced metallurgy and goldsmith techniques that date back to the 7th century BC and beyond. In the 4th century BC a unified kingdom of Georgia - an early example of advanced state organization under one king and the hierarchy of aristocracy, was established.

The two early Georgian kingdoms of late antiquity, known to ancient Greeks and Romans as Iberia  (in the east of the country) and Colchis (in the west), were among the first nations in the region to adopt Christianity (in AD 337, or in AD 319 as recent research suggests). In Greek Mythology, Colchis was the location of the Golden Fleece sought byJason and the Argonauts in Apollonius Rhodius' epic tale Argonautica. The incorporation of the Golden Fleece into the myth may have derived from the local practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from rivers. In the last centuries of the pre-Christian era, the area, in the form of the kingdom of Kartli-Iberia, was strongly influenced by Greece to the west and Persia to the east.

 After the Roman Empire completed its conquest of the Caucasus region in 66 BC, the kingdom was a Roman client state and ally for nearly 400 years.Christianity was declared the state religion by King Mirian III as early as 327 AD, which gave a great stimulus to the development of literature, arts and the unification of the country. Being at the crossroads of Christianity and Islam, Georgia experienced the dynamic exchange between these two worlds which culminated in a cultural renaissance from 11th to 13th century. In AD 330, King Mirian III's acceptance of Christianity ultimately tied the kingdom to the neighboring Byzantine Empire, which exerted a strong cultural influence for several centuries.

Known to its natives as Egrisi or Lazica, Colchis was often the battlefield and buffer-zone between the rival powers of Persia and Byzantine Empire, with the control of the region shifting hands back and forth several times. The early kingdoms disintegrated into various feudal regions by the early Middle Ages. This made it easy for Arabs to conquer Georgia in the 7th century. The rebellious regions were liberated and united into a unified Georgian Kingdom at the beginning of the 11th century. Starting in the 12th century, the rule of Georgia extended over a significant part of the Southern Caucasus, including the northeastern parts and almost the entire northern coast of what is now Turkey.

Although Arabs captured the capital city of Tbilisi in AD 645, Kartli-Iberia retained considerable independence under local Arab rulers. In AD 813, the prince Ashot I also known as Ashot Kurapalat became the first of the Bagrationi family to rule the kingdom: Ashot's reign began a period of nearly 1,000 years during which the Bagrationi, as the house was known, ruled at least part of what is now the republic.

Western and eastern Georgia were united under Bagrat V (r. 1027-72). In the next century, David IV (called the Builder, r. 1089-1125) initiated the Georgian golden age by driving the Seljuk Turks from the country and expanding Georgian cultural and political influence southward into Armenia and eastward to the Caspian Sea.

 The Georgian Kingdom reached its zenith in the 12th to early 13th centuries. This period has been widely termed as Georgia's Golden Age or Georgian Renaissance during the reign of David the Builder and Queen Tamar.This early Georgian renaissance, which preceded its European analogue, was characterized by the flourishing of romantic- chivalric tradition, breakthroughs in philosophy, and an array of political innovations in society and state organization, including religious and ethnic tolerance.

The Golden age of Georgia left a legacy of great cathedrals, romantic poetry and literature, and the epic poem "The Knight in the Panther's Skin". David the Builder is popularly considered to be the greatest and most successful Georgian ruler in history, he succeeded in driving the Seljuks out of the country, winning the major Battle of Didgori in 1121. His reforms of the army and administration enabled him to reunite the country and bring most Caucasian lands under Georgia’s control.

David Builder's grand daughter Tamar was successful in neutralizing this opposition and embarked on an energetic foreign policy aided by the downfall of the rival powers of the Seljuqids and Byzantium. Supported by a powerful military élite, Tamar was able to build on the successes of her predecessors to consolidate an empire which dominated the Caucasus until its collapse under the Mongol attacks within two decades after Tamar's death.

The revival of the Georgian Kingdom was short-lived however, in 1226 Tblisi was captured by Mingburnu and the Kingdom was eventually subjugated by the Mongols in 1236 (see Mongol invasions of Georgia). Thereafter, different local rulers fought for their independence from central Georgian rule, until the total disintegration of the Kingdom in the 15th century. Georgia was subjected, between 1386 and 1404, to several disastrous invasions by Timur. Neighbouring kingdoms exploited the situation and from the 16th century, the Persian Empire and the Ottoman Empire subjugated the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively.

The rulers of regions which remained partly autonomous organized rebellions on various occasions. Subsequent Persian and Ottoman invasions further weakened local kingdoms and regions. As a result of wars the population of Georgia was reduced to 250,000 inhabitants at one point. Eastern Georgia, composed of the kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti, had been under the Persian suzerainty since 1555. However, with the death of Nader Shah "The Persian Napoleon" in 1747, both kingdoms broke free of the Persian control and were reunified through a personal union under the energetic king Heraclius II in 1762.

 In 1783, Russia and the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, according to which Kartli-Kakheti received protection by Russia. Despite Russia's commitment to defend Georgia, it rendered no assistance when the Turks and Persians invaded in 1785 and again in 1795 completely devastated Tbilisi and massacred its inhabitants. This period culminated in the 1801 Russian violation of Treaty of Georgievsk and annexation of entire Georgian lands, followed the deposing of the Bagrationi dynasty and suppression of the Georgian church.

On December 22, 1800, Tsar Paul I of Russia, at the alleged request of the Georgian King George XII, signed the proclamation on the incorporation of Georgia (Kartli-Kakheti) within the Russian Empire, which was finalized by a decree on January 8, 1801, and confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on September 12, 1801.The Georgian envoy in Saint Petersburg reacted with a note of protest that was presented to the Russian vice-chancellor Prince Kurakin. In May 1801, Russian General Carl Heinrich Knorring dethroned the Georgian heir to the throne David Batonishvili and instituted a government headed by General Ivan Petrovich Lasarev. Pyotr Bagration, a man of minor Georgian nobility, joined the Russian army aged 17 as a sergeant and rose to be a general by the Napoleonic wars.

The Georgian nobility did not accept the decree until April 1802 when General Knorring compassed the nobility in Tbilisi's Sioni Cathedral and forced them to take an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia. Those who disagreed were arrested temporarily.

In the summer of 1805, Russian troops on the Askerani River near Zagam defeated the Persian army and saved Tbilisi from conquest.

Western Georgian principalities of Mingrelia and Guria assumed the Russian protection in 19th century. Finally in 1810, after a brief war, the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti was annexed by TsarAlexander I of Russia. The last Imeretian king and the last Georgian Bagrationi ruler Solomon II died in exile in 1815. From 1803 to 1878, as a result of numerous Russian wars against Turkey and Iran, several territories were annexed to Georgia. These areas (BatumiAkhaltsikhePoti, and Abkhazia) now represent a large part of the territory of Georgia. The principality of Guria was abolished in 1828, and that ofSamegrelo (Mingrelia) in 1857. The region of Svaneti was gradually annexed in 1857–59.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia declared independence on May 26, 1918 in the midst of the Russian Civil War. The parliamentary election was won by the Georgian Social-Democratic Party, considered to be pro-Mensheviks, and its leader, Noe Zhordania, became prime minister.

In 1918 a Georgian–Armenian war erupted over parts of Georgian provinces populated mostly by Armenians which ended because of British intervention. In 1918–19 Georgian general Giorgi Mazniashvili led a Georgian attack against the White Army led by Moiseev and Denikin in order to claim the Black Sea coastline from Tuapse to Sochi and Adler for independent Georgia. The country's independence did not last long, however. Georgia was under British protection from 1918-1920.

 In February 1921 Georgia was attacked by the Red Army. The Georgian army was defeated and the Social-Democrat government fled the country. OnFebruary 25, 1921 the Red Army entered capital Tbilisi and installed a Moscow directed communist government, led by Georgian Bolshevik Filipp Makharadze.

Nevertheless the Soviet rule was firmly established only after a 1924 revolt was brutally suppressed. Georgia was incorporated into the Transcaucasian SFSR uniting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The TSFSR was disaggregated into its component elements in 1936 and Georgia became the Georgian SSR.

Joseph Stalin (an ethnic Georgian whose real name was Ioseb Jughashvili) was prominent among the Bolsheviks, who came to power in the Russian Empire after the October Revolution in 1917. Stalin was to rise to the highest position of the Soviet state.

From 1941 to 1945, during World War II, almost 700,000 Georgians fought in the Red Army against Nazi Germany. (A number also fought on the German side.) About 350,000 Georgians died in the battlefields of the Eastern Front.

The Dissidential movement for restoration of Georgian statehood started to gain popularity in the 1960s. Among the Georgian dissidents, two of the most prominent activists were Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Dissidents were heavily persecuted by Soviet government, and their activities were harshly suppressed.

On April 9, 1989, a peaceful demonstration in the Georgian capital Tbilisi ended in a massacre in which several people were killed by Soviet troops. Before the October 1990 elections to the national assembly, the Umaghlesi Sabcho (Supreme Council) — the first polls in the USSR held on a formal multi-party basis — the political landscape was reshaped again. While the more radical groups boycotted the elections and convened an alternative forum with alleged support of Moscow (National Congress), another part of the anticommunist opposition united into the Round Table—Free Georgia (RT-FG) around the former dissidents like Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

The latter won the elections by a clear margin, with 155 out of 250 parliamentary seats, whereas the ruling Communist Party (CP) received only 64 seats. All other parties failed to get over the 5%-threshold and were thus allotted only some single-member constituency seats.

 On April 9, 1991, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia declared independence. On May 26, 1991, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected as a first President of independent Georgia. Gamsakhurdia stoked Georgian nationalism and vowed to assert Tbilisi's authority over regions such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia that had been classified as autonomous oblasts under the Soviet Union.

However, he was soon deposed in a bloody coup d'état, from December 22, 1991 to January 6, 1992. The coup was instigated by part of the National Guards and a paramilitary organization called "Mkhedrioni" or "horsemen". The country became embroiled in a bitter civil war which lasted almost until 1995. Eduard Shevardnadze returned to Georgia in 1992 and joined the leaders of the coup — Kitovani and Ioseliani — to head a triumvirate called the "State Council".

In 1995, Shevardnadze was officially elected as president of Georgia. At the same time, simmering disputes within two regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, between local separatists and the majority Georgian populations, erupted into widespread inter-ethnic violence and wars. Supported by Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with the exception of some "pockets" of territory, achieved de facto independence from Georgia.

Roughly 230,000 to 250,000 Georgians were expelled from Abkhazia by Abkhaz separatists and North Caucasians volunteers (including Chechens) in 1992-1993. Around 23,000 Georgians fled South Ossetia as well, and many Ossetian families were forced to abandon their homes in the Borjomi region and move to Russia.

In 2003, Shevardnadze (who won reelection in 2000) was deposed by the Rose Revolution, after Georgian opposition and international monitors asserted that the November 2 parliamentary elections were marred by fraud. The revolution was led by Mikheil SaakashviliZurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze, former members and leaders of Shevardnadze's ruling party. Mikheil Saakashvili was elected as President of Georgia in 2004.

Following the Rose Revolution, a series of reforms was launched to strengthen the country's military and economic capabilities. The new government's efforts to reassert Georgian authority in the southwestern autonomous republic of Ajaria led to a major crisis early in 2004. Success in Ajaria encouraged Saakashvili to intensify his efforts, but without success, in the breakaway South Ossetia.

These events along with accusations of Georgian involvement in the Second Chechen War, resulted in a severe deterioration of relations with Russia, fuelled also by Russia's open assistance and support to the two secessionists areas. Despite these increasingly difficult relations, in May 2005 Georgia and Russia reached a bilateral agreement  by which Russian military bases (dating back to the Soviet era) in Batumi and Akhalkalaki were withdrawn. Russia fulfilled the terms, withdrawing all personnel and equipment from these sites by December 2007, ahead of schedule.

2008 saw the military conflict between Georgia on one side, and Russia, separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the other. In response to shelling of Georgia towns around South Ossetia, supposedly by South Ossetian militias well equipped with Russian military supplies, Georgia assembled its military forces around the region occupied by Russian peacekeepers. Both Georgia and Russia had amassed larger military forces near their respective borders with South Ossetia. The Georgian bombing of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, started after months-long provocations from the Russian and Ossetian side; up to one hundred Georgian peacekeepers and civilians were wounded and about 50 died. Also, Georgian peacekeepers patrolling at night on 6 August were ambushed by Ossetian separatists and one peacekeeper died. In the late evening of August 7, Georgian armed forces began pushing into South Ossetia, supported by their artillery and multiple rocket launcher fire.A three-day battle left the city of Tskhinvali heavily devastated.South Ossetian and Russian officials claimed the Georgian army was responsible for killing 2,100 South Ossetian civilians. However, these allegations have not been substantiated, and Human Rights Watch and European Union investigators in South Ossetia accused Russia of exaggerating the scale of such casualties.The actual death toll, according to the Russian Prosecutor's Office, is 162. A Russian peacekeepers' base stationed in South Ossetia was shelled and personnel were killed.

At dawn of August 8 forces of the Russian 58th Army entered South Ossetia through the Russian-controlled Roki tunnel, and the Russian air-force launched a series of coordinated air strikes against multiple targets within Georgian territory.As Russia and Georgia both sent troops into South Ossetia, the conflict between Georgia on the one side and the Ossetians, and later Russia and Abkhazians on the other quickly escalated into the full scale 2008 war. Because of the intensive fighting in South Ossetia there were many disputed reports about the number of casualties on both sides, which targets had fallen under aerial attacks, the status of troop movements, and the most current location of the front line between the Georgian and Russian-Ossetian combat units.

After a few days of heavy fighting Georgian troops were driven from South Ossetia, and Russian forces advanced into South Ossetia. Irregulars such as Ossetians, Chechens and Cossacks followed and were reported looting, killing and burning. By August 11, another separatist republic of Abkhazia, opened a second front and seized additional territory in Western Georgia.

On August 12, President Medvedev announced an intent to halt further Russian military operations in Georgia. Russian troops withdrew from Gori and Poti, but remained in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which it recognizes as independent countries. Georgia, on the contrary, considers them territories under Russian occupation.

 Georgia is in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia, straddling Western Asia and Eastern Europe.Georgia's northern border with Russia roughly runs along the crest of the Greater Caucasusmountain range – a commonly reckoned boundary between Europe and Asia. In Philip Johan von Strahlenberg's 1730 definition of Europe, which was used by the Russian Tsars and which first set the Urals as the eastern border of the continent, the continental border was drawn from the Kuma-Manych Depression to the Caspian Sea, including Georgia (and the whole of the Caucasus) in Asia.

Mountains are the dominant geographic feature of Georgia. The Likhi Range divides the country into eastern and western halves. Historically, the western portion of Georgia was known as Colchiswhile the eastern plateau was called Iberia. Because of a complex geographic setting, mountains also isolate the northern region of Svaneti from the rest of Georgia.

The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range separates Georgia from the North Caucasian Republics of Russia. The main roads through the mountain range into Russian territory lead through the Roki Tunnel between South and North Ossetia and the Darial Gorge (in the Georgian region of Khevi). The Roki Tunnel was vital for the Russian military in the 2008 South Ossetia War.

The southern portion of the country is bounded by the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range is much higher in elevation than the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, with the highest peaks rising more than 5,000 meters (16,404 ft) above sea level.

The highest mountain in Georgia is Mount Shkhara at 5,201 meters (17,064 ft), and the second highest is Mount Janga (Jangi-Tau) at 5,051 meters (16,572 ft) above sea level. Other prominent peaks include Kazbegi (Kazbek) at 5,074 meters (16,647 ft), Tetnuldi (4,974 meters / 16,319 feet), Shota Rustaveli (4,960 meters / 16,273 feet), Mt. Ushba (4,710 meters / 15,453 feet), and Ailama (4,525 meters / 14,846 feet). Out of the abovementioned peaks, only Kazbegi is of volcanic origin. The region between Kazbegi and Shkhara (a distance of about 200 km (124 mi) along the Main Caucasus Range) is dominated by numerous glaciers. Out of the 2,100 glaciers that exist in the Caucasus today, approximately 30% are located within Georgia.

The term, Lesser Caucasus Mountains is often used to describe the mountainous (highland) areas of southern Georgia that are connected to the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range by the Likhi Range. The area can be split into two separate sub-regions; the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, which run parallel to the Greater Caucasus Range, and the Southern Georgia Volcanic Highland, which lies immediately to the south of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains.

The overall region can be characterized as being made up of various, interconnected mountain ranges (largely of volcanic origin) and plateaus that do not exceed 3,400 meters (11,155 ft) in elevation. Prominent features of the area include the Javakheti Volcanic Plateau, lakes, including Tabatskuri and Paravani, as well as mineral water and hot springs. The Southern Georgia Volcanic Highland is a young and unstable geologic region with high seismic activity and has experienced some of the most significant earthquakes that have been recorded in Georgia.

The Voronya Cave (aka Krubera-Voronia Cave) is the deepest known cave in the world. It is located in the Arabika Massif of the Gagra Range, in Abkhazia. In 2001, a Russian–Ukrainian team had set the world depth record for a cave at 1,710 meters (5,610 ft). In 2004, the penetrated depth was increased on each of three expeditions, when a Ukrainian team crossed the 2,000-meter (6,562 ft) mark for the first time in the history of speleology. In October 2005, an unexplored part was found by the CAVEX team, further increasing the known depth of the cave. This expedition confirmed the known depth of the cave at 2,140 meters (7,021 ft) (±9 m/29.5 ft).

Two major rivers in Georgia are the Rioni and the Mtkvari.

The landscape within the nation's boundaries is quite varied. Western Georgia's landscape ranges from low-land marsh-forests, swamps, and temperate rain forests to eternal snows and glaciers, while the eastern part of the country even contains a small segment of semi-arid plains characteristic of Central Asia. Forests cover around 40% of Georgia's territory while the alpine/subalpine zone accounts for roughly around 10% of the land.

Much of the natural habitat in the low-lying areas of Western Georgia has disappeared over the last 100 years because of the agricultural development of the land and urbanization. The large majority of the forests that covered the Colchis plain are now virtually non-existent with the exception of the regions that are included in the national parks and reserves (e.g. Paleostomi Lake area). At present, the forest cover generally remains outside of the low-lying areas and is mainly located along the foothills and the mountains. Western Georgia's forests consist mainly of deciduous trees below 600 meters (1,969 ft) above sea level and comprise of species such as oakhornbeambeechelmash, and chestnut. Evergreen species such as box may also be found in many areas. Ca. 1000 of all 4000 higher plants of Georgia are endemic in this country.[61]

The west-central slopes of the Meskheti Range in Ajaria as well as several locations in Samegrelo and Abkhazia are covered by temperate rain forests. Between 600–1,000 meters (1,969–3,281 ft) above sea level, the deciduous forest becomes mixed with both broad-leaf and coniferous species making up the plant life. The zone is made up mainly of beech, spruce, and fir forests. From 1,500–1,800 meters (4,921–5,906 ft), the forest becomes largely coniferous. The tree line generally ends at around 1,800 meters (5,906 ft) and the alpine zone takes over, which in most areas, extends up to an elevation of 3,000 meters (9,843 ft) above sea level. The eternal snow and glacier zone lies above the 3,000 meter line.

Eastern Georgia's landscape (referring to the territory east of the Likhi Range) is considerably different from that of the west, although, much like the Colchis plain in the west, nearly all of the low-lying areas of eastern Georgia including the Mtkvari and Alazani River plains have been deforested for agricultural purposes. In addition, because of the region's relatively drier climate, some of the low-lying plains (especially in Kartli and south-eastern Kakheti) were never covered by forests in the first place.

 The general landscape of eastern Georgia comprises numerous valleys and gorges that are separated by mountains. In contrast with western Georgia, nearly 85% of the forests of the region are deciduous. Coniferous forests only dominate in the Borjomi Gorge and in the extreme western areas. Out of the deciduous species of trees,beechoak, and hornbeam dominate. Other deciduous species include several varieties of mapleaspen, ash, and hazelnut. The Upper Alazani River Valley contains yew forests.

At higher elevations above 1,000 meters (3,281 ft) above sea level (particularly in the TushetiKhevsureti, and Khevi regions), pine and birch forests dominate. In general, the forests in eastern Georgia occur between 500–2,000 meters (1,640–6,562 ft) above sea level, with the alpine zone extending from 2,000–2,300 meters/6,562–7,546 feet to 3,000–3,500 meters/9,843–11,483 feet. The only remaining large, low-land forests remain in the Alazani Valley of Kakheti. The eternal snow and glacier zone lies above the 3,500-meter (11,483 ft) line in most areas of eastern Georgia.

Because of its high landscape diversity and low latitude Georgia is home to a large number of animal species, e. g. ca. 1000 species of vertebrates (330 birds, 160 fish, 48 reptiles, 11 amphibians). A number of large carnivores live in the forests, e. g. Persian leopardBrown bearwolf, and lynx. The species number ofinvertebrates is considered to be very high but data is distributed across a high number of publications. The spider checklist of Georgia, for example, includes 501 species. Non-marine molluscs of Georgia also include high diversity.

The climate of Georgia is extremely diverse, considering the nation's small size. There are two main climatic zones, roughly separating Eastern and Western parts of the country. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range plays an important role in moderating Georgia's climate and protects the nation from the penetration of colder air masses from the north. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains partially protect the region from the influence of dry and hot air masses from the south as well.

Much of western Georgia lies within the northern periphery of the humid subtropical zone with annual precipitation ranging from 1,000–4,000 mm (39.4–157.5 in). The precipitation tends to be uniformly distributed throughout the year, although the rainfall can be particularly heavy during the Autumn months. The climate of the region varies significantly with elevation and while much of the lowland areas of western Georgia are relatively warm throughout the year, the foothills and mountainous areas (including both the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains) experience cool, wet summers and snowy winters (snow cover often exceeds 2 meters in many regions). Ajaria is the wettest region of the Caucasus, where the Mt. Mtirala rainforest, east of Kobuleti receives around 4,500 mm (177.2 in) of precipitation per year.

Eastern Georgia has a transitional climate from humid subtropical to continental. The region's weather patterns are influenced both by dry, Central Asian/Caspian air masses from the east and humid, Black Sea air masses from the west. The penetration of humid air masses from the Black Sea is often blocked by several mountain ranges (Likhi and Meskheti) that separate the eastern and western parts of the nation. Annual precipitation is considerably less than that of western Georgia and ranges from 400–1,600 mm (15.7–63.0 in).

The wettest periods generally occur during Spring and Autumn while Winter and the Summer months tend to be the driest. Much of eastern Georgia experiences hot summers (especially in the low-lying areas) and relatively cold winters. As in the western parts of the nation, elevation plays an important role in eastern Georgia where climatic conditions above 1,500 meters (4,921 ft) are considerably colder than in the low-lying areas. The regions that lie above 2,000 meters (6,562 ft) frequently experience frost even during the summer months.

As of 2010, the status of South Ossetia, an autonomous administrative district (also known as the Tskhinvali region), is being negotiated with the Russian-supported separatist government. Recently, these negotiations have broken down in light of Russia's decision to reinforce the region militarily and give Russian passports to South Ossetians. The government of Georgia has expressed that it views these moves as attempts by Russia to annex the region effectively.

The Georgian government levels the same criticism against Russian involvement in Abkhazia, another breakaway region; Abkhazia has the status of an autonomous republic, but operates as a de facto state. This condition follows the ethnic cleansing of at least 200,000 Georgians in the War in Abkhazia in 1992-1993. Adjara gained autonomy unilaterally under local strongman Aslan Abashidze with help from a Russian military brigade located on a base in Adjara. Current Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili restored the region to Georgian control after a local uprising against Abashidze's perceived corruption.

Georgia is a democratic semi-presidential republic, with the President as the head of state, and Prime Minister as the head of government.

The executive branch of power is made up of the President and the Cabinet of Georgia. The Cabinet is composed of ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, and appointed by the President. Notably, the ministers of defense and interior are not members of the Cabinet and are subordinated directly to the President of Georgia.

Mikheil Saakashvili is the current President of Georgia after winning 53.47% of the vote in the 2008 election. Since February 6, 2009 Nikoloz Gilauri has been the prime minister of Georgia.

Legislative authority is vested in the Parliament of Georgia. It is unicameral and has 150 members, known as deputies, from which 75 members are proportional representatives and 75 are elected through single-member district plurality system, representing their constituencies. Members of parliament are elected for 4 four-year term.

 

Five parties and electoral blocs had representatives elected to the parliament in the 2008 elections: the United National Movement (governing party), The Joint Opposition, the Christian-Democrats, the Labour Party and Republican Party.

Despite considerable progress made since the Rose revolution, Georgia is still not a full-fledged democracy.The political system remains in the process of transition, with frequent adjustments to the balance of power between the President and Parliament, and proposals ranging from transforming the country into parliamentary republic to re-establishing the monarchy. Observers note the deficit of trust in relations between the Government and the opposition.

Different opinions exist regarding the degree of political freedom in Georgia. President Saakashvili believes that the country is essentially free,many opposition leaders claim that Georgia is a dictatorship, andFreedom House puts Georgia in the group of partly free countries, along with countries like TurkeyVenezuela and Bosnia.

 

Georgia maintains good relations with its direct neighbours ArmeniaAzerbaijan and Turkey and participates actively in regional organizations, such as the Black Sea Economic Council and the GUAM. Georgia also maintains political, economic and military relations with JapanUruguay,South KoreaIsraelSri Lanka Ukraine and many other countries.

The growing US and European Union influence in Georgia, notably through proposed EU and NATO membership, the US Train and Equip military assistance program and the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, have frequently strained Tbilisi's relations with Moscow. Georgia's decision to boost its presence in the coalition forces in Iraq was an important initiative.

Georgia is currently working to become a full member of NATO. In August 2004, the Individual Partnership Action Plan of Georgia was submitted officially to NATO. On October 29, 2004, the North Atlantic Council of NATO approved the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) of Georgia and Georgia moved on to the second stage of Euro-Atlantic Integration. In 2005, by the decision of the President of Georgia, a state commission was set up to implement the Individual Partnership Action Plan, which presents an interdepartmental group headed by the Prime Minister. The Commission was tasked with coordinating and controlling the implementation of the Individual Partnership Action Plan.

On February 14, 2005, the agreement on the appointment of Partnership for Peace (PfP) liaison officer between Georgia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization came into force, whereby a liaison officer for the South Caucasus was assigned to Georgia. On March 2, 2005, the agreement was signed on the provision of the host nation support to and transit of NATO forces and NATO personnel. On March 6–9, 2006, the IPAP implementation interim assessment team arrived in Tbilisi. On April 13, 2006, the discussion of the assessment report on implementation of the Individual Partnership Action Plan was held at NATO Headquarters, within 26+1 format. In 2006, the Georgian parliament voted unanimously for the bill which calls for integration of Georgia into NATO. The majority of Georgians and politicians in Georgia support the push for NATO membership.

George W. Bush became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the country.The street leading to Tbilisi International Airport has since been dubbed George W. Bush Avenue.

From the European commission website: President Saakashvili views membership of the EU and NATO as a long term priority. As he does not want Georgia to become an arena of Russia-US confrontation he seeks to maintain close relations with the United States and European Union, at the same time underlining his ambitions to advance co-operation with Russia.

On October 2, 2006, Georgian and the European Union signed a joint statement on the agreed text of the Georgia-European Union Action Plan within the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The Action Plan was formally approved at the EU-Georgia Cooperation Council session on November 14, 2006 in Brussels.

On February 2, 2007, Georgia officially became the most recent regional member of the Asian Development Bank. They currently hold 12,081 shares in the bank, 0.341 percent of the total.

The Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church is one of the world's most ancient Christian Churches, founded in the 1st century by the Apostle Andrew the First Called. In the first half of the 4th centuryChristianity was adopted as the state religion. This has provided a strong sense of national identity that has helped to preserve a national Georgian identity despite repeated periods of foreign occupation and attempted assimilation.

According to the Constitution of Georgia, religious institutions are separate from government and every citizen has the right of religion. However, most of the population of Georgia (83.9%) practices Orthodox Christianity and the Georgian Orthodox Church is an influential institution in the country.

The Gospel was preached in Georgia by the Apostles, Andrew, Simon the Canaanite, and MatthiasIberia was officially converted to Christianity in 326 by Saint Nino of Cappadocia, who is considered to be the Enlightener of Georgia and the Equal to Apostles by the Orthodox Church. The Georgian Orthodox Church, once being under the See of Antioch, gained an autocephalous status in the 4th century during the reign of King Vakhtang Gorgasali.

Religious minorities of Georgia include Russian Orthodox (2%), Armenian Christians (3.9%), Muslims (9.9%), Roman Catholics (0.8%), as well as sizeable Jewish communities and various Protestant minorities.

Despite the long history of religious harmony in Georgia,there have been several instances of religious discrimination in the past decade — such as acts of violence against Jehovah's Witnesses and threats against adherents of other "nontraditional faiths" by followers of the defrocked Orthodox priest Vasil Mkalavishvili.

 

 

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