Samegrelo is bordered by the Black Sea to the west, Abkhazia, Svaneti and Racha to the north and Guria to the south. The main town of the region and its administrative centre is Zugdidi, which used to be the residence of local dukes in the past.
Samegrelo is situated on a lowland area, spreading to the Black Sea coast. The region is rich in rivers and water resources. The foothills of Caucasus Range and part of the lowland of the region are covered with deciduous forests.
The ecosystem of Samegrelo is very humid especially in the territory of the Kolkheti National Park. The park is home to Lake Paliastomi and several small lakes.
The oldest settlements of Samegrelo existed in the territory of Kolkheti lowland and its nearby hills as early as the Stone Age. Already from the beginning of the first millennium B.C. the tribes living here were united to form a strong and independent state.
The Kingdom of Colchis was already known to the whole of the ancient world by the 8th century B.C. (Herodotus compared the kingdom to the largest monarchies of the near East). It was in Colchis that the first Georgian money was minted – the Colchian tetri.
The pre-Christian Kingdom of Colchis that existed on the territory of Western Georgia was the first Georgian state mentioned in Greek history and mythology as remarkable and mysterious country where the Argonauts sailed to carry away the Golden Fleece. The Colchis relation with Greek states, established in the 6th-5th centuries B.C., greatly defined its orientation toward the western world.
The name of Colchis later changed to Egrisi. The capital of the Kingdom of Egrisi was Nokalakevi. Presumably the present day name of Samegrelo was derived from this name. The people living in Samegrelo are called Mingrelian.
One of the most interesting things about Samegrelo is its language. The Mingrelian language is of special linguistic value because of its kindred connection to the Georgian language. Mingrelian, along with Georgian and Svanetian, belongs to the Iberian-Caucasian family of languages.
The myth of the Argonauts
According to Greek legend, Aeetes – the son of the sun god Helios ruled over the Kingdom of Colchis. One of the greatest treasures of his kingdom was the skin of a ram with golden wool – the Golden Fleece.
The Fleece was guarded by the dragon Argus who never slept. The king of Thessaly offered his throne to his nephew Jason in return for capturing the Golden Fleece kept in the Kingdom of Colchis. Jason built up a ship and called it Argo, selected the best heroes of their kingdom and headed towards Colchis. After the long and dangerous trip the Argonauts reached the mouth of the River Phasis, presently called the Rioni.
Aeetes promised to give Jason the Golden Fleece only if he could perform some formidable tasks. Jason carried out all the tasks with the help of Aeetes’s beautiful daughter Medea. She fell in love with Jason and when he succeeded to obtain the Golden Fleece, Medea fled with him.
“In Phasis there are people speaking 60 different languages”, wrote the ancient Greek historian Strabo about Poti. Phasis is mentioned in the annals of history as early as the 8th c. B.C. Today the city is as lively and busy as it was centuries ago, when it lay on the Silk Road route, at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. It can easily be said that activities in the city have not changed for centuries. It is still the main port and trade centre of the country.
Phasis was well known for its culture and education. There was a school of rhetoric – the Academy of Phasis. It was prophet of Jesus, Andrew the First, who brought Christianity to Phasis and its surroundings. In medieval times this was the centre of the Georgian church called Phasis Ecclesiastical Metropolis in Poti. In 533 the Bishop of Phasis was attending the world ecclesiastical meeting in Constantinople where he signed the resolution of the meeting together with other bishops.
In the past the city was subject to numerous Turkish invasions. In 1725 after conquering the city the Turks built a rectangular fortress with four towers in every corner. In 1828 Poti was returned to Georgia, the fortress was pulled down, and its materials were used for building the harbour.
Nowadays Poti, with a population of 45 700 people, is one of the most important industrial, transportation, cultural, educational, and financial centres of the country. In 2008 the Poti port area has become a free economic zone.
Guria is located in the western part of Georgia, bordered by the eastern end of the Black Sea. Famous for its polyphonic music and humorous people, Guria, a region rich in cultural traditions and natural beauty, offers a splendid chance for tourists to experience.
Part of the northern edge of the region is on the Colchis lowland, while to the south-east Guria extends as far as the Meskheti Mountain range. In the east part of Guria, the lowlands become mountains and evergreen bushy forests replace swamp forests. Beech forests are found in the mountains and pine and fir trees can be found at higher altitudes.
Mountain forests of Guria provide a good habitat for bears, wolves, deer, martens, and bobcats, as well as other animals. Some of the most common birds are cuckoos, hoopoe, hawks, falcon, and woodcock, while pheasants can be found in the swampy forests of western Guria. Rivers are home to many different types of fish including lamprey, sheatfish, perch, trout, and gudgeon.
HISTORY AND ARCHEOLOGY
During the Middle Ages this part of Georgia was an independent principality – initially it was a Saeristavo (fiefdom) then a Samtavro (sovereign independent principality). It was governed by the Gurielis, a family of Gurian rulers. Guria existed as a sovereign principality until the mid-19th century.
Artifacts discovered in modern Guria show that there was a flourishing civilization here many centuries ago. A large union of Colchis tribes lived in Guria as early as the 13th century BC. During the seventh and sixth centuries BC there was a strong and independent early Georgian state, the Colchis Kingdom (said to be the site of the Golden Fleece), which was located in this region.
CULTURE AND TRADITIONS
The population of Guria has a rich spiritual and family culture. Social relationships are strictly defined in Guria and they are known for their politeness and respect for the elderly.
Music and singing play a vital role in Gurian culture and the Gurians helped to develop the world famous Georgian polyphonic style of singing. Gurian songs generally consist of three or four independent melodies.
"Krimanchuli" is one of the best examples of the Georgian polyphonic traditions. The word "Krimanchuli" means twisted iron. "Naduri" is a special song performed during a grape harvest or while working in the fields. Traditionally, singing "Naduri" lasted for longer than an hour and over 200 people sang it together during work.
The economy in Guria is agriculturally based. Citrus, fruits, tea, nuts, grapes, and corn play an important role in the region. The cultivation of vineyards in Guria dates back to antiquity.
Gurian villages are characterized by a special charm and color, especially in autumn. Wooden houses often have corn kernels spread out like beads and pumpkins drying in the sun, with yards of green trees, surrounded by wooden fences.
The cultural life of Guria includes public rituals and traditions. Some of the biggest celebrations are Giorgoba (St. George’s Day), Mariamoba (St. Mary’s Day), and New Year (called Kalanda). Special preparations take place in each of the families during these celebrations. For the New Year celebration, Gurians place chichilaki, nut tree branches formed to depict the tree of life, in their homes the day before New Year.
Chichilaki is considered the grantor of fertility and wealth; it is kept in the home until Baptism Day, January 19th, and is burned or thrown in the water afterwards. Gurians are known for their crafts, building skills, leatherworks, saddles, baskets, and straw hats. Hunting and fishing are also fundamental to their culture.
Adjara (Georgian: აჭარა [ɑtʃʼɑrɑ] ( listen)), (Turkish: acaristan), officially the Autonomous Republic of Adjara (აჭარის ავტონომიური რესპუბლიკა; [ɑtʃʼɑris ɑvtʼɔnɔmiuri rɛspʼublikʼɑ] ( listen)), is an autonomous republic of Georgia.
Adjara is located in the southwestern corner of Georgia, bordered by Turkey to the south and the eastern end of the Black Sea. Adjara is a home to the Adjar ethnic subgroup of Georgians.
Adjara is also known as Ajara, Adzhara, Ajaria, Adjaria, Adzharia, or as Achara. Formerly Adjara was known as Acara under Ottoman rule and Adjarian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Adjar ASSR) under the Soviet Union.
Adjara has been part of Colchis and Caucasian Iberia since ancient times. Colonized by Greeks in the 5th century BC, the region fell under Rome in the 2nd century BC. It became part of the region of Egrisi before being incorporated into the unified Georgian Kingdom in the 9th century AD. The Ottomans conquered the area in 1614. The people of Adjara converted to Islam in this period. The Ottomans were forced to cede Adjara to the expanding Russian Empire in 1878.
After a temporary occupation by Turkish and British troops in 1918–1920, Adjara became part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1920. After a brief military conflict in March 1921, Ankara's government ceded the territory to Georgia due to Article VI of Treaty of Kars on condition that autonomy is provided for the Muslim population. The Soviet Union established the Adjar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1921 in accord with this clause. Thus, Adjara was still a component part of Georgia, but with considerable local autonomy.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Adjara became part of a newly independent but politically divided Republic of Georgia. It avoided being dragged into the chaos and civil war that afflicted the rest of the country between 1991–1993 due largely to the authoritarian rule of its leader Aslan Abashidze. Although he successfully maintained order in Adjara and made it one of the country's most prosperous regions, he was accused of involvement in organised crime—notably large-scale smuggling to fund his government and enrich himself personally—as well as human rights violations. The central government in Tbilisi had very little say in what went on in Adjara; during the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze, it seemed convenient to turn a blind eye to events in Adjara.
This changed following the Rose Revolution of 2003 when Shevardnadze was deposed in favour of the reformist opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili, who pledged to crack down on separatism within Georgia. In the spring of 2004, a major crisis in Adjara erupted as the central government sought to reimpose its authority on the region. It threatened to develop into an armed confrontation. However, Saakashvili's ultimatums and mass protests against Abashidze's autocratic rule forced the Adjaran leader to resign in May 2004, following which he went into exile in Russia. After Abashidze's ousting, a new law was introduced to redefine the terms of Adjara's autonomy. Levan Varshalomidze succeeded Abashidze as the chairman of the government.
For many years, Russia maintained the 12th Military Base (the former 145th Motor Rifle Division) in Batumi. This was a source of great tension with Georgia, which had threatened to block access to the facility. Following talks in March 2005, the Russian government proposed to begin the process of withdrawal later the same year; Russia returned the base to Georgia on November 17, 2007, more than a year ahead of schedule.
In July 2007, the seat of the Georgian Constitutional Court was moved from Tbilisi to Batumi.
Law and government
The status of the Adjaran Autonomous Republic is defined by Georgia's law on Adjara and the region's new constitution, adopted following the ousting of Aslan Abashidze. The local legislative body, Supreme Council (parliament) of Adjara consists of 30 members and is elected for four years. The head of the region's government—the Council of Ministers of Adjara—is nominated by the President of Georgia who also has powers to dissolve the assembly and government and to overrule local authorities on issues where the constitution of Georgia is contravened. Levan Varshalomidze is the current head of the Adjaran government.
Adjara is subdivided into six administrative units:
City of Batumi
District of Keda
District of Kobuleti
District of Khelvachauri
District of Shuakhevi
District of Khulo
Geography and climate
Adjara is located on the south-eastern coast of the Black Sea and extends into the wooded foothills and mountains of the Lesser Caucasus. It has borders with the region of Guria to the north, Samtskhe-Javakheti to the east and Turkey to the south. Most of Adjara's territory either consists of hills or mountains. The highest mountains rise more than 3,000 meters (9,840 ft) above sea level. Around 60% of Adjara is covered by forests. Many parts of the Meskheti Range (the west-facing slopes) are covered by temperate rain forests.
Adjara is traversed by the northeasterly line of equal latitude and longitude.
Adjara is well-known for its humid climate (especially along the coastal regions) and prolonged rainy weather, although there is plentiful sunshine during the Spring and Summer months. Adjara receives the highest amounts of precipitation both in Georgia and in the Caucasus. It is also one of the wettest temperate regions in the northern hemisphere. No region along Adjara's coast receives less than 2,200mm (86.6 inches) of precipitation per year. The west-facing (windward) slopes of the Meskheti Range receive upwards of 4,500mm (177 inches) of precipitation per year. The coastal lowlands receive most of the precipitation in the form of rain (due to the area's subtropical climate). September and October are usually the wettest months. Batumi's average monthly rainfall for the month of September is 410mm (16.14 inches). The interior parts of Adjara are considerably drier than the coastal mountains and lowlands. Winter usually brings significant snowfall to the higher regions of Adjara, where snowfall often reaches several meters. Average summer temperatures are between 22-24 degrees Celsius in the lowland areas and 17–21 degrees Celsius in the highlands. The highest areas of Adjara have lower temperatures. Average winter temperatures are between 4–6 degrees Celsius along the coast while the interior areas and mountains average around -3–2 degrees Celsius. Some of the highest mountains of Adjara have average winter temperatures of -8–(-7) degrees Celsius.
Adjara has good land for growing tea, citrus fruits and tobacco. Mountainous and forested, the region has a subtropical climate, and there are many health resorts. Tobacco, tea, citrus fruits, and avocados are leading crops; livestock raising is also important. Industries include tea packing, tobacco processing, fruit and fish canning, oil refining, and shipbuilding.
The regional capital, Batumi, is an important gateway for the shipment of goods heading into Georgia, Azerbaijan and landlocked Armenia. The port of Batumi is used for the shipment of oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Its oil refinery handles Caspian oil from Azerbaijan which arrives by pipeline to Supsa port and is transported from there to Batumi by rail. The Adjaran capital is a centre for shipbuilding and manufacturing.
Adjara is the main center of Georgia's coastal tourism industry, having displaced the northwestern province of Abkhazia since that region's de facto secession from Georgia in 1993.
According to the 2002 census, the population of Adjara is 376,016. The Adjarians (Ajars) are an ethnographic group of the Georgian people who speak a group of local dialects known collectively as Adjaran. The written language is Georgian.
The Georgian population of Adjara had been generally known as "Muslim Georgians" until the 1926 Soviet census which listed them as "Ajars" and counted 71,000 of them. Later, they were simply classified under a broader category of Georgians as no official Soviet census asked about religion. Today, calling them "Muslim Georgians" would be a misnomer in any case as Adjarans are now about half Christian (see below).
Ethnic minorities include Russians, Armenians, Greeks, Abkhaz, etc.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the re-establishment of Georgia's independence accelerated re-Christianisation, especially among the young, a process allegedly encouraged by the governmental officials. However, there are still remaining Sunni Muslim communities in Adjara, mainly in the Khulo district. According to the 2006 estimates by the Department of Statistics of Adjara, 63% are Georgian Orthodox Christians, and 30% Muslim. The remaining are Armenian Christians (0.8%), Roman Catholics (0.2%), and others (6%).
Traditional public festivals
Selimoba is held in Bako village, Khulo Municipality on July 3 and commemorates the life of Selim Khimshiashvili. A concert with the participation of local amateur groups of a folk handicraft products exhibition is held during the festival. It is supported by Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Adjara.
Shuamtoba is a traditional festival, which is held on the summer mountain pastures of two municipalities (Khulo and Shuakhevi), in the first weekend of every August. Horse racing, folk handicraft products exhibition and a concert involving folk ensembles are held on Shuamtoba.
Machakhloba is Machakhela gorge festivity, held in the second half of September. It is a traditional holiday celebrated in Machakhela gorge, Khelvachauri Municipality. Festival begins at the Machakhela rifle monument (at the point of convergence of rivers Machakhela and Chorokhi), continues in the village Machakhispiri and ends in the village Zeda Chkhutuneti.
Kolkhoba is an ancient Laz festival. It is held at the end of August or at the beginning of September in Sarpi village, Khelvachauri District. The myth about Argonauts is performed on stage during the festival.
Batumi (Georgian: ბათუმი, formerly Batum or Batoum, Turkish: Batum) is a seaside city on the Black Sea coast and capital of Adjara, an autonomous republic in southwest Georgia. It has a population of 121,806 (2002 census).
Batumi, with its large port and commercial center, is also the last stop of the Transcaucasian Railway and the Baku oil pipeline. It is situated some 20 km (12 mi) from the Turkish border, in a subtropical zone, rich in agricultural produce such as citrus fruit and tea. Industries include shipbuilding, food processing, and light manufacturing.
Batumi is located on the site of the ancient Greek colony in Colchis called Bathus or Bathys - derived from the Greek phrase bathus limen or bathys limin meaning "deep harbour". Under Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD), it was converted into a fortified Roman port later deserted for the fortress of Petra founded in the times of Justinian I (r. 527-565). Garrisoned by the Roman/Byzantine forces, it was formally a possession of the kingdom of Lazica until being occupied briefly by the Arabs who did not hold it; in the 9th century it formed part of the Bagratid monarchy of Tao-Klarjeti, and at the close of the 10th century of the unified kingdom of Georgia which succeeded it.
From 1010, it was governed by the eristavi (viceroy) of the king of Georgia. In the late 14th century, after the disintegration of the Georgian kingdom, Batumi passed to the princes (mtavari) of Guria, a western Georgian principality under the nominal sovereignty of the kings of Imereti.
A curious incident occurred in 1444 when the Burgundian flotilla, after a failed crusade against the Ottoman Empire, penetrated the Black Sea and engaged in piracy along its eastern coastline until the Burgundians under the knight Geoffroy de Thoisy were ambushed during their landing raid at the port of Vaty as Europeans then knew Batumi. De Thoisy was taken captive and released through the mediation of the emperor John IV of Trebizond.
In the 15th century, in the reign of the prince Kakhaber Gurieli, the Ottoman Turks occupied the town and its district, but did not hold them. They returned in force a century later after the decisive defeat which they inflicted on the Georgian and Imeretian armies at Sokhoista. Batumi was recaptured, first by the prince Rostom Gurieli in 1564, who lost it soon afterwards, and again in 1609 by Mamia Gurieli. Since 1627 Batumi was part of the Ottoman Empire. With the Turkish conquest the Islamisation of the Adjara region, hitherto Christian began. It was completed by the end of the 18th century. Under the Turks, Batumi, a large fortified town (2,000 inhabitants in 1807 and more than 5,000 in 1877) was already an active port, the principal centre of the Transcaucasian slave-trade
Imperial Russian Rule
In 1878, Batumi was annexed by the Russian Empire in accordance with Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire (ratified on March 23). In exchange, according to a secret Anglo-Ottoman Cyprus Convention, the British were to be allowed to occupy Cyprus - Cuprum probatum. Occupied by the Russians on 28 August 1878, the town was declared a free port until 1886. It functioned as a center of a special military district until being incorporated in the Government of Kutaisi on June 12, 1883. Finally, on 1 June 1903, with the Okrug of Artvin, it was established as the region (oblast) of Batumi placed under the direct control of the General Government of Georgia.
The expansion of Batumi began in 1883 with the construction of the Batumi-Tiflis-Baku railway completed in 1900 by the finishing of the Baku-Batumi pipe-line. Henceforth Batumi became the chief Russian oil port in the Black Sea. The town expanded to an extraordinary extent and the population increased very rapidly: 8,671 inhabitants in 1882, and 12,000 in 1889.
War, Communism and Independence
During 1901, 16 years prior to the Russian Revolution, Joseph Stalin the future leader of the Soviet Union, lived in the city organizing strikes. Unrest during World War I led to Turkey re-entering in April 1918, followed by the British in December, who stayed until July 1920. Kemal Atatürk then ceded it to the Bolsheviks, on the condition that it be granted autonomy, for the sake of the Muslims among Batumi's mixed population.
When the USSR collapsed, Aslan Abashidze was appointed head of Adjara's governing council and subsequently held onto power throughout the unrest of the 1990s. Whilst other regions, such as Abkhazia, attempted to break away from the Georgian state, Adjara maintained an integral part of the Republic's territory. However due to a fragile security situation, Abashidze was able to exploit the central government's weaknesses and rule the area as a personal fiefdom. In May 2004 he fled the region to Russia as a result of mass protests sparked by the Rose Revolution in Tbilisi.
Batumi today is the main port of Georgia. It has the capacity for 80,000-tonne tankers to take materials such as oil. This oil originates from Azerbaijan and is shipped all over the world. Smaller oil exports also come from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Additionally the city exports regional agricultural products. Since 1995 the freight conversion of the port has constantly risen, with an approximate 8 million tonnes in 2001. The annual revenue from the port is estimated at between $200 million and $300 million.
Since the change of power in Ajara, Batumi has attracted several international investors with real estate prices in the city trebling since 2001. Kazakh investors have reportedly invested $100 million to purchase more than 20 hotels in the Ajara region of Georgia. Construction of a number of new hotels will be launched in Ajara’s Black Sea resorts starting from 2007.
Batumi was also host to the Russian 12th Military Base. Following the Rose Revolution, the central government pushed for the removal of these forces, and in 2005 an agreement with Moscow was reached. According to the agreement, the process of withdrawal was planned to be completed in a course of 2008, but the Batumi base was officially handed over to Georgia on November 13, 2007, ahead of planned schedule.