Ethnic consolidation of the Kartvelian nations populating Georgia far from complete

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Sep 11 15:07:39 UTC 2006

10:33 09.09.2006

Aris Kazinyan: Own game of Mikhail Saakashvili and Armenian factor
Aris Kazinyan expert of the Caucasus analytical center

On Sept 1 Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili appeared with a very
curious statement. While speaking in Sagarejo, he said that Russia is
pressuring Armenia into adopting an anti-Georgian policy. At least, that's
how (and in no other way) one should understand his following sentence:
Russia has finally closed the customs house in Lars; and closed it not
only for us, but also for Armenia, whose cargoes have been going through
Lars, because it tells Armenia too: lets carry out some plans together.
Saakashvili did not care to specify what plans (perhaps, because there was
nothing to specify) he was talking about, however, Saakashvilis Armenian
emphasis is quite symptomatic as such. What made him appear with such a
tactless (in every respect) statement?

Saakashvili is hardly aware of what exactly the relevant Armenian-Russian
talks are about; of course, we do not doubt the competence and awareness
of the Georgian President, but the whole point is that Moscow and Yerevan
are not plotting anything against Tbilisi. Anyway, Saakashvili appears to
be sure of, at least, the present Armenian authorities; dwelling on the
subject of imaginary Russian pressure on Armenia, he notes: Naturally,
nobody will agree to this, but such a policy of pressure on Armenia over
Georgia is present!

It may also happen it may well be so that the imperative of the Georgian
President naturally, nobody will agree to this has no specific addressee
and is just a preventive move. We can see this in his following statement:
Nobody has ever succeeded through slavery. Only proud, self-respecting
countries succeed countries like Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, who
did the same a few years ago and have become successful European states. I
dont want to name a few other countries who are being led by those forces
and are beggars and, today, they are as impoverished as they were before.
Lets not conjecture what Saakashvili meant; the more important point is
that Saakashvilis speech in Sagarejo and the quite unexpected at first
glance address to the Armenian issue perfectly fits into the context and
logic of his present policy.

First of all, we should note that the process of ethnic consolidation of
the Kartvelian nations populating Georgia (in the scale and content
officially proclaimed by Tbilisi) is yet far from completion. Georgian
citizens representatives of the Kartvelian group of the Caucasian language
family are not objectively a single ethno-political community and are
quite diverse in terms of traditions, culture, language, mentality and the
perception of the very concept of Homeland. For quite a long period in
history, there was almost no consolidating ethnonyme in Georgia;  even
today, people representing the Kartvelian group do not identify themselves
according to the state terminology. The diversity of dialects:  Gurian,
Imeretian, Lechkhumian, Rachian, Kartlian, Kakhetian, Pshavian,
Meskhetian, Ingiloian and some others and the circumstance that Megrels
(in particular) speak their own language reflect not so much the purely
linguistic peculiarities of those groups as the extent of difference in
their traditions, mentality and values. Particularly, the biggest
Kartvelian group, Megrels, call themselves not Kartvelians but Margali and
their country (their historical area Homeland)  Samargalio.

It is especially important to note that, from the ancient times till the
first half of XIX, the western and eastern parts of the Kartvelian group
had very little contact with one another. The Surami Range dividing the
territory of Georgia into two parts was a kind of Great Dividing Range
between two worlds, and this fact has given rise to such concepts as
Amiereti the country behind the range and Imiereti the country before the
range (like Ciscaucasia and Transcaucasia). It was exactly due to this
historical division that the western Kartvelians are initially called
Imeretians. But, in fact, Imeretians are also Gurians (who call themselves
Guruli), Lechkhumians, Rachians, etc. Megrels live farther to the west and
have always been closer to Abkhazians than to Gurians or Imeretians.
Eastwards of the Surami Range was the land of the eastern sub-groups
mostly Kartlians and Kakhetians, who have not historically had close
contacts with the western Georgians, not mentioning Megrels, Abkhazians or

Due to this peculiar logic of historical development, the Kartvelian group
does not now have a single approach to the concept of Homeland. This is a
very important aspect of the problem we are considering this aspect allows
us to see how much interested the present-day population of the Republic
of Georgia can actually be in fighting and dying for Abkhazia or South
Ossetia. The foundations of the nationalist ideology were laid by public
figures Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaky Tsereteli in late 19th century.  It
was exactly they who tried to give the local concept of Homeland a larger
mass scale. And it was they who established a certain tradition:  the
factors consolidating the nation are based not so much on (the assertion
of) the national all-Kertvelian values but on the search for the image of
extra-Kartvelian enemy. Particularly, in his works Ilia Chavchavadze chose
Armenians as an enemy. The Armenian choice of Chavchavadze was due mostly
to the fact that, unable to adjust themselves to the development of
capitalist relations, the Georgian noblemen were forced to sell their
estates to rich Armenian merchants.

What really matters in this context is not so much the ethnicity of the
external enemy as the very ideological existence of such an image. By the
way, this ideology has lived up to now. The key weapon of the Georgian
parties in the first quarter of the 20th century, this ideology
predetermined the logic of the development of the national life, and the
First Georgian Republic (1918-1920) was also based on the vector of United
and Indivisible Georgia. At the same time, it should be noted that in 20th
century this ideology failed to go outside the activities of the political
elite and to grow into a national (all-Kartvelian) feeling. Still, as we
have already said, the process of consolidation of the Kartvelian nations
populating Georgia (in the scale and content proclaimed by Tbilisi) is far
from completion. The political elite of new Georgia has failed to make the
Abkhazian problem a consolidating all-Kartvelian factor. People have
failed to see what exactly they must sacrifice themselves for. And even
the western Georgians, who still have mutual problems, have refused to
unite for the sake of Abkhazia. Even more, in the most concerned Megrel
community, we can see diametrically opposite moods one part of Megrels is
definitely closer to Abkhazians.

The historical psychology of feudal principalities in Georgia is
traditionally the most influential internal political factor in the
country. Even more, it is exactly this psychology that gives birth to
leaders of national scale, whose political image reflects not only the
specificity of own nation but also the traditional separatism of feudal
princes. In this light, it should be noted that the concept of separatism
the Georgian authorities keep applying to Abkhazia and South Ossetia is
much more applicable to the lifestyle and traditional mentality of the
Kartvelian society. The separatism of feudal princes has actually taken
deep roots in the multi-layer Georgian soil, and the modern history proves
this mentality to be quite viable. It is typical of almost every
politically (publicly) significant figure in Georgia, irrespective of his
psychological, moral or intellectual image. It is quite noteworthy that,
right after his political fiasco, the first Georgian president Zviad
Gamsakhurdia proclaimed the independence of the Megrel-Abkhazian Republic.
And even this rare historical example is just the top of the iceberg of
Georgian contradictions that is drifting around the scattered
principalities of Sakartvelo.

As we have already noted, besides the factor of linguistic isolation of
the Kartvelian society, there is also another nuance that does not let the
Abkhazian and South Ossetian problems become a consolidating factor. The
Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, just like the Republic of Georgia,
internationally recognized within its territory, is a kind of empire, and
the struggle of the countrys leadership for Abkhazia is more like a
colonial than patriotic war (in fact, it is a war of robbers its enough
remembering the figures of the leaders of the Georgian home guards). This
is a very important circumstance as colonial wars more often shatter and
even decay the rear than consolidate it. With no all-national concept of
Homeland in Georgia, the local authorities still apply feudal ways of
territorial administration. What we could see during the civil war was
exactly a feudal rule; at a certain moment, the confrontation was very
much like the squabble of feudal princes the only difference was that the
new rulers of the territories were not noblemen but criminals.

Emzar Kvitsiani is a typical representative of the Pleiad of Georgian
feudal lords of the epoch of independence. Thats why the acting Georgian
authorities tend to qualify almost every de facto disobedient
administrative-territorial unit as a bed of criminal structures. And they
do this irrespective of the extent of their own corruption. In this light,
we would like to remind you the words of the well-known Georgian historian
Berdzenishvili, who wrote in 1937: Feudal Sakartvelo (Georgia) has never
fully embraced the concepts of Abkhazia, Kartli, Kakheti, Somkheti and the
title of the King of United Georgia has never turned into a formula with
historical content.

The present Georgian President sees himself in the historical chronicles
standing beside the most respected monarchs of the past. His fixed idea is
to restore the territorial integrity of the Georgian state and, more
importantly, to resolve the historical internal Kartvelian conflicts. He
truly imagines himself to be the monarch of United Georgia. This is a very
important nuance a nuance that must be always kept in mind; the present
Georgian President is capable of any most unexpected and thoughtless
action: he is really unsurpassed in giving political surprises. He can
take aback even the most sophisticated technologists; the ace of political
intrigue, feudal lord Aslan Abashidze, was unable to oppose anything
(constructive) to the irrationalism of Mikheil Saakashvili; the President
is illogical and sure of being the chosen one. He really believes that his
destination is to unite Great Georgia. Being the US protege, he is not
like his nest brothers Viktor Yushchenko or Alexander Milinkevich, who are
being actively built up by the masters of Hammer and Angle Bar; unlike
them, Saakashvili has the Idea. The first thing that comes into mind is
the famous phrase: If Garibaldi had not been a Mason, Italy would not have
united. Thats probably how Saakashvili interprets his position of a
protege at least, for the time being.

The first Georgian President also felt himself as a kind of missionary,
but, among other things, he lacked extravagance: pedantic Zviad was not a
trouble maker. He clearly saw that his country was a patchwork blanket and
realized that this mosaic posed a real threat to the idea of United
Georgia. At first, he also tried to implant the idea of Common and United
Homeland into the minds of all the Kartvelians and traveled the whole
Sakartvelo for this purpose; emotionally restrained, seaside Megrel, he
praised Kakhetia as the first wine grower. Demographically, Kakhetia has
always been a mono-national region, and Georgians have always been a
majority here, he said in the Kakhetian village of Akhalsopeli in 1989.
Today, we are facing a serious problem. Tatars, Armenians and Ossetians
have risen to their feet. We must save from foreigners Kakhetia our holy
land! Could Gamsakhurdia imagine then that some few years later he would
be forced to rise with the idea of a Megrel-Abkhazian Republic?

Today, there are no grounds for speaking about serious prerequisites for
changing the state structure exactly as a mechanism consolidating the
nation, especially as there was almost no concept of the King of All
Georgia in Georgias history; at the time of the signing of the Treaty of
Georgievsk (in Aug 1783) Irakly II was called the King of Kartli-Kakheti.
The authority of the Georgian King has never been a consolidating force as
people in other regions swore allegiance to other rulers the King of
Imeretia and others; in fact, the restoration of monarchy in the
disintegrated Georgian society may disintegrate the Georgian state.

President Saakashvili, who is really daydreaming of a Place in the
chronicles of the Georgian history (certainly, next to the most
outstanding rulers), is going to solve this problem too; of course, not as
a King but as the ruler of All Georgia. He openly views the period of his
accession to the presidential throne in the context of the events of early
XIX. The starting point for him is 1801 when the western Georgian Kingdom
was abolished and annexed to Russia. The supporters of the ambitious
President consider the following 205 years as the frozen interval of the
national life.

In this context, we would like to point to the speech of the advisor of
the Georgian president, former prime minister and MP of Estonia Mart Laar:
The so-called Russian peacekeepers are not keeping peace, they are trying
to keep the last fragments of the Russian Empire. The July 28 article in
the Akhali 7 Dge daily is also quite symptomatic: It is exactly the strong
powers that tell the other countries involved in international relations
how to play in the political game and often decide in their stead. As a
rule, small and weak countries are oppressed in international relations.
For such countries it is very dangerous to be neighbor to a strong country
as stronger neighbors leave weaker countries no chance for maneuver or
choice. Unfortunately, Georgia is a small country neighboring on Russia
this is our gift of fortune. Russias policy on the Caucasus has not
changed. Czarism is still Russias ideology. This crossroads of the world
civilization is still the axis of the Russian neo-imperialism, and Georgia
is part of this axis. For years Russia has refused to put up with the lost
of this rebellious country. They cant put up with the fact that our small
country is showing resistance to Great Russia. Russia has failed to
enslave Georgia even though for many years it has been pressuring our
country economically and supporting separatist regimes.

It is noteworthy that the emphasis on the year 1801 (just like on the
Treaty of Georgievsk) goes well together with Saakashvilis world-view; it
allows him to kill several birds at once: to demonstrate his ambitions and
succession to royal traditions, to present the Georgians as a chosen noble
society (thereby, increasing discrimination against other non-Kartvelian
citizens), to show why Georgia has lost its independence because of
Russia. Each of these vectors is a doctrine for a special study a
self-sufficient policy but only taken together, do they form the effect of

The policy to blame Russia for the loss of the Georgian throne fits well
into the context of the present developments in Georgia; the American
strategy of expansion into the region requires further aggravation of
Russian-Georgian relations, and this fits well with the mood and ambitions
of Mikheil Saakashvili. The July 5 2006 meeting of the US and Georgian
presidents resulted in George Bushs statement that each state has the
right to carry out military actions against radical forces with a view to
protect its own security and sovereignty.

Even though this statement was made in connection with the Middle East
events and was aimed at justifying the policy of Israel, it was equally
referred to Georgia. Some sources say that this issue was even discussed
during the Washington meeting. This meeting was absolutely historic for
Georgia, Saakashvili said. I am sure it was, and the Georgian people will
certainly see its results. It is absolutely clear that the US will support
our struggle for freedom till the end. We should note that, when saying
struggle for freedom, the Georgian President also means the restoration of
Georgias territorial integrity.

It is especially important to note that, when speaking about the right of
each country to protect its independence and security by any means, George
Bush emphasized the destructive influence on one or another region by
exactly the forces supporting terrorism. As early as July 9 just four days
after the meeting a terrorist act in Tskhinvali claimed the life of South
Ossetian Security Secretary Oleg Alborov; two weeks later the Georgian
Parliament adopted a resolution On Peacekeeping Forces in the Conflict
Zones; and on July 21 the Georgian President dismissed his State Minister
for Conflict Resolution Giorgy Khaindrava. The next step was the
anti-criminal operation in Kodori Gorge.

The royal hunt for birds has revealed one more target for the indignant
Georgian monarchists Armenians. In the context of the constantly discussed
topic of 1801 and the policy of making an enemy of Russia, the researchers
cannot but point out that the decree on the liquidation of the Georgian
throne was read out in Tiflis (Tbilisi) by Armenian Iosif Argutinsky, and
the first governor general was Armenian general Lazarev.  In the first
half of the 20th century Georgians began showing increasingly negative
attitude towards Armenians; they regarded Armenians as Russias proteges
and the heralds of the loss of the Georgian throne. The founder of the
Georgian nationalist ideology Ilia Chavchavadze wrote: Armenian scholars
are standing their ground, they are seeking to get home in a place they
have never had home they wish to convince everybody that they allegedly
have the historical right to live here.

This idea runs through the nationalist ideology to these days. No
coincidence that during the revolution of roses certain representatives of
the Georgian nation, particularly, those from the nobles, expressed
concern for the presence of Armenian blood in the veins of all the three
leaders of the revolution; those times were not easy for Saakashvili
Christian Georgians have always felt danger on the part of Armenians, says
the academic head of the Russian Project of Jerusalem University, Dr. Dan
Shapira. Armenians have lived in Georgia since the beginning of time. Even
the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, has until recently been the Armenian city
and the key Armenian cultural center eastwards of Istanbul. Thus, Jews
have never been regarded in Georgia as a problem or threat the traditional
place of Jew was occupied by Armenians.

In other words, anti-Semitism in Georgia has traditionally been expressed
in the form of Armeno-phobia. As we have already noted, the Georgian
President is trying to implant the idea of Common Homeland in the minds of
the Kartvelians and to make this a basis for a new scale of values.
Language is not a consolidating factor, thats why general consciousness of
Homeland is given an exclusive role. This is also important from pragmatic
point of view; only if generally conscious of their Homeland, will the
Kartvelian people be able to perceive the unprecedented achievements the
acting president has made in the last years first of all, the
establishment of control over Ajaria and Abkhazian Svanetia. Otherwise,
all his achievements will look just a zero (in the general consciousness).
Thats why he is forced to regularly appear with the story about notorious
Armenian-Russian plot against Georgia in hope that the factor of external
enemy will consolidate the Georgian society. In his game Mikheil
Saakashvili actually needs nationalists.

 1999-2006 REGNUM News Agency


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