Georgia is located on the borders of Europe and Asia, facing the Black Sea. The land is rugged with the Caucasus Mountains forming its northern border. The highest mountain in this range, Mount Elbrus (5,642m [18,506ft]), lies over the border in Russia.
Lower ranges run through S Georgia, through which pass the borders with Turkey and Armenia. The Black Sea coastal plains are in the W. In the E a low plateau extends into Azerbaijan. The main river in the E is the River Kura, on which the capital Tbilisi stands.
The Black Sea plains have hot summers and mild winters, when the temperature seldom drops below freezing. Rainfall is heavy, but inland Tbilisi has moderate rainfall, with the heaviest rains in the spring and early summer.
The land of the legendary Golden Fleece, Georgia has a strong national culture and a long literary tradition. From the 6th century bc the two Black Sea kingdoms of Iberia and Colchis developed in E and W Georgia respectively. In 66 bc the Roman Empire conquered both kingdoms. Christianity was introduced in ad 330 and most Georgians are now members of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The area was ruled successively by Romans, Sassanid Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, and Seljuk Turks before Georgia finally freed itself from foreign rule in the 11th century. The 12th century was Georgia's greatest period of cultural, economic, and military expansion. Mongol armies invaded in the 13th century and, from the 16th to the 18th centuries, Iran and the Turkish Ottoman Empire struggled for control of the area.
In the late 18th century, Georgia sought the protection of Russia and, by the early 19th century, it was part of the Russian Empire. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia declared itself independent and was recognized by the League of Nations. However, Russian troops invaded in 1921, making Georgia part of the Soviet regime. From 1922, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were linked, forming the Republic of Transcaucasia. In 1936 the territories became separate republics within the Soviet Union. Renowned for their longevity, the people of Georgia are famous for producing Josef Stalin, who was born in Gori, 65km [40mi] NW of the capital Tbilisi. Stalin ruled the Soviet Union from 1929 until his death in 1953.
In April 1991 Georgia was the first Soviet republic after the Baltic states to declare independence. It deferred joining the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) until 1993.
In 1991 Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a non-Communist who had been democratically elected president of Georgia in 1990, was besieged in Tbilisi's KGB headquarters by rebel forces. They represented widespread opposition to his government's policies, ranging from the economy to the imprisonment of his opponents. In January 1992, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Gamsakhurdia fled the country and a military council took power.
Georgia contains three regions of minority peoples: South Ossetia, in N central Georgia, where civil war broke out in the early 1990s, with nationalists demanding the right to set up their own governments; Abkhazia in the NW, which proclaimed its sovereignty in 1994 with fierce fighting continuing until the late 1990s; Adjaria (or Adzharia) in the SW, whose autonomy was recognized in Georgia's constitution in 2000.
In March 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze, former Soviet Foreign Minister, was named head of state and was elected, unopposed, later that year. Shevardnadze was re-elected in 1995 and 2000, but Georgia faced mounting problems, which threatened its stability. In 2001, Georgia and Abkhazia signed a peace accord and agreed to the safe return of refugees.In 2002, Russian and Georgian troops attacked Chechen rebels in Pankisi Gorge in NE Georgia. US officials believed that Taliban fighters from Afghanistan and other Islamic terrorists had also moved into this region. In 2004, Mikhail Saakashvili was elected president, but his authority was challenged by separatists in the three minority regions. In 2006 Saakashvili criticised Russian support for the separatists as relations with Russia worsened.
Georgia is a developing country. Agriculture is important. Major products include barley, citrus fruits, grapes for wine-making, maize, tea, tobacco and vegetables. Food processing, and silk- and perfume-making are other important activities. Sheep and cattle are reared.
Barite (barium ore), coal, copper and manganese are mined, and tourism is a major industry on the Black Sea coast. Georgia's mountains have huge potential for generating hydroelectric power, but most of Georgia's electricity is generated in Russia or Ukraine.
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