Sakartvelo, a country embracing future Daniel Zvereff's images on Georgian history and culture

The country of Georgia is situated centrally in southwestern Asia in the Caucasus mountains and shares its borders with Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Nine hundred years ago Georgia, or Sakartvelo, the name Georgians have always used to refer to their country, was invaded by the Persians who called it “Gurgan, Land of the Wolves”.  Yet, despite invasions, occupations, and its proximity to other countries, it is the only country in the region that has its own alphabet. The oldest found inscriptions of this alphabet show no resemblance to any other language, which adds mystery to its origin and to the country itself.  

In 1918 Georgia established itself as a nation. Three years later, it was invaded by the Soviet Red Army. With the government under Bolshevik control with direct ties to Moscow, Georgia became one of the many vassal states subservient to the growing Soviet Empire soon to be ruled over by Joseph Stalin, himself a Georgian, who eventually rose through the Bolshevik ranks and took over Lenin’s position as the leader of the communist state. It was Stalin who would replace Lenin’s form of socialism with a highly centralized command economy and shape the Soviet Union politically while exterminating and imprisoning millions of “enemies of the state” in his Gulag labor camps.  And so, over the next 90 years, more than 900,000 Georgians, including the Georgian royal family, aristocrats, artists, actors, musicians, scientists, intellectuals— anyone suspected of being a member of bourgeoisie—were either executed or exiled. 

Finally, on May 26, 1991, Georgia declared its independence from the Soviet Union and immediately thereafter was embroiled in a brutal and violent civil war that lasted until 1995. During that time ethnic violence, instigated and supported by Russia, erupted in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and roughly 275,000 ethnic Georgians were either massacred or forced to flee from both those regions. The result was that South Ossetia and Abkhazia became breakaway states propped up and protected by Russia. To this day this stalemated situation continues to be a source of tension and dispute between Russia and Georgia.  

In 2003, the incumbent Georgian government was caught manipulating the parliamentary elections. This gave rise to massive nationwide protests dubbed “The Rose Revolution”, which led to the overthrow of the corrupt former government and the installation of the United National Movement Party as the new governing body.  The new government instituted political democratization and market reforms that resulted in a steep decline in corruption, which is still rampant in other post-Soviet era countries.  

Throughout the region, the Soviet rulers were masters at erasing history and culture, destroying priceless relics and architecture, while covering their satellite nations in a smothering economic socialist cement. In Georgia scars still remain from the long Soviet occupation and much of what remains is a decaying reminder of the past.  Nearly abandoned resort towns, which were once bustling with well-connected Moscovites in search of sulphur baths and healing tinctures, now see a fraction of their visitors. Almost empty castle-facaded hotels, which in the past offered luxury spa services that even included blood and fecal analysis, stand crumbling in the beautiful Georgian countryside. 

Yet, modernization and economic development, once only a dream, are beginning to take hold, and because of Georgia’s natural beauty and the strength of its rich culture, the world is beginning to take notice. Just this year Georgia was rated by the New York Times as a top 50 destination for tourists. A country braced for change, ready to reconnect with its severed past while embracing a hopeful future. 

-Daniel Zvereff

www.zvereff.com

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3 comments

  • Well-written article and images. I hope the tradition of good journalism and photojournalism find solid footing and continue on the Leica blog.

  • It sounds like there was no Georgia before 1918.

    Meanwhile, Georgia pleaded to join Russia in the 19 Century. The plea was granted and Georgia was saved from becoming a part of the Ottoman Empire.

    A serious writer would not try to manipulate history.

  • I really enjoyed this. Strong pictures and informative writing. True to the spirit of the system.

    Very much appreciate the new blog working on mobile too. Keep it up!

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