On Some Issues of the History of Georgia
- July 19, 2019
We have to touch some utterance on the history of Georgia that President of Russia V. Putin made in Yekaterinburg on July 9. Unfortunately, in his speech there were some incorrect presentations of the history of Georgia, in particular, those concerning relations with Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia. And this is not the first time this has happened- and each time it has, Georgian scientists have repeatedly given the proper response.
The territories where the Ossetians and Abkhazians now live are historically Georgian. Ivane Javakhishvili researched the issue of Georgia’s borders thoroughly (see, Georgian Borders in Historical and Contemporary Terms, Tb., 1919). Based on historical sources, it is clear that the eastern border of the medieval state of Georgia ran on the White Waters or Chaghan Usun (Chronicler).
The title of David IV The Builder was “The King of Abkhazians, Georgians, Rans, Kakhetians, Armenians, the Sharnavashah and the Shahanshah”. These are the lands that belonged to his great kingship. David The Builder emphasized in his last will that his “won” lands extended “from Nikophsia to the Wall of Daruband and from Ovseti (Ossetia) to the Aragats”. Queen Tamar’s title is the same as that of David The Builder. This reflects the political strength and geographical size of Georgia.
Perhaps we should not have gone into so much detail about Georgia’s historical boundaries, but let it be known that any attempt to falsify the history of Georgia will be met with true and verifiable historical data. Abkhaz and Ossetian scholars should also be well-aware of this.
Dimitri Gulia, the founder of Abkhazian literature and historiography, emphasized: “Abkhazia, which has always been an integral part of Georgia, has lived one life with it through all her history, organically participated in the creation of Georgian culture and statehood, having played a significant role in the struggle for freedom and independence of the country, in the struggle to unite individual Georgian tribes and regions into a powerful national state of Georgia (D. Gulia, About my book `History of Abkhazia ).
It is well-established that Ossetians settled in the North Caucasus (on the territory of present-day North Ossetia) centuries ago, along with the Scythian-Sarmatian tribes (note that the Ossetian language belongs to the North-East group of Iranian languages). In the X-XII centuries, the Kingdom of the Ossetia had relations with different countries, including Georgia (in XI-XII cc Ossetia was Georgia’s vassal country). The invasions of Tamerlane ended the unification of the Ossetians, and they were dispersed in different directions (Hungary, the Balkans, etc.). Some Ossetians tried to settle in Kartli, but were stopped by the Georgians and forced back. In XVII-XVIII cc., Ossetians came to the foothills and a narrow strip of the plain of Georgia (north of Kartli). A small part (Kudaro Ossetians) settled in the Imereti Kingdom.
In Kartli, the Ossetians settled on the lands that belonged to the Georgian princes Machabeli and Eristavi of Aragvi and Ksani. They served feudal lords as Georgian serfs did. Ossetians fought against invaders together with Georgians.
It was very surprising to read your statement in an interview to CNN, made when you were Prime Minister, where you said that once there was a single Ossetia in Russia, that consisted of the current North and South Ossetia; that Stalin divided Ossetia and gave South Ossetia to Georgia, where an autonomous region was made of it; that the same Stalin handed over the territory of Abkhazia to Georgia to set up an autonomous republic of Abkhazia. Obviously, those who provide you with such information do you a disservice. When making loud statements, one should use only verified information. Unfortunately, much of the history of Russian-Ossetian relations has recently been falsified.
It is enough to read the research by the Ossetian historian, Professor G. Togolashvili, his articles for Georgian Encyclopedia, especially the special volume “Georgian SSR”, the chapter ‘South Ossetian Autonomous District, South Ossetia’ (1981, pp. 337-339), to get an idea of the real history of South Ossetia. From this perspective, it is interesting to get acquainted also with the works by V. Abayev, b. Pliev, o. Tedeeva, Z. Gagloitti, p. Doguzov and others.
Vasil Abaev, the patriarch of the Ossetian science writes:
“The main Caucasian ridge is the natural border between Georgia and Ossetia, and any attempt to blur this border will entail a state of permanent conflict between Georgians and Ossetians … we must first talk about South Ossetia’s secession from Georgia. No Georgian government will ever agree with this and it will be right because it would mean a violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity.
He who wants peace between South Ossetians and Georgians, must forever reject the idea of joining South Ossetia to North Ossetia. This idea must also be abandoned by those who want peace between Georgia and Russia. Such is the reality.” (`Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 1992, 22. I., № 13).
This is the opinion of a true Ossetian patriot, great scholar and public figure. No comment needed. Sadly, neither Ossetian nor Russian functionaries have taken this wisdom into consideration.
Recently, the Russian media has been spreading an absurd statement that in 1774, by the force of the Kuchuk-Kaynarji peace treaty signed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Russia was joined by Ossetia, which in their interpretation included also the northern part of the Georgian province Shida Kartli, the subsequent “South Ossetian Autonomous Region.” On July 10, 2004, the Russian Duma made an irresponsible and absurd statement that in 1774, Ossetia voluntarily joined Russia and therefore it was the Russian government’s duty to protect the rights of citizens of Ossetia.
Here, we are dealing with at the very least the ignorance of history. The fact is that the geographical notion of “Ossetia” did not exist at that time and, of course, there was no such state. The Ossetians who lived in the Kartli mountains considered themselves fugitives. Russian officials had been trying to introduce the invented terms “North Ossetia” and “South Ossetia” from the late 19th century. Until the 19th century, there was no document to prove that the Shida Kartli mountains might have been called Ossetia. In reality, in 1774, the Russian Empire was joined by just the Ossetian communes of the three Caucasian valleys: Alagir, Kurtat and Tagauri. The fourth commune, Digoria, was in Kabarda and joined Russia in 1781. As for the northern part of Shida Kartli, where the Autonomous District of South Ossetia was subsequently established, it first was a part of Single Georgia, then of the Kartli Kingdom and finally of the Kartl-Kakheti Kingdom.
The materials attached to the Treaty of Georgievsk of 1783 allow us to assert that the northern part of Shida Kartli, with its northernmost edge Dvaleti, was a province of the Kartli-Kakheti Kingdom (in XVII century Giorgi Saakadze was the Governor of Dvaleti). Following the annexation of Georgia by Russia in 1801, the northern part of Shida Kartli, together with Dvaleti, was joined to the Imereti Governorate, then to the Gori district of the Tbilisi Governorate. In 1858, by the decree of the Viceroy of Caucasia Alexander Bariatinski, Dvaleti was transferred to the Okrug Ossetia. Thus, to the North Ossetia was joined only Dvaleti and not the entire territory of Shida Kartli, where the “South Ossetian Autonomous District” was subsequently formed.
It is noteworthy that the term “South Ossetia” began coming into use in the 1860s. Before, in all the official documents of Russia, Ossetians residing in Georgia were referred to with the quite correct term – Ossetians of North Kartli.
After the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1918, as the October Revolution demolished the Russian Empire, Dvaleti reentered Georgia. By the agreement signed between Russia and the Democratic Republic of Georgia on May 7, 1920, the Georgian-Russian border was delimited as passing along the main ridge of the Caucasus and, naturally, Dvaleti, the northernmost part of Shida Kartli remained part of Georgia.
Russia intended to annex the Shida Kartli region and for that reason tried to stir up a conflict between Ossetians and Georgians. Soviet Russia managed to provoke an armed uprising in Ossetia and Shida Kartli with the aim of establishing Soviet power in “South Ossetia,” wresting it from Georgia and annexing it to Russia. After that, they could occupy the entire Republic of Georgia.
In 1920, Soviet Russia and the Bolsheviks supported rebellious Ossetians in establishing the Soviet power in South Ossetia and declaring the territory part of Soviet Russia. This act went against all international standards: the territorial integrity of Georgia was blatantly violated and the opinion and will of the Georgian population ignored. The decree by the Caucasus Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) of March 23, 1920 reads:
“1. Organize a revolutionary committee in South Ossetia … 2. Declare Soviet power … 3. Immediately form an armed detachment. 4. Get in touch with North Ossetia … release 100 thousand rubles (one hundred thousand rubles) at the disposal of the Revolutionary Committee.
The documents include this report:
” Moscow, Central Committee of the RCP (B), Comrades Lenin and Chicherin. In compliance with the order of the Caucasian Regional Committee of March 23, confirmed by special couriers of the same Committee … Soviet power was proclaimed on June 8 in South Ossetia.”
There are other documents too, which make clear who was inciting Ossetians to a fratricidal war. Thus, accusing the Georgian “nationalist chauvinist” government of the genocide of the Ossetian people is immoral, to say the least.
In February 1921, the insidious plan of Soviet Russia and the Bolshevik Party against the will of the Georgian people was implemented, which was, in fact, another annexation of Georgia (for the second time). Thus, Soviet Russia violated the agreement of May 7, 1920. In April 1922, Bolsheviks granted so-called South Ossetia the status of autonomous district, without any legal grounds whatsoever.
As for North Ossetia, historic homeland of Ossetians, after two years (July 1924), it was granted the status of an autonomous republic and remained in Russia. The “South Ossetian autonomous district” was made up of more-or-less Ossetian-settled lands and “supplemented” with a Georgian city of Tskhinvali (according to the “`Кавказский календарь” of 1900, Tskhinvali by that time was settled with Georgians, Georgian Jews, and Armenians) together with several Georgian villages around the city. This happened with use of force and caused the fair outrage of the Georgian population (materials from the book ‘History of Relations between Georgian and Ossetian Peoples,’ Tb., 1991, pp. 56-73). The creation of an autonomous district in which the Georgian population became a minority in its own homeland was a gross violation of both human and national rights and freedoms.
We should emphasize here that in Georgia, Ossetians had been granted all the conditions necessary for the development of their culture and economy. In the years of 1990-91, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were 100 Ossetian high schools in Georgia, with 90 of them in South Ossetia. Education in each was given in the Ossetian language, with the Ossetian language and literature taught as independent subjects. In Tskhinvali there was a Pedagogical Institute, an Institute of Teacher Retraining, an agricultural college, medical, musical and art schools, vocational and technical schools, and more. According to the 1979 census, South Ossetia was ranked second in the Soviet Union by the number of university graduates per capita.
In 1927, the Institute of Regional Geography was established, to be later transformed into the Institute of South Ossetian Language, Literature and History (within the Academy of Sciences of Georgia). In Tskhinvali several volumes of the History of Ossetia (documents and materials), two volumes of the History of South Ossetia, a four-volume Explanatory dictionary of the Ossetian language, a three-volume collection of Ossetian tales, several volumes of the History of Ossetian literature, and a collection of Ossetian songs (with musical notes) were prepared and published. Functioning in Tskhinvali were a State National Theater, the Museum of Regional Geography, an Art Gallery, and a Public Library, as were associations of writers, artists, composers; a musical and choreographic society, and a national ensemble of song and dance.
In South Ossetia, the radio was broadcasting in the native language; newspapers, magazines, and fiction were published also in Ossetian. In 1988, in the autonomous district of South Ossetia had published about 5 times more books for each 10 thousand Ossetians than in North Ossetia, with 3 times more copies. As we see, the Georgian state and people provided Ossetians every opportunity for national-cultural, socio-political and economic development.
As for the autonomous republic of North Ossetia, which was a part of Russia, here is a small excerpt from a publication by A, Galazov, the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of North Ossetia, that describes the state of affairs: “I am always sincerely sorry for young people of my nationality, when, despite a knowledge of foreign languages and world civilization, they feel uncomfortable at home due to the ignorance of the elementary foundations of Ossetian culture … National youth, for example, deprived of their native language. Until last year, in North Ossetia there was in fact not a single school with the Ossetian language of education.” (Pravda newspaper, 1989, 11 – XI). No comments.
Against the historical truth goes the allegation by the secessionists that Georgia, or even only Western Georgia, was ever part of Abkhazia. The history falsifiers argue allegedly that in the 70s of the seventh century, Leon II, Prince of Abkhazia, who at last broke free from Byzantine rule, declared himself the King of Abkhazia and shifted the capital from Anakophia to Kutaisi. In reality, at that time, as well as for many centuries before, Kutaisi had been one of the strongest political and cultural centers of Georgia.
In reality, the announcement of Leon II and the transfer of the capital became possible only due to the strong support of Georgian political circles. All in all, we can boldly state that: 1. The Kingdom of Abkhazia was a Georgian kingdom 2. The kings of Abkhazia were Georgians by their cultural belonging and 3. Their strategic political course had always been in line with Georgian domestic and foreign policy. For centuries, they worked for the unification of the Georgian state. On the basis of this, we can conclude that the declaration of Kutaisi as the capital of the Kingdom of Abkhazia was not indicative that Kutaisi, Imereti, and all Western Georgia were part of Abkhazia, but just the other way around: it once again proves that Abkhazia was part of the Kingdom of Georgia.
About another falsification. As proof that Abkhazia has always been independent, separatists and their supporters claim that Abkhazia joined Russia voluntarily in 1810, whereas Georgia joined in 1801. This is a deception. It is well known from history that in 1801, Russia annexed only the eastern part of Georgia – the Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti. Western Georgia, the Kingdom of Imereti, the principalities of Guria and Samegrelo, were annexed by Russia separately, in different years, over the course of more than 30 years. Russia annexed Abkhazia in parts: Samurzakano in 1805, Abkhazia proper in 1810, Tsebelda in the 1830s. Interestingly, the 1810 appeal to the Russian Emperor to join Abkhazia to Russia was written in the Georgian language.
When Georgia became Soviet in 1921, Abkhazia was a part of Georgia and remained so thereafter. Therefore, nobody could transfer this territory to Georgia, be it Russia or Stalin. The treaty of May 7, 1920 recognized Abkhazia as an integral part of Georgia.
The territory of modern Abkhazia, despite the well-known unfounded claims (approved by Russian officials), has historically always been an organic part of the Georgian ethnic and political state (see Z. Papaskiri, ‘On the Social-State Image of Abkhazia / Georgia,’ Tb. 2003). On June 11, 1918, an agreement was signed between the People’s Council of Abkhazia and the leadership of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, by which Abkhazia was united with the rest of Georgia with the right to autonomy. This decision was approved by the newly elected People’s Council of Abkhazia on March 20, 1919. On October 16, 1920, the Constitution of Abkhazia was adopted, which emphasized the autonomous status of Abkhazia within the Democratic Republic of Georgia.
This provision, in turn, was enshrined in the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, adopted by the Constituent Council on February 21, 1921. After the overthrow of the independent Georgian government and the establishment of Soviet power on December 16, 1921, Abkhazia entered Georgia under a special “Union Agreement,” as a “Treaty Republic,” although from the very beginning it was actually considered an autonomous unit of Georgia. In 1931, Abkhazia was transformed into an autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASPR) of Georgia.
Until August 2008, Russia recognized Abkhazia as integral part of Georgia. In 1864, the last ruler of Abkhazia, Mikhail Shervashidze, and his posterity were permanently deprived of the right to govern Abkhazia, the Principality was abolished, and Abkhazia was named the Sukhumi Military Department. However, the Russian Emperor left Abkhazia as part of Georgia, within the Kutaisi governorate, while the military department was subordinated to the governor-general of Kutaisi.
Abkhazia was recognized as part of Georgia throughout the 20th century.
In December 1922, Georgia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, not Abkhazia. Abkhazia was part of the Soviet Union only as part of Georgia. Abkhazia never had a separate treaty with Russia, never had a representative in Russia and Russia never had an official representation in Abkhazia, whereas in Georgia it did, and Georgia had its official representation in Russia.
The recognition of Abkhazia as being part of Georgia by Russia, as well as by the Soviet Union, is supported by the very important fact that the communist party of Abkhazia has never been considered as an independent branch, but only within the Communist Party of Georgia; as a party organization of autonomy, with its regional committee subordinated to the central committee of the Communist Party of Georgia.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, independent Russia recognized the territorial integrity of Georgia with Abkhazia as part of it. Despite the fact that after the conflict in Abkhazia, the de facto authorities of the breakaway region held various elections, until 2008, the hand of Russia signed the recognition of the territorial integrity of Georgia in many documents, international ones among them. Among the most significant are documents signed by the President of the Russian Federation and other high-level officials within the Commonwealth of the Independent States, which recognized Abkhazia as an integral part of Georgia.
Separatists often argue that they were allowed to secede from Georgia by a UN Declaration of 1970, which reads self-determination as one of the main political-legal principles of democratic regulation of national relations. This is true, but they forget that the United Nations also declared three political-legal requirements that must be met: 1. Find out to whom the territory belongs on which the self-determination is requested; 2. Define the ethnic composition of the inhabitants of said area; 3. All the nationalities inhabiting the area should express the will to secede and not just some. If even one of these three requirments is not met, the UN believes that self-determination cannot be considered. In the case of Abkhazia, all three principles were violated. The fourth principle was violated too, of the international law this time: the principle of inviolability of territorial integrity of the country.
It is surprising to hear open statements made by various high and top-level Russian officials that Abkhazia’s independence was a symmetric response to the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the UN. But how could that relate to Georgia? Why should Georgia be punished if Georgia never supported Kosovo’s independence? We believe that this is not a symmetrical, but obviously an inadequate and unfair response.
The separatist movement began in Abkhazia in the 1950s and was supported by the Soviet leadership. The peak came in the late 80s and early 90s when the separatists managed to stir up a fratricidal war. In the autumn of 1993, largely due to the support of regular Russian military units, Abkhaz secessionists won a “victory” in the armed confrontation with Georgia. For the past 20-25 years, as Georgian authorities could not control them, Abkhazia and Tskhinvali have remained beyond Georgian jurisdiction.
We are convinced that we can handle the current global challenges our countries are facing only with a fair assessment of history, our rich common history first of all, through unbiased and fair analysis of historical facts.
The Georgian nation has a long and proud history, and it will protect it no matter what happens.
Georgian National Academy of Sciences