As I was climbing the steps to the 18th Century fortress three years ago on my first visit to Sighnaghi – a town that is walled with the remnants of 18 century fortifications – I pictured Georgians fighting for their country.
Georgians call their country Sakartvelo which literally means “a place for Georgians.” And it is this place where Georgians suffered and lived through centuries of tyranny – internal and external until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
First the Romans, then the Arabs, Mongols, Turks, and Persians invaded Georgia ending with 70 years of Soviet occupation.
A few critical dates in Georgian history:
Beginning with the period of antiquity, the kingdoms in western and eastern Georgia (Colchis) gradually fell to the Roman Empire by 66 BC, with western Georgia becoming for a long period an integral part of the empire, and eastern Georgia remaining a Roman client state and ally for nearly 400 years.
In the first half of the 4th century, Christianity was adopted as the state religion of Iberia(present-day Kartli, or Eastern Georgia), following the missionary work of Saint Nino of Cappadocia.
Although Arabs captured the capital city of Tbilisi in AD 645, Kartli-Iberia retained considerable independence under local Arab rulers.
Tbilisi was captured and destroyed by the Persian leader Jalal ad-Din in 1226.
The Georgian Kingdom reached its Golden Age in the 12th to early 13th centuries.
In the 15th century, the Georgian Kingdom totally disintegrated due to internal feuding and the Turkoman invasion.
Beginning in the 16th century, the Persian Empire and the Ottoman Empire subjugated the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively. The Turks and Persians invaded in 1785 and in 1795.
With every invasion and occupation, the heavy yoke of feudalism became a debilitating way of life for Georgians. Could the Georgians survive and hold on to their culture, language and religion – more importantly how could Georgians keep from losing their identity as a people?
Stay tuned for Part 2