Georgia has existed as a state on a sporadic basis since classical times. The first Georgian state can be traced to the 4th century BC . Throughout its history Georgia has been conquered by the Romans, Iranians, the Arabs, the Turks, the Mongols and the Hordes of Tamerlane. Georgia did enjoy independence for short periods of time from the 6th to the 12th centuries AD . The Mongols invaded and conquered Georgia by 1236. Later the Ottoman and Persian empires competed for control of the region. Western Georgia became a Russian protectorate in 1783. All of Georgia was absorbed directly in the Russian empire during the 19th century.
During the tumult of the Russian revolution, Georgia declared its independence on 26 May 1918. Twenty-two countries recognized this new state, including Soviet Russia. Nonetheless, the Soviet Red Army invaded in February 1921 and Georgia's brief independence came to an end.
Many Georgians fell victim in the late 1920s and 1930s to Soviet collectivization, crash industrialization, and Stalin's purges (despite his Georgian-Ossetian ethnic origins). Nationalist riots were brutally suppressed in 1924 and 1956, and nationalist mass demonstrations occurred in 1978 and 1988. In April 1989, many Georgian demonstrators were murdered, some with shovels, by Soviet military and police forces during a peaceful protest against perceived Russian support for Abkhaz autonomy demands.
Georgia's first multiparty legislative elections, held in October 1990, resulted in a victory for the party coalition Round Table-Free Georgia, headed by academic and dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia. He was subsequently selected by the deputies to serve as chairman of the legislature. Following a March 1991 referendum, a formal declaration of independence was unanimously approved by the legislature on April 9. Gamsakhurdia was popularly elected as president in May, but still faced opposition from, among others, parties belonging to the National Congress, a national liberation body formed in October 1990. The Mkhedrioni paramilitary group, led by Jaba Ioseliani, was allied with the National Congress. During 1991, Gamsakhurdia's erratic attempts to remake Georgian society and politics caused the head of the National Guard, Tengiz Kitovani, to also join the opposition. The National Guard and Mkhedrioni spearheaded a general assault to overthrow Gamsakhurdia in December 1991, forcing him to flee the country in early January 1992.
A military council formed by Ioseliani, Kitovani, and others assumed power, suspending the Soviet-era constitution (and replacing it with one from 1921), dissolving the legislature, and declaring emergency rule. Former Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze (the Communist Party boss of Georgia from 1972 to 1985) was invited in early March 1992 to head a provisional government. He formed a civilian State Council to rule until elections could be held, and was elected head of its four-member presidium. During legislative elections in October 1992, he was elected speaker in an uncontested race. The new legislature granted Shevardnadze wide-ranging powers as head of state pending completion of a new constitution. In May 1993, Shevardnadze moved to consolidate his power by securing the resignations of Kitovani and Ioseliani from government posts. Gamsakhurdia returned from exile in September 1993 to the western Georgian region of Mingrelia and led a revolt to unseat Shevardnadze. Pro-Shevardnadze forces, assisted by the Russian military, were able to put down the revolt by early November 1993. Gamsakhurdia's death was reported in early January 1994. In further moves by Shevardnadze to consolidate power, Kitovani was arrested in January 1995 for planning an illegal paramilitary attack on Abkhazia, and he neutralized Ioseliani's Mkhedrioni.
Several of Georgia's ethnic minorities stepped up their dissident and separatist actions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. South Ossetians in 1989 called for their territory to be joined with North Ossetia in Russia, or for independence. Repressive efforts by former Georgian president Gamsakhurdia triggered conflict in 1990, reportedly leading to about 1,500
deaths and 50,000 displaced persons, mostly ethnic Georgians. In June 1992, Russian president Boris Yeltsin brokered a cease-fire, and a predominantly Russian military "peacekeeping" force numbering about 500 was stationed in South Ossetia. A coordinating commission on settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, composed of OSCE, Russian, Georgian, and North and South Ossetian emissaries, meets regularly, but rapprochement remains elusive. The November 1999 OSCE Summit Declaration urged Georgia and South Ossetia to agree on resettling displaced persons and called for international aid for the region. In his state of the nation speech on 9 February 2000, Shevardnadze praised the Russian peacekeepers and successes in reconciliation between ethnic Ossetians and Georgians.
Georgia's southern Ajaria region is to a large extent self-governing, under conditions resembling a police state. Ajaria's authorities claim that regional laws take precedence over national laws, and Shevardnadze has had to undertake extensive negotiations to establish national law in the region.
The Abkhaz conflict has resulted in about 10,000 deaths and over 200,000 refugees and displaced persons, mostly ethnic Georgians. In July 1992, the Abkhaz Supreme Soviet declared its effective independence from Georgia. This prompted Georgian national guardsmen to attack Abkhazia. In October 1992, the UN Security Council (UNSC) approved the first UN observer mission to a NIS state, termed UNOMIG, to help reach a settlement. In September 1993, Russian and North Caucasian "volunteer" troops that reportedly made up the bulk of Abkhaz separatist forces broke a cease-fire and quickly routed Georgian forces. Abkhaz-Georgian talks leading to a cease-fire were held under UN auspices, with the participation of Russia and the OSCE. In April 1994, the two sides signed framework accords on a political settlement and on the return of refugees and displaced persons. A Quadripartite Commission was set up to discuss repatriation, composed of Abkhaz and Georgian representatives and emissaries from Russia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The next month, a cease-fire was signed by Georgia and Abkhazia, providing for Russian troops (acting as Commonwealth of Independent States or CIS peacekeepers) to be deployed in a security zone along the Inguri River, which divides Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia. The Russian Defense Ministry in 1999 reported the deployment of about 1,700 peacekeepers.
The US Special Negotiator for Regional Conflicts works with the UN Secretary General, his Special Representative, and other Friends of Georgia (France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to facilitate a peace settlement. Current strength of UNOMIG military observers (as of December 2002) was 117, with 91 international civilian personnel and 175 local civilian staff supporting them. According to the UNSC resolution, UNOMIG forces are to "monitor and verify" the cease-fire, "observe the operation of the CIS peacekeeping force," patrol the security zone, investigate and attempt to resolve violations of the cease-fire, and "contribute to conditions conducive to the safe and orderly return of refugees and displaced persons." The UNSC agreed that cooperation with the CIS (Russian) forces was a reflection of trust placed in Russia. Under various agreements, the Russian peacekeepers are to respond to UNOMIG reports of cease-fire violations, carry out de-mining, and provide protection for UNOMIG's unarmed observers. The UN Secretary General and the UNSC have officially viewed the cooperation of the Russian peacekeepers with UNOMIG as mainly unobjectionable. Increasing attacks on UNOMIG forces have led to limited patrolling and added security measures.
A major point of contention between the two sides is Georgia's demand that displaced persons be allowed to return to Abkhazia, after which an agreement on broad autonomy for Abkhazia may be negotiated. The Abkhazians have insisted upon recognition of their "equal status" with Georgia as a precondition to large-scale repatriation. The CIS in 1997–1998 endorsed Shevardnadze's call for creating a special Abkhaz-Georgian administration, with UN and OSCE participation, to first seek peace in Abkhazia's Gali area, and to expand the security zone and give Russian peacekeepers police powers. Abkhazia refused to countenance changing the peacekeeping mandate. Although Shevardnadze has criticized the failures of the Russian peacekeepers, in February 2000 he stated that he saw no alternative to their presence, since no other international forces have come forward.
After a hiatus of two years, UN-sponsored peace talks were reconvened in mid-1997. In late 1997, the sides agreed to set up a Coordinating Council to discuss cease-fire maintenance and refugee, economic, and humanitarian issues. Coordinating Council talks and those of the Quadripartite Commission have been supplemented by direct discussions between an envoy from Vladislav Ardzinba, whom Abkhazian separatists have elected as their president, and the Georgian State Secretary. Abkhaz forces in mid-1998 reportedly expelled 30,000–40,000 ethnic Georgians who resided in the Gali area. In June 1999 in Istanbul, the two sides agreed to resume contacts they had cut off the year before, and a working group agreed to implement the separation of warring forces. The November 1999 OSCE Summit Declaration urged Georgia and Abkhazia to end the deadlock on talks, proposed a UN-OSCE effort to work out a constitutional division of powers between Georgia and Abkhazia, condemned "ethnic cleansing" of the Georgian population from the Gali region of Abkhazia, and proposed a UN-OSCE fact-finding mission to Gali to assess the state of ethnic cleansing in the region and facilitate the safe return of displaced persons. The OSCE also criticized the holding of a separatist presidential election and referendum on independence in Abkhazia as not contributing to a peace settlement. Georgian State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze visited Sukhumi in early February 2000, and the two sides agreed to exchange prisoners and stabilize the opposing forces in the Gali and Zugdidi areas at the border.
In November 1995, Eduard Shevardnadze was elected to the re-created post of president, receiving 74.32% of the vote in a six-person race, and a new parliament was selected. International observers termed the elections generally free and fair nationwide except in the region of Ajaria.
Seven candidates were registered to run in Georgia's 9 April 2000, presidential election. The major challengers to Shevardnadze were Jumbar Patiashvili, former first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party (who ran in the 1995 presidential race), and Aslan Abashidze, Chairman of the Ajarian Supreme Council. Both challengers were leaders of the Revival Bloc that contested the 1999 legislative races. Abashidze did not actively campaign and withdrew from the race one day before the vote, alleging an unfair contest. Other speculation was that he withdrew in return for concessions from Shevardnadze on local power and finances. Voting did not take place in Abkhazia or South Ossetia. The Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC) reported that Shevardnadze received 80% of 1.87 million votes and Patiashvili received 17% (less than he received in 1995). The 150 OSCE monitors reported on April 10 that the election did not meet OSCE standards, though "fundamental freedoms were generally respected during the election campaign and candidates were able to express their views." They stressed that the government aided the incumbent, state media were biased, vote counting and tabulation procedures lacked uniformity and, at times, transparency, ballot box stuffing had taken place, and some voting protocols reportedly had been tampered with.
In March 2001, officials from Georgia and Abkhazia signed an accord stating they would not use force against one another. However, meetings between the two sides were cancelled later in the year due to continuing hostilities and hostage incidents. On 8 October 2001, a UNOMIG helicopter was shot down over Abkhazia, and all nine people on board were killed. As of February 2003, those responsible for the downing had not been identified. In August 2002, Georgia and Abkhazia failed to come to an agreement on the withdrawal of Abkhaz fighters from the Kodori Gorge, the only enclave controlled by Georgia in Abkhazia. Georgia was concerned that Russians were supporting the Abkhaz fighters. In January 2003, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared little progress had been made on talks to determine the future status of Abkhazia, and that the mandate for UNOMIG should be extended another six months, until 31 July 2003.Upon coming into his second term in office, Shevardnadze claimed he would fight corruption and low living standards, undertake market reforms, and protect the territorial integrity of Georgia. Georgia desired NATO membership, and on 22 November 2002, Shevardnadze formally requested that Georgia be invited into the alliance. Russia did not immediately react to the announcement. In 1999, the OSCE demanded that Russia remove all of its troops from Georgia. In 2001, Russia vacated the Gudauta and Vaziani bases and the Marneuli military airfield, but did not agree to a time frame for a departure from the Akhalkalaki and Batumi military bases. One sore spot in Georgian-Russian relations remains the situation in Chechnya. Russian officials have accused Georgia of aiding Chechen rebels, especially in the Pankisi Gorge region of Georgia. Russia regards the armed conflict in Chechnya as a part of the international campaign against terrorism, and has demanded Georgia cooperate in combating Chechens in the region. In September 2002, Russia warned Georgia that it would take military action if Georgia failed to deal with Chechen rebels in the Pankisi Gorge. The United States, since 11 September 2001, has claimed that members of the al-Qaeda organization are operating in the Pankisi Gorge, and has enlisted Georgia's support in undertaking anti-terror operations there. In April and May 2002, US Special Forces arrived in Georgia to train and equip troops for counterterrorist operations. On 8 February 2003, Russia claimed that terrorists recently arrested in Great Britain and France had trained in the Pankisi Gorge, and used laboratories built there to produce the poisonous toxin ricin that can be used as an agent in chemical warfare.
In September 2002, construction began on a multi-billion dollar pipeline to carry Caspian oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia.