Ghost Towns in Georgia
Georgia was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity in the 4th century. Since then, its position in north western Asia on the coast of the Black Sea but still considering itself to be a European country has led it to be invaded and conquered many times, each time though, fierce nationalist pride has enabled it to fight for independence and whilst suffering in each conflagration it still survives proudly to this day.
The country, thought to have been named after St George, its patron saint, is unusual in having its people derived from neither European nor Asian ethnic origins. Many Georgians believe their ancestry is traced back to Japheth from the bible. Their flag continues the Georgian origins having the George Cross as part of the design.
The country has two independent regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia which gained their independence with the support of Russia whom Georgia considers to be an occupying force.
Georgia is thought to be the location of the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia. Colchis was the domain of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason. The fleece is so called as the Colchians used sheep’s fleece to sift gold from the rivers.
The kingdoms were taken over by the Romans after the expansion of the Roman empire eastwards and it is from the Romans that Georgia turned to Christianity. The link with the Eastern Orthodox Church in neighbouring Turkey influenced Georgian culture, politics and religion for most of the following millennia.
Like many central European nations, internal disorganisation led Georgia to become an easy target for the Seljuks who took over the country. However Georgia managed to negotiate semi autonomy from them in exchange for tribute and Georgian culture and politics thrived for the best part of the next thousand years with the country extending its influence all along the north coast of Turkey and as far east as the Caspian Sea.
In the 12th and 13th centuries Georgia entered a period of renaissance, earlier than its western counterparts including breakthroughs in philosophy and politics.
The Golden Age of Georgia left a legacy of great cathedrals, romantic poetry and literature, and epic poems.
The revival of the Georgian Kingdom was set back after the capital was captured and destroyed by the Mongols. Despite them being beaten off in the 15th century, the descent of the country from a monarchy into fiefdoms again encouraged invasion.
As a result of the ethnic cleansing that came about during the invasions, the population fell to 250,000 and whole villages, towns and regions became deserted.
Despite the promise of help from Russia, the capital was destroyed and the inhabitants massacred at the end of the 18th century.
Recriminations led to the complete ignoring of the treaty at the start of the 19th century when Russia took control of all of Georgia’s land. The only benefit to the Georgian people came when the Persians attacked again in 1805 and were beaten back by Russian forces.
Rather surprisingly, Georgia became a British Protectorate in 1918 following the end of the Great War. A Russian attack in 1920 was successful in ending the protectoracy and gradually Georgia was absorbed into Russian territory.
In World War II 700,000 Georgians fought in the Red Army but many others, hopeful of independence fought for the Germans.
In 1991 Georgia staked its claim for independence once more, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Georgia declared independence. A bloody period of civil war began lasting for four years until a triumvirate made up of the leaders of the factions agreed to run the country.
Squabbles with Russia still dominate Georgian politics and the lead up to the South Ossetian conflict of 2008 saw mass evictions of ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia and South Ossetia with many Ossetians feeling compelled to leave their homes and emigrate to Russia for safety. Many Georgians, Ossetians and Abkhazians were killed in the ensuing conflict as Georgia tried to retake what it considered its own. Russia used the excuse that Georgia had helped Chechens to be able to wade into the conflict against Georgia, leading to the occupation of Georgian territory for a time including parts of the capital Tbilisi.
Whilst nominally peaceful, some areas of the country do still pose a threat to tourists. There are many natural wonders to be seen including the Voronya Cave, the deepest in the world and the snows and glaciers of the Caucasus Mountains.
The climate is excellent for growing grapes and Georgia produces over 500 varieties of good quality wine, most of which used to be exported to Russia.
The country suffered a 75% drop in GDP after its independence from Russia but has worked hard to recover and is now a rapidly growing economy.
Tourism is an increasingly important part of the Georgian economy. About a million tourists brought US$313 million to the country in 2006. According to the government, there are 103 holiday resorts and tourist attractions include more than 2000 mineral springs and over 12,000 historical and cultural monuments, four of which are recognised by UNESCO.
Within these are the ghost towns, emptied of life by conflict, many still showing the bullet holes, explosives damage and bloodstains of war. One can only look on with sadness and imagine the horror when the inhabitants who, only months before, had lived there happily and now were leaving in fear of their lives.