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In The Russian Empire

 

(Material is from A. Mikaberidze, Historical Dictionary of Georgia (2007) and is copyrighted so please do not use it without explicit written permission)



The Russian tsarist regime was thus established in Georgia. The country was divided into uezds (districts) with Russian officials responsible for maintaining law and order and Russian declared the official language of the country. However, the oppressive rule quickly led to successive uprisings. In 1802-1804, rebellions flared up in Mtiuleti, spreading to Samachablo, Pshavi, Khevsureti, and parts of Kakheti. During the Kakhetian uprising of 1812, Prince Alexander Batonishvili was proclaimed king of Georgia, but the insurgents were soon suppressed. Large peasant uprisings took place in Imereti in 1819-1820, Guria in 1841 and Mingrelia in 1856-1857. Many Georgian nobles, however, became content with their equalization in rights with the Russian aristocracy and entered Russian military service, often reaching the highest ranks. The Commander of the Caucasus Prince Paul Tsitsianov himself was the scion of the noble Georgian family of Tsitsishvili and governed the region in 1802-1806. 

By the mid-19th century, Georgia was divided into two major provinces, the Tiflisskaia gubernia (Tbilisi province) comprised of nine uezds (Tbilisi, Gori, Telavi, Signaghi, Tianeti, Dusheti, Borchalo, Akhaltsikhe and Akhalkalaki) and one okrug (region) of Zakatala; and the Kutaisskaia gubernia (Kutaisi province), which initially included three uezds (Kutaisi, Shorapani and Racha) but later incorporated the districts of Ozurgeti, Zugdidi, Senaki, Lechkhumi and Sukhumi. Throughout the 19th century, the Russian Empire, seeking to extend its territory southward, was engaged in bitter conflict with the Ottomans. Defeats in the Russo-Turkish wars of 1806-1812 and of 1828-1829 forced the Ottoman Empire to surrender the historical Georgian provinces of Meskheti and Javakheti. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, the Batumi region (Batumskii okrug) was annexed to Kutaisi province. Between 1878 and 1918, several other territories of the medieval Kingdom of Georgia were also incorporated and the Russian Empire, thus, inadvertently accomplished “the gathering of the Georgian lands,” the dream that guided so many Georgian kings. Georgia was initially governed by the civilian governor general, who was assisted by three departments of state, criminal and civil cases and the assembly of local nobility (sakrebulo). In 1844, this system was thoroughly revised and the governor general was replaced by namestnik or viceroy of the Russian emperor, who was given unlimited authority in the region.

The governorships of Mikhail Vorontsov (1845-1854) and the Grand Duke Michael (1862-1882) were periods of relative prosperity, educational encouragement and commercial development. Vorontsov was especially instrumental economic development of the region. He solved the divisive problem of who qualified for nobility and confirmed noble status of many claimants and granted the nobles some privileges, which encouraged them to support him and the Russian administration in general. Vorontsov helped establish the free transit of European goods and lower tariffs for imports that helped revive trade. He helped found glass, textile and silk plants and played important role in the transformation of Tbilisi into a Western-style town. On his orders, new buildings, wide avenues and squares were constructed in the old part of Tbilisi and first Georgian and Russian theaters and public library were opened between 1846 and 1850. The Russian authorities, however, established and funded a number of schools and hospitals, greatly improved communications and allowed new generations of the Georgian nobles to study in Russian and European universities. The presence of the Russian troops ended the century-long incursions of the Ottoman, Persian and the North Caucasian forces and brought relative peace and stability to the entire country.

The Russian rule also had a sinister side. The Imperial government considered Georgia a colony that was to supply raw materials and was reluctant to develop major industries in the region. Its authorities often attempted to populate Georgian provinces with loyal colonists and a Christian but non-Georgian population (Armenians, Greeks, Germans, Russian religious minorities) that was settled in Meskheti, Javakheti, Adjara, etc. In Abkhazia and Ossetia, north Caucasian tribes were allowed to move across the mountains to the fertile lowlands. By 1856, over 20 Russian military colonies were established throughout Georgia. Cultural repression became an especial cause of resentment and the suppression of the Georgian Orthodox Church in 1811 turned into a rallying cry for national loyalties. In 1830-1832, a conspiracy of Georgian nobles made the last attempt to throw off Russian rule in Georgia, but it was betrayed and, with its fall, all hopes of a Bagratid restoration ended. 

The late 19th century was marked by the intensification of Pan-Slavist policies that proved ominous for the non-Russian minorities. The Russian officials never recognized the existence of a single Georgian nation and instead contrived various ethnic groups of “Kartvelian origin.” In 1872, the Russian government banned the use of the Georgian for instruction. In an effort to weaken the nationalist revival, it also tried a subtler plan of introducing teaching in the primary schools and public worship in other Kartvelian languages, Megrelian and Svan, which had never before been used for these purposes. The fulfillment of this design would have meant the fragmenting of national unity. Although the Georgian intelligentsia succeeded in undermining this policy, it appeared less successful in Abkhazia, where Russian liturgy and education resulted in the gradual Russification of the local population, which shared a common historical and cultural heritage with the Georgians. 

The social structure of Georgian society also changed. In 1861, serfdom was abolished in Russia and, after prolonged preparations, the peasant reform was implemented in Kartli-Kakheti in 1864, in Imereti in 1865, in Mingrelia in 1867, in Abkhazia in 1870, and in Svaneti in 1871. The reform made things harder for the peasantry that lost lands and suffered under higher taxes. The Georgian middle class and nobility was also disgruntled since the bureaucracy in Georgia was usually staffed by Russians, Russified Germans and Poles while trade remained the monopoly of the Armenians. The latter fact led to the economic dominance of the Armenians and caused ethnic-based tensions with the impoverished Georgian nobility, who still had a feudal mentality but became dependent on Armenian creditors and blamed them for many misfortunes. 

Despite the Russian oppression, Georgian scholarship and literature still enjoyed a revival and greatly contributed to the emergence of a national consciousness. Alexander Chavchavadze, Grigol Orbeliani, Nikoloz Baratashvili and others introduced Romanticism into Georgian literature and had close contacts with their Russian colleagues, including Alexander Griboyedov, Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy, etc. In the late 19th century, the Tergdaleulni group, the young men who crossed the Tergi (Terek) River to study in Russia, played a significant role in these processes as Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Niko Nikoladze and others devoted their efforts to awaken the Georgian national awareness and bring about reforms in society. The Society for Advancement of Literacy Among the Georgians proved effective in its campaign for the revitalization of the Georgian language and culture. This period saw an expansion in the number of Georgian magazines, books and newspapers being published while the works of Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, Rapiel Eristavi, Giorgi Tsereteli, Alexandre Kazbegi, Vazha Pshavela and others raised Georgian literature to new heights. 

By the late 19th century, migration from rural areas and the growth of manufacturing had generated a fairly large and cohesive working class. Georgia was greatly affected by the industrial crisis of the early 20th century and thousands of men lost their jobs. As social and political conditions deteriorated, people became more susceptible to revolutionary causes and the political culture evolved rapidly. The population of western Georgia was politically more active than in other regions and Guria, in spite of large peasant population, was particularly seized by social democratic ideas. Among the rising political factions was the social-democratic Mesame Dasi, established in 1892-1893, to propagate Western European social democratic ideals. Initially influenced by the Russian revolutionaries, especially by the ideas of Vladimir Lenin, the Georgian social democrats eventually espoused less radical approach and, in a subsequent split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Georgia became a Menshevik stronghold. 

In 1901-1904, several strikes and demonstrations were organized in Tbilisi and Batumi. The growing revolutionary movement led to the amalgamation of social-democratic organizations and Congress of Caucasian Social-Democratic Organizations was held in March 1903 and established the Caucasian Joint Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Worker's Party (RSDRP). After the second congress, the members of the Mesame Dasi took a Menshevik stand and opposed the more revolutionary-minded Bolsheviks. In January 1905, a major strike in Tbilisi spread to other industrial centers, including Kutaisi, Poti, Tkibuli, Chiatura and Shorapani, and threatened to grow into a general uprising before it was brutally suppressed. Hundreds of Georgian activists were arrested and exiled. In 1904-1909, Georgian social democrats organized massive support among workers and peasants, especially in Guria, which became a hotbed of revolutionary activities. 

In 1905, facing increasing revolutionary activity, the Imperial government made a series of concessions. The State Duma was summoned in St. Petersburg and a Georgian delegation of deputies, including Noe Zhordania, Isidore Ramishvili, Joseph Baratashvili and others, attended its sessions. Emperor Nicholas II also restored the position of viceroy of Georgia and appointed Count Vorontsov-Dashkov, giving him extended military and civil authority. Georgian social democrats were persecuted and many of them arrested and exiled. One of the most historic events of this period was the assassination of Ilia Chavchavadze near Tsitsamuri on 30 August 1907, which shocked the entire nation. In 1910, another cycle of strikes began and the revolutionary movement gained momentum in 1913, when the workers of the Chiatura manganese mines were joined by their comrades in Zestaponi, Batumi and Poti. By 1914, Tbilisi and other industrial centers in Transcaucasia were on strike. The spread of the revolution was briefly halted by the outbreak of World War I, but as the war dragged on, revolutionary sentiments spread among the troops as well. 


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