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Georgians Kartvelebi Akhali01.jpg
Top row (left to right)
Peter the IberianVakhtang I of IberiaDavid the BuilderQueen Tamar of GeorgiaShota RustaveliErekle II
Middle row Ilia ChavchavadzeVazha-PshavelaMikheil JavakhishviliNiko PirosmanashviliZakaria PaliashviliEkvtime Takaishvili
Bottom row Ivane JavakhishviliKakutsa CholokashviliPatriarch Ilia II of GeorgiaMerab KostavaJohn ShalikashviliSopho Khalvashi
Total population
c. 6-6.1 Million
Regions with significant populations
 Georgia 3,906,000[1]
 Turkey 1,500,000[2]
 Russia 197,934[3]
 United States 140,000
European Union European Union 80,000
 Iran 60,000[4]
 Ukraine 35,200
 Brazil 18,750
 Azerbaijan 14,900
 Japan 12,000
 Singapore 3,500
 France 2,500
 Canada 2,500
 Armenia 1,100
 Argentina 1,050
 Mexico 1,000
 United Kingdom 900

Georgian (including Mingrelian and Svan)


Mainly Christianity of the Eastern Orthodox tradition of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church (83.9%) also some Georgiano-Latin, Greek, and Armenian rites of the Roman Catholic Church (0.8%). Muslim minority (9.9%), chiefly Sunnis of the Hanafi school.[5]

Related ethnic groups


Georgian Kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia 600-150 BC. Copyright©2004 Andrew Andersen

The Georgians (Georgian: ქართველები, kartvelebi) are a South Caucasian people and nation mainly centered in Georgia. They also live in Turkey, Russia, the United States, Iran, and other countries.

The majority of Georgians are Christian and mostly adhere to their national autocephalous Georgian Orthodox Church, which originated in the 4th century. Muslim Georgian communities reside in Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia’s autonomous republic of Adjara.

Descending from some of the earliest settlers in the south of Caucasus, the Georgian people went through a complex process of ethnic consolidation and nation-making. It currently comprises a diverse set of local sub-ethnic communities, each with its characteristic traditions, manners and dialect or—in the case of Mingrelians, Lazes and Svans—language. The Georgian language, with its own alphabet and long written tradition going back to the 5th century, is the language of literacy and education of all Georgians living in Georgia as well as the official language of that country. Georgian, Mingrelian and Svan, together with Laz spoken by the related Laz people chiefly in Turkey, form the South Caucasian or Kartvelian family.

Strategically located on the crossroads between Asia and Europe, the Georgian people have been influenced by many civilizations throughout history. They absorbed features of other cultures and married them to indigenous traditions to produce a vibrant culture which reached its high point of development in the Middle Ages. With their roots in the ancient tribal federations, the Georgians evolved into a highly structured feudal nation and by the early 11th century formed a unified kingdom which emerged as a dominant power in the Caucasus until the Mongol invasions in the 13th century. Threatened by rivaling regional empires and plagued by incessant internal unrest, the Georgians remained more or less independent until the Russian annexation of Georgian polities in the 19th century. They regained national independence—briefly from 1918 to 1921—and finally, from the Soviet Union, in 1991.



Georgians call themselves Kartvelebi (ქართველები), their land Sakartvelo (საქართველო), and their language Kartuli (ქართული). According to The Georgian Chronicles, the ancestor of the Kartvelian people was Kartlos, the great grandson of the Biblical Japheth. Ancient Greeks (Strabo, Herodotus, Plutarch, Homer, etc.) and Romans (Titus Livius, Cornelius Tacitus, etc.) referred to early eastern Georgians as Iberians (Iberoi in some Greek sources) and Mingrelians-Lazes as Colchians.[6]


Most historians and scholars of Georgia as well as anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists tend to agree that the ancestors of modern Georgians inhabited the southern Caucasus and northern Asia Minor since the Neolithic period.[7] Scholars usually refer to them as Proto-Kartvelian (Proto-Georgians such as Colchians and Iberians) tribes.[8] Even the Bible makes mention of Tubal-cain, who is associated with proto-Georgian tribes;[9] or Togarmah who according to the native Armenian and Georgian sources was the great patriarch and founder of both nations.[10][11]

Some European historians of the 19th century (for example, Wilhelm von Humboldt and Paul Kretschmer) as well as Georgian scholars (R. Gordeziani, S. Kaukhchishvili and Z. Gamsakhurdia) came to the conclusion that Proto-Kartvelians might be related linguistically and culturally to the indigenous (pre-Indo-European) peoples of ancient Europe including the Etruscans, Pelasgians and Proto-Basques.

The Georgian people in antiquity have been known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Colchians and Iberians.[12][13] East Georgian tribes of Tibarenians-Iberians formed their kingdom in 7th century BCE. However, western Georgian tribes (Moschians, Suanians, Mingrelians and others) established the first Georgian state of Colchis before the foundation of the Iberian Kingdom in the east.[14] According to the numerous scholars of Georgia, the formations of these two early Georgian kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, resulted in the consolidation and uniformity of the Georgian nation.[15]

Proto-Georgian tribes:

  • The ancient Jewish chronicle by Josephus mentions Georgians as Iberes who were also called Thobel (Tubal).[16]
  • Daiaeni in Assyrian sources and Taokhoi in Greek, lived in the northeastern part of Anatolia, a region that once was part of Georgia. This ancient tribe is considered by many scholars as ancestors of Georgians. The Georgians of today still refer to this region, which now belongs to present-day Turkey, as Tao-Klarjeti. Some people there still speak Georgian.[17]
  • Colchians in the ancient western Georgian (Mingrelian-Laz) Kingdom of Colchis. First mentioned in the Assyrian annals of Tiglath-Pileser I and in the annals of Urartian king Sarduri II. Also included western proto-Georgian tribe of the Meskhetians[14][18]. However, in the case of many tribes, this is often disputed among scholars, as many claim that many Colchian tribes were ancestors of the modern Abkhaz and Abaza, especially the Abasgoi, and assert that Colchis was an ethnically heterogeneous nation.
  • Iberians also known as Tiberians or Tiberanians, in the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia.[14]

Both Colchians and Iberians played an important role in the ethnic and cultural formation of the modern Georgian nation.[19][20]

According to the scholar of the Caucasian studies Cyril Toumanoff:

Colchis appears as the first Caucasian State to have achieved the coalescence of the newcomer, Colchis can be justly regarded as not a proto-Georgian, but a Georgian (West Georgian) kingdom....It would seem natural to seek the beginnings of Georgian social history in Colchis, the earliest Georgian formation.[21]


Like most other groups of the Caucasus, ethnic Georgians have somewhat of a European-like appearance and olive skin. Georgians are classified like all surrounding groups as Caucasoids, and are often slender with dark hair and dark eyes.[22]

Short history

Ancient Georgia

A second Georgian tribal union emerged in the 13th century BC on the Black Sea coast, creating the Kingdom of Colchis in the western Georgia.[23] The ancient Greeks knew western Georgia as Colchis, and it featured in the Greek legend of Jason and the Argonauts, who travelled there in search of the Golden Fleece. Since 2000 BC, north-western Colchis was inhabited by the Svan and Zan peoples of the Georgian tribes. In the eastern part of Georgia, there was a struggle for the leadership among the various Georgian confederations during the 6th–4th centuries BC which was finally won by the Kartlian tribes from the region of Mtskheta in Iberia. According to The Georgian Chronicles, the Kingdom of Kartli (known as Iberia in the Greek-Roman literature) was founded around 300 BC by Parnavaz I, the first ruler of the Parnavazid dynasty. Between 653 and 333 BC, both Colchis and Iberia were successfully surviving in fight against Median and later Persian Empire. At the end of the 3rd century BC, southern Iberia saw the armies of Alexander the Great who established a vast Greco-Macedonian empire to the south of the Caucasus.

Saint Nino is credited for conversion of Georgia to Christianity in 327.

Between the early 2nd century BC and the late 2nd century AD, both Colchis and Iberia, together with the neighbor countries, became an arena of long and devastating conflicts between major local powers Rome, Armenia, and the short-lived Kingdom of Pontus. As a result of the brilliant Roman campaigns of Pompey and Lucullus, the Georgian kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia came under direct Roman rule. However, during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, Caucasian Iberia became a long lasting ally of the Roman Empire. The former Kingdom of Colchis was re-organized by the Romans into the province of Lazicum ruled by Roman legati.

Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia became one of the first states in the world to convert to Christianity in 327 AD, when King of Iberia Mirian II established it as the official state religion. In the middle of the 4th century, both Lazica (former Kingdom of Colchis), and Iberia, adopted Christianity as their official religion. At the end of the 5th century, Prince Vakhtang I Gorgasali orchestrated an anti-Persian uprising and restored Iberian statehood proclaiming himself the King. The armies of Vakhtang launched several campaigns against both Persia and the Byzantine Empire.

Medieval Georgia

Kingdom of Georgia during the reign of Queen Tamar.
King David the Builder, Shio-Mghvime monastery

The first decades of the 9th century saw the rise of a new Georgian state in Tao-Klarjeti. Ashot Courapalate, of the royal family of Bagrationi, liberated from the Arabs the territories of former southern Iberia. The first united Georgian monarchy was formed at the end of the 10th century when Curopalate David invaded the Earldom of Kartli-Iberia. Three years later, after the death of his uncle Theodosius the Blind, King of Egrisi-Abkhazia, Bagrat III inherited the Abkhazian throne. In 1001, Bagrat also included Tao-Klarjeti (Curopalatinate of Iberia) into his domain as a result of David’s death. In 1008-1010, Bagrat King of the Abkhazes and Tao-Klarjeti annexed Kakheti and Hereti thus becoming the first King of the united Georgia both eastern and western. In 1008 all Georgian principalities were united into the unified Kingdom of Georgia (1008-1466) under the Bagrationi dynasty. This dynasty was established by Ashot I (Ashot the Great) in the end of the 8th century.

The struggle against the Seljuk invaders in Georgia was led by the young King David IV of the Bagrationi royal family who inherited the throne in 1089 at the age of 16 after the abdication of his father George II Bagrationi. In 1121, Seljuk Sultan Mahmud declared Jihad on Georgia and sent a strong army under one of his famous generals Al-Ghazee to fight the Georgians. Although significantly outnumbered by the Turks, Georgians managed to defeat the invaders at Didgori battle and in 1122 took over Tbilisi to make it Georgia’s capital. As a result, mostly Christian-populated Ghishi-Kabala area in western Shirvan (relic of once prosperous Albanian Kingdom) was annexed by Georgia while the rest of already Islamized Shirvan became Georgia’s client-state. That same year a big portion of Armenia was liberated by David’s troops and fell into Georgian hands as well. Thus, in 1124, David also became the King of Armenians incorporating Northern Armenia into Georgian Crown lands. In King David died leaving Georgia with the status of a strong regional power. In Georgia, King David is called agmashenebeli (English: the builder).

However, the most glorious sovereign of Georgia of that period was definitely Queen Tamar (David’s great-granddaughter). The reign of Queen Tamar was the peak of Georgia’s might in the whole history of the nation.

The Empire of Trebizond was heavily dependent of Georgia for more than two hundred years. In 1210, Georgian armies invaded northern Persia (modern day Iranian Azerbaijan) putting part of the conquered territory under Georgian protectorate. That was the maximal extent of Georgia throughout her history. Queen Tamar was addressed as "The Queen of Abkhazians, Kartvels, Rans, Kakhs and Armenians, Shirvan-Shakhine and Shakh-in-Shakhine, The Sovereign of the East and West." Georgian historians often refer to her as "Queen Tamar the Great." The period between the early 12th and the early 13th centuries and especially, the era of Tamar the Great, can truly be considered as the golden age of Georgia. Besides the political and military achievements, it was marked by the development of Georgian culture including the architecture, literature, philosophy and sciences. The Golden age of Georgia left a magnificent legacy of great cathedrals, brilliant romantic poetry and literature, and the epic poem "The Knight in the Panther's Skin"—revered by all Georgians since its creation for its artistic and philosophical virtue, the glorification of the Christian Orthodox values as well as chivalry, honor, compassion and romantic love. This Golden Age was interrupted at its peak by the Mongol Invasion in the 13th century AD. After that time, the Georgian feudal state entered an era of decline punctuated by short-lived ascents.

Modern history

Georgians in their chokha

In the 19th century, Georgia, on the verge of annihilation by its powerful southern rivals, was annexed by the Russian Empire. A few decades later, Georgian society produced a modernist nationalistic elite under the guidance of Ilia Chavchavadze, which united Georgian society around the dream of the restoration of their once glorious state. In 1918, this dream was fulfilled and the Democratic Republic of Georgia was established. This democratic experiment was short-lived, as in 1921 a Bolshevik government was installed with the support of the invaded Red Army. The first years of independence after the dissolution of the USSR were characterized by political instability and civil conflicts. The first wave of reforms initiated in 1995 was only partially successful. Political corruption resulted in economic decline and institutional inefficiency, which led to grave political crisis. In November 2003, the "Rose Revolution - a mass non-violent public disobedience campaign - forced the government, which had tried to falsify elections, to resign. A new wave of systemic reforms started after the election of the new Government.

Population and geographical spread

Georgian traditional wedding in traditional costumes

The total population of Georgians in the world is estimated to be around 4,500,000.

  • Around three million Georgians live in Georgia (where they comprise 83% of the population),
  • In Turkey, Georgians form the majority in parts of Artvin Province east of the Çoruh River in Shavsheti (შავშეთი) region (Upper Machakheli in the north of Borçka district, Imerkhevi in the north of Şavşat district and Murgul district and in individual villages along the Çoruh valley of Livana (ლივანა) vicinity in the territory of the ancient Georgian regions of Tao-Klarjeti (Klarjeti (კლარჯეთი) is presently a village renamed officially as Bereket in Ardanuç district), southwards to the district of Yusufeli (Kiskim) in Amier-Tao (ამიერტაო) subregion. They also live as Chveneburi (ჩვენებური) muhajirs in various provinces. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister of Turkey, pronounced his Georgian origins during a visit to Georgia in 2004.[24] The total population of people of Georgian descent in Turkey is estimated to be from 200,000 to 1,500,000.
  • In Iran, 50,000-300,000 (numbers are not totally known). Modern Georgian immigration to Iran can be traced back to ethic tensions within the Russian Empire. The fall of Democratic Republic of Georgia and the onset of World War I pushed many ethnic Caucasians towards Iran. Cold War politics proved conflicting to Georgians in Iran. While Georgian immigrants wanted to stay in Iran, Soviet Georgian leadership wanted to repatriate them to Georgia. Moscow, however, clearly preferred to keep them in Iran. The Soviet Georgian plans were abandoned only after Stalin realized that his plans to obtain influence in northern Iran foiled by both Iranian stubbornness and United States pressure in Iran. Today, up to 75,000 Georgian Iranians (ფერეიდნელი) live in the twin cities of Fereydan and Fereydoon Shahr where a Georgian Dialect is spoken (Phreidnuli- Similar to Eastern Georgian Dialects). Other towns such as Najaf Abad, as well as in many other larger Iranian cities, especially Esfahan, Tehran, Shiraz, and Karaj bolster significant Georgian populations. Up to 200,000 full and partial Georgians live in the coastal town of Mazandaran. Moreover, there are up to 5 million people with (partial) Georgian descent (300,000 Georgians were settled in Iran in the 17th century).
  • 14,900 in Azerbaijan, according to official numbers.[25] Most Georgians (known as Ingilos) in Azerbaijan reside in the Kakhi, Belokani and Zakatala districts, which had been known as Hereti until the 15th century and administered by the Georgian kings until the 17th century. These rayons were once part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia and part of Georgia under the Transcaucasian SFSR until 1931 when they were transferred to Azerbaijan.[26] Georgia maintains no claims against Azerbaijan over these territories as of present.
  • Around 200,000 in Russia and another 200,000 throughout the former Soviet Union republics in Europe and Asia.
  • 200,000 in other countries, including the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and France.
  • There are some 1,000 Georgians in Argentina, in the provinces of Mendoza and Río Negro. In Río Negro, Georgian people and their descendants are at the "hippietown" of El Bolsón and in the Andes valleys zone (Colonia Rusa in the Alto Valle).
  • Other countries: Over 18,000 Georgians in Brazil, over 12,000 in Japan, 3,500 in Singapore, an estimated 1,000 in Mexico.

Ethnographic subdivisions

Georgian youth in traditional costumes

The largest ethnic group within the broader Georgian ethnicity is the ქართველი (transliterated kartveli, plural: ქართველები, kartvelebi), which comprises the majority of the population of Georgia. The other major subdivisions within the Georgian ethnicity include: the Mingrelians (მეგრელი), who live predominantly in northwestern Georgia (Samegrelo); and the Svans (სვანი) of the Svaneti region of Georgia. These four ethnic groups within the greater Georgian ethnicity are differentiated by language. The Kartveli speak Kartuli (what the English speaking world calls Georgian), the Mingrelians speak Megrelian, the Laz speak Laz, and the Svans speak Svan. These four related languages comprise the entirety of the South Caucasian language group. The majority of Mingrelians and Svans are bilingual in their native language and in Kartuli, while the majority of the Laz are bilingual in their native language and either Kartuli or Turkish.

Within the group called Kartveli, Georgians further distinguish themselves into regional ethnographic subgroups:

These subgroups, however, exist for historical and geographical reasons; each would consider itself to be Kartveli, the ethnic group which gives the country, Sakartvelo, its name, and would speak the same language.

Gallery of Georgian people


  1. ^ CIA World Factbook
  2. ^
  3. ^ 2002 Russian census
  4. ^
  5. ^ CIA - The World Factbook -- Georgia -- People -- Religions -- 2002 Census
  6. ^ Braund, David. Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562, pp. 17-18
  7. ^ The Georgians, David Marshal Lang, p 19
  8. ^ The Georgians, David Marshal Lang, p 66
  9. ^ Georgia A Sovereign Country of the Caucasus, Roger Rosen, p 16
  10. ^ The Georgian Chronicles, Kartlis Cxovreba (in English) [1]
  11. ^ Moses of Chorene, "The History of Armenia" (in Russian) [2]
  12. ^ Georgia A Sovereign Country of the Caucasus, Roger Rosen, p 18
  13. ^ The Making of the Georgian Nation, Ronald Grigor Suny, p.4
  14. ^ a b c Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p 80
  15. ^ Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p 58
  16. ^ The Complete Works, Jewish Antiquities, Josephus, Book 1, p 57
  17. ^ The Georgians, David Marshal Lang, p 58
  18. ^ The Georgians, David Marshal Lang, p 59
  19. ^ Charles Burney and David Marshal Lang, The Peoples of the Hills: Ancient Ararat and Caucasus, p. 38
  20. ^ Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p 57
  21. ^ CToumanoff. Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p 69,84
  22. ^ The New Book of Knowledge - Grolier, Encyclopedia G. Article: GEORGIA, Republic of, By Alec Rasizade
  23. ^ BRAUND, D., Georgia in antiquity: a history of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia 550 BC – AD 562, Oxford University Press, 1996
  24. ^ Kimlik Değişimi! December 13, 2005, Milliyet (Turkish)
  25. ^ "Population by ethnic groups" The State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan
  26. ^ Dr. Andrew Andersen, Ph.D. Atlas of Conflicts: Armenia and Karabakh: Territorial Disputes of 1921-22 And Future Territorial Adjustments of 1931

See also

External links

  • Ali Attār, Georgians in Iran, in Persian, Jadid Online, 2008, [3].
    A Slide Show of Georgians in Iran by Ali Attār, Jadid Online, 2008, [4] (5 min 31 sec).


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also georgians




  1. Plural form of Georgian.

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