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Armenia and Georgia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, one of the finest statesmen in recent history, who also happens to be an Armenian. Accordingly to Lavrov was born in Tbilisi on the “Ararat street” (Araratskaya ulitsa). Lavrov himself has Armenian roots from his father’s side and is very proud of his Armenian blood.

“Yes, I have Armenian blood in my veins. My father is an Armenian from Tbilisi”

“Armenian Brandy Is Better Than French Cognac”

When on 17th February 2005 Lavrov was in Yerevan Slavic University, students asked Lavrov if his Armenian roots hinder him. He answered: “My roots are from Tbilisi, because my father is from there, however in me flows Armenian blood and no other. This blood doesn’t hinder me in anything.” With such a reply Sergey Lavrov acknowledged that he is a full blooded Armenian.

Lavrov received the Order of St. Mashtots (Armenia, August 19, 2010) – for outstanding contribution to the consolidation and development of age-old Armenian-Russian friendly relations and Gold Medal of the Yerevan State University (Armenia, 2007).

Armenians in Georgia

The presence of Armenians in Georgia was described since late antiquity in the works of medieval Armenian historians and chroniclers, such as Movses Khorenatsi, Ghazar Parpetsi, Pavstos Buzand, and others.

While the Armenians were known to history much earlier the oldest surviving Armenian language text is the 5th century AD Bible translation of Mesrob Mashtots. Mesrob Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet in 405 AD, at which time it had 36 letters. He is also known for his contribution to invention of the Caucasian Albanian and Georgian alphabets.

According to the traditional account written down by Leonti Mroveli in the 11th century, the first Georgian script was created by the first king of Caucasian Iberia, Pharnavaz, in the 3rd century BC. However, the first examples of a Georgian script date from the 5th century AD.

There are now three Georgian scripts, called asomtavruli (capitals), nuskhuri (small letters), and mkhedruli. The first two are used together as upper and lower case in the writings of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and together are called khutsuri (priests’ [alphabet]).

The Armenians have historically been one of the main ethnic groups in the city of Tbilisi (known as Tiflis in Armenian, Russian, Persian, Azeri and Turkish), the capital of Georgia. An Armenian community has been known to have existed in Tbilisi since at least the 7th century, however a large Armenian community was not formed until the Late Middle Ages.

A large wave of Armenian settlers in the country’s capital city of Tbilisi took place in the 12th-13th centuries, especially after 1122, in the aftermath of liberation of the Caucasus from Seljuk Turks by Georgian and Armenian forces under the leadership of Kind David and Queen Tamar of Georgia.

By the late Middle Ages, there were some 24 Armenian churches and monasteries in and around the city. According to Tournefort, Armenians constituted three-quarters of the population of Tiflis in the 18th century, and owned 24 churches.

Armenians migrated to the Georgian lands in the Middle Ages, during the Muslim rule of Armenia. The Armenian community is mostly concentrated in the capital Tbilisi and the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, which borders Armenia to the south.

The local political party Armenian United Javakhk Democratic Alliance has proposed a local autonomy for Javakheti within Georgia. This has resulted in an increase in anti-Armenian feelings in Georgia.

Armenians forms the majority in this region. Official Georgian statistics put the Armenians in Samtskhe-Javakheti at about 54 % of the population. In Abkhazia, where they make up roughly 20 % of the population, Armenians are the second biggest ethnic group in the region after the Abkhazian majority.

Armenians settled in Abkhazia in late 19th and the early 20th centuries and are now the largest ethnic group in Gagra, Sukhumi and Gulripsh districts forming 20 % of the Abkhazian population with 45,000 out of a total of 215,000.

During recent conflict they have generally supported the Abkhazian quest for independence from Georgia, which resulted in increase of anti-Armenian sentiments within the Georgian society. However, the de facto Abkhaz authorities have been accused by local Armenian NGO’s of intentionally decreasing the number of Abkhazian-Armenians.

After the Russian conquest of the area, Armenians fleeing persecution in the Ottoman Empire and Persia caused a jump in the Armenian population until it reached about 40 % of the city total. They formed the single largest group of city’s population in the 19-th century.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, rich Armenian merchants, including famous jewelers and oil industrialists invested heavily in business in Georgia and helped build cultural centers and schools. The number of Armenians increased progressively such that by the early 19th century the Armenians far outnumbered Georgians in the capital.

Tbilisi became a veritable cultural center for Eastern Armenians (“arevelahayer”, commonly called Russian-Armenians “rusahayer”) just like Istanbul in Turkey became cultural center for the Western Armenians (“arevmedahayer” commonly called Turkish-Armenians “turkahayer” at the time).

As a result of the struggles of the Russian Empire with the Ottomans, Russian authorities settled Christian Armenians and Greeks in the area afer 1828.

Under the Russian Empire, the city of Tiflis became the center of Russian rule for the whole viceroyalty of Caucasia. During the 19th century, Tiflis became the center of the Eastern Armenian cultural revival and an Armenian cultural hub second only to Constantinople.

The Diocese Church (the Saint Gevorg Church) in Tbilisi where the Armenian primate of Tbilisi sits is very close to the city fortress. In front of the church is the tomb of the 18th-century Armenian–Georgian bard, Sayat-Nova.

Tiflis was the center of cultural life of Armenians in the Russian Empire from early 19th century to early 20th century. Many of the mayors and business class was Armenian, and much of the old city was built by Armenians.

Georgian-Armenian War was a border war fought in December 1918 between the Democratic Republic of Georgia and the Democratic Republic of Armenia over parts of the then disputed provinces of Lori, Javakheti, and Borchalo district, which had been historically bicultural Armenian-Georgian territories, but were largely populated by Armenians (and Azeris in the case of Borchalo) in the 19th century.

By the end of World War I some of these territories were occupied by the Ottomans. When they abandoned the region, both Georgians and Armenians claimed control.

The hostilities continued until the British brokered ceasefire was signed, leaving the disputed part of Borchalo district under the joint Georgian-Armenian administration which lasted until the establishment of the Soviet rule in Armenia in 1920.

Armenians are today the second largest ethnic minority in Tbilisi at 7.6% of the population. Official Georgian statistics of 2002 put the number of Armenians in Tbilisi 82,586 people.

Armenians left rich architectural imprint in Georgia, and Tbilisi has many architectural pearls constructed by prominent Armenian architects of the last centuries. There are many mansions that were built by influential Armenians and comprise some of the most attractive historical buildings in Tbilisi.

A great example of the Armenian presence is the elegant house of Melik-Azaryants in Tbilisi on a principal avenue in Tbilisi called Rustaveli Avenue. Domes of Armenian churches are seen in all parts of the city; however their bells have been silent for many years. In the beginning of the 20th century there were 30 Armenian churches in Tbilisi.

In late 1918, Armenia and Georgia fought a border war over Lori, a province (marz) of Armenia. In the early 20th century, Lori was mostly Armenian-populated with several Russian and Greek villages.

The Georgian–Armenian War was a border war fought in 1918 between the Democratic Republic of Georgia and the First Republic of Armenia over the control of territories in Lori, Javakheti, and Borchalo districts which, until 1917, had been part of the Tiflis Governorate of the Russian Empire.

At the end of World War I, some of these territories were occupied by the Ottoman Empire. When Ottoman forces withdrew from the region, the majority Armenian population claimed control.

During the final stages of World War I, the Armenians and Georgians had been defending against the advance of the Ottoman Empire. In June 1918, in order to forestall an Ottoman advance on Tiflis, Georgian troops entered the Lori district, which had a 75% Armenian population.

The Georgians offered a quadripartite conference including Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus in order to resolve the issue, which the Armenians rejected. Within days, hostilities commenced between the two republics. The dispute degenerated into armed clashes on 7 December 1918.

The hostilities continued with varying success of Georgia until 31 December when a British-brokered ceasefire was signed, leaving the disputed part of Borchalo district under joint Georgian and Armenian administration until the establishment of Soviet rule in Armenia in 1920.

Both parties signed a peace agreement in January 1919 brokered by the British. Armenian and Georgian troops left the territory and both sides agreed to begin talks on designating a neutral zone. The neutral zone later was divided between the Armenian SSR and Georgian SSR.

The immediate consequences of the conflict have been summed up by historian Firuz Kazemzadeh as: The Armeno-Georgian war inflicted great injury on the cause of the independence of the Transcaucasian republics. The old hostilities of the Georgians toward the Armenians flared up and reached an intensity unparallelled before, making impossible united ArmenoGeorgian action at the Paris Peace Conference.

The West was treated to a sad spectacle of two peoples, ruled by parties which were members of the Second International and professed peace to be their chief aim, fighting over a few strips of land in the manner of a Germany or a Russia. Those who were called upon to decide the destinies of mankind at Paris could never again trust Georgia or Armenia.

The enemies of Transcaucasia’s independence were provided with excellent material, on the basis of which they could, and did, argue that Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan ruled by the Dashnaks, the Mensheviks and the Musavatists, were incapable of preserving order and of guaranteeing a peaceful existence to their peoples. Even in Transcaucasia, doubts were raised whether this land could stand on its own feet.

After the establishment of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, and despite the establishment of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, most Armenians decided to stay and enjoyed reasonably prosperous life, except for their religious freedoms, as the Communist government actually nationalized most of the Armenian churches and cultural monuments and suppressed the religious freedoms of the general population including the Armenians.

This resulted in dozens of churches closing. By the end of the Soviet era, only two Armenian churches had remained operational. Out of the 29 Armenian churches in Tbilisi at the beginning of the 20th century, only two function today — Saint Gevorg in the Old Armenian Quarter and Ejmiatsin in the Havlabar (Georgian) Quarter; the rest of them have been destroyed or turned into Georgian ones.

A number of Armenian churches have been confiscated by the Soviet state and then passed to the Georgian Church in the post-Soviet era. Ten of the churches were destroyed in the 1930s, and as of 1979, fourteen were still standing.

Armenian Norashen Church, an architectural monument from 1701 is in ruins. The walls of Norashen, which means “new construction”, had been decorated by the frescoes of Hovnatan Hovnatanian, the court painter of Georgian King Iraklii II, but are now being lost to decay.

In Havlabar, the other Armenian Church of Echmiadzin is undergoing renovation and reconstruction. Until recently Havlbar was populated heavily by Armenians, but recently their number has diminished.

The older Armenian neighborhood of Tbilisi, on both sides of the river between Freedom Square and Havlabar carry Armenian names, including Tumanyan, Abovian, Akopian, Alikhanian, Sundukian, Yerevan, Ararat and Sevan.

Until recently, the neighborhoods of Avlabari (Armenian: Հավլաբար Havlabar), long known as the center of Armenian life of Tbilisi, and the area across the river, were very heavily Armenian, but that has changed a great deal in the last two decades.

The Armenian Pantheon of Tbilisi, also known as Khojivank, is an Armenian architectural complex in north-eastern part of Avlabari district of Tbilisi, Georgia, consisting of huge memorial cemetery and St. Astvatsatsin church (Holy Mother of God). Here are the tombs of many famous Armenians including writers Hovhannes Tumanyan and Raffi.

The church and most part of the cemetery was destroyed in 1937, and most of the remaining part of the cemetery was destroyed between 1995 and 2004 during the construction of the Sameba Cathedral. A tiny part that remains, together with some relocated gravestones, is preserved as the Armenian Pantheon of Tbilisi.

The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, commonly known as Sameba (Georgian: სამება for Trinity), is the main Cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church located in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. It is the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world.

As recently as 16 November 2008, a controversial Georgian priest organized excavations around the Armenian church of Norashen (Saint Mariam) during which the tombstones of Armenian patrons of art of Tbilisi buried in the churchyard were removed.

Cemetery of Vera (Armenian: Վերայի գերեզմանատուն) was an Armenian cemetery in the western Tbilisi, Georgia, now used as Georgian. The cemetery of Vera was founded in 1836. Since 1920 the funerals in this cemetery were stopped.

In 1992, with coming to power of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the cemetery was vandalized. His followers began to destroy the cemetery. During the reconstruction of the church of the Holy Cross (Surb Khach) on the initiative of Georgian composer Nodar Gigauri it was renamed the Church of Saint Pantaleon.

Tombstones inside the church, under which kept the urn with the ashes of the dead were covered with Turkish tiles. Management of the cemetery provides areas for new graves by destroying the graves of Armenian burials. The graves of many famous Armenians are without tombstones today.

Armenians welcomed the establishment of the Republic of Georgia hoping for better living conditions after the collapse of the Soviet rule. However economic as well as social conditions have not been favorable particularly for the Armenian Georgian community.

The Bagrationi dynasty

Tamar the Great (Georgian: თამარი) (c. 1160 – 18 January 1213) reigned as Queen of Georgia from 1184 to 1213, presiding over the apex of the Georgian Golden Age.

A member of the Bagrationi dynasty, her position as the first woman to rule Georgia in her own right was emphasized by the title mep’e (“king”), commonly afforded to Tamar in the medieval Georgian sources.

The Bagrationi dynasty is a royal dynasty that ruled Georgia from the Middle Ages until the early 19th century, being among the oldest extant Christian royal dynasties in the world.

The Bagratid dynasties – Bagratuni (Բագրատունյաց) in Armenia and Bagrationi (ბაგრატიონი) in Georgia – count among the longest-reigning royal families in the Caucasus (and in Europe), starting as princely houses and attaining to the royal status in both countries in the 9th century.

The origins of the Bagratids are disputed though more widely accepted version has it that the both dynasties had common roots, beginning in Armenia and branching later into Georgia.

The main Armenian house went extinct by the 12th century, while the Georgian line, in its minor branch, continues to this day as the nominal Royal House of Georgia.

The root of the names Bagrationi and Bagratuni, Bagrat-, derives from the Old Persian Bagadāta, “God-Given”. In Armenia and Georgia, the respective names for the Bagratid dynasties literally translate to “The children of/house established by Bagrat” (Bagrat + Classical Greek: – id, “the children”).

The Bagratids of Armenia are speculated to have been an offshoot of the Orontid Dynasty, Achaemenid satraps and, later, kings of Armenia (c 400 – c 200 BC). They had their original appanage in Bagrevand in historic north-central Armenia and claimed their descent from a solar deity Angl-Thork, the tutelary god of the Orontids, until their conversion to Christianity. Thereafter, this claim was abandoned in favor of the mythical ancestor of the Armenians, Hayk.

Later, under biblical influences, they entertained another claim, of Hebrew ancestry, first articulated by Moses of Khorene, and developed by the Georgians into a claim of their descent from the biblical king-prophet David.

Once the Georgian branch, who had quickly acculturated in the new environment, assumed royal power, the myth of their biblical origin helped to assert their legitimacy and emerged as a main ideological pillar of the millennium-long Bagrationi rule in Georgia from 575 AD to 1810 AD. The claim is given no credence by modern scholarship. The harp on their Coat of Arms is a reference that ancestry.

Certain, generation by generation, history of the family begins only in the 8th century, when the downfall of the rival clan of the Mamikonians, a noble family which dominated Armenian politics between the 4th and 8th century, helped the Bagratids to emerge as a major force in the ongoing struggle against the Arab rule.

Modern scholarship outside of Georgia, notably Cyril Toumanoff, gives little credit to the medieval narratives, regarding both claimed biblical descent and descent from Guaram.

Toumanoff traces the origins of the family to ancient Ispir, but according to him, the Georgian branch of the family appeared only in the 8th century, during an anti-Arab rebellion in 772, when one of the sons of the Armenian king Ashot III the Merciful (Armenian: ԱշոտԳ. Ողորմած) also known as Ashot the Gracious (952/953–977), that ruled from Armenia’s capital city of Ani, called Vasak fled into Iberia (Georgia).

His son, Adarnase, was granted hereditary possessions in Klarjeti and Samtskhe by the Georgian dynast Archil. Adarnase’s son Ashot gained the principate of Iberia and founded the last royal dynasty of Georgia.

Armenians in Georgia

Armenia–Georgia relations

Georgian–Armenian War

Armenians in Georgia

Georgia and Armenia: a spiritual journey

Armenians in Samtskhe-Javakheti

Demographic changes of Armenian population of Georgia and their political consequences (at 1918-since our days)

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